Getting There, Part I

As I am leaving the US to go to London, the only practical avenue by which to travel is air. For those of you seeking a boat, perhaps, or a subterranean train, or the world’s longest (maybe soon to be less impossible than you think?) road trip – this is not the post for you.

I booked my plane ticket on March 12th – a Saturday, for those of you who subscribe to the arcane witchcraft of buying tickets on certain days. This was a few days less than six months before departure.

I watched prices using Kayak, which I don’t regret as of yet. Kayak offers a lot of useful flight price tracking options, including periodic emails with price tracking. The site is easy to use, pretty intuitive, and displays a lot of information really comprehensively. You can save flights to watch to a “Trip”, so you can come back and check the same flights every time. Kayak will also offer up a comparison of what the other sites like them are quoting. Probably my favorite feature is that I never got annoying, unsolicited email from Kayak. I got the fare tracking emails I asked for and nothing else. Personally, I didn’t see a huge shift in the price like I have with some other international fares; I attribute this to it being LHR, but it could be anything. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any certain time to buy with this one, other than “soon” – flights were selling out pretty fast, even in March. They seemed to have the best prices on offer. They don’t serve as a booking agent, and I was referred to vayama – I don’t know if that’s because of the flight I booked or if that’s who does all of their booking.

I definitely did not use the “Trips” feature to its fullest extent – it also has hotel and car rental functions.

I was trying to watch for a major drop in prices – when I was looking to buy a ticket to go to Dublin, about eight months out there was a sharp drop of about $200, after a slow descent that totaled about another $150-200. I’ve decided, though, that no such precipice exists for London Heathrow. There was a slow downward trickle, and a few days of the price bouncing back up again, but honestly the total difference wasn’t more than $200. There is a very real risk of all the flights being booked, however, if you wait too long. Flights were filling up seven months out as I was waiting to book my ticket.

Look for updates from the airport when I actually leave to find out how it all works out.

Theoretically, the Tube is easy to navigate (Pt. 1)

Because I am, by all accounts, entirely unused to metropolitan living, I thought I had better do some research with regard to navigating the Tube – especially since I may not have a functional smartphone immediately upon my arrival (also known as “the period of time in which I will be most confused about public transportation”).

After searching the internet for all the best tips and tricks and listicles, this is what I’ve come up with. Think of it as a Greatest Hits lists of advice about the Tube, accompanied by some truly awful or amusing articles for counterpoint.

This listicle was nicely comprehensive, written such that I wasn’t bored stiff reading it, and actually informative. It’s not just basic “this is how to get on a train” but also provides instruction on cultural norms, AKA how not to be the least-liked person in your carriage.

My main issue with most advice was that it assumed a basic level of knowledge I cannot claim. I’m looking for whatever comes before 101 here, folks. This article was a particularly heinous offender.

Here is a handy little modified Tube map showing which stations are actually faster to walk between rather than taking the Tube. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about London today, it’s that nothing is logical.

Somewhere along the way, I began to wonder if perhaps my problem was not that they all started at too advanced a level, but that they were all too basic – that my particular questions and confusion were beyond what is reasonably expected of a tourist (clearly the intended audience of most of these resources). After all, that’s not entirely implausible – I am, after all, not a tourist by the general definition.

There are a variety of YouTube videos, if the idea of reading article after countless article threatens a headache. This one is perfect for “I’ve never in my life partaken in the joys of any form of public transport”. Unfortunately, I went to NYC a few years ago with a school group, so it was a little simplistic for my tastes.

This is by far the best video I found. It was explanatory, answered questions it seemed like no one else had even considered, and kind of adorable. Also, the only time anyone has ever even attempted to tell me why Oyster cards are called Oyster cards. Still not sure I believe him, but.

After being sidetracked by a couple of Bustle listicles about good boyfriends and several snarky comment threads on Tube articles, I stumbled upon It. The One. The Tube 101 to end all my desperate researching.  It not only tells you the things all these other sites informed you about, but also how to tell where you can switch lines! How to identify a baggage entrance! How to estimate travel time!

Something else I’ve learned today is that there’s nothing quite as unintelligible as people familiar with an area giving platform- and architecturally-specific directions to those who have no idea what they’re referencing. I’m sure all your amazing tips and tricks for saving five minutes are perfectly functional, but you could be making all this up for all I know. I certainly can’t assign any meaning to the series of letters and phrases you seem so attached to.

A surprising amount of people warned me not to masturbate or grope people on the Tube.

Sorry, is this an especially big issue?

One article featured a television ad on reporting sexual harassment on the Tube. I’m a little torn. I mean, great that I can text you about a guy harassing, groping, or photographing me, but meh that it’s such a big problem there’s a line dedicated solely to that.

On handpicked.org I found the single most informative piece of information in this entire search: “on the platform, look for where the yellow paint is most worn – this is where the doors open.”

Honorable mention:

Honestly, this one‘s just really funny. Zero percent helpful, 100% hilarious.

Look for part II of this post after I’ve actually had to put this hard-won knowledge to use.

Check-in: 177 days until departure

Hello, all.

I have liked every page that could conceivably relate to me – KCL’s general Facebook page, the page for the War Studies Department, the page for the student organizations, the KCL internships page, Time Out London’s page. I’ve also followed every professional London theatre whose Twitter feed wasn’t a wreck, every analogous Twitter account for the above listed Facebook pages, and the president of the KCL Student Union. Just for fun.

