Our first afternoon in Canterbury, two other IU students – Mary and Taylor – and I went downtown to buy the necessities. We did not realize that it is a forty-minute walk into town. By the time we arrived, we were grumpy and hungry. Consider the fact that we had not slept for twenty-four hours, and you have the premise for a slasher film: “No Sleep, No Food, No Morals”.
We happened upon a Kent student advertising for a local pub: The Penny Theatre. They were hosting a Frat Night, and he was adamant that we attend as the token Americans. He told us with great pride that they were even going to have red Solo cups. Apparently, these are nearly impossible to get in Britain.
We placed our order at the bar, and as we walked back to our table, a man in an Andrew Luck jersey stopped us. Crazily enough, when he was a student at the University of Kent, he spent the 2010-2011 academic year studying abroad at IU! He invited us to eat dinner with his friends, and so went our first English meal: a discussion of Kilroy’s, the hellish Ballantine staircase, and the Villas over good old-fashioned pub food.
Now, at this point in the story I would like to remind you that we walked into town. A forty-minute walk downhill.
Yes, that’s right, folks.
Using your deductive reasoning skills, you can recognize that to get back to campus we needed to walk forty minutes uphill. Being the penny-pinchers that we are, the three of us decided that a bus ride was not worth the £2.70. Instead, we were confident in our ability to trek uphill on no sleep in a foreign city in the dark. Bold move.
Before we set off, we visited Sainsbury’s, a local grocery store, to buy alcohol to consume upon our arrival home. Fifty-five minutes into our forty-minute uphill walk, we realized we were walking along a road leading to Whitstable, the next town over.
At this point, we did what any self-respecting person would do: we quit.
Like bums, we sat at the bus stop and pulled out our alcohol. Plot twist: the alcohol was not alcohol at all. It was a complement to brandy. Something we would have discovered if we had read the back of the bottle. It tasted like vanilla extract.
After twenty minutes sitting on a bench constructed at a 45 degree angle, we started back.
Miraculously, we made it back within an hour. At this point, we were not fit to enter any scene that could remotely be construed as social. So, we did the next best thing. We bought ice cream. Not that we got away with this bit of anti-social behavior unscathed. The cashier very vocally chastised us for spending our night in. It was the definition of peer pressure.
And that is the story of my first night in England.
My nights, and days, have gone uphill from there. (Hah.) Since, I’ve made good friends in my fellow IU students and housemates. And then there are always the bonds formed over a shared pint or a recognized accent.
I’ve fallen in love with the lead singer of a local band, cheered at a talent show, paid too much for a drink at a pub called The Shakespeare, walked along the coast, cooked curry, and logged hours on Netflix. Even life in a foreign country can’t compete with Netflix.
My favorite moment? Today at the beach. After a cone of English toffee ice cream at a chippy (fish and chip joint) just off the coast, I wandered to the boat dock. The smell of fish and chips hung in the air, the wind whistled through the boat poles (no naval experience), the sun made a rare appearance, and everything was just as it should be. It was one of those moments in which you realize that you are right where you are supposed to be. Theoretically speaking. Legally, I was not where I was supposed to be. There was a “Boat Owners Only” sign five feet away.
So, England. It’s everything and nothing I expected it to be. But twenty-one years into life and one week into this adventure, I know that if you can expect anything, it’s to be surprised. For a self-proclaimed planner, this is on par with coming to terms with your impending death. It’s hefty.
So, here’s to planning to be surprised. Whatever that looks like.
(Common British vernacular)