On September 27, 2007, I arrived at Heathrow jet-lagged and overwhelmed after taking the red-eye from DC with 30 other students. As we went through immigration, the joyless woman at the counter was like, 'what are you studying?' and when I told her it was anthropology, she furrowed her brow and was like, 'and what is that?' And I wanted to sigh and say, 'lady, your guess is as good as mine,' but instead I mumbled and rambled until she just stamped my passport and let me through.
As everyone else trickled through to the baggage carousel, I remember going to the ATM and withdrawing a bunch of pounds, and then walking over to AMT for a cup of coffee. I looked like absolute hell, and when I finally got to the front of this huge line, the barista didn't even look up from the register as I ordered a cup of coffee.
'Black or white?' she asked.
I stammered and blinked. 'Sorry, what?'
She exhaled, loudly. 'Do you want a black coffee, or a white coffee?'
I shrugged. 'Um, maybe a black coffee with a little bit of milk?'
She rolled her eyes and was like, 'So that'd be a white coffee.'
And I was like I CAN'T DO THIS.
The bus dropped Brian and I off in Oxford in front of the Grad Centre, where they didn't have our keys. So they sent us back to the College with all of our worldly possessions in tow, picked up a ring of keys, and made the twenty minute trek back down to the Grad Centre. When we got there, it was freezing cold and I hadn't thought to bring a coat. My heater wasn't working and I had no sheets, so I laid down on the bare mattress and slept all afternoon covered haphazardly in a pile of towels. I met up with all the other scholars for dinner outside of KFC, and we walked to a fluorescently-lit fish and chips place where I got a veggie burger that seemed to involve a bag of Green Giant diced vegetables packed in a mashed potato patty and deep-fried. It was sort of tragic and sad. And then I slept in my nest of towels.
On September 26, 2008, I arrived at Heathrow similarly jetlagged, but by myself and with a much, much better idea of what I was doing. When the woman at immigration asked what anthropology involves, I knew to say that it's like sociology and give a ten second synopsis of what I study. I hauled my bags up onto a cart and went to the ATM (by which I mean cash point), strode over to AMT and got in the line (by which I mean queue), and ordered a white coffee and biscotti that I balanced on the cart as I maneuvered it one-handedly to the Central Bus Terminal for the umpteenth time. I slept on the bus, and when I got off at Oxford, it wasn't unseasonably chilly, it was just frigid the way that Oxford is always sort of frigid. I'd brought a scarf.
It was almost magic, compared to a year ago. I got off on the High Street instead of riding the bus all the way to Gloucester Green, beelined for the Lodge and got my keys, and was all moved into my suite in less than an hour. I popped down to get my mail and promptly found Erika, and we chatted, and then chatted an hour later over soup. I was still sort of jetlagged, but I tried to stay up to get into a regular sleep pattern, so instead I picked up all my boxes, unpacked, and went out for pizza at Strada and drinks at Sugar Brown's with friends before crashing for, oh, twelve hours.
If this year continues to be about 2% as stressful as last year, it's going to be positively magical.