I just played my first cribbage game in 5 months looking at London from the 33rd floor of an apartment in Stratford with the Olympic stadium to the right and a view of the prime meridian to the left – turns out the Greenwich Observatory marks the meridian at night with a laser. I’ve been in London since Tuesday staying with Quest Alumni and touring with current and past exchange students.
At some point during the fall I realized that going on exchange in my final year at Quest meant that I wouldn’t get a chance to reconnect with friends who were going on exchange in the spring semester. Luckily, there are sometimes ways around problems like these and one friend and I managed to coordinate our travel itineraries to cross in London. I’m at the end of my travel in Europe under the auspices of an exchange semester at Amsterdam University College and she is about to begin her semester abroad at Trinity St. David in Wales. We were joined yesterday by a friend and former exchange student to Quest. We three London visitors spent yesterday walking between art galleries and by cathedrals, passed parliament and Buckingham Palace, and ended the night at a West End performance of ‘Once’. One of the most valuable things I’ll take away from Quest is this network of friendly and excited people all around the world.
We filled today with more art galleries and stumbled upon a late night sketching workshop in the National Portrait Gallery. They provide materials and instruction every Friday night so that the public can come and learn from masters living and dead. I sat down and drew for the first time since 8th grade and after a few hours of trying to mimic great works of art I managed to correctly line up a nose and chin. It’s only a start but it was great fun. Did I mention that London’s museums and galleries are free?
It must almost be time for me to go home because just as I’m starting to notice the differences between nations I’m also beginning to think that all of these European capitals are kind of the same. I’ve walked along Amsterdam canals, the Seine, and the Thames looking at tall old buildings and watching commuters rush home. People live similarly everywhere. Their differences are subtle: ways of dress, willingness to make eye contact, willingness to make small talk. I can’t describe them all but I think I’ve begun to notice them.
These have been great travels but it will be nice to come home. I told people I would be traveling and writing my keystone this month; I’ve mostly been traveling. It’s been too good of a learning opportunity to pass up and the closer I get to going home the truer that statement feels. I don’t expect to be able to articulate everything that I’ve learned immediately, or maybe ever, but I feel different on the other side of my European trip and I’m sure I don’t even feel the full impact yet. I expect it to hit me when I’m driving home beside short buildings that are younger than my country; I expect to close a book on my mother’s couch next week and realize with a mix of love and sadness that my European friends are already living their tomorrows; I expect to start telling my Squamish room mates a story and to have to stop myself to first explain who the people in it are because they’ll have no idea despite the fact that the friends I’m talking about sculpted little bits of my heart into entirely new shapes. I’m sure I’m different now, maybe not profoundly, but different all the same.
Tomorrow I wander London. Sunday I bus from London to Amsterdam. Monday I fly back to Ontario and frantically polish my Keystone before heading to Quest for February block. It might be distracting me from the culture but these are the things I’m thinking about while looking at London.