I lived in London for a short time and then I was back stateside again, but it still feels like home when I return. Even if your Visa is short-term, London tends to make a big impression – especially once you start to feel like not just a tourist but a resident.
When I stepped onto the Heathrow tube station platform after two years away, everything I missed came rushing back. I don’t think these ten things are in any particular order, but they are the things I thought about while I was separated for so long from the city that is now my second home. Let’s not stay apart so long next time, okay London?
- Public transport. Do I need to say more? London’s public transport system has permanently spoiled me to the point I feel disappointed in every other city’s transportation system. I could live here for years without needing a car at all! Which is good, because there is zero parking.
- The diversity. You can walk through Hyde Park, down The Mall, or through a random market and hear 5 different languages spoken in 5 minutes. It reminds me of how small the world really is, and how closely we’re all connected.
- The history. Walk down the street. Almost any street. Look around. Look up. There are historical buildings everywhere. Little “___ person lived here” signs. Memorials. An old medieval church that is still halfway standing after the Blitz. After living in London, the States seem so… young. (Which, comparatively, they are.)
- Pubs. Chain pubs, local pubs, pub food, pub TVs with the match on. Pubs are now my favorite place to sit around and write, think, chat with a friend, or simply people watch. There are few people watching opportunities more enjoyable than watching a football match in which you have no loyalty ties, surrounded by fans, from a small little local pub.
- The fact that half of London goes for after work drinks on every weekday and there are so many people they spill out into the streets for an hour or more of chatting and winding down still delights me. I’ve never been anywhere else that does after work drinks like London.
- The Evening Standard. I never really got excited about newspapers… Until that one seat on the rush hour tube opened up and I needed to occupy my hands. Now every time I travel I try to pick up a free local paper. Thanks, Standard.
- Food markets. Pretty self-explanatory. Street food anywhere in the general vicinity of Europe is my favorite type of food. And Borough Market? Just leave me there with a wallet full of cash for a few hours and I’ll be happy.
- The parks. You can be walking down the most crowded city street, and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by acres and acres of grass and trees and people playing badminton or fetch with their dogs.
- Empty tube platforms at night. There’s just something so soothing about them to me. The sound of a train through the tunnel, and the automated voice over the speakers that sounds crisper when you’re surrounded by fewer people. Mind the gap. Not competing with crowds of commuters for a seat. The few hushed conversations half a train car away.
- Day trips. Get on a train and in one hour you can be at Hampton Court Palace or on the coast in Brighton. It’s so easy. (And still, no driving required!)
- The culture. Museums. West End. Parks. Locally owned cafes and boutiques. London has everything, half of it free, for you to do on any given day of the week. Something is always going on, even if your biggest calendar item for the day is people watching.
Sure, Audrey Hepburn (in Sabrina!) was talking about Paris… But I think I feel the same way about London. Plus, I’ve never actually been to Paris. London is definitely always a good idea. And after neglecting my poor passport for over two years, I breathed a sigh of relief as we stepped past border control at Heathrow and onto the escalator that took us down to the tube.
We got quite attached to our little street.
We got quite attached to our little street.I’ve never been in love with big cities, but London is the exception. I felt like I was back home, and my feet still wanted to hit autopilot as we passed Victoria station on my old route to Pimlico.
For the 7 days I got to be back in London, we stayed in Notting Hill. It was an area I had never really explored while living in Pimlico. There’s just too much London to explore all of it in even five years’ time, much less five months! Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Notting Hill!
It’s a posh little neighborhood, full of stereotypical white facades with pillars and tiled stoops. Our host was really lovely, and the room was twice as spacious as the little shoebox I was used to during my internship. It only took until the jetlag wore off for my mental Central London map to start working again, and to get back that instinctual grasp of North, South, East, and West.
It was especially fun showing Kate around central London since she had never been there before. I’m sure I was dragging her from place to place more than was strictly necessary, but I was also eager to see all the sights I had missed in the last two years.
Kate and I had possibly the longest travel day I’ve ever experienced on our way to Heathrow, as we were trying to save on airfare. So it meant we had some unavoidable layover time… the longest of which was in Boston. I don’t believe I had ever been to Boston before, and since we were in an incredibly small and boring terminal of the airport… I decided to see what we could possibly get up to with our backpacks and some public transportation.
We sorely needed some fresh air and time away from other tired terminal travelers. I found an easy route from the airport shuttle to the Boston subway station, with the help of an information desk and tourist map. From there, some cheap short-term tickets got us a few stops away to what appeared to be somewhere close to downtown and out into the sunlight.
We walked out to a harbor that was full of people and spent a little while wandering aimlessly before parking ourselves on a bench that had a great view. We did still have our heavy backpacks with us, after all. Just sitting in the breeze did a world of good.
So, if you’re ever stuck in the Boston airport for an inordinate amount of time… Getting a map and subway ticket will be worth it.
Much happier campers with fresh air!
The day I sat down to record my Day 0 video, I could fit everything I knew in Italian into less than 30 seconds of video. And I managed to make it to Day 90!
I am now at the end of a 2 week Italian study break, after completing the challenge! My brain needed a break. But with my trip to Italy getting closer I’m jumping back into studying now. ( I know I have some homework from Blessy I need to revisit. 🙂 )
I wanted to give a quick rundown of my thoughts about the whole challenge, now that it’s done.
The #Add1Challenge goal: To set a non-negotiable study goal, follow it, track your progress (recording a YAY, NAY, or break day), and speak with a native speaker entirely in your target language for 15 minutes at the end of 90 days.
