Reflecting on home across the pond

A student contemplates events like the U.S. presidential election while studying in London.

The Palace of Westminster lies on the banks of the River Thames in the City of Westminster in London and serves as the meeting place for the British Parliament. STEVE BOHNEL FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

SteveHeadshotColorIt’s an inevitable question that friends and family will ask me once I return home from London later this month.

“How was your trip?”

And to everyone who asks, I’ll give the same brief answer: “It was the trip of a lifetime.”

Yes, it’s a cop-out response. But how do you explain traveling to 10 European countries and living in a city more than 3,500 miles away for over three months?

During this trip, I’ve attended multiple English football matches and I’ve stepped foot in dozens of breathtaking cathedrals and churches.

It wouldn’t do those experiences justice if I tried to pinpoint my favorite moment of a semester overflowing with memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. The whole trip in itself is one of my favorite memories.

But if there’s one thing I always thoroughly enjoy — even across the Atlantic — it’s aimlessly walking around.

In order to try to fully answer that question, I reflected numerous times on my walks in London and other parts of Europe like Dublin, Barcelona and Krakow.

One of those was a couple weeks ago, when I took the subway down to the River Thames, and popped above ground near the Shard, an impressive building that stretches 72 floors up into the sky. I continued west along the Thames River path, and observed the slow current of the river as I plodded along its south bank.

My life, recently shaped by a love of reporting — and now mostly exploring, since late August — has seemed to fly by pretty quickly since the start of college. But walking around, even in completely foreign cities, slows things down, if only for a brief period of time.

As I passed notable landmarks on the walk, like the St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, I started to feel a little guilty.

The polarized political climate, along with a significant story of students attacked right off Main Campus in October, seemed like hell for people back home, compared to all the fun I was having over in Europe.

It’s easy to glance over these events when you’re thousands of miles away, and to focus on your journey. But these are issues that will remain when I return to Philadelphia, and I must be prepared to re-enter that atmosphere after being away for more than three months.

Another lesson I learned, from talking to several Europeans throughout my time here, is to always keep an open mind. Media in the United States portrayed Brexit as a negative event, but I learned from multiple people in England that there were legitimate reasons they voted to “leave.”

Perhaps more surprising, I met someone not much older than me who was fine with Donald Trump winning our election over Hillary Clinton, despite the British media’s criticism of the President-elect.

That lesson also applied more directly, with the 22 other students from Temple who had chosen to spend this fall across the pond with me. They come from different backgrounds within the School of Media and Communication, but their willingness to leave the United States for a country five hours ahead is what will link us for the rest of our lives. And I hope the Facebook chat keeps going, because I don’t want to give up the shenanigans of our uncensored group chat.

Returning back to my walk, I passed underneath the Westminster Bridge, and when I came out on the western side, Big Ben started chiming, as he always does at the top of the hour. This time, he did it once, to indicate 1 a.m.

Throughout this walk, I was starting to feel somewhat homesick. My brother, sister and mother only have my photos to be connected to what I’m experiencing, but to them, those snapshots provide small glimpses into the entire experience I’ve had over here, which has been extraordinary from Aug. 31 to now.

I want to pay tribute to my mom in a practical sense, since she is significantly helping me finance this trip, as she has done throughout my time at Temple.

But more than that, she has supported me through some seemingly irrational decisions. She’s emailed me during the past couple of weeks to check in and tell me how proud she is of me, and always makes sure I’m OK, no matter how much is on her plate.

And as great as this trip has been, those emails represent some of the best moments.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.

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