It was summer break. I was working at my dad’s telecommunications office in the morning and then as a sales associate at Pet Supermarket at night. My dad’s office was a bit of a blessing in disguise. You know those annoying automated telephone ads you get every now and then (“Congratulations! You’ve won a free Caribbean cruise! Press one…”)? Well, it was my job to call those automated messages and make sure that they worked. I did that all. day. long. You could say that I was pretty bored, but my coworkers were very nice, and I had it pretty cush. So cush in fact, that I got to browse Facebook in my downtime, which is where my adventure began.
As I was scrolling, I saw an ad for Education First’s College Break program. A few years ago, in high school, I was part of a homestay program through Education First (EF), and I had spent the summer hosting a student from Spain. It had been a great summer. Since I was already familiar with the company, I clicked the link. By that night, after talking to my parents, I had decided I was going to do it. I signed up for my month-long trip a year in advance so that I could work to pay for the trip myself. I was originally going to go by myself, but eventually, my college roommate, Dounia, decided she wanted in on the fun, too. We were heading overseas together on our first big adventure of our entire lives.
A year later, Dounia and I left from the Jacksonville airport just days after my 20th birthday. The previous week with my parents had been a lot of bickering about what to pack, how much to pack, and constant lectures of me hiding my euros in a money belt, since I wouldn’t really be using a credit card for about a month (a money belt is basically a really thin fanny pack that you’re supposed to wear around your waist “at all times, no matter what. There are gypsies over there.”). Nonetheless, we were sent off.
We flew into the JFK airport around midnight, 15 minutes before our connecting flight was supposed to take off. We booked it. I ran so hard I had to whip my inhaler out in the middle of the airport, while still sprinting around with our bags, and take a hit. Turns out, that flight was also delayed, so we collapsed onto the airport benches with more than a few deep breaths of relief.
EF had told us that we’d be arriving in the middle of the day in London, England, so we should try to get some sleep on the plane so we wouldn’t be jetlagged. I had never had a more uncomfortable night’s sleep. Dounia and I had a two-person section to ourselves, and we tried everything from laying across one another to sleeping in one another’s lap. Sleep remained elusive. We kept peeking back at the girl and boy behind us who had drool coming out of their mouths with envy.
When we landed, I made sure to turn off all my phone’s services. My parents hadn’t paid for an overseas phone service, so to avoid extra charges, my phone went on a strict Wi-Fi-only diet. We collected ourselves and wandered slowly around the massive airport, unsure of where to go or what to do. We eventually found ourselves in front of the driver that EF had hired to ferry us to our hotel room. Both of us, although exhausted, sat with our faces plastered to the car windows as we watched London’s skyscrapers peel past us.
The driver dropped us off at the hotel (after I had to go digging around in my suitcase for that damn money belt to tip this poor man), and we met our trip advisor, Nico Anatolitis. He took our bags, telling us the rooms weren’t ready yet, and we should go explore, but to be back by no later than 4:00 PM. We had about three hours to kill.
I remember being too tired to really feel any emotion. It had been about 24 hours since we had left home, and nothing about the trip over had gone according to plan. Despite being exhausted, and having only had consumed nothing but airplane food for the last three meals, I was still excited to be there, but definitely not as excited as I could have been. I didn’t take many pictures that first day. I was very disorganized and discombobulated.
Even though we were in an English-speaking country, it was still hard to understand the locals through their accents. Back in highschool, I had watched a lot of BBC’s hits (Sherlock, Doctor Who) while in the states, and thought I’d be prepared for the difference in accent, but TV had disappointed me. I might as well have been in China. I looked at everyone we met as if they had three heads. Dounia and I followed around a pair of cousins and another girl from our program like flies to sticky-paper as we explored around the Thames, all of us clueless and exhausted as we flowed thoughtlessly around London, unaware of anything except how different it was.
In my next post, I’ll talk about my London adventures (which includes Dounia and I getting lost – totally my fault), and the beginning days of my month-long European tour.