I check the weather in London just about every time I check my own weather – I’ve made it a page on my phone’s weather app. I conveniently have a comparison across seasons between what I’m used to and what London tends to experience. I’ve been doing this since January.

I am paralyzed – not with indecision, but with the lack of decisions needing to be made. There is nothing, in this moment, that I need to do.

This is very much a”hurry up and wait” type deal. I have a lot to do – you should see my checklists – but they all have a specific start date, or I have to wait for someone else to do their bit, or any information I find will be useless by the time I’m actually ready to use it. So sure, I can lay around and watch all of The Big Fat Quiz of the Year for the past decade and I can write a countdown into my planner and I have pretty much memorized the instruction page on how to apply for housing, but I can’t actually do much that needs doing yet.

I have, however, been invited to the Facebook group for the School of Social Science and Public Policy Offer Holders. It’s all the people who have been offered a place in the postgraduate programs for the Departments in this school, plus a few moderators employed by the school to answer questions. I have been wracking my brain for days, trying to think of an analogous old-school practice, but have thus far come up short. The “Facebook group the size of a small city” is entirely of our own creation. Sorry, baby boomers.

I can offer an update to the housing situation: Within the next few weeks I will receive my login information that will allow me access to the housing portal. The portal opens April 4th. Bless.

Otherwise, though, life mostly still consists of reminding myself anew every morning that I do actually have to maintain a 3.5 GPA this semester – I’m in very little mathematical danger no matter what, but the threat to my current 4.0 is enough to keep me attentive. I’m trying to strategically use up, as much as possible, all of the stuff I’ve somehow accumulated: more bottles of travel-sized lotion than any human being needs, a bunch of old eyeliners and makeup samples, some bath bombs I ordered last semester and am slowly depleting… You get the idea. I want to strategically use this stuff so that I have as little of the “don’t really need it but can’t bring myself to throw it away” category as possible when May rolls around.

Other than that, it’s largely business as usual, with one minor difference: I’m making a concerted effort to avoid thinking of the next few months as some sort of purgatory. I’m not “biding my time” through them, and I refuse to center my entire life around the lead-up to September 5th. I’m going out of my comfort zone, cultivating relationships, reading, occasionally binge-watching a TV show, exercising (voluntarily!), doing some independent study… In short, I’m living my best life right here, right now, in a small city in Arkansas.

Until next time,

Ashley

Why am I here?

Hello!

In a few months, I will be graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree; plenty of people do this. Millions, even. In September, I will be starting a Master’s degree; this is a little more rare, and some people choose not to pursue them in strict succession, but still not entirely remarkable. For this degree, I will be moving from Arkansas to London – yes, that London. This is a lot less common.

That’s why this blog exists.

I realized that there aren’t exactly an abundance of resources or websites that cover this particular niche, so here’s me, providing one more – albeit one specific “more”. Read along to follow me through prep – including endless checklists, moving, settling in, and life during grad school.

So, to catch you up:

  • Why grad school?
    My undergraduate degree and my postgrad work are in different fields – I see this less as a shift in my interests and more as a way to reconcile different sides of myself. I always wanted to pursue graduate school, I love academia, but there was no reason to continue to graduate school in the path set out by my undergraduate degree. I had been mulling a degree change for some time, and my graduate degree is actually in a field that I almost went into in undergrad, so in a way I’m back where I was four years ago. Plus, I totally plan on getting a vanity doctorate, and you need a Master’s degree for that.
  • As the guy in AT&T asked, “How did that happen?”
    When I started applying for graduate schools, I only looked at programs that were not in the USA. Grad school literally anywhere that isn’t the good ol’ US of A is so much cheaper that it actually justifies a transcontinental move, even with all the extra fees implied. Plus, the program I’ve chosen is 12 months long, which means I’m paying a year’s cheaper tuition as opposed to multiple years of US tuition.
    Also, I’ll be living in London. Who could turn that down? Everything, once considered, just adds up. Please remind me of that when I’m trying to fit my whole life into two suitcases and searching for a part-time job in a foreign country.
  • When? For how long?
    I’ll leave in the first week of September and my thesis is due on August 31, 2017.
  • Where?
    I have been accepted to an MA program at King’s College London; in early January, I accepted their offer. My program is taught on the Strand Campus. (Look it up on Google maps – I’m a stone’s throw from everything.)
  • But…
    • All by yourself?
      Yep.
    • Will you know anyone?
      Well, after the first few weeks I’ll know my roommates. And a professor or two.
    • Will you get to come back for holidays?
      If you’re asking this, you must not know my mom. Thanksgiving’s pretty much a no-go, given that there’s not time off from school, but if I missed Christmas she would fly over just to beat me over the head with my gifts.
  • And after school?
    Well, I’ll let you know as soon as I do. My mom claims I’m never going to come back because I’ll meet someone, fall madly in love, and live the rest of my days in the UK. (Which doesn’t sound half bad.)

In the coming months, look forward to:

  • The nth Purge of Everything I Own
  • Complaints about how ridiculous the price of international shipping is
  • How to Pack Your Entire Life
  • Questions you didn’t even know you needed to ask
  • BUREAUCRACY!
  • Things You Don’t Know Mark You as American… Until You’ve Done Them
  • Theoretically, the Tube is Easy to Navigate