From Bumbling Beginnings to Bowing Out

17 hours, I'd been on the move. Seventeen. As excited as I was to finally arrive in Winchester, the exhaustion had settled into my bones and I could hardly keep my eyes open even as the plane landed in London. After the three hours in the customs line and the horrifying realization as I was standing in it that someone had removed my luggage from baggage claim and placed them in the middle of the floor in an airport unattended, I finally loaded myself onto the bus waiting for me at Heathrow. In between dozing off and minor heart attacks at opening my eyes to find that the coach was driving on the left side of the road, I thought back to my layover in Portugal. It was pretty nightmarish. I didn't speak the language natively, and it wasn't busy. I spent my two hours there pacing between abandoned gates and frantically checking the monitor, seeing my flight, but never where I was to go to catch it. I had no WiFi, no cell service, and no hope when I trudged up to a random gate and asked if the desk attendant knew where I was to go. Evidently I'd accidentally found the right one. Finally I made it. University of Winchester. The place I'd dreamed of for months, wrote essays for, dug through the avalanche of paperwork for, and I patiently waited with my backpack to exit the vehicle. I thought about my camera in my rucksack, the monster DSLR that my best friend had lent me for the journey, and kicked myself for not tucking it safely among the clothes in my suitcase as it was so heavy. I put my foot down on the first step, but the trademark British rain had slicked the landing and my boots had little to no grip on them. I was going down. A crowd of international onlookers, all gracefully waiting for instructions, student helpers, and the director of the study abroad program watched as my hands reached out to grip the railing but to no avail. I was a baby deer, the child of an unattended mother giving a home birth in a bathtub of vegetable oil. My beanie went flying. One hand flew behind me in a desperate race to save the camera and my legs turned to branches in a hurricane. I tumbled. I hit the ground and tore open my jeans, blood starting to seep through where the ground shredded my knee like Parmesan at Olive Garden. I stood, astounded with myself that I could not possibly have been less elegant in my arrival if I'd done it blindfolded. I can only assume that I'd simply spent all of my bad luck in the first moments of my three months in England, because the rest was a dream. Even in the sleepy old town of Winchester, I spent a great deal of time either in the blur of crowded pubs or in the hypnotic daze inflicted upon me by the unfamiliarity. The most miraculous part of it was discovering the cure for shyness. I was forced into the harrowing ordeal of meeting a new person literally every single day for the first month or so. When the loneliness of being in a new country alone becomes too heavy, it's easy to shed insecurities and just dive right into any social opportunity. By the time the first week of lectures rolled around, I was so eager to make friends that I walked into The War on Terror and made the conscious decision to sit at the busiest table. Even more surprising was the welcoming attitude of the (evidently) pre-established group of friends. They opened me up to everything southern England had to offer. I likely would not have had quite so many adventures without them. The first of these was exploring my new home base. I quickly learned that the quirky city I would come to know so well was ancient, dating back to Roman times. Somehow this didn't really “click” until I stood tiny below King Arthur's Round Table, the stuff of legends and fairy tales. One of my favorite experiences was visiting the Winchester Cathedral. As strange it is to stand in a building created before your country was colonized, you're distracted by the ghostly echo of the organ music. Stained glass windows of a million colors caught the strongest rays of sunlight that made their way through the thick cloud cover. Exploring alone makes it impossible to ignore the feeling of being small; smaller, even, than you feel outside. The flying buttresses taunt the lowly tourist and house the remains of some of England's greatest historical figures. I saw the Atlantic Ocean from the opposite side. I walked through rooms of torture and houses of decadent prayer. I stood in front of the last pieces of a literary legend- Jane Austen- and met some of the best and worst and bravest people I've found so far. Most importantly, I confirmed my love of discovery and adventure, and became someone I can be proud of. Now onto the next adventure. Thank you, England.

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