I don’t think I have ever told this story on my blog, the story of the first time I lived in London. I was 18, loved a good headband and was ready(?) to go to the other side of the world for a semester abroad. Questionable fashion choices aside it was a life changing experience driven purely by sisterly one-upmanship (I was a horrible little sister!). The exchange lead to me vowing I would never again live in London because it was such a terrible and boring place – clearly I shouldn’t vow things quite so often.
I have to back track quite far for the start of this journey, back to high school. My sister is three years older than me and when she was in university she investigated doing an exchange (to America I think?) but decided not to go in the end. It was a completely rational call but to my jealous 16 year old brain saw this as a cop-out, and I vowed that when I was in University I would go further than my sister and actually go on an exchange. Little sisters are just the best. Fast forward to my first year of a double degree and I had backed myself into a corner, I had no option but to start filling out the forms to apply for my exchange.
There were so many thinks I was particular about (I think I was wanting one to fall through so I didn’t have to go). I wanted to go to the university closest to London (ironically it was in Kingston-upon-Thames which is where my parents lived during their OE in the 70’s), I only wanted to go for six months and I categorically did not want to stay with a host family. I was so afraid of ending up having to stay in the spare room of some real life British people that I applied for university halls before I had even submitted my exchange application (I ended up being the only exchange student to get a place in halls thanks to my eagerness).
I almost backed out so many times. I realise that I should have just been grateful at this amazing opportunity, which I was analytically but emotionally I was a wreck. Moving to the other side of the world terrified me, I am such a control freak homebody that London was the opposite of what felt right to me. But, but… I had vowed that I would not be my sister, I would go ahead with the exchange. So I did. It was my first flight by myself, first time living away from home, first time managing money by myself, first time making new friends since primary school. It was fucking scary.
When I arrived in Kingston after a 30 hour journey I discovered that the Middle Mills halls where I would be living was more like flats rather than dorms, my one was 8 bedrooms with a large shared kitchen and two bathrooms. I looked to the reception guy to make me feel at home or give me any words of encouragement at all, but he was a tired uni student who probably had an essay due. He showed me to my room, gestured over to the other side of the car-park “that’s where the washing machines are”, warned me about the fine for setting the fire alarm off and then left me to it.
My room looked like a cell. It was freezing outside. I had gone from my nice house and parents who brought me gin on demand to sharing with 6 strange boys and one girl. The bathroom didn’t have any toilet paper in it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I needed a shower as first priority but I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the light or make the water hot, a cold shower in the dark felt appropriate given how I was feeling about the move in that moment.
After my shower I was doing my best to unpack through the jetlag when I heard a knock on my heavy duty, automatically closing, fire proof bedroom door. It was the only other girl in the flat, Jenny, who just so happened to have the room across from mine. I kid you not it was like my guardian angel was there to greet me.
I think she was just happy that another girl had moved in (let me tell you, living with 6 guys in their late teens is…interesting), but for me it was a ray of hope that everything was going to be ok. She had put aside half of the dinner she made just in case I arrived hungry that night, gave me a spare roll of toilet paper and offered to show me where the supermarket was the next day. I still didn’t know if I had made the right decision moving to London, but at least I had made my first friend.
This post has been slightly longer than intended, so I am going to leave off here and create a part two featuring my first adventure to the pub, bring stalked by foxes and lectures.