by Amanda Landwehr / Arts & Culture Editor
In the 17th and 18th centuries, young European noblemen embarked on what was referred to as a “Grand Tour” to commemorate their coming-of-age. Despite this journey’s intent to be a respectable tradition rooted in gaining an appreciation for fine art, culture and philosophy, these men typically followed a — ahem — less noble direction.
Surrounded by prostitutes and sickening amounts of wine, these Grand Tours were far from Victorian-era ideals of morality and self-improvement. Think of a group of rowdy young men gallivanting around the continent on their parents’ dime, and you’ll find something vaguely resembling a college baseball team’s spring break vacation.
Nonetheless, I found myself about to embark on somewhat of a Grand Tour of my own as I sat in Gate G9 waiting for my flight at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. Nervous, overjoyed and frankly thrilled to leave the icy tundra of my hometown behind, it was finally time for me to discover the ends of the Earth on my own (without as many trips to the brothel).
After a tedious semester of applications, paperwork and saving money, I finally officialized my plans to study at London Metropolitan University as an exchange student for spring 2020. Now a junior, (a horrifying thought) I began to see the end of my undergraduate career. If I didn’t leap at this opportunity now, regardless of the many barriers involved with putting my life on pause for 18 weeks and moving to a different county, I would live to regret it.
Riddled with the intense need to shower following a sleepless 8 hour plane ride, I touched down at London Heathrow Airport alongside bright rays of sunshine. But, instead of savoring the serenity of a peaceful morning and the promise of exploring a new country, I was panicking.
Orientation was set to begin at 10 a.m, or so I thought. That gave me a little under 2 hours to pick up my luggage, race through customs, find a way into central London, drop off my suitcases at my apartment, rush to school and somehow, someway make it orientation on time.
Of course I was running late — perhaps the only universal constant is that I, regardless of which time zone I’m in, will somehow manage to be tardy to any commitment.
Frantically, I hopped into one of London’s infamous “black cabs” that lined the walkways outside of Heathrow. After an hour-long-ride through rush hour traffic on the M4, my hardened cab driver showed me the fare. For the sake of my mental health, I will not repeat that hideous number, as it still haunts me to this moment.
After buzzing into my new flat and shoving my luggage into the reception room, I ordered an uber to my school. While debating with the driver about the ethics of Brexit, I received an email from my program advisor: orientation was scheduled for Tuesday, not Monday, and I indeed, did not have to come to campus today.
Beaten and exhausted by the ruthlessness of the past 24 hours, I decided that I may as well check out my new school and complete some enrollment paperwork.
Call it fate or destiny, but that ended up being how I met my first two friends. We were all American exchange students, and immediately hit it off as we talked about the chaos involved with moving to a new city.
We walked to a local cafe where I ate my first true British meal: eggs on toast. I even swapped my typical cup of coffee for milk tea.
After a quick ride back to Soho on the underground train, I collapsed on top of my bed, head spinning and eyes red with the fatigue of a truly neverending day.
From outside my window, I could hear the chimes of church bells instead of the metallic squeal of the orange line. My flatmate (Flavia) was probably horrified to come home to my unconscious body slumped across an empty bed, fully dressed in the same jeans and sweater I had been wearing for the past 36 hours.
I’ve been in London for a little over a week now. Flavia and I quickly developed a friendship based on food and pinot grigio, and new people have stumbled into my life each day. I’ve made the firm decision that the tube is indeed better than the CTA, and I’ve already been to every Harry Potter attraction across London.
So this is it! Here I am, on my Grand Tour, and I realize that regardless of whether I am a 17th-century nobleman or a simple university student, the world is overwhelming and sometimes makes no sense at all.
At night, I tuck myself into bed next to my Italian roommate, in a flat that I share with strangers from Japan, Britain and France. I’m jet-lagged and can feel pure exhaustion pulsing in my eyes. I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring, and weirdly enough, I’ve never felt more at peace.