Please Mind the Closing Doors
by Erica L. Harvey
I had never been the type of person who has taken advantage of all the things that college had to offer. For three years, I heard about the study abroad program at my college, but never considered going. It wasn't in my nature. I had always been a commuter, and had never been separated from my parents for more then a week. What if I went somewhere to study and hated every moment of it? Would it be worth it in the end? Mrs. Mollie Farmer, the head of the study abroad program at King's College in Wilkes-Barre , Pennsylvania , always tells students that even if there is just a little part of them that is considering studying abroad, they should take the time to find out more about the programs that are offered. The little part of me that thought it would be great to live in England contacted the study abroad program in August of 2003. One year later, on September 5, 2004, I boarded a plane in Philadelphia and was on my way to Heathrow Airport in London .
The city of London is known for its landmarks such as St. Stephen's Tower, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square , the London Eye, Buckingham Palace , and the Tower of London ; however it offered me so much more than the sites. The girl who was afraid to leave home for the first time, fly for the first time, or be in a big city is now an accomplished world traveler who lived in the heart of London, rode the tube everyday, and was lucky enough to intern for Dr. Evan Harris, a member of British Parliament. I had made the decision right out of the gates that because I had never been away from home, prior to leaving I did not wish to have the stress of attending university added to my list of worries. I felt that working, living in flat, and having the freedom to live life without restraint was the experience that I wanted in London . For this reason my study abroad choice was the International Internship Program, which is affiliated with King's College, Rollins University , Clark University , Stonehill College , and Siena College .
My time in London let me travel the world. Belgium , Ireland , France , Italy , Germany , and Scotland are just a few of the places I visited. Taking advantage of studying abroad will allow you to see the world at the prime of your life, for a very low price. By utilizing low fare airlines and rail passes, which can be used across the entire European continent, I was able to travel to all of the aforementioned places plus cities throughout England for 1,000 US dollars. To put this in proper perspective my roundtrip airfare between the states and the UK was $689. My flight from London to Venice , Italy was 1 euro plus tax, which is roughly $35. I was able to travel to three Italian cities for $100. Only in Europe can you experience so many different cultures in such a close proximity. The European way of life is wonderful and worth experiencing. Its residents are hard working and dedicated, but at the end of the day they just prefer to go to pubs to sit, talk, drink, and laugh with their friends or even perfect strangers. They take advantage of every aspect of life, and thankfully, it's contagious.
Everyday, on my way to my internship, I would emerge from the Westminster tube station and look right up at Big Ben in St. Stephen's Tower. On my last day, after three and a half months of working with the British government, I still was in awe when I entered Portcullis House where the Members of Parliament (MPs) have their offices. Through my internship I attended Committee, watched the House of Commons in action, participated in a political campaign, experienced one of the biggest protests ever held at Westminster Palace , and saw the British government change aspects of their citizens' lives for years to come. I now know how government works from the inside out. It was amazing that a twenty-one year old foreigner actually had the opportunity everyday to sit alongside of and share opinions with a British MP.
Getting used to a new culture and all of its little quirks takes time, but it's also the best part of being somewhere new. The time I spent with my program made me appreciate the little things that occurred in London everyday. At every stop on the London Underground there are always two announcements: "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform' and 'mind the closing doors". (For your future reference when they say mind the doors; MIND THE DOORS, because they don't have automatic opening devices like elevators). These announcements are everyday occurrences, but all it takes is a ride on a tube in another country to make you miss the gap and the deathtrap closing doors. Just common British phrases and occurrences made being from another continent an amazing experience. London's little reminders like a black cab trying to run you down from the right, a double-decker bus making the windows of your flat rattle, or hearing little British lads tell their 'mum' about your accent when you are talking to a friend on the tube, make London special.
As time went by I adjusted to English culture, and now sometimes I still catch myself slipping out the traditional English reply, "cheers". London is now a part of me, somewhere in my heart right before my soul. I encourage you to listen to that little voice that says it would be cool to live somewhere else for a while and to lead a different life. Take the opportunity and run with it, because before you know it, you'll be at the next station of your life, having to "mind the closing doors," and by then the tube will have come and gone, and into the gap between the train and the platform will fall one of the best opportunities you have ever been given.