I was reminded, again, how lucky I am to be living and traveling abroad when I went to London this past weekend to visit a fellow Northeastern co-op student for a night. I booked the trip in January after finding out that a favorite band would be playing a Saturday night show and realizing I could attend without missing work or paying for a hotel; the trip also turned out to be the perfect introduction to the city I will be calling home this coming fall while participating in the Hansard Society Scholars Program at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Having never visited London, or anywhere in the UK for that matter, I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of cultural differences. I'm sure there are many more than I observed during my short time there, but after living in Serbia for several months being in London felt very much like being in a quieter, cleaner version of New York.
This is not to say that London doesn’t have its own unique personality to offer- it undeniably does, and I absolutely cannot wait to experience it come September. But due to the nature of the trip, filled with so much familiarity and the knowledge that I would be returning in a few short months, I focused on what I had come to London to do- visit a good friend and see my favorite band play- rather than embarking on a whirlwind tour of all things British.
After traveling to Austria, Hungary, and Romania these past few months, it was refreshing to arrive in a place where I spoke the language. However, much to my enjoyment, airport staff seemed to have trouble placing me and, even after I deplaned and entered Heathrow, was seldom addressed in English. While the Serbian makes sense (I did fly on Air Serbia from Belgrade after all), I was surprised to learn that I appear French- three different airport personnel addressed me in the language. Needless to say, this conundrum made for a highly entertaining welcome to the country.
Regardless, I felt very much like I was in the United States- which makes sense given that it was the first English speaking place I’ve visited in several months- and I was at home instantly, comforted by the knowledge that I was in a place that understood my language and would have things such as iced coffee or bagels, both commodities that don’t really exist in my current place of residence (fun fact: in Serbia and most other Balkan countries if you order an iced coffee you will receive a latte with vanilla ice cream in it which, while not an unpleasant surprise, is disheartening after a certain point).
After spending some time with my host for the weekend, a friend I met while on a dialogue of civilizations in Bosnia & Herzegovina last year, and attending a show for a band I’ve called myself a fan of for more than nine years, the feeling of belonging only grew.
The next morning was spent cherishing the return of iced coffee to my diet while trading life updates traipsing through the charming streets of soho.
I did manage to squeeze in a handful of tourist sights, though I kept my distance, not yet able to shake the feeling that normal tourist behavior would be disrespectful in the wake of last week's events and knowing I would have several months in the future to capture London's icons.
In all, my visit to London was exactly what I didn't know I needed- a quick, quiet getaway and some quality time with familiar faces. Having seen all that the city has to offer, I am now only more excited to be studying there in the fall!