12: A Semester in London

12: A Semester in London

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

A Semester in London

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.


I stepped off the plane and was blindsided by an epiphany: I had completely lost my mind.

Insanity was the only explanation for what I had done. It didn’t help that all of the people who had so kindly bestowed travel advice upon me had never before been to Europe. The foremost of these advisors being, of course, my mother, who has never ventured more than twenty miles from her driveway after experiencing turbulence on her first and last plane ride back in ’67.

I arrived in London wearing the thickest, itchiest wool turtleneck of all time. My mother, the world traveler, had warned me that London would be “bone-chillingly” cold. Not true. With the combination of my extremely long hair, the horrid humidity, and the five pounds of wool on my back, I was sweating profusely before I even left the airport. Not to mention the red rash spreading on my neck from the wool.

The next bit of priceless wisdom I had received was not to take a cab anywhere because it would be too expensive. However, I can tell you that after trudging up and down hilly, cobblestone roads for three hours while carrying everything I owned — there was no price I wouldn’t have paid to have the feeling back in my arms. Finally, just as I could see my new college in the foggy distance, I collapsed on the nearest park bench.

As I sat in the rain, surrounded by two suitcases, three duffle bags, a backpack, a video camera, and a purse, I gazed at my future home and thought, “How in the world did I end up here?” Unfortunately, I knew the answer — and as you might imagine, it had a little something to do with a boy.

We met in the college bookstore. I stopped in to buy what turned out to be some frighteningly large British literature books. As I was staring at the pile of books and seriously contemplating a change of major, a voice greeted me from behind the counter. He asked if I was an English major and we chatted for a few minutes. My overly jealous boyfriend at the time, who was standing next to me, probably would have called it flirting; however, I didn’t think too much of our initial meeting.

It was fall. Every Thursday, we would cross paths as I walked to my Spanish class. Before I knew it, I began looking forward to that class more and more. We didn’t talk very much, just kind of looked at each other and exchanged a sarcastic remark or two. This continued until we both showed up at a meeting to write for the school newspaper. We ended up hanging out in his dorm that night... and all of the nights after that.

I listened while he played guitar and sang me his favorite songs. I read him stories and shared my aspirations of becoming a writer. He told me about all of the crazy places he had lived and the people he had met. We talked about life and all of the stuff that made us who we were. It was almost as if I was a different person inside those walls, and everything I hated most about my life didn’t seem to matter as much. It was safe and happy, and I hated leaving. But we couldn’t have been more different. I was the cautious observer and he was the adventurous risk-taker; nonetheless, he got me. And in a way that I couldn’t fully realize then.

So we lived happily ever after, right? Well, as much as we wanted to be together, I knew deep down that he had dreams that needed room to breathe, and I would never be able to move away from my family, who needed me. Despite all of his convincing, I was stubborn. Or maybe I was just scared.

One snowy night, it was particularly hard to leave his dorm. I finally closed the door and started running up the hill to my car, when all of the sudden he yelled for me to stop. As we stood there shivering, with the snow falling around us, he summed up what seemed to be the root of my unhappiness. He told me I was unhappy because of fear. Fear of disappointing others, of not meeting expectations, of failure, and even of success — that is what kept me from pursuing my dreams. He said that if I didn’t stop living for everyone else and the people who held me back, I would become just another girl with a lot of potential.

Many times he had told me about his experience studying abroad and how it was one of the greatest things he ever did. I had shot down the idea on several occasions, but he kept bringing it up. By this time, it was far past the registration date for spring semester in London, but he said if I was serious about going he would make it happen. He said that sending me away would be the most difficult thing he could do, but he wanted the best for me. I had never even flown before, and now I was considering packing up my life and moving to a foreign country. Not to mention the depression that my mother would inevitably slip into when I told her I was leaving. I also knew that if I left, he would not be there when I returned.

But as fate and guts would have it, three weeks later I boarded a plane to London and began a semester that changed my life. And that... is how I got there. I guess you could say it was all because of a boy in a bookstore.

~Britteny Elrick

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