It was six in the morning at Heathrow International Airport as I navigated my way towards the coach buses in order to take me to my new University. It was easy. I sat down on the clothed gray-colored seat that reminded me of my countless journeys on the Greyhound from Philadelphia to New York and I thought to myself: Huh. Just like America.
With the familiarity of traveling, I figured that the majority of other aspects would also be strikingly similar. Little did I know the differences that were about to come: vehicles on the other side of the street, queues everywhere, and everyone saying, “you alright?” as a greeting. I suppose I expected (or I should have expected) most of these differences based on my research (or knowledge of England), but I never considered how different the campus itself might be: The University of East Anglia.
The differences between Temple University and the University of East Anglia were initially, thank you to my ignorance, at the surface level — not much. Both had vast amounts of clubs to join, people to meet, things to do. However, the second I physically stepped on campus and checked in, I struggled with one simple aspect I did not even think of: the campus layout. TempleU is in the city of Philadelphia. All of the buildings are arranged in a city-like grid format. You need to get to the Student Center? It’s on the corner of Montgomery and 13th Street. Done.
Apparently, the University of East Anglia campus was built on an old golf course. There are different levels, hills, stairs, multiple entries for every building, and walk-ways that crisscross all over. I was becoming dizzy walking in circles trying to navigate how to get back to my dorm for the first three nights. I said multiple times to my fellow exchange students during orientation, “How will I ever understand where I am on this campus? I am going to be that lost American on campus for the next four months.” I missed the Philadelphia layout.
After three days, my melodramatic fear passed, and I no longer needed to stop and read a campus map every 500 feet. I arrived to every lecture and seminar during my first week exactly on time, and when one of my friends wanted to meet at a fixed location on campus, I no longer developed a mini heart attack. Wanna meet at the SU Bar? I’ll be there in five.
Although navigating the campus was a bit of a larger (and so far the only) disruption than expected while settling into a whole new school in a whole new country, I plan on using this experience to get me through any new obstacles that come my way. I know there will be many more of higher magnitude. What is key, is simply, time and patience (and sometimes maybe, a pocket-sized map).
I also just think about it this way: when I was dropped off from my suburban town into the heart of Philly, I thought I’d never been able to navigate towards Center City alone in one piece. And look at me now… Hello, England!