Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Adventure of a Lifetime

For over 40 years, BUNAC has been providing students the opportunity to live and work abroad. They offer programs to the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. BUNAC helps you obtain a work visa and provides support in job and flat hunting once you reach your destination. They also arranges social outings once you arrive in the country to help you make friends and really experience your temporary home.

The following excerpts came from my journal I kept while in the UK:

Upon learning that the work visa for the Britain programme was only eligible to University students for for those who had graduated within the past six months, I knew it was now or never. I started talking more and more about the possibility of doing the programme and before I knew it, I had talked my college roommate and two of my best friends from childhood into going as well.


Thursday, February 6, 2003:

I awake early to say goodbye to my mom and sisters before they head off to work and school. I also want time for one final repacking of my suitcase to make sure I have everything I could possibly envision needing for the next six months. I begin to cry as I tell my mom I’m not really sure about my decision anymore.

She hugs me and says,
“You’ve always been my adventurous one and I know you’ll have a great time. Go and have fun.”

It’s a bitterly cold morning. The first snow of the season had fallen the night before and I could see my breath as I step out the front door. I struggle with my suitcase and wait for Melissa to arrive. Around 8 am, she and her dad pull up. My dad and I hop in the car and we all head for Des Moines and the airport.

We get on the plane and as the flight attendants begin their speech, I realize there is no turning back. I take one last look out the airplane window at sun shining on the snowy expanse around me and then buckle up, not knowing that this would be the last time I would see the sun for about a week.

Friday, February 7, 2003:
We arrived into London on a direct flight from Chicago O’Hare. It’s 7:30 am and the plane touches down on the runway at Heathrow. It’s gray and rainy outside and, at 50 degrees, considerably warmer than the weather had been in Iowa when we left.

We collect our luggage and head for customs. The customs officer requests to see our bank statements, work visas and return tickets. He demands we explain the BUNAC scheme to him and once we have satisfactorily convinced him we are only there to work temporarily, he grants us entrance to the country.

We are now residents of the UK for the next five months.


So much happened in those five short months that I could write an entire blog just about London. But I will fill you in on the one key detail you need to know for the rest of my story to make sense.

I ended up finding a job as an Editorial Assistant for Britain's largest independent publishing company while abroad. I was so excited as I set up the interview. I had always been interested in the publishing field and was excited for an opportunity to work in a place like this. My excitement grew once I got to the interview and learned the position would be working on a supplemental directory for PR Week, one of the biggest titles in my industry.

How great it would be to work on something related to my industry. It would look very impressive upon returning home and trying to break into the PR field.

My role on the directory was researching appropriate listings and helping get them ready for publication. One of the sections of the directory was education - a listing of all communications and PR programs in the States. A few schools stood out in more than one category and this was where I first became aware of Emerson College.

We enjoyed every minute of our life in London and before we knew it five months had passed.

Leaving the UK was bittersweet. There were things from home I had missed and of course I was looking forward to seeing my friends and family, but there was so much I was leaving behind as well.

The entire ride to the airport I tried not to cry. As we drove out of the city, I watched the row houses passing by and reflected on everything that had happened since we first rode in on the Airbus. That gray, wet February morning flashed back to me in snippets. It seemed so long ago, yet I could recall is as if it were yesterday.

My thoughts turned to home and the US. I wondered how much had changed and, more importantly, how much I had changed since leaving.

Soon we were in line to board our flight. I remember the stifling heat and thinking I would be grateful for the air conditioning on the airplane. Ahead of us in line was a large group of American tourists dressed in shorts and t-shirts. They were being obnoxiously loud and kept complaining about the heat and everything else. The British couple behind us commented on their rude behavior and I remember agreeing that they should stay home if they were going to complain about the differences.

Wasn’t that exactly why people traveled? If everything were the same as what you already knew, there would be no novelty or sense of adventure in traveling.

The line began to move and Melissa and I stopped for a moment to take in one last look of England before entering the boarding ramp.

“What are you thinking?” I asked her.

“That it will probably be a long time before I see this country again,” she said.

“I know,” I said sadly and we turned and entered the aircraft.


In the days that followed, I tried to readjust to American life. I know that sounds weird, but returning home to me was a culture shock. England is very similar to the US, but it’s also very different. I wasn’t even gone for a very long period of time, but it was amazing how quickly and how much I had adjusted to life in England.

People kept asking me if I was glad to be home. Yes, I was. But also, I wasn’t. I felt as if my adventure had ended just as it was really beginning. I had taken a chance on something very few people ever even consider doing. I had done it…and done it well. I felt empowered and wasn’t ready to let go of that feeling or have to start all over again already.

“A mind that has been stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes.


It has now been almost seven years since I moved back from the UK and sadly, it has been seven years since I’ve set foot on European soil. I’m sure much has changed and I still dream of going back and sitting on “my” bench in Regent’s Park in the Spring.

I’m frustrated that life since then has kept me from one of my great passions in life – traveling. But I also smile reflecting on my impulsive decision so many years ago to move to a foreign country.

You see, if I had never gone to London, I would never have heard about Emerson College and the Global Marketing and Advertising program to which I would eventually apply.

And if I hadn’t lived in London, I would never have had the courage to accept a spot in the program and move all the way across my country to start a new life in a city where I knew no one.

No comments: