If you’ve been at Ohio State for a year or two, there’s a decent chance that you’ve known someone who has studied abroad. There’s also a decent chance they’ve described the experience as “life-changing” or with some other grandiose epithet.
Over six weeks this summer, I was lucky enough to take two classes in London. It was a brief experience, but it was life-changing. And not because of some great cultural learning I underwent — London is about as cosmopolitan as it gets, and not the kind of place that’s going to pull an American out of his or her comfort zone.
The life-changing bit came from what I learned about myself, even though it took a while for the lesson to sink in.
During the first five weeks, I felt like I had discovered a paradise of Western society. The architecture was fantastic, the streets were always clean, the people were nice and helpful.
London had so much to offer, and there was no downtime. A typical day consisted of a three-hour class, followed by a trip to a museum, a play at a West End theater in the evening and typical college shenanigans late at night.
I experienced a lot in a short amount of time. I got to go to Wimbledon, hike the White Cliffs of Dover at dawn and even drunkenly throw teabags off a boat into the River Thames on the Fourth of July.
Then, in the final week, I had an epiphany at 4:30 a.m.
I was headed back to my dorm on a bus after a long night out. That’s when I saw a different side of London. 4:30 a.m. is right around the time that wealthy white Europeans leave the streets. And it’s the time when poorer immigrants started to hop on the bus to head to work.
They waited stony-faced at bus stops, lugging backpacks on their shoulders and trying to rub the sleep out of their eyes.
I had been staying in an affluent neighborhood of London where everyone always seemed cheery and optimistic, but when I got on that night bus, my unerasable excitement suddenly put me in the minority. Everyone else desperately tried to catch a few more minutes of sleep before what I imagine were long tedious days ahead.
These people didn’t share my elation of being in London. They didn’t have the luxury to.
I realized then that the great joy I had everyday had less to do with the city I was in and more to do with my good fortune.
I came to London with less money than most of the peers in my program, but I had plenty enough still to enjoy a lot of things.
But of course, money can’t buy happiness. It can help, but attitude matters more.
My time in London was also so grand because of the conscious choices I made to make the most of each minute.
I was a tourist. Tourists always have fun.
In part, it’s because we’re lucky to be tourists. We have the time and financial means to do whatever we want.
Tourists also have fun because they have an attitude conducive to it. When I went to London, my environment changed, but so did I.
I became more adventurous. I didn’t always look to do the thing that fit my interests, but instead willfully threw myself into any new situations I could find.
To be a tourist is like being an infant again — gently probing the world with wide-eyed curiosity. Some of the experiences abroad were fantastic, others were a little dull. But I was never bored.
But always, there was a great serenity — the sort of serenity I had never gotten from binge-watching “House of Cards.”
My approach to each day there made me reconsider the approach I take toward each day in Columbus. Columbus is no London. It’s a decent city, but of course, its offerings are a little lackluster compared to what a global city has available.
Still, there is so much to do that we should never become complacent. If your leisure time is monotonous, it’s not too hard to break from it. You just have to change what you expect out of it. Just be interested in the unknown and don’t expect blue skies all the time.
There are hundreds of restaurants in this city I have yet to try. Dozens of parks I’ve not yet explored. Art galleries, plays and all sorts of other goodies I’ve yet to experience, and thousands of people I’ve yet to meet.
Here, too, in Columbus, I’m lucky enough to have the means to be a tourist. Finally, I have the needed perspective. I can’t wait to get started.
So if you have the means and time, I encourage you to make things happen, and let them happen to you. Instead of grabbing Chipotle twice a week, try grabbing a meal at that sketchy diner down the street you’ve always wondered about.
Be a tourist in your own city. You’ll never know what you’ll find.