Name: Analise Gay
Year: 3rd year
Major: English
Country: York, United Kingdom
Area of Study: English

Before leaving for the United Kingdom I told numerous friends that I thought I might cry when border officials finally stamped my passport.  While no actual tears fell, the moment was still surreal as a Heathrow official welcomed me to the country. Now that I’ve been here at York for about a month, it all still feels just like a page out of Harry Potter, not possibly my actual life. There are parts of my “uni,” the University of York, that are so wooded and idyllic that they could be straight from the beloved series.  My other American friends and I joke often that we are studying at Hogwarts, and in truth it sort of feels like we are. Every day I catch myself grinning like an idiot at something new that has found a way to charm me. Whether it be quiet bus rides into town alone, the ducks (named Matilda and Hubert) who quack outside the kitchen window, enjoying wine with dinner, how clearly I can see my breath on cold nights, a perfect cup of Yorkshire Gold tea, the ice skimming over the lake in the center of campus, or even just simply walking to class. There is still something so entrancing about being in England that makes even the most mundane activities fantastic.

Trips to the market on campus are an adventure because I am in England after all. Each morning promises a new experience, solely because I am in a foreign country, experiencing things as if I have never been outside before. Dinner with my hall-mates means fresh conversation and new friends. Intimate seminar classes offer a learning experience unavailable at UCR outside of Honors program discussion sections. Going out with friends means clubbing on a Tuesday.  I am giddy with the new-ness of it all, the incredibly exhilarating fun hidden in every day.

I keep thinking that the excitement will wear off and that I will just think of being here as boring. The novelty has already worn off on dining hall food to be sure, but giddiness for anything else has not waned a bit.  Seriously. Even taking out the trash is exciting, because it means walking outside past the trees and most likely a few ducks. Maybe it’s my own inclination for finding childlike joy in the little things that keeps this experience so incredible. Or perhaps it’s because I am actually living my dreams, so that even those little things seem breathtaking. Which only makes bigger experiences nearly indescribable.

The first time I walked inside York Minster, the Gothic cathedral in town here, I was awe-struck. I have seen beautiful churches I suppose, but nothing else compares to the soaring ceilings and incredible details of a cathedral. I could not help but tear up just a bit, in awe of the immensity, the work it took to build such a structure, the beauty, and the fact that I was alive and lucky enough to stand in the midst of it all. There is something very humbling when walking through a building older than I can really imagine, and touching the cold stones that have seen history.  I took my time walking through that day, and plan to go back as much as I can over the next few months. I want to be able to experience it all, and I have taken a very “why not? I’m in England” attitude towards things.

One of the greatest days I have had since arriving in the UK came on the first snowfall of the season. The weather forecast predicted snow but not of a measurable amount. I didn’t care how much fell, as long as snow would fall. Then while my friends and I browsed the sale racks at Topshop I saw them—the first flakes floating out of the sky. Admittedly, I freaked out a little bit; pulling on my gloves and hurrying my friends out the shop while I practically sprinted out into the freezing air. The snow slowly started to fall around me in one of the most magical moments of my life.
Throughout the day I took pictures of the little shops dusted in snow, heaps of powdery snow blending sidewalk to cobble-stoned street, the soft flakes dancing through the air. I felt like a little girl in a fairy tale, kicking up snow in my boots as snowflakes melted in my hair.

After a magical day wandering through town marveling at the sights around me, I returned home to report that some people down the path were threatening to march on us at James College to start a snowball fight. What followed was a whirlwind couple of hours of misfired snowballs, tramping through crunching snow with a huge mob of students raiding other colleges, shifting alliances between kids with frost bitten fingers, turning our weapons on each other when bored and the joyous celebration of the first snow. I had snow and ice everywhere, especially after being tackled into the snow by my hall mates. And the best part was that I didn’t care. I was in the middle of an intense snow battle, and a damp scarf and hat were not going to stop me.
Moments like these are what make me stop and realize how insane it is that I am here, in York, just living my life. That is what makes leaving everything back at home worth it—the moments when I feel alive with experience. I feel like the luckiest girl alive to be able to live and study in such an incredible place, and to have many more awe-inspiring days.