As I neared my college graduation date (sometime between when dinosaurs ceased to roam the earth and Kim Kardashian became famous), I discovered BUNAC (British Universities North America Club). Under BUNACs sponsorship, a U.S. student could live and work in the U.K. for up to six months. The paperwork was minimal. The only stipulation was that the jobs could not be highly skilled positions, the intent being for the Americans (and Canadians) to basically take the jobs the Brits would have filled had they stayed in their homeland and they to take the jobs we’d have filled in North America. What a fantastic opportunity to spend time where so many of my favorite books had been penned, to walk in the authors’ shoes, to see the country they wrote about. Being the anglophile that I was, I signed up.
I skipped the graduation ceremonies and headed to London with a friend, a few traveler’s checks and a return ticket in my pocket, in addition to some clothing and other essentials. My return flight was set for late August. My career job at Arthur Andersen (AA&Co) was to start the day after Labor Day. AA&Co was more than happy to accommodate my request to start at summer’s end vs. its beginning. They typically had more new hires during the summer than they had boring tasks to to keep them busy with until audit season began.
Off to London I went!!
First course of action–find a cheap place to live. My friend and I found a crappy hostel in the South Kensington area. Not the greatest with four or five to a room, but it was cheap.
Second critical task–find a job or it was going to be a short stay.
I went to the BUNAC offices. I read papers and cold called on ads. I pounded the pavement. Truly, I followed the handbook on job hunting to the letter. And I was successful! Within a week, I landed a job as a hostess at the Chicago Rib Shack in Knightsbridge near Harrods. It helped that I was American, of course, but more importantly, the owner, Bob Payton, was a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate just like me. Networking for the win!
What did my girlfriend do? Not a damn thing. She pined over the semi-boyfriend she left behind. After the first day we were to job hunt, I returned to the hostel to find her napping. She informed me she would stay until her money ran out, and three weeks later she left. Nice.
Being a 21 year old in a foreign country, living in a very large city on minimum wage with no friends could have been incredibly depressing. I had a few ‘poor me’ moments, of course, but by its end, that was the best summer of my entire life. I learned just how resourceful and independent I could be. I made wonderful friends of my co-workers, flirting with one commis waiter in particular (yes, YOU Peter Sellers, but why’d you have to have a girlfriend?)
I quit my Rib Shack job when I had three weeks remaining until my return date. The first week, I went to plays every day. I saw Evita, 84 Charing Cross Road (even sat behind the author Helene Hanff and actress Angharad Rees), Amodeus, No Sex Please, We’re British, Educating Rita and I think one other. During my final two weeks, I traveled–to Bath, Coventry, Avon, Cambridge, Oxford, York, Haworth, Scarborough, Edinburgh, and many other places. I hit the Edinburgh Tattoo (an annual festival). I walked in the footsteps of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and William Shakespeare, and I did what I swore to all my friends at home I would do–I rolled in the heather on the hill at Top Withens (Wuthering Heights setting).
See, I found the Great Britain of literature that I had sought back in May. But I found so much more too. Within those three months, I found out just how strong, determined and self-sufficient I could be.
Three (3) days until my debut novel, The P.U.R.E. releases!”
See ya tomorrow when we see what’s in store for M! We’ll be taking a little road trip, if you don’t mind.
Now, please go visit some other A to Z bloggers and see what they have in store!