Thursday, 18 February 2016

Firsts-Dorm, Classes, and Traveling Alone

Platform 9 3/4
Sometimes I wonder if I am spoiled at Harvey Mudd, then I remember how much I pay in tuition compared to how much tuition is at Queen Mary and I realize that I definitely earned all the luxury at Mudd. That being said, I couldn’t help but feel very isolated in my new dorm. Harvey Mudd is an environment where you are always surrounded by people, with roommates or suite-mates or dorm-mates. But here, there are only flats, where only the kitchen is shared and everyone has a single room with an attached bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, it’s glorious having my own private bathroom, and the kitchen shared by eight people with a dorm attendant to clean it isn’t bad either. But, I find myself missing my roommate (Hu, you rock! I owe you chocolate!) and the comforting sights of people in East lounge. Apparently people here make friends with their flatmates, not the people in their classes, and I definitely see it happening. There is not as much of a collaborative environment here, which is something that I love.
A Dalek at the Doctor Who Experience
As an American student, I have noticed that no one here really likes raising their hand in class, and I end up feeling a mixture of pride and embarrassment when I raise my hand and answer the question correctly. I have also noticed that the technical classes here are nowhere near the difficulty of Mudd (thank god, I don’t think I could survive that.). For the first time, I find myself bored in school. Don’t get me wrong, the classes are interesting, but I finish the work and find I have too much time on my hands, which is where traveling and exploring comes in!!
So far, I have had the amazing experience of doing a boat ride on the River Thames (it was an orientation event, and I highly recommend going to those, since they are usually pretty awesome!). I am a huge Harry Potter and Doctor Who fan, so I recently went to Platform 9 ¾ and saw the Alan Rickman Memorial. I actually just got back from the Doctor Who experience in Cardiff (almost eight hours of travel round trip), and I had a blast! I just want to say, for anyone who is thinking of traveling during their stay abroad (this
should be everyone), plan out your trip ahead, it saves time and money. I allowed for extra travel time when I bought my tickets and I’m glad I did, since today there was work both on the underground train and above ground train stations that resulted in delays and cancellations that would have killed me if I didn’t plan ahead. As it was, I barely made it to Cardiff in time for the tour.

I think the hardest part so far for me has been the isolation. Even with my fellow study abroad and Harvey Mudd classmates here, I still feel alone at times. I’m so used to always being surrounded by people that it hits me hard sometimes. But a great way to get out of that is just to go and explore, even looking for a new place to get dinner can lift your spirits and make you excited.

Sunday, 7 February 2016


I suppose I should start by introducing myself and this blog. My name is Jessica de la Fuente. I am an Engineering major studying abroad in the Spring semester of my Junior year. I am a huge Harry Potter fan, I love chocolate, and I wear glasses.

I have been dreaming of going abroad since I started at Harvey Mudd; eating croissants while looking at the Eiffel Tower, riding a boat on the River Thames, wandering the halls of Parliament. Coming abroad this semester remains my best decision, to see more of the world and get a chance to take amazing classes that I can’t take at Mudd. Going abroad is a dream come true, but so far that’s all that it has been, a dream. Now that I’m actually facing it, I am scared beyond belief, terrified. I’ve never traveled as far as Europe, add in being alone and I’m facing the unknown.
I woke up the day of my 14-hour plane ride and thought to myself, can’t I take anything else with me? Can’t I take that pillow that I’ve had since I was five? What about the stockings still hung by our Christmas tree that have my family’s names on it? I felt like I was leaving so much behind, and then I got on the plane and realized, sheesh, I have too much stuff! I took a plane to LAX, where I would go straight to London Heathrow Airport, and I was indifferent. I’ve traveled this route by plane often enough to get back and from school that I was lulled into a sense of calmness. Meanwhile, my family waved goodbye after my mom hugged me tight and my sisters made me promise to buy them tons of souvenirs.
On the hour-long layover in LAX I called my best friend and said my last goodbyes, which were in a way, worse than my goodbyes with my family. Then, I said goodbye to my awesome roommate Hu, and we promised to watch many movies together via Skype and I told her that I would mail her chocolate by the box-full (Now, I may need to retract that statement, because international shipping is expensive!). Finally, I sat down and waited. I charged my devices like crazy, took advantage of the last wifi I would get for nine long hours and basically did everything but think about the trip ahead. I watched as the plane took off, as I left U.S. soil for six months and my chest tightened, but I felt exhilarated. I was so wired the entire flight that I barely slept, and it was cramped! My legs kept falling asleep.
When we started flying over Britain, the first thing I noticed was all the green. There was so much green. Then, as we pulled into the airport, I looked for familiar buildings and architecture, and to my surprise, I didn’t see a lot. There were no glossy skyscrapers or fancy department stores. There were no strip malls or billboard ads everywhere. Instead, there was brown and green, old colonial houses that were connected and took up every block. Restaurants and shops occupied the bottom floor of these houses, but the rest of the buildings were occupied by tenants! I was overwhelmed beyond belief and tired.
Customs scared me half to death, I kept having that irrational fear, where some mess-up would get me rejected from customs and I would have to leave the country. I had all my papers ready, and as expected, they waved me through to get my luggage. After, I had to hail a taxi, and jeez (Word of advice, DO NOT TAKE TAXIS if you don’t need to. They are extremely expensive because they can charge either by time or by distance, whichever they pick, usually the more expensive one). I spent the entire ride looking out the window as I headed to the hotel for my IFSA-Butler orientation. While I was heading into Central London, again I was hit with culture shock. There were only a few tall buildings above three stories and there were no flashing lights, no neon signs. However, right before we got off the highway, I saw an ad for the new Iphone 6, so I knew some things were universal.
At the hotel, I had to make a judgement call. Wifi was not free, but I had no working service there, I missed my family, and had no one to contact until the start of orientation the next day. I made my choice, coughed up money for wifi for the rest of my stay and proceeded to call my mom and sigh in relief. I made it. One day down, 166 days to go.