Landing in Heathrow was surreal. It was still dark and seeing the city lights slowly come into focus felt fantastical, like magic – but at the same time, after all my anticipation and packing and planning and an uncomfortable 8-hour flight, it was finally real. The pond, I was across it!
And thank heavens for that sense of awe, because it kept me sane for the next four hours. Customs – there is no point denying it – sucks. Going through customs at 07:00 after a sleepless overnight flight really sucks. The only nice thing about customs is that it sucks pretty much equally for everyone in line, so there’s an atmosphere of commiseration. And, of course, the longer you wait, the better it feels to make it to the front. The woman stamping my passport at the gates may as well have been Saint Peter.
Released into the giant Heathrow airport, I took off like a shot in the wrong direction and pinballed around until I worked up the nerve to ask a security guard for directions. Much later, I dragged myself and my luggage into the National Express Coach station and ordered my first British cappuccino. It tasted a little like instant coffee, and a little like victory.
Refreshed after the three-hour coach ride to Cardiff, I worked up even more nerve and had a pleasant chat with my cabdriver, who thought Wisconsin was in Canada (believe me, sir, sometimes I do too). He dropped me off right at Chris – the study abroad coordinator – ’s office doorstep, in the middle of Cardiff Cathays campus*. Safe in Chris’s hands, my proactive attitude dissipated and I let myself be led like a sleepy sheep to my flat**.
The rest of the day is a blur of setting up wi-fi, eating packed granola bars for dinner, and sort of wandering around in a jetlagged haze. Nothing I did could ruin my delight at having arrived: even when I locked myself out of my flat and had to borrow another girl’s shoes to go find Security, it was fun because I was in Welsh shoes, looking for Welsh Security to let me into my Welsh room in WALES. Incredible! It’s been 4 days since my arrival and that feeling hasn’t faded.
Until the next adventure,
*Pictures to come, when I work up the nerve to whip my v. large camera out without feeling like a dorky tourist.
**I live in a flat, within a house, within a hall. My flat is a private bedroom (and bathroom! with a shower!) that is just down the hallway from a kitchen I share with the other 6-ish people in my wing.
(PS: “If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.” – Dean Podestá. Rest in peace, and thanks.)