Lessons from London – by Miriam Frances Jaffe

The other week I was asked to give some advice to incoming students about studying abroad in London. It’s bizarre to think I’ve been here for an entire semester, and yet, I feel like I only just arrived. At the moment, I’m in an awkward limbo between feeling like a tourist in this city, and truly feeling like someone who belongs here. Walking around Mile End, I feel perfectly acclimated, and I like to think that I can hide my being a foreigner by pretending I know where I’m going (once I open my mouth though, different story. My accent is a dead give away). Even with that sense of security near Queen Mary, there are still so many areas of London I’ve yet to explore, and because of that, I feel very much like a tourist. The point of this entry though is not to wallow in the self-pity of not actually being from London, but rather, to point out the things that have I’ve learned (or learnt, if you prefer), so far. You’ll have to bear with me, as this post might get a bit sappy (can’t say I didn’t warn you)!

The thing that still gets me confused is the direction in which everyone is driving. I know the joke of “driving on the wrong side of the road” isn’t actually applicable when you’re over here, but I constantly find myself looking the wrong way when I go to cross the street. Thankfully, London has conveniently written on the road which direction to look, so blessedly; I don’t always look ridiculous when I’m walking around (at least, not when I’m crossing the street). Also, question for anyone out there, just out of curiosity: why do London crosswalks (read: zebras) not line up? Honestly, you end up ignoring the proper crosswalk half the time; because it makes more sense to just keep walking straight… (sorry London, I still love you).

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Most importantly, I’ve learned my way around the tube. Back home, I rely only on my car to get from point A to point B, so mastering the underground system proved a little challenging at first. Thankfully, the tube is pretty straightforward. I think the most confusing bit is actually getting yourself to the platform (I mean, the escalators can go on for DAYS here). Speaking of escalators, I’ve learned to always stand on the right. I’ve learned not to run to catch a train (unless it is absolutely imperative that I catch that specific one). The system is so efficient here that within five minutes, chances are another train (or two), will have come along.

I have learned that London has an unimaginable number of landmarks. From the iconic Big Ben, to the lesser-known Walkie-Talkie, there are monuments of note around almost every corner. I have also learned that the buildings in London are aptly – and funnily- named (The Gherkin, Shard, and aforementioned Walkie-Talkie are just some of the more brilliant ones). I have learned that the museums here are, for the most part, free (take note, America). It’s lovely being able to explore a museum, and not feel rushed to see everything because you know you can return whenever you want. I have sat in cafes, watching everyone go by, and have learned just how much good a nice cup of tea can do you.

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I have experienced a pub on a Friday night, and I have learned how much more pleasant a pub is to a club. I’ve learned how to be more independent, and how to find my own way through the city. Before coming to London, I would never have spent a day doing activities by myself, but now, I feel that I can.

I’ve learned how to be more adventurous. I’ve learned to become a master at queuing (because they are seriously so good at it here), and to feel confident in living on my own.

I have watched films and television series that take place in London, and criticized the accuracy of their portrayals (I’m sorry Sherlock, but there’s no way Oxford Street would ever be completely empty). I’ve also felt proud when I can correctly give someone directions and felt thrilled to find a new spot to explore in town.

I’ve been frustrated by the exit buttons in most buildings and gotten turned around due to the (sometimes) absence of street signs. I’ve discovered that distance is just a measurement and is bearable, but time zone differences are a very real problem, and are sometimes not as bearable.

I have got caught up in banter (and been equally confused by it as well). I’ve grown to love the hundreds of Prets and Costas on every corner. I’ve wiggled my eyebrows in frustration at the chopsticks in Wagamamas, and I’ve been down the road for some cheeky Nando’s. img_5903

I have adored the beautiful sunsets over the skyline and experienced the Christmas lights in Hyde Park.

I have learned that although there is “no place like home,” there’s also no place (and joy) like finding somewhere you belong.

I have learned that I love London, and that I truly never want to leave.

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Read more from Miriam.

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