Sometimes walking down the street in London can feel a little bit like sensory overload. With every step, you wade farther into a sea of unfamiliar faces while a symphony of smells (the good, the bad, and the ugly) wafts into your nose, and flashing text beckons you toward theatre tickets, sushi, and cute clothes all at the same time. Street performers and screeching sirens mingle into a cacophony of distinct city sounds as hundreds of fashionably clad feet scurry to occupy the same spaces simultaneously. Sometimes it is breathtakingly beautiful, sometimes it is mildly unpleasant, but without fail it is always there to greet you the moment your toes touch the pavement.
I think in some ways, this serves as a metaphor for our entire experience spending a semester abroad.
Every day we are presented with new opportunities. We feast our eyes on sights we’ve only ever dreamed about, immerse ourselves in the magic of a theatre or the sprawling wealth of tangible knowledge to be gleaned in a museum, gorge ourselves on the richness of new cultures (sometimes literally, because there is an abundance of really good food) or lose ourselves in the thick crowds between tantalizing market stalls.
In comparison to our relatively routine or mundane lives at school or home, this new adventure we’re having can sometimes feel a little overwhelming.
I think one of the biggest challenges and best learning experiences I’ve gained so far from this journey is training myself to engage in individual moments. If I try taking in our weekly itinerary as a whole, my brain can hardly process one experience before my eyes are darting toward the next one. Yesterday taking in a play at the Globe theatre, tomorrow hopping a train into France. A cozy morning snacking on croissants and coffee, a pensive afternoon spent at the American Cemetery in Normandy, an electric night full of giggles and gelato with new friends. So much is constantly happening in such a short span of time, it is essential to pause and reflect on each experience and allow yourself to be fully present.
Being both a habitual daydreamer and an incessant planner, sometimes it’s hard for me to turn off my brain and engage in what is right before my eyes. But I’m learning, slowly but surely, that my favorite memories from this semester were always spent that way. Sometimes the only way to truly appreciate each daily experience is to block out the constant stream of other stimuli and let yourself be swept away by one moment at a time.
I hope that’s something I carry in my heart with me even after our adventure is over there and I am back on U.S. soil. We are not created to brush past life lightly, but to drink it in heartily. And whether I’m staring into the face of Big Ben beside the River Thames or smiling cheerfully at Uncle Ben on the Harding front lawn, I hope I never forget it.
– Julie Anne White [HUE fall 2017]
For more information on HUE visit our website: www.harding.edu/international