Just like the beginning of Love Actually, when Hugh Grant narrates a scene at the arrivals gate of Heathrow, my journey began full of happiness and love. Maybe it’s a ploy on Heathrow’s part, but I have never felt so proud, excited, and nervous to enter a country in my life. All I could think was “Wow, look at all these videos of the Queen. Wow, I’m so blessed to be at this airport. WOW I’M IN LONDON.”
Lesson #1: Don’t rush it, enjoy it
At the beginning of my trip after reading every guide, abroad bible, London book and paper possible I created a to-do list on my notes on my iPhone. This list includes everything from ride the London Eye to walk Carnaby Street to take a cheesy picture on Abbey Road. I did successfully manage to finish 99% of the to-do list and am incredibly happy that I did. Halfway through completing my list though it dawned upon me I was really doing it wrong. It’s great to have to-do lists (yes, I am a true type-A personality), but what you shouldn’t do is be in a rush to do it all without enjoying the moment. That’s when I discovered Hyde Park, my true haven that I could find about a minute walk away from the Crofton. The days when I didn’t want to keep going, Hyde Park was always the great alternative. Rent a bike, get a bottle of wine, listen to some free music, watch some people try to impress their dates by feeding the swans and then get attacked by them —it really was a great time.
Lesson #2: Make deeper connections
Being in a new country, or anywhere for that matter, you cross paths with hundreds of people everyday that are continuing on their own journey. In Los Angeles, crossing paths mostly happens while you’re stuck in traffic on the 405. In London, although the city is quite large, crossing paths can mean on the tube, in Piccadilly Circus, in the Tech City Roundabout, at Waitrose, at Nando’s. The people I’ve met, in passing or on purpose have had amazing stories to share; from a man who was once homeless but is now working on a new startup to a random lady on the tube who shared with me terror stories about her son. Kiss them on the cheek, give them a tight hug, give them a piece of your Cadbury bar (ok, maybe not the last part). These stories and people taught me to make deeper connections, learn their names, find out where they’re from, where they’re going, where they want to go, who they want to be.
Lesson #3: Let the journey change you
Most people who go abroad decide to do so for the journey of becoming a different person. I, no doubt, was one of those people. From the beginning I kept searching for situations that could change who I am and make me a better person, more understanding, more gentle, more kind — the person I’ve always wanted to be. I distinctly remember climbing the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral thinking, “I’m a changed person, this just changed me.” What I didn’t realize for the first 11 weeks of my experience was that I didn’t need to find an experience or monument to change me, I didn’t need to force myself to change, I just needed to let the journey change me. From start to finish it changed me, whether I knew it or not. And I only hope for the better.
Lesson #4: When you’re there be really, really there
I wouldn’t make the argument that I’ve been sleeping through the past 21 years of my life, but I definitely have been daydreaming through it. In Yoga and Bharatha Natyam, we’re taught to have drishti or focus. It’s a technique you use to first focus your eyes and then your mind. Being abroad has taught me the full meaning of drishti. When you’re somewhere beautiful, say touring Buckingham Palace, you’re physically there but if your mind isn’t, being there is completely pointless. If your mind has oneness with your body, what you discover is far beyond the physical — but moments.
Lesson #5: Make good memories
As a taxi driver/poet in Athens told me, “Make good memories.” Three months is a long time and I can’t necessarily remember every moment of everyday. But, the memories I will always cherish are those that were the most ridiculous, the most unlike myself, the ones that made my experience. Thirty years from now I won’t necessarily remember what the significance of the Tower Bridge is but I will remember the incredibly long three-hour journey that took us there — hail storms, wrong trains and all. Or a two-hour debate with my token British friend about the ups and downs of college and our youth. These will be the memories I’ll always keep.
I’ll see you soon London.