This is a very long post so make sure you have plenty of time to read it!
It’s been a whirlwind of a past three months, spontaneously deciding to study in Manchester, England, getting everything ready, and waiting anxiously for the day to arrive where I depart. Yesterday, the culmination of all that came to a head and I headed off to begin this wonderful journey.
I left home Thursday at 5:30am and my father drove me to Logan Express. Let me just say that it was so hard leaving my family, especially my mother and sister. They both started crying as I left and it was then that it hit me that I was gone for six months. I bussed into Logan Airport and went through baggage and security. I was so pumped when my luggage was below the maximum. I left at 5:30 because I am very paranoid about being on time so I always like to make it fairly early. It kind of bit me in the arse (yes, arse. I’m allowed to do it since I’m in Britain) because I was waiting in the terminal two hours before my flight. I got very acquainted with airports over the next day, haha.
I boarded my flight and I was off to the UK. For all the hate that American Airlines got, my flight was rather good. They served us breakfast and lunch free along with unlimited beverage service. The only negative to the flight was that there was a toddler across the aisle in the same row I was. For a seven hour flight, he was very well behaved but he still was a bit antsy and got noisy at times. Being the longest flight I’ve ever been on and the first time flying solo, I was very satisfied with my flight.
When I landed in Heathrow Airport in London, I went through border check, which took a good hour surprisingly. During that time, I made friends with a college student who was on the same flight as I named Stacy. She goes to Suffolk University so we were able to chat up about back home. After getting through border check, Stacy and I decided we wanted to be ambitious and try and see a bit of London before I was off.
We took a free train service from terminal three, where I landed, to terminal four, where my Yotel was (yes, Yotel. I will get into detail below). By the time we checked into my Yotel, it was 10:30 in London. We researched places to go and realized that places were not open and the cost of going in was just not worth it. It was a tad bit disappointing but I know that I am going to have plenty of opportunities to see London over the next six months.
The other unfortunate thing is that by the time I checked in, all the airport’s restaurants were closed for the evening. We ended up getting room service and enjoying a Chicago style pepperoni pizza… Yes, my first meal in England was a pizza I could get down the street. We decided we were going to down the pizza and head to the bar outside the Yotel for a couple drinks and call it a night. Unfortunately, we finished eating as the bar closed so our plans were thwarted again. Thank goodness for room service, as I was able to have a glass of Merlot and then I called it a night around 12:30am.
So you are probably asking what a Yotel is. To me, Yotel is a modern-day hostel that looks like a train cabin. On one side, we had an elevated bed capsule. Inside of the capsule was a TV that played shows as well as music and internet. On the other side was a small area with a monsoon shower and toilet. It was located in the airport so it was extremely convenient for getting a few hours of rest before my layover. Along with that, it provides 24 hour room service with some good food and drink options. The best part is that you don’t book a Yotel for a night but by the hour, so the booking works around your layover. I landed in Heathrow at 8:30 and booked my Yotel for 10pm until 5am. The rate at Heathrow is eight pounds (I’m still getting used to calling pounds currency rather than weight!) per hour, so it’s extremely reasonable. There are Yotels in Heathrow, London Gatwick, Amsterdam, and New York City (only four blocks from Times Square!).
I woke up the next morning around 3:15am (I know, I ate about fourteen pounds but, again, very paranoid about being on time). I gathered my stuff and headed off to my connecting flight. I took a free bus to the terminal and arrived there around 4:15am (D’oh!). I checked in at 5am when it opened and was at my gate by 5:45, after wandering the ground level of stores in the terminal. The fact they had Gucci, Prada, and Dolce in the terminal really surprised me. At 6:30, I said goodbye to London and flew off to Manchester!
Let me just say one thing comparing American Airlines, my first flight, and British Airways, my connecting flight. I found it so funny at the difference in appearance and age between the flight attendants of the two flights. On American, there was not a flight attendant that looked below forty years old. On the flipside, British’s attendants all looked younger than thirty. British also was much more traditional than American, sporting those old-fashioned hats that reminded me of the 30s as part of their uniform.
I landed in Manchester at 7:30am and the University provided me with free transport from the airport to my hall of residence. Driving from the airport to the hall was surreal. The buildings are so old-fashioned, with a lot of them being the style where it’s two houses in one that are connected. It reminded me of 101 Dalmatians. I was so thrown off about the cars being opposite too. I knew beforehand about it but being in one was so weird! The driver is on the right side of the car and you drive on the left side of the road.
