21 Pembridge Gardens

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It has been nearly a year since I’ve returned from my semester studying abroad in London at City University. The ink has dried in the journal I kept to document my experiences, and the overweight suitcases full of useless things have long been put away. There is something still yet present in my life, close to intangible, that makes my time abroad extend far beyond the plane’s final landing in JFK.

In the apartment I moved into after London, I hung up dozens of maps and boarding passes I acquired in all my travels on my bedroom walls. I also put up a collage of pictures, stuck with tape until they would eventually tear. But in these pictures you would only rarely see the places I’ve been. Instead, they showcase the people I travelled with, the incredible friends I made, and the scratched out silhouettes of my first love. Of these pictures are moments such as our “girls trip” to Dublin where we’re singing Living on a Prayer in a bar I’ll never remember the name of, a blurry image of being lost somewhere in Barcelona, Meredith with her mouth full of hot dog, and my beautiful roommates Kaveeta and Rachel smiling at our friends behind the camera, with the blurring tube as our backdrop.

Each of these pictures takes me back to each moment — I can remember the weather, what I was thinking about, how I was feeling, or the too-high number of drinks we had. These photos are more than captured memory. I realized these moments were so important to me because they highlighted the deep connections I made with the people I lived with. The kids in these photos are what made each experience so special. I never expected to love complete strangers so quickly, but without them, living in 21 Pembridge Gardens (which we jokingly came to call The Real World house) never would have been as exciting as it came to be.

The most memorable, special moments were always the small ones. Sundays were our brunch days. We had the distinct pleasure of walking down Portobello Road every week just to eat at this breakfast spot called Mike’s Cafe and order the “Big Boy” with fried eggs, grilled tomatoes, greasy hash browns, coffee, orange juice, and everything else you would expect from a classic English breakfast. We would squeeze into tiny tables and booths never big enough to fit our giant plates and bigger personalities. We always overate. We always laughed too hard about the night before, spent at some posh London club where we were never cool enough to be, and talking to locals who we never quite understood.

A constant member of our brunch crew was Ben, who never talked to us until about a month into our semester. He was quiet, kept to himself, and ended up becoming one of the funniest people in the house. We spent nearly every Wednesday afternoon together, unofficially calling it “Lunch & Laundry” when we would do exactly what the title entails — do our laundry, and get some lunch. I loved learning about him in these tiny, mundane moments where there was no front to be put on. He was a great listener and a truly great friend who I never expected to make such a personal connection with.

I often think about how different all of us were coming into this semester. We all hailed from different states, schools, families, and beliefs. But at the end of the day, we were all just kids trying to make the most out of every experience and having a great time. And we always did, no matter what situations we found ourselves in. The girl responsible for making everyone smile was Laura Beth, whose southern accent charmed everyone she talked to. She was always the sweetest, funniest girl in the room and turned every moment into something hilarious and fun.

Most weeknights we found ourselves in Prince Albert’s pub for cider and fish & chips. Because even though our lives were always exciting, sometimes we needed to commiserate with the people we held most closely, and talk about how much we missed our friends and families. The greatest thing about these people was their ability to adapt. We could have a million hours of fun together, but still be able to support and respect each other when things became more difficult.

I know these people will never leave me, regardless of distance. We’ve built so much together and have memories we could never recreate with others. It is easy to call or text them when I’m feeling nostalgic, and I know they will always be at the other end of the line. Developing these close relationships abroad is an integral, if not the most important, element of this experience, because they will punctuate every moment, no matter how seemingly mundane it may be.

The strange cities and the traveling is all secondary to the bonds I built. When I think back to my time in London, I remember waking up every morning to a house full of wonderful people. I think of walking downstairs in the late morning to make coffee and being greeted by a table full of the people I called my friends. Because of them, I’ve learned, I’ve grown, and I’ve become a better version of myself. And I owe that semester all to them.

Article by Marina Starkey