A Little Memory

UGA@Oxford's former house at 106 Banbury Road.
Ten years ago, I left for England and UGA's program at Oxford. It was kind of a fluke, really: after a long April night, I was voted president of the Demosthenian Literary Society.  The next morning it rained and I was carrying my umbrella and at the end of Kalpen Trivedi's (no relation) British literature class (which one escapes me at the moment). I walked up to him, thinking I'd let him know that I had this new gig and that my first goal was to figure out a rematch between UGA's debaters and the Oxford Union.

"Oh- you should meet Judith Shaw." To be honest, I was about to head back to Demosthenian Hall for a humid nap but I figured meeting the person in charge of such things was a good idea, so I followed Dr. Trivedi up a few floors and met Dr. Shaw. We talked a few minutes about DemSoc and Oxford and by the end, she was selling me on UGA@Oxford's new summer program. I politely declined, even after meeting Christine Albright, who equally politely nudged me into at least thinking about it. Walking out of Park Hall with my umbrella over my shoulder, I called my Dad, mostly to tell him the hilarity of them asking me to go abroad the coming summer.

"Why is it funny? Why can't you go?" my Dad asked. I didn't have an answer. He immediately pegged it: "How much does it cost?" he asked. This, I figured, would put an end to the whole thing. "Well, beyond travel and all that, the program itself is $1500." At that moment, I figured my Dad, who had been in and out of work since I was ten (though in the middle of a very nice job at the time), would stop talking about it and drop the whole thing.

"$1500 is easy. That's the wrong reason not to go. This could be a once in a lifetime experience." My Dad is fond of sayings like that one, especially when the opportunity may well never come again. "What do they need right now?"

Again, delaying my nap, I went and asked Christine what they needed. Transcripts and a down-payment. Uh oh.

The money didn't bother me- my Dad had already told me he could put money in my account- but my grades. My grades were a whole other matter. For some reason, like many, the transition to college from high school was a tough one academically and to make matters worse, at the start of college I found myself with a group of individuals who were as geeky as me and liked to get together and talk about stuff. I'm not blaming Demosthenian for my poor grades but spending every waking moment thinking about the society was a lot more fun than studying.

I don't know if enrollment for summer was low or if they just really liked me but the UGA@Oxford folks said I could go immediately. I was so embarrassed about Christine looking at my transcripts that I bolted from the room as she opened the envelope, but I guess it didn't end up mattering.

Soon I was planning a trip to somewhere I'd only stopped through on trips to India. My parents suggested I plan a little extra time in and it occurred to me, the young writer wannabe, that I could make it to the 99th Bloomsday in Dublin, so I planned four days in Dublin and four in London before taking the train to Oxford. I had never really travelled on my own besides a two week "leadership" camp type thing a in high school and the idea of being in a different countries, even ones that spoke the same language, was daunting to say the least, but exciting.

In the back of my mind (which is to the front), I wondered what kind of trouble I could get myself into abroad, especially spending the first eight days alone. It was a strange feeling: I was free to goof off in Athens but being out of the country seemed especially liberating. Sure, there would be the academic aspect of it but there would be lots of wandering time.

Wandering is something I brought back with me. I don't like to go to cities and SEE things- no, I much prefer to walk down Eighth Avenue in New York City or drive around looking at the neighborhoods of Baltimore or driving through the islands on Lake Champlain. It is no doubt the most enduring thing about my study abroad trip.

Well, the second most enduring thing. First, of course, has to be writing. OK, like any asshole 20 year old, I thought I'd write the great American novel, but the idea was there that I want to commit language to the page. It was all a bit romantic and hazy at the time but I suppose all young writers start that way.

Anyways, on June 11 2003, my parents dropped me off at Hartsfield(-Jackson) International Airport in Atlanta. I immediately tried to see if I could take my thinning hair over to a bar, which I did, and I drank a Killian's. I'm not sure why no one bothered to ID me, but I guess the whole "Unless you look x years old we card you" thing didn't come until later.

Naturally, the flight for Toronto left late, making me miss my flight to London and miss my flight to Dublin. Already, the trip was off to a bad start. As if being in Toronto during the whole SARS thing wasn't scary enough, I was terrified about the trip in general. I had no real way of contacting airlines while en route, especially as STA Travel had set me up on several different airlines to keep the cost down.

In my free hotel room, I listened to the new Radiohead album on repeat and read the Bible. I went downstairs and had a drink with a pilot who told me about going all over the world. I spent a lot of time thinking about the traveling I would do after this, even with whatever flight complications. I was handling it, which seemed most important.

When I did reach London, it was late at night so I took the train from Heathrow to Paddington Station and took my gigantic bag with me around the corner and found the Boulevard Hotel. My flight to Dublin had been missed by some twelve hours or so and it seemed best to deal with it in the morning. For the night, I watched British TV and ate at the only place still open near the station, Burger King.

The next morning I woke up early. I guess I barely slept, to be honest, stressed out about the flight I had missed. It wasn't a super big deal- I hadn't booked anything in Dublin in terms of staying, so it worked out that I had missed the flight but I did want to get to Dublin.

I minded the gap and made my way to Gatwick Airport. I was nervous- I really had nothing I could do about the flight, but for some reason arriving at the airport meant I'd have some chance to do something. I was to fly from Gatwick to Dublin with British Airways so I went to their desk and explained everything that had happened from Atlanta on. The man said over and over that there was nothing he could do but then he paused.

"Meet me over there."

I walked over to the spot he had pointed to and waited. He walked out of the booth and quickly towards me with a slip of some kind in his hand. "Look- I got you on a standby flight to Dublin. It's empty, so you'll get on." I tried not to let tears slip out of my eyes as I shook his hand. I'm sure if I tried, I could pick him out of a lineup, but I have no idea now what his name was or anything else. It's quite strange literally relying on the kindness of strangers.

I made it to Dublin a little while later and took a bus into the center of the city. When I got off, I asked a random employee where I might find a place to stay and he laughed at me, suggesting I should have booked something sooner, but he did point me to a hostel, where I would stay for a few days.

Charlie and Ben, whose lip was cracked and bleeding.
This post could go on endlessly but I think I've reminisced enough. I did come back with lots of different feelings and ideas than I had left with, including a better sense of how Americans are seen in the world and very different political ideas that come from that. I had a better idea about being a writer (I felt) and made some new friends (some are easier to keep in touch with than others).