I arrived at Cambridge Hall at 8:30 and checked in. I was very intrigued to see how things are handled in comparison to how it’s done in the US. Completely different is all I have to say. Hand-off to the max! The Hall Warden (yes, warren. There are no RAs. Just security wardens) gave me my flat inventory and let me go. Let’s just say that I am going to miss having a sense of community for the next six months.
My flat was different than I was expecting. It’s a ten person flat with two toilets and two showers along with a kitchen room. I opened my flat door and it was a long hallway ahead of me with a smaller hallway to my right. The hallway in front of me led to the ten bedrooms, all individual, five rooms on each side. To the right was a bathroom and a shower room on each side of the hallway, with the end leading into a kitchen room. Again, disappointed in the lack of community that the set up fosters.
I have to say that I like my room a lot. When you enter the room, there is a very small open foyer area with a bookcase to my left and a sink and mirror to my right (yeah, I have a sink and mirror in my room! Doing my hair just became ten times easier!). Into the room further is my bed to the left, heater to the right, and a desk spanning the width of the room ahead of me. The desk is now adorned with pictures from home. Above the desk is a window that has a nice view of the courtyard, though the courtyard isn’t that special. I’m on the ground level of the building so the warden suggested that I keep my window locked at all times. That’s a promising sign… Oh, and the best part to my room? There’s a bulletin board above my bed! Part of me wants to do a board each month just for kicks and send pictures to school.
I took a nap after putting my things down for about an hour. I was so tired that I fell asleep even though I had no sheets. I just passed out on an empty mattress. When I finally woke up, it was about 11am and I decided that I needed to start acquainting myself with the city. My hall is literally about four blocks from the city centre so I wanted to see what it had to offer. I also needed to try and get some errands done since some of the stuff I needed to do aren’t possible on the weekend.
First I visited the International Office and got my student ID. Let me just say that I was ecstatic that my ID picture is one that I like… it was a Christmas miracle. After that, I headed into the city centre to get some linens for my bed. Unfortunately, the student union is not open until Monday so I wasn’t able to purchase things there or take a look at what it has to offer. I ended up walking about two miles to Primark. Primark is a hybrid of TJ Maxx prices with Walmart’s size.The Primark in Manchester city centre is the largest store they have, with three floors of retail. I bought a duvet, two pillows, sheet set, and duvet set for twenty-five pounds.
On my way back from Primark, I walked past a hair salon called Razor’s Edge and doubled back for a cut after dropping my bedding at the hall. I was floored at how awesome the experience was. Back in America, I’d always go to a Supercuts and get something done for like $14 and the experience was very informal.
At Razor’s Edge, I made my reservation and while waiting, they asked if I wanted tea or coffee as well as crackers. They sat me within three minutes of me getting in even though I walked in. They had a coat rack and hung my coat and fitted my apron. My stylist was very nice. My request was a simple one: “I want something that’s flattering to my face and British.” She laughed and started giving suggestions. In America, they’d just start going at my hair. The stylist pulled out like four hairstyle magazines to give me an idea of what she was doing before she did it. We ended up deciding on a side quiff, which she says is in now. Before she started cutting, she had my hair shampooed and conditioned, again something that I’d never had done before. She was very interested in my travels and things from the states. One of her favorite movies was The Town so she wanted to hear about Boston (though she was shocked to hear that I’d never seen The Town!). I was very impressed at how precise and detailed she was as well. She took about a half hour to do this cut and would trim my hair if something was slightly off to her. I was impressed by that dedication to her work.
After that, I grabbed a frappuccino from Starbucks (there is literally a Starbucks every two blocks. It’s worse than Dunkin Donuts in Massachusetts!) and headed back to my hall. I took a nap and woke up about an hour ago. Right now, I’m thinking that I am going to stay in for the night. As much as I’d like to jump in and start meeting people and seeing places, I am going to take the safe route. The last thing I need is something happening to me at night alone in a brand new place.
Tomorrow is the day where students are able to return to the halls (I paid fifteen pounds extra to move in a day early). I am hoping that I am able to meet some of my flat mates. Luckily for me, my door now isn’t a fire door so I can prop it :). The only other thing I have to do is go to a mobile phone store and buy a phone and I will be all set. I am hoping to enjoy this weekend, hit it off with some of the people in my flat, and acquaint myself with the city more. Monday begins the actual work, with International Enrolment (yes, one “l,” not two!) and a reception for international students, where I hope to meet some more people. I need to find me some travel buddies!
It’s been a very interesting start to my journey. I feel more independent than I ever have and am proud that I’ve taken this step in my life to explore. I’m 24 hours in; only six months left!