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Saturday, May 19, 2012

London Revisited: What I Didn't Believe Beforehand, and Now I'm Kicking Myself For It

I don't like suspense, so I'll just tell you what I didn't believe: going back to a country a second time is still hard, even though it's familiar.  And now I'm kicking myself for it.

Dear experienced and wise facilitator friends, thank you for telling me about your personal journeys.  Thank you for trying to warn me that just because I was familiar with a country or a city didn't mean that I would have no problem on my second field study.  Unfortunately, like Old Testament prophets, you were cast out of my mind and your warnings were unheeded.  And I'll be darned if your prophecies did not come true.

The first few days or so of being back in London was a breeze.  Let's compare: On last year's field study to London, I arrived mindlessly jetlagged, wandered around for hours trying to find my hotel and getting yelled at by drivers, and then locked myself in the tiniest hotel room ever and cried while listening to Selena Gomez's "Who Says" on repeat for hours in order to save the tiny shreds of sanity and self-confidence I had.  My success of the day was discovering that public transportation was not free, and learning coin denominations from the nice Indian man at the post office a few miles down the road (which I walked to, because public transportation was, as previously mentioned, definitely not free). On this year's field study, I arrived a little tired, put some money on my oyster card, got the Tube to my friend's place, sent some emails letting friends and family know I'd arrived safely, did a bit of grocery shopping, and then went out to with some friends for dinner and a movie.

Improvement, Watson?  Yes, Sherlock.

Another comparison: instead of spending the entire week crying, wanting to go home, desperately searching for housing, sleeping on strangers' couches, and begging my parents to buy me a ticket home, I spent the week following up on housing leads, seeing old friends, and making arrangements for my students to arrive.  It was just easier this time because I was familiar with the area, I had connections, and I did not feel helpless.  I was confident.

On the ninth, all my students arrived and I delivered them successfully to their homes.  I had a bit more work to do, because three of these homes were temporary.  But with some excellent help from Dave and the London members, I was able to find permanent housing for everyone, and my last student moved in on Wednesday.  It was great.

On Thursday it hit.  The other facilitators were right, the second time is harder.  I'm not exactly sure of their reasons for it being harder, but for me, it has to do with novelty and purpose.  The first time around, if I was feeling unsure about being in England, I could comfort myself with the fact that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that it would look excellent on grad school applications, and that I was knocking out some classes so that I wouldn't have to take so many in the fall.  This time, it is not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I've already been accepted to a grad school, and frankly, it would have been a lot easier to take these classes at BYU instead of out in the field.  Furthermore, I'm not filled with a childlike sense of wonder when I see Westminster Abbey, Tate Modern, Victoria Station, the Thames, a double-decker bus, the British Museum, etc.  It's not that I don't appreciate them.  It's almost like I've gained a sense of familiarity, which for some reason, makes things less amazing.  And that's rather tragic, in my opinion.

I'm not afraid to admit it: sometimes I don't see why I'm here.  And what I'm quite afraid to admit: sometimes I am bored with London.  But in some way, this is where my students are my salvation.  For them, London is either an entirely new experience, or an experience that was a long time ago and has faded into memory.  Riding Boris bikes, touring Westminster Abbey, walking across Tower Bridge--these are all ten times better when I see how Ben, Kayla, Natalie, and Ariana experience them.  So for now, until I do some deeper introspection, my reason for being here is to help others have full and enjoyable experiences in London, to provide them with helpful guide, if needed, so they can be confident in their field studies.  And for right now, I think that's good enough.

(P.S. However, this is not to say that more suggestions for the relevance of my field studies experience would not be appreciated.  If you have one or two, please leave them in the comments.)