Rikki Li is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English Writing and Psychology major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
This week, Rikki shares the story of her stop-over in Iceland and arrival in London as well as her experience at the CAPA orientation.
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Despite the overwhelming evidence proving that I’m no longer in the United States, I think a part of me is still slow to believe that I actually landed in London and have since spent more than a full day in the city that I’ve been dreaming about since last October. A good portion of this disbelief can be attributed to general fatigue—after dragging my luggage through all the Tube stops and stairwells and wet cobblestone between Heathrow and Goldhawk Road, my first and only desire upon entering my new flat was to integrate myself into the mattress and sleep for a solid 24 hours.
And yet, paradoxically, even if I was given 24 hours for rest and recuperation, I doubt I’d be able to sit still for most of it. There’s been a buzzing under my skin ever since I boarded my red-eye flight from Newark, an endless second wind that has made everything seem more straightforward, somehow. Like if white noise were a feeling. Like being on the highway at night, watching the headlights of other cars blur and dilate; I’m so tired and so awake all at once that my body has canceled out all of its auxiliary functions, and reduced itself back to the purest, most basic forms of sensory understanding and appreciation.
I feel very present, I guess I’m trying to say. A clean coffee filter, absorbing so much new stimuli for the first time. In between Newark and London, my friends and I had a 10-hour layover in Iceland, which we used to explore Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa. It was a little pricey, but well worth the splurge. I cannot find words to describe the feeling of being submerged in the hot springs, soft silica mud between your toes, humid steam rising from the water’s surface, the same opacity as your exhaled breaths. It’s somehow biting cold and unbearably warm all at once, and if you look to the horizon there is only snow and sun and open sky for miles and miles and miles.
I’m not quite sure what it is about Europe, but it smells different from America. The air in both Iceland and London had an unfamiliar quality to it. A newness, a candidness, an agelessness? (I think I’ll have to consult another dictionary). However, despite this clear difference, the first time I truly and fully realized that I was in Europe, in London, was only when I was walking to the Tube this morning, on the way to our CAPA orientation. It was almost 9am, and windy. A sliver of rosy sunlight was just visible over the tops of the tightly packed buildings, the crowded streets. Everyone was wrapped up in various shades of peacoat, carrying phones and bags and breakfasts, walking with purpose. I’m not sure why it hit me so hard and so suddenly, but it did. This is it.
I guess, in light of that realization, arriving at the CAPA building and going through orientation was a grounding comfort. It was nice to see so many faces from other universities, all coalesced into one room with the singular, shared goal of studying abroad in London. We received so much information, were shown so many opportunities, and most of all, were given so much support that I really started to understand just how lucky I was to be here. How privileged.
I’m almost afraid to just sit back and reflect on everything that’s happened in the past few days. It’s terrifying and overwhelming and strange and new. I’m afraid that this experience will fly by at breakneck speed without stopping to let us breathe. But at the same time, I know I’m going to be okay. It hasn’t been long yet, but my goal is to take every day in small, manageable bites. Like listening to the Tube rumbling outside my window at night, or the light patter of rain on the skylight above my bed. Buying a package of tomatoes from Sainsbury’s, spreading a piece of butter on warm toast. Learning that Wine Gums don’t actually taste like wine, that digestive cookies are delicious despite their curious name, and that, when off-course without Google maps and without the Tube in sight, London’s bicycle docking stations are a tremendous help with their built-in street map terminals.
This is where it begins. Let’s go on an adventure.
Rikki's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.