An American Panther in London: The return home

When asked, "What did you do today?" how many people get to reply with, "Just hung out at a castle," or "Visited a stone circle constructed about 4,000 years ago?" For two weeks, 20 University of Northern Iowa undergraduates and myself were able to make these claims. I am a diehard proponent of studying abroad and travel in general. The world has provided every inhabitant with an open invitation for exploration. College is a perfect opportunity to take advantage of this invitation. Global travel will never be as easy or inexpensive as it is when an individual is in college.  The accessibility and rates are more generous than at any other stage in life. If that wasn't lucrative enough already, there are people like me and the Study Abroad Center who do the planning and guiding for you.

Leah's blog
Reuber on the cliffs of the Aran Islands near the west coast of Ireland.

After two weeks abroad I have finally returned and readjusted to life in the U.S. Let me first start out by saying that transatlantic flights are not fun and will never be. Ever. Sitting in a gigantic hunk of metal and machinery some 30,000 feet in the air for more than eight hours isn't an enlightening experience. It's no better two weeks later when your flight has been delayed four hours, subsequently forcing you to miss your connecting flight. By the time I landed in Chicago on May 30, I should have already been home after driving from Cedar Rapids to Cedar Falls. But what's a European expedition without a little stress?

To be fair, returning to the U.S. was the most tedious and stressful part of the trip. There were a few small snags like lost luggage, unexpected airline fees, broken suitcases and forgotten debit cards, but all things considered, I would still say the trip was perfect.

As I stated in my previous blog posts, I have a long distance, obsessive relationship with London. This was my third time traveling to the city and when I had finally arrived it felt like I'd never actually left. Everything I was enamored with was just as it had been two and three years prior. I was excited to serve as an unofficial tour guide for the larger group. I could tell anyone where the best shopping was (Covent Garden in the Seven Dials District or Oxford Circus) or inform that the famed Abbey Road, where the iconic Beatles' album cover photo was taken, is at the St. John's Wood stop, not the Abbey Road stop on the Underground or remind that cars and buses, unlike the U.S., will not stop for anyone to cross the street.

Regardless of how often I've been to London or how much I've already seen in England in general, there's always room for more. One day we visited Windsor Castle (the Queen's second residence, and at the time of our visit she was there), Stonehenge and Bath (the site of the ancient Roman baths and the Bath Abbey). Never before had I been to any of these locations and I can now say that I can see myself living in Bath and taking a train to London on the weekends.

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Ireland was a new adventure for everyone. I've never visited the Emerald Isle and neither had any other individuals on the trip (with the exception of the course leader).

First and foremost, any pictures, stories or articles cannot possibly do the beauty of Ireland justice. It's simply an impossible feat, like trying to divide by zero. It was as though someone knocked over a 64-pack of crayons and used every single shade of green that fell out. The coast, the beaches, the cliffs, the fields, the villages, even the air can't be described to its full potential.

We spent time in three different cities: Galway, Killarney and Dublin. It was unanimously decided that Galway was everyone's favorite location in Ireland. It was built with the perfect amount of history and modernity.

Perhaps one of the most memorable and striking displays of Irish culture and heritage was the use of Gaelic (the formal Irish language). Practically every sign, government or other, used both English and Gaelic. Gaelic is technically the official language of the Republic of Ireland, although English is most commonly spoken. We were all taken aback to see signs and directions in a language that was incomprehensible. Nonetheless it was wonderful to get that feeling of truly being in a foreign country, even if you don't have to learn a new language.

Simply put, studying abroad is an unforgettable experience.

For previous blog posts and photos of the trip, visit An American Panther in London.