Brust: Preparation for extended stay abroad comes with obstacles

Columnist troubleshoots before leaving for a semester abroad in London.

Amelia Brust

Amelia BrustMy checked suitcase weighs 45 pounds. Add another 15 pounds of shoes and coats – along with my laptop – for my carry-on luggage. And, don’t forget my 2-pound shoulder bag. At a grand total of 62 pounds worth of possessions, I think I’ll be covered for my four-month trip to London.

Too much? I like options.

The School of Communications and Theater’s – pardon me, the School of Media and Communication’s – Fall 2012 London program runs from Sept. 6 until Dec. 16, but I will remain in the U.K. with family until after Christmas, or until the world ends; whichever comes first. In that time, I’ll be writing from the South Kensington neighborhood of London letting you know how I “get on” and get around the city known for its crafty navigational loopholes.

Before I left, I needed to fill out some paperwork, none more taxing than the U.K. Tier 4 (General) Student Visa application. I suppose it’s my own fault. If I didn’t take an internship, I could have avoided the anxiety of dealing with the U.K. Border Agency. But, no, I just had to boost my résumé.

My first attempt failed. I suppose it’s also my fault that I didn’t double-check what counts as an acceptable passport-style photo. I received an ominous letter stating my application was not processed, which meant I may need to re-apply and therefore re-pay the $500 fee, prompting my mother to tell me I would have to “fight this.” Thankfully, U.K. bureaucrats have more common sense than I gave them credit for, and I was allowed to re-submit the same form with a different photo for just $12 in shipping.

Then the phone question: Would I get one? Yes. Would I get it here or in England? Here. Contract, or pay-as-you-go? Contract – through PicCell Wireless, which specializes in global phone plans.

Finally, there was the issue of money. Both Temple and the Foundation for International Education, which provide accommodations and classrooms for the program, recommended $3,500 to $4,000 in spending money for basic food and personal needs. Meals are not provided, though we do have a communal kitchen in the dorm.

While I did not score a paying job this summer, I will be using my baby money – gifts I received from friends and family shortly after I was born – that were cleverly deposited in the bank. That, plus the magic of compound interest will keep me in Pret a Manger sandwiches and ginger beer.

I practiced packing my suitcase weeks ago, after I had recurring stress dreams of forgetting what day it was and trying to rush to the airport. In one nightmare, I was directed to run all the way around the airport, up several flights of stairs, ending up in what looked like a YMCA, lined with bunk beds. It was full of families who had also missed their flights. There was no door. It was like travelers’ purgatory.

When the anxiety passed, I could get excited about London.

You can classify me as an Anglophile. When I went there last year, I was in my element. I’d imagined London so much, that it felt as close in my bedroom as it did when I walked down Piccadilly Road. Going to London seemed like the shortest distance I had ever traveled on a plane.

Now, I would get that sensation again for four months. When I got the acceptance email from SMC Study Abroad in February, I screamed. I jumped and twirled around my room in Elmira Jeffries. The next song I listened to was “Wondering,” by Dirty Pretty Things. Bet you thought I was going to say “London Calling”? Nice try. That’s what I posted on Facebook.

When I arrive, the Olympics trash will be disposed and traffic will resume as usual. You remember traffic, that thing everyone was frightened of but never came because the locals buggered off for two weeks? I actually watched these Games. I even teared up during the opening and closing ceremonies. I’m sorry, but you won’t get “Gregory’s Girl” and Arctic Monkeys in any other Olympics.

Perhaps the best outcome of the London Games was the U.S.’s awareness of England’s best-kept secret: London Mayor Boris Johnson. That’s right, Americans now know who Boris is, and how fortunate we are. My favorite quote – there are so many to choose from – came from the “Proust Questionnaire” in Vanity Fair’s June 2012 issue. When asked to name his favorite fictional hero, Johnson responded, “The mayor in ‘Jaws.’ He stuck up for the business community of Amity Island in the face of public hysteria.” He’s the U.K.’s answer to Vice President Joe Biden.

I disembark tomorrow. I’d hope for the best, but that’s not the English way. So instead, I will plan for the worst, say nothing and be mildly amused all the same.

Amelia Brust can be reached at

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