A Brighton Diary: My first footsteps on foreign soil

Note: This is the first part in an on-going series chronicling my study abroad trip in Brighton, England. I am joined on this trip by my classmates and friends Cassie Jenkins, Claire Robertson, Vy Nguyen, Jhocelyn Alvarado, Morgan Collier, Abigail Pennington and Susan Salvo, led by director of student publications Andy Coughlan.

On June 11, I got on a plane for the first time and left the United States.

I had no expectations going into this trip — I just had the hope that it would be life-changing.

From the moment I stepped into the airport I was nervous about the plane ride. I had nothing to compare it to and I didn’t know how it would feel to be thousands of feet in the air. Over ocean. For nine hours.

The whole process of going through security and customs terrified me for some reason. Even though I knew I had followed every single guideline, there’s always that underlying anxiety that I will be the one pulled out of line and detained.

I was excited to leave the U.S. I needed a change of pace and different scenery. I needed to see the world through a non-American lens. How did other people live in other countries? How different would England be from the U.S.? Would I be disappointed, or, would I never want to leave?

I need not have worried. This experience has been indescribably incredible. Hopefully you’ll be able to see how this journey has changed me, Maybe, one day, it can do the same for you.

Day 1 — June 12

We landed at London’s Gatwick airport — it was about 7:20 a.m. I was not able to sleep on the nine-hour plane ride so I was pretty tired, but more excited to see the place I had been looking forward to visiting for the past year.

About one minute to touchdown at Gatwick. Photo by Olivia Malick

The weather was damp and cool — a welcome change from the blistering 90-degree weather that hung over Texas as we left.

After we went through customs, I exchanged some currency and we proceeded to wait for our luggage. Since I’d never been on a plane before, much less in a different country, every single step of this process was brand new to me.

Waiting for my bags was excruciating — I had always heard horror stories of people losing their luggage and never seeing it again. Once again, the anxiety was unfounded.

There isn’t much difference between an airport in Texas and one in England, so I didn’t realize we were in a different country until I saw the currency.

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The front of a £5 note.
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The back of a £5 note.

First of all, it’s nice to see a woman on currency. Second of all, the £5 and £10 notes are plastic, so they’re more durable (although, they don’t fold, which can be a pet peeve for some).

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The difference between a £20 and £5 note.

Another interesting fact about British currency is how it caters to those with disabilities. In America, all of our money looks and feels the same. But what if you’re blind? How do you tell money apart?

Well, in England, the bills range in size from small to large depending on the amount of the note (as pictured above). The £10 note also has braille in the top left-hand corner to distinguish it from the other bills.

These are small things that I never even thought of that England has already addressed. I’d be very interested to see if America ever does this.

Anyway, after retrieving our bags, we purchased tickets for the train that was to take us to our final destination — Brighton.

Abigail, Vy and I were separated from the rest of the group because were trying to catch an elevator, or “lift.” because our suitcases were too big to get up the stairs. A minor rush around the train station ensued, but we eventually got back to our group and got on the train.

Train ticket. Photo by Olivia Malick

I have very little experience of riding in trains since it’s not necessary in my hometown, so, whenever I have the opportunity, I always sit by the window so that I can absorb my surroundings.

So far, England was exactly how I had imagined it. Small farms and large hills decorated the landscape and everything was calm and quaint.

We arrived at Brighton train station and took a taxi from there to our Airbnb. We all took off our shoes and ran to claim our rooms. I got lucky and picked the room with the biggest window.

Andy did not let us sleep when we first arrived at the house so that way we wouldn’t develop jet lag. Had we gone to sleep when we first got there, all of our sleeping schedules would’ve been messed up for the next few days. It was tough, but I’m glad he did it, otherwise our sleep schedules would’ve been messed up for days.

We half-consciously wandered around the town. At one point,  Claire, and I ducked into a coffee shop with Andy. The shop is called The Lanes Coffeeshop, and I had a cheese and onion roll (£4.50/ $5.71), and a Coca-Cola and water (total cost £5.75/ $7.30).

It was increasingly difficult to remain awake as the day dragged on, but we all tried our best. We headed down to the Brighton Palace Pier where I had my first official Brighton donut.

Mind the seagulls in the background — shortly after I took this photo, Morgan had hers snatched out of her hand my the ferocious seagulls that terrorize the tourists of Brighton. I was lucky. Photo by Olivia Malick

The only plan for the day was to stay awake — and to meet Andy’s parents for a traditional fish and chips dinner on the pier.

We sat down in an arcade while we waited to join them, but we quickly laid our heads down to nap. We were only awoken by a loud bang that emanated from somewhere inside the arcade. At first, I thought something had exploded, but it was only someone using one of those punching machines. After a few more minutes of us closing our eyes, and another loud noise punctuating the sweet sleep, we got up and headed down to the Palm Court restaurant on the pier.

Fish and chips (or fries, as they are known to us), plus a cup of mashed peas — a companion to a tried and true dish. Photo by Olivia Malick

My first run-in with this classic dish was a success — you can’t go wrong with a huge piece of fried fish for £12.95 ($16.43).

I’m not a fan of the mashed peas, however. To me, it’s like eating baby food.

Another thing I really enjoy about England so far is that fact that tax is already included in the prices of goods. It was nice not having to guestimate what the final cost of everything would be.

At this point in the evening, we were delirious. Everyone was ready to sleep, so we retired to the house. I took a shower, video chatted with my parents, and headed to bed. I was asleep before 8 p.m.

 

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