Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Far, Far Away - Wilco

Sometimes I feel like we must be sticking out like sore thumbs, that The North Face emblem on my jacket might as well be an American flag, or that store clerks hear our accents and instantly pass judgment. Other times I walk down the street feeling completely anonymous. Sometimes I walk through tube stations wide-eyed and cross certain streets looking both ways (when you really only have to look one); other times the chaos of Picadilly Circus or Leciester Square feels as common as College or Beaver Avenue. Most mornings I wake up and do a double-take. My head stays muddled until I'm outside, then I remember why I'm here.

We moved into our flats on Saturday morning. There are four other Americans from my particular program in my housing complex, but we all live separately. The traffic-stalled bus ride and hangovers drastically effected our first impressions of the area; impressions that were quickly turned around as the five of us decided to go out for dinner later that night at a margarita bar two blocks away.

We live just off of Old Street in a small courtyard called Hoxton Market, directly adjacent to Hoxton Square. I couldn't imagine a hipper or trendier location. This feels like real London, real British people, with real stores, bars, clubs and restaurants that aren't simply in business to gouge international tourists. It's the kind of neighborhood with endless opportunities to find your pub -- a European Greenwhich Village, a Manayunk, a Northern Liberties. Its starting to feel like home after the crush and chaos of Regent street -- which is only a 15 minute tube ride away.

But those first two days here after the orientation hotel in swanky Kensington were rough. I had no bed sheets, pillows or towels until 5 o'clock this afternoon due to the misguided decision to ship a large backpack and a box of necessities overseas rather than travel with them. I spent two nights in a sleeping bag with a cotton undershirt draped over my jacket as a pillow, using a different cotton shirt as a towel in the morning. I finally got the packages today and lugged them all the way across the city in the rain. I'm getting sick and my body itches, but tonight I will sleep well for the first time in 5 days.

Classes don't begin until next Monday, so most of the buildings around us are still empty. Our flats are basically hallways with locked small, single rooms and a common room with bathrooms at each end. I briefly met two of my flatmates, both female international students who seem nice, despite the fact that they thought I was breaking in to the German man's room who lived here up until Friday. I'm anxious to met the rest, but I get the feeling that these are more individualized existences than I'm used to.

It helps having some truly great Americans in my program, and in my complex in particular. I think we're all taking comfort in the fact that none of us have figured everything out yet. Our CIEE program activities pretty much wrapped up last night with dinner and a night of watching improv at The Comedy Store. Think Whose Line Is It Anyway? but much funnier and edgier. This night was much better than Friday night's play, "Well," during which many people in the group either fell asleep or were reprimanded by British theatre-goers for poor etiquette. Reprimanded being an understatement.

Also, so far every bar band has shown an affinity for The Killers and this excruciatingly catchy Mark Ronson jawn:

Valerie - Mark Ronson Feat. Amy Winehouse

A few pics from our obligatory London bus tour and the past few nights: