I was unnaturally calm as I boarded my Virgin Atlantic flight at’ 9:30 p.m. to London last Tuesday night. I had my freak-out sessions a few days back, as I attempted to fit my life into two 50-pound suitcases and a small carry-on. But I was finally mentally prepared to leave the U.S. and live across the pond for five months.

Living in a city is certainly an experience. Growing up in suburbia, visiting New York City only time to time, and going to school in a very campus-oriented place has sheltered me from the thrill of living in the center of a city.

London is absolutely fantastic. I love being in the midst of a city, being one anonymous entity amongst the 10 million people who crowd the streets of London each day, being at the heart of the action at all times. I find myself just wandering around – taking random side-streets, stopping to admire the quaint architecture and whipping out my camera at all possible times to capture everything I see.

One of the first things I observed as I took my first walk around the city was the myriad ethnicities, languages and accents that filled the streets. London’s rich cultural center attracts a spectrum of people, making it such a cosmopolitan, international city. It exudes a sophisticated, urbane vibe.

At one street corner, I heard two women conversing in rapid French and on the next street, I was going gaga over this cute Brit’s accent as he spoke to someone on the phone. And I got very excited when I heard some Punjabi as I passed by a series of Indian restaurants.

I find myself trying to imitate the way people speak, figuring out how they pronounce words, understanding the different stresses they put on certain consonants and remembering the different words they use.

I jot down British lingo in my little journal after I talk to locals and try to include them in my daily speech. ‘Bloody brilliant’ and ‘jolly good’ are among my favorites phrases.

My study abroad program has housed me in a beautiful flat in the center of London. Public transportation is highly efficient – the tubes, public buses and taxis are dependable, color-coded, extremely clean and easy to utilize.

The local grocery stores, Sainsbury and Tescoes, are a 2-minute walk from our flat, the closest tube station, a 5-minute walk, and the main shopping center, Oxford Street, a brisk 10-minute walk.

London weather tends to be a bit wet, and gloomy, but I did see the lovely sun this past Sunday, and I do not mind being outside. It is refreshing to be able to reach most places by walking and I feel healthier being on my feet most of the day.

People-watching has become another one of my new favorite hobbies. British culture is far more liberal than I ever expected. Everyone is so open about drinking, about their sexual activity, and about what they do on a daily basis.

Pubs are the place to go for lunch, a mid-afternoon drink, dinner and of course, for enjoyable night-time debauchery. I have tried my first Guinness and even a delectable traditional English breakfast at local pubs.

Aside from pubs, Starbucks can be spotted on every street, similar to New York City; however, what has proven to be more popular than Starbucks in London is Pret A Manger. Central London is littered with these small fast-food shops; people are constantly filtering in and out of the doors, purchasing a midday coffee, or a sandwich and soup for lunch.

Nightlife here seems to be glamorous. The Brits start going out early, around 7 p.m. or so and spend the night moving around.

We went to an American bar our second night here where they blasted some of my favorite American tunes, but I’m slowly starting to become a fan of British music. They love techno, and some of the other songs I have been hearing have funky beats. Also, grinding is not commonplace at clubs here. People here actually dance!

The student unions at universities such as University College of London (UCL) are packed almost every night of the week, with special deals such as 99 pence drinks night, karaoke night, or trivia night.

Sure, I’m a bit homesick. I miss my family and my friends dearly. This city has a completely new ambiance. But I am seizing this opportunity to really acculturate myself into British society and dabble in British culture. It will most definitely be a challenge but it will be a challenge that I am going to learn so much from.

Venkateswaran is a member of the class of 2011.



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