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Opinion

Traveler learning life lessons while seeing landmarks in London

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February 10, 2012

The International Traveling Classroom has wrapped up its second country already. It’s a bit odd. It feels like we’ve been here for at least a month and a half at this point, but we’ve really only been here for two weeks. It’s kind of crazy how much we’ve learned in that short time, both academically and personally. I’ve already started to feel more comfortable as a traveller.

Our first night in London was kind of a mess. We all came in at different times, mostly in small groups, since we had some free time to travel on our own over the weekend. A few of us booked a train out of Edinburgh to London that arrived the night before we needed to be in London. When we got to the hostel, we were put in a room that didn’t have enough beds left for our group. It took us about 45 minutes to get things sorted and then we headed out to grab some food. Since this hostel didn’t have a kitchen or fridges, we were forced to get takeaway which cost us more than most of us would have liked. By the time we hit the sack, no one in our small group was all that enthused about anything.

We rose fairly early and a few of us decided we needed to cheer ourselves up, so we threw ourselves into a pretty intimidating challenge. We headed to the nearest Underground station and bought day passes. It took us a few minutes to suss out where we were headed and what line we needed to be on. We were all in agreement that we just had to see Big Ben, the London Eye and the River Thames.

The London Underground is such an amazing experience. It was a bit scary at first since I’ve never really had the opportunity to use anything quite like it before. It takes a bit of effort the first few times you step in the Tube to figure out what you need to do and which train you need to get on, but after a few trips, I felt completely comfortable and instantly started to wish we had something like this back at home. It’s all sort of zen, if you ask me. You figure out your line, get on a train, chill out, then you come out in this super stark Underground station only to emerge up into a completely different part of the city. There’s a certain magic to it. Nothing made me feel right at home in London quite like riding the Tube.

Being on the Underground, or any public transport for that matter, is also the best people watching anyone could ever dream up. You get to see almost every facet of the local culture represented. Every age, ethnicity and socioeconomic background is represented on the Tube. You can hear teenagers gossiping about their school mates and the old-timers bobbing along with the undulating rhythm of the railway while reading their books or just doing some deep thinking. On my way out of London, I was crammed up next to a musclebound dude in his twenties that had no idea how loud the Ke$ha song he was listening to on his iPod was. He was totally rocking out to it and everyone kept shooting him glances. It was incredibly hard not to laugh.

Once we got off our first train, we ended up in Picadilly Circus and wandered all over central London seeing the greatest hits. As a first time traveler, being able to conquer a foreign public transport system, get around in the city and see almost all of the sites I had on my list in one day, was a huge confidence booster. The best tip I can give new travelers is when you get to your destination, go out into the city and accomplish one of your goals. Being out in the city and taking control of your experience will wash away any of the grossness and frustration that comes along with long travel days, and it will help improve the rest of your stay there. A bad first day or two can really color the rest of your experience. Take control.

The ITC has already afforded me a myriad of experiences I never would have had otherwise. The biggest thing I’ve learned from it so far is to throw yourself wholeheartedly into what you’re doing, even if it’s unfamiliar, challenging or intimidating. I’ll just have to remember to apply that to my life once I’m back stateside. Next week, you’ll get a glimpse at our life in Paris, which has been a whole different kind of experience.

Chris Rohling is a journalism major with a passion for storytelling in almost every medium.