1. I learned how to eat mindfully.
And I actually lost weight because of it. If you haven’t traveled outside the US yet, spoiler alert: American-serving sizes are not universal. This means that portion sizes in other countries are often much smaller than you’d expect. Oh, and refills? Forget about it. While the transition took a little time to adjust to, it had a great, unintended consequence: weight loss. I was so used to mechanically inhaling my food (is there any other way to eat In-N-Out?) that I rarely ever had a moment to stop and savor it. Being mindful had never really occurred to me before I traveled through the UK. Now I tend to pay more attention to my food as I eat it. I eat slower, chew more thoroughly and, you know, taste what I’m eating. As a result, I feel much more content with less on my plate.
While a typical family dinner at my house would start sometime between 7-8, many British families I knew tended to eat earlier, erring on around 6 pm for dinner. They tended to eat slower and had more conversations (and drinks) throughout the meal, which made the entire thing last longer than most dinners I was accustomed to.
In fact, generally speaking, plenty of Brits tended to actually sit at a table and eat as opposed to watching TV while eating dinner. Considering that my eyes were no longer glued to a TV set, this approach to dinner definitely helped me stay more mindful of my food.
2. I’ve become infinitely more accepting.
One of the things I love so much about big cities like London in the UK is that they’re so very alive. It’s not uncommon to walk past an impromptu group of silent disco-goers on the pier, or to even see a naked bike ride in the city square every now and then.
Being exposed to so many diverse types of people has made me realize the value of community in a far more authentic sense. Accepting everyone for their interesting quirks and celebrating how all of those disparate characters mesh together — rather than coming from a place of judgment or fear — is what community really stands for in the UK.
3. I cook more often now AND know how to make a mean curry.
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Until I went to England, I’d never really had curry before. I had really been missing out — the scents, the spices, the sight of all the colors in the pan. Sometimes referred to as the national dish of England, curry is a meal that can be found on just about every corner in the UK — city or small town. From places like Brick Lane in east London that are lined with curry houses to the £4 microwaveable meals lurking in Sainsburys’ across the land, it’s hard to live in England without succumbing to the temptation to eat some kind of curry for every single meal. This was the kind of temptation I fell prey to time and time again, especially at Shoreditch’s Dishoom, a curry house famous for its Chicken Ruby served with makhani sauce and roti.
And since curry wasn’t often available to me back in America, I missed it terribly — which led to me learning how to cook it. I now make it somewhat obsessively and it always reminds me of my time spent in the UK.
4. I’m more open to trying new things.
London is a beautiful, chaotic melting pot where cultures come to overlap and clash. As such, they’re often filled with a variety of influences that were totally foreign to me as an American. To truly experience the culture of the area, I had to be open to trying new things that I may have never considered before. Whether this was as simple as trying a foreign beer or as grueling as learning how to use the Tube meant little difference to me — it was still just a chance to learn something new.
The first time my boyfriend Arthur came to drop me off at my dorm in London was utterly baffling. I couldn’t understand how he could navigate the long, underground tunnels that was the mighty tube at first — what was he, some kind of wizard? — so I endeavored to learn how to use the tube on my own. Most free days would be giddily spent hopping from borough to borough on the tube, exploring the nearby areas and getting lost many, many times until I got the hang of (ahem, memorized) the system.
My wallet also thanked me profusely.
5. I feel better about spending money on myself now.
Maybe this was a weird side effect but honestly, life as a student in London is hard. How exactly are you supposed to survive in a city where cocktails are £20 and clubs charge up to £50 for their entry fee? I sometimes found myself ending up at my dorm alone, frustrated at how very little I could afford to do.
Until, of course, I moved to Portland, Oregon where cocktails are $8 most days and $2 during happy hour if you know where to look. Suddenly $20 seemed like a much larger amount of money than it used to be. Less was more. I was no longer racked with guilt every time I left the house and was a lot happier as a result. Maybe I was constantly concerned about money in London, but it taught me how to spend wisely and appreciate the things I was able to do even more.
6. I spend a lot more time outside.
One of my favorite things about life in London was pub culture. There’s something about the idea of sitting outside a nice pub with a cold drink in hand with your friends by your side that’s so very soothing. I’d often start at Buckingham Palace and walk my way through the gardens in summer, stopping off at pubs along the way for a drink. Buckingham Palace is surrounded by gardens — you can find the palace gardens as well as Green Park and St. James’ park within walking distance — so this would be the best route to take with a nice, cold drink in hand as I people watched and read books under the trees.
I flock to bars with patios and rooftops more often now. I sneak out and lay on the grass at the park. Something about that crisp, summery air somehow always manages to take me back to my happy place.