Valkyrie Speaker, a film major at the University of Pittsburgh, is a CAPA World columnist during spring semester 2017. She'll be shooting weekly videos for "An American Film Student in London", published every Monday.
In her first post, Valkyrie writes an introductory blog to discuss what she's done to prepare for study abroad. Her first video will be up next Monday!
To me, London has only ever been a city in Doctor Who, a beautiful and landmark city oceans away.
I grew up watching the Doctor and his companions parade around London while solving fantastic mysteries. It was an exotic and exciting city, but I had no money and poor swimming ability. How would I ever get there?
The answer was a process spanning over five years. I graduated from a high school that gave me a full-ride scholarship to university, got accepted into my number one school, kept my GPA up and applied to the study abroad program, and… presto. Time to prepare for London!
One problem… I’ve never so much as left the East coast of the US. How on Earth do I prepare for a trip across the pond? After consulting numerous blogs, I’ve created a comprehensive list of things to keep in mind when preparing and packing.
In the few weeks leading up to my trip, I have...
1. Familiarized myself with the culture.
Besides binge-watching The IT Crowd, I recommend buying a travel guide. I have learned a lot about the history, politics, and culture of England by reading through related travel guides. They’ve also helped me identify museums, restaurants, and tourist attractions to visit during my time abroad. The most useful has been the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide, available here. It includes descriptions for any business or location it features, making it easy to determine what is worth visiting (which has been pretty much everything so far).
2. Made a list of essential items to pack.
Prescriptions, outlet adapters, passport, extra chargers and camera batteries, program acceptance letter, laptop, clothes, etc… There are things that are absolutely essential to pack for anyone, but as a film major, it was also imperative to pack my cameras, tripods, external hard drive, and extra memory cards. Slightly less important items are things I can buy once I’m in the UK, but will pack if there’s room. These include a small umbrella, a weather-resistant jacket, and body wash (if the brand is unavailable overseas). The list could go on, but my goal is to pack as little as possible to allow for growth (I’m quite the gift-shopper).
3. Researched the area I’ll be residing in.
Not only did this allow me to plan my route from the airport to my flat, but it has helped with the anxiety of living 4,000 miles away from home. It also fuels the fire of excitement! My flat is in the middle of a particularly interesting and busy part of London. There are markets, food stands, concerts: the perfect place to grow accustomed to the city and capture some shots for upcoming videos.
4. Made copies of important documents.
It’s important to make numerous copies of things like passports, visas, and acceptance letters and to keep a copy with each bag or piece of luggage. I will therefore always have access to my personal information if anything were to happen to the originals, or if the info is requested in the airport. I have also printed out my class syllabi, housing and check-in information and airline receipt, etc. just in case.
5. Researched the rules for flying on my airline.
I’ve never flown before, so this step was especially important. I had to measure my suitcases and limit my packing to fit the weight and bag limits. But most importantly, I had to learn all the steps of actually getting onto the plane. For example, they recommend wearing sneakers or slip-ons when going through security because you will have to remove them (sorry Dr. Martens), and I can’t have any liquids, creams, or gels in my carry-on bag. Neither of my parents have had much experience with planes either, so I’ve had to visit a lot of airport FAQ sites!
6. Spent lots of time with family.
I’ve gone to school away from home for the past seven years, so I have developed an intolerance to homesickness… However, it never gets easier for my parents. I’ll be in a foreign country for four whole months, so I know they will be very worried and anxious that I’m gone. I’ve spent this winter break exclusively with my family in the hopes that if they see a whoooole lot of me now, it might make up for not seeing me at all for a few months. I know that’s not how these things work, but there’s always Skype, right?
7. Bought the appropriate clothing.
I was advised to pack clothes that are easy to layer, as London weather can be particularly temperamental. I’m infamous for exclusively owning t-shirts and jeans, so I decided it was time to update my wardrobe a bit. Primark is a store based in the UK with a location in King of Prussia, so I payed a visit. They have affordable and fashionable clothes, so I was able to purchase several shirts, blouses, and sweaters to start off my visit. I won’t be bringing many clothes with me (I’ve set aside funds and room for shopping upon arrival), so my Primark haul combined with a visit to my local thrift store will do just fine.
My flight is now four days away, and now that there’s nothing left to do but wait, I’m more anxious than ever. I’m excited for this journey, the first of its kind for me, but who isn’t a little nervous about flying for the first time?
This week won’t have a supplementary video (all of my equipment is packed up), but from this point forward, my column will have a personal video project attached. It may just be accumulated b-roll, or it may be the result of a random surge of creativity. I guess we'll find out!
Thanks for reading and see you next week!