Keep an open mind, the coordinators of the London spring break trip advised the 16 West Chester University students prior to our departure on March 10.
You’re not going to want to come home, my friend said to me as I said my goodbyes. I hoped he was right as London has always been a place on the map I wanted to see in person.
Our trip couldn’t have been more perfect or even more planned out for a handful of college students. We had an itinerary filled with historical landmarks, tours and shows, everyday. On our free night, the students decided to see a Broadway show together.
For the first European trip, started by the leadership program, Charlie Warner and Angela Howard, took students on the perfect location for a first-year trip. We went to a country where the main language is English, which enabled us to ask for directions when needed. Next year, the two leadership program coordinators plan to take students to Rome. The trips will rotate to a new location each spring break, completing a full circle to take students to England every five years.
Education First (E. F.) Tours provided us with a tour guide who treated us well, was very knowledgeable about the area and guided us as we adjusted to the streets of London. They drive on the “correct side” of the road, she informed us. We were advised to alter our habit to allow us to look right, left, right as we looked to cross the streets, despite most intersections having crossing lights for pedestrians.
Prior to leaving for the trip, I went home to see my family. My mom told me to be careful, reminding me that in London they drive on the wrong side of the road, she said with a smile. With the amount of one-way streets in West Chester, I felt that I could adjust to how I should be looking at the road before crossing.
My dad told me I had to get on the London Eye, which allows you to see the city from high heights. My oldest sister told me I couldn’t leave London without trying fish and chips. My second oldest sister told me I couldn’t come home without a cool gift for her. She said this with a grin, probably as she knew what gifts I would return home with for my family. My third oldest sister told me to have fun and take a ton of pictures. I did all the above in my week trip.
I remembered to pack lightly, as we were instructed to do so, which would be beneficial to ourselves. Surprisingly for London, the only thing that I packed and didn’t use once was my umbrella. We had great weather, some chilly days, but mostly we had the sun shining in our favor.
The last item packed in my bag was a box of Special K bars. This snack tends to serve as a life-line for eating on the go at college. For the trip, we heard it would be smart to pack a snack. We found out later, from one of our tour guides, that we are the nation known for traveling with food. He said he could see us packing snacks in our suitcase, even if it meant taking out clothes. We laughed at the humor, subsequently indicating some truth to that assumption. By a show of hands, majority of the group admitted to packing at least a snack like granola bars.
During our week trip, our visits included locations to Buckingham Palace, Windsor Palace, Piccadilly, West Minister Abby and Big Ben, along with the house of Parliament, Stonehenge and famous parks. We took a group pictures outside of the British Museum and outside of the Buckingham Palace.
The group was most excited about seeing the Queen of England at the Buckingham Palace. One of our tour guides said we shared the experience with her, despite having lived in the area, it was her first time seeing the Queen.
We crowded towards the street leading into the Palace, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Queen, the way fans would have crept towards the bus carrying their favorite band back on the road. We were more excited as tourists to have seen the Queen that we joked we could have ended the trip then and there, and it would have been the best trip.
Upon my return home, after I talked about the journey, I realized how much our week abroad reminded me of a collegiate experience.
I don’t just mean that we tasted new food, as some students reminded us we were returning home to campus to eat food from Lawrence. We had tasted food we’ve never had before, though I found it delicious. I could have gone for another night of fish and chips.
The city has that mentality in the air: run with it or get run over. I liked that. It reminded me of a transition of life after college to the workforce. It wasn’t that other people would run you over, it was the fact that the real world is in real time, and stops for no one.
College has made me realize how much of a small world it is on campus. Not only were we friends by the end of the week, but we all found each other on Facebook. For many students, our mutual friends on the social network are others from the trip. One other student leader and I met for the first time because of this trip and we had almost 40 friends in common on Facebook. It’s odd that we didn’t meet prior to signing up for our cultural emergence trip. I can honestly say I’m glad I met everyone that I had.
By the end of the week, we talked like high school students nearing graduation, wondering if we would see each other again and saying we would miss everyone’s company. When our departure from London neared we reminisced about our trip and some made plans to meet again. We were all going back to our second home in West Chester to finish the end of our semester. In theory, we could see the others again, somewhere on-campus.
In the first week back, I saw about half of the students from the trip and stopped to talk to them. It’s possible that, had it not been for meeting on the trip, we would not have noticed each other on-campus.
I wrote my parents a postcard to jokingly say that I brought my resume to London and they could visit after I got settled in.
As our tour guide said good-bye to us, she said she hoped we had enjoyed our trip and had done and seen most of what we wanted to in London. She ended with saying that she hoped we hadn’t done everything we wanted to and instead, to come back for another trip.
Another trip sounds appealing. Maybe another plate of fish and chips is in my future.
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fifth year student majoring in English with a minor in Journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.