We received emails every day for the first 15 days, divided into (optional) mastermind and study groups, and were equipped with some learning resources. The rest was up to us. In order to be eligible to complete the Add1Challenge, we also had to complete 3 mini-challenges, and upload videos for Day 0, Day 30, Day 60, and Day 90.
- The Add1Challenge community is the single best source of motivation for studying outside of school I’ve ever experienced. The A1C Italian community was meraviglioso! I highly recommend joining study groups for A1C. Everyone gave me a general sense of accountability, especially with the study group.
- I set my study goal to be 4 days a week, for 45 minutes per day. A bit on the light side, but I was able to surpass it on a regular basis, which was motivating. I only took all of my allowed break days while I was sick with a cough and couldn’t speak.
- Sometimes you progress in leaps and bounds, and sometimes you can’t see that you’re actually progressing at all. That’s what the monthly update videos are for. I’m glad I had them to re-watch.
- I went from “Ciao” and “Mi chiamo Tina” to having a (still very basic) linear conversation! That daily routine, even if I did the bare minimum amount of studying, really had an impact. Without the A1C, I probably would have gone to bed without studying at all for half of those three months.
- Posting videos of your face on Youtube will always feel weird. You just have to ignore that.
- Listening to your own voice feels the same in a second language as it does in your first language. Another thing to ignore.
- I mentioned the Italian learners, but all the challengers were highly motivating, no matter the language. Watching their videos as they progressed was inspiring! (Because if they can do it, so can I.)
- italki is the single best learning resource I have ever found, and is almost tied with the A1C for motivation. I clicked with 90% of the tutors I booked lessons with. And I would get corrections on journal entries from native speakers.
- Committing to a finite amount of learning resources is important. There are too many out there to keep up with them all. Figure out which ones work best and leave the rest.
- I had a cough for almost 6 full weeks right in the middle of the challenge. I did get a little panicked about my progress then. At Day 60 I felt like I had regressed, but I doubled up on my italki lessons during the last 3 weeks of the challenge and made it! If it weren’t for the A1C community I probably wouldn’t have bounced back as fast.
- The most successful way I found to not get overwhelmed about my 90 day goal…. Was to ignore it. Haha! But it worked, right? And the advice of the other A1Cers who had done the video before helped as well.
- I met some of the best tutors on italki thanks to recommendations from other A1C participants!
- Another grazie mille to Blessy!
The Add1Challenge is something I would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to make a lot of progress in a short amount of time! I’m going to join another challenge in the fall in my push for conversational fluency. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to complete a 30 minute conversation at the end of 90 days without tracking my study time, participating in mini-challenges, and my study group!
List of Favorite Resources
The #Add1Challenge Goal: Have a 15 minute conversation entirely in your target language after 90 days of study.
I did it! Actually, I had a roughly 30 minute conversation completely in Italian – though by minute 20 my brain was pretty fried. Of course, I had gone 10-20 minutes completely in Italian during previous lessons and study sessions, but those usually ended up sounding more like stream-of-consciousness sessions than linear conversations.
Grazie Blessy, my fantastic teacher, for helping me so much!
I had a super short lesson with another tutor first to get my brain “warmed up.” My call with Blessy felt great! There were lots of pauses for thinking about grammar and vocab, but it was an actual linear conversation. I also noticed I make weird faces when I’m thinking.
Now, I just feel… relieved. And accomplished! I went from knowing “Mi chiamo Tina” to this conversation in 90 days! Of course, I will keep studying before my trip to Italy in June. My end goal is to be conversationally fluent, where it isn’t a struggle to communicate in most everyday situations, by the end of 2016. But for now, I’m enjoying how far I have come since late January.
Space, l’ultima frontiera!
When Assignment #3 (make a short, fun video in your target language) of the #Add1Challenge was given, I wanted to do something different from my other videos. One challenger made a video of her dog obeying commands in German, one discussed a children’s book about animals in Chinese, and a few others featured their cats in various languages.
Mini-Challenge #3: Put in as much speaking practice as possible in 14 days.
This one was only really difficult in terms of scheduling. Taking italki lessons and speaking with those tutors is my favorite way to put in some good time on progressing in Italian.
Mini-Challenge #2 of the #Add1Challenge has officially ended!
The goal was to write a minimum of 3 sentences every day for 15 days. I missed one day out of the 15, and that was because I had taken a nap for pretty much an entire Saturday, even after sleeping in. Thanks, stubborn cough that won’t go away! La tosse che non si chiuderà.
I’m learning that it is one thing to drill vocabulary and memorize monologues (both of which are necessary for me, if I want to say anything without reading a script), but it is definitely another thing to understand what natives are saying, even when I know the vocab they are using.
During one of my recent Skype lessons, I could not respond to ANYTHING my teacher said or asked me… unless she wrote it down. Once I read it, I either understood what everything meant, or understood enough to infer what she was saying through context clues… Then I could respond.
Well, if you can’t see the problem there, it’s a big one. How am I supposed to actually speak Italian if I need everything written down to understand it? I can’t. So… here comes my big push for training my ear to hear things correctly (instead of hearing just a bunch of jumbled sounds)… and training my brain to understand what I hear.
Part of the #Add1Challenge is completing mini-challenges on top of your main minimum time commitment goals. I completed Mini-Challenge #1 awhile back, but here is a recap:
Mini-Challenge #1: Speak with 3 different & new language tutors or exchange partners, for at least 30 minutes each, within the span of a few weeks.
I used italki back in early 2015 for a few lessons thanks to Benny’s Fluent in 3 Months blog, so I wasn’t new to the idea. But when my computer died a slow, painful death, and my life got busy, I hadn’t picked it back up… Even after the Add1Challenge started. So, I was excited to get back to it.