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A trip 'across the pond' offers culture, nightlife and lessons in 'English'

I had more than a handful of doubts as I prepared to head across the Atlantic Ocean last September. Should I leave the safety and security of Princeton? Could I adjust to life in a totally different country? Would I meet friendly people? Could I handle the bustling atmosphere of a busy city?

All of these doubts swarmed though my head as I took the 8-hour flight from Chicago to London, and they were intensified the second I stepped off the plane onto British territory. After finally making it through customs and past those annoying dogs sniffing my luggage, I looked for the exit signs, only to find out that there was no "exit" in London. There was only a "way out." I cringed as I saw my $50 dollar bill reduced to a mere 30 English lbs., and I reluctantly asked to use the "toilet" rather than the less graphic "restroom." However, as I settled into my seat on the infamous London Underground and heard the lovely British accent warning me to "mind the gap," I knew that everything would be okay. Within an hour I was in the heart of downtown London, and I couldn't wait to start my new adventure.

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The next three months really flew by. Gradually, I fell in love with London — the history, the culture, the nightlife — and I realized that I had made the right decision. As an avid fan of the arts, I could not have found a more exciting place. The theater was popular and inexpensive, the museums were grand and spectacular and Shakespeare was everywhere. The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral satisfied my desire to explore the historical landmarks of the city. Clubs and bars were loud, crowded and crazy. But what I loved most about London were the little things — the weekend market up in Camden Town, the old man at the Casablanca grocery store who always knew ahead of time what I was coming in to buy, the free croissant that came with my coffee at the Express Coffee Company and of course, the flirtatious bartenders at the World's End pub.

London was definitely an ideal location to study abroad. In addition to its amazing resources, it also offered an undeniable asset: the English language. I did not have to worry about a language barrier, though many British terms such as "pissed" (drunk) and "fag" (cigarette) have a slightly different meaning here in the United States. However, I strongly believe my semester would have been just as wonderful had I chosen to study elsewhere.

Though I continued to feel challenged intellectually by my professors and also harbor the pressures of a full course load, nothing could compare to the lessons I learned from my new set of peers. My dorm hallway was straight out of an "It's a Small World After All" advertisement, with four Brits, three Americans, two Finnish boys, a German and a Greek girl. The stories and experiences we shared in our small, rundown kitchen are the most lasting memories I have of the semester. I will forever treasure the opportunity to bond with such a diverse group of people and make them my family.

As I prepare for a new semester, I look forward to the transition back into "normal" life. I can't wait to wake up each morning and actually see the sun shining. And after being back on campus for a couple weeks, I've realized that very little has changed during my time away. I like to think I've just woken up from a really great dream — a dream that I hope many others will have someday as well.

Jennifer Chang is a 'Prince' Senior Writer from Chicago.

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