We came, we saw, we conquered. (A.K.A. – We saw Hamlet!)

Rebecca, Freyalyn, and Me in the lobby of the Barbican Theatre!
Rebecca, Freyalyn, and Me in the lobby of the Barbican Theatre!

So I got to meet up with two very dear friends tonight – one from Australia, and another from the Northernish part of England… and we all had dinner and then went to see Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. We had the most amazing seats! I think Benedict was about 25 feet away from us – literally! It was so fun to watch him go through all of these emotions from such a great vantage point. He’s so entertaining to watch! Incredible show. The set was really amazing. It was a very interesting take on one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, for sure. We bought tickets over a year ago, so to say that we’d all been looking forward to it was an understatement! I enjoyed it immensely. Benedict brought a certain kind of humor and angst, as well as… at times… sarcasm, to such an iconic character. Very entertaining! We waited around at the stage door afterward, hoping for a glimpse of him or an autograph, but there were loads of people out there and we were just too far back. Ah well, it was worth a try. I saw a great show, and that was my main goal for the night, so I’m a happy camper!

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Program, Ticket Stub, and Promo Card

In other news, I purchased a hair dryer today. I know, I know… the excitement is unbearable, right? 😉 Well, I couldn’t bring mine from home because the last time I did that and tried to use one of those converter plug thinggies – it fried the hair dryer. I don’t think dryers like those adapters too well. Anyway… that’s one thing sorted.

Also, I realized today how much HEALTHIER it will be for me to live here in London! According to my Fitbit, I far surpassed my 10k step goal for the day, as well as exceeded calories burned, flights of steps climbed, and active minutes. And today was really a “light” activity day!! One just walks more in London. And uses more stairs. LOL! This is going to be GREAT! Who needs a gym membership, right? Woot!

I’m here! London, I have arrived!

Flying over the UK at dawn...
Flying over the UK at dawn…

After about a 24 hour travel marathon, I’m now safe and sound in my London hotel room. I started out leaving the house around 6:20 am on Sunday, then a friend took me to the local airport shuttle place, where my bestie surprised me by showing up to send me off as well! The shuttle left around 7:00 am, and we were off from Chattanooga to the Atlanta airport. We arrived around 9:00 am and my flight was to leave at 11:25 am (which it did.) It was a smooth flight to Boston’s Logan Airport where I had about a five hour layover (and yes, I found a place with some GREAT chowda! No WAY would I leave Beantown without some chowda in my belly!) until my flight from there to London’s Heathrow Airport departed just before 7:30 pm. Once again, it was beautiful weather and a smooth flight – I’m SO thankful! We arrived SUPER early this morning (I was still on EST, so my internal clock was hating me… it was like 1:45 am in my head, but it was 6:45 am local time here in London!) After standing in a pretty swift-moving line to check passports and visas for non-citizens, I was off to collect my obscene amount of checked luggage. Thankfully for international flights, your first bag is free. The next is $100. I was able to check my carry-on at the gate for free as well, so that was a bonus! The hard part was loading up three suitcases and a very heavy backpack (loaded to the gills with laptop, tablet, chargers, books, personal belongings, etc…) onto the luggage cart, and then getting it out of the airport and out to the taxi stand. The line for that also moved quickly and I was blessed with the most courteous, compassionate driver! He loaded all of my luggage (wouldn’t let me touch a thing) and then when we got to my hotel and he discovered there was not a porter AND they had a revolving door… he simply turned off the cab and said he would bring my bags inside for me! That’s going above and BEYOND the call of duty right there!!! And trust me, I tipped him nicely for it, too. I so appreciated him!

The fun part was getting all of those bags to my room. I am on the first floor, but it’s up one floor from the lobby and the lift is very narrow. The front desk clerk gave me a trolley to put them on, but it barely fit. I had to squeeze my way in. It was hilarious! Then when I got up to my floor, housekeeping was up here doing their thing, so there were trollies all over the hall and not enough room to bring mine through. I ended up just taking them off one at a time and walking them down the hall to my room. Haha! Got in a great workout too, because each of those bags weighs just under 50 pounds! 😉

When I got here, I soon discovered this room’s heater isn’t functional, but the desk clerk made arrangements for a space heater for me (which I use in the winter back home anyway, so I am used to them) and now my room is quite toasty. 🙂 It’s not a huge room, but it’s clean and it’s just fine for me to stay in for a week until I can move into the residence hall. The front desk clerk has been most helpful too! She printed out maps for me to get to places to check into getting a SIM card for my phone, and I was able to get there with no problems. I got a SIM card, and I’m now on the EE network. So far, so good! The girl who helped me in the EE store was also just as nice as she could be. It was the store up in Hampstead. She was most helpful and I enjoyed talking to her. (British people are just the NICEST! I love them so much!) I then had a lovely lunch in a cafe just around the corner (one that I stumbled into on my last visit here and really enjoyed…) and afterwards, I came back to the room. First thing I did was to call my Dad and talk to him for a bit. I wanted to reassure him that I was okay – had arrived safely, and to give him my new phone number. It was great to hear his voice. I wish I could have just brought him with me! (sigh) It’s hard when you’re a Daddy’s girl and you have to leave your Daddy. 🙁 I’ve decided to just stay in and rest up tonight since it’s been a long stretch of travel for me (and I don’t sleep on planes…) I had a hot shower, put on my jammies, and am lying in the bed here – and it’s only just 6:30 pm! Haha! There aught to be a rule against THAT! I figured this would be a nice night to have some tea, read a bit, and catch up on my rest so that I can be in top form tomorrow! We are going to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet tomorrow night at the Barbican!!! I can’t wait! We got tickets over a year ago for this!

I plan to go EARLY tomorrow morning to Primrose Hill and watch the sunrise. Just because I can. I love Primrose Hill SO much, and have missed it. It will be nice to enjoy that view. Hoping the weather will cooperate. It has been nice here today, with temps in the mid to lower 60’s (or, I guess I should say… around 18 Celsius… I really need to get used to using Celsius here – but I DID download an app on my phone for that, so… I might be cheating. My Math is not the greatest.)

Since I got my local phone service activated, I’ve been texting with one of my friends here already this afternoon, and… Facebook messaging with others. I can’t wait to SEE them all! It’s been too long!

London… Janni’s back… and she’s ever so grateful to be here!

Hardest parts of packing?

Close-up of girl sitting on the suitcase and trying to pack it, isolated on white

So yeah, I’m deep in the throes of packing for the upcoming UK move now. I might add that I am not the best at packing – for any trip – let alone a move. I always tend to over pack. I got my friend Traci to come over and help me with the clothing parts of things the other day, and she was a big help! I was able to sort of get things organized and decided to leave some things behind that I likely would not use much once I was over there. My tee shirts, however, were non-negotiable. I am a huge tee shirt collector and I wear them pretty much every day. My “standard attire” consists of a cool, nerdy tee shirt of some sort, a pair of shorts, leggings, jeggings, etc… and my trusty black Converse. London is not as hot of a climate as North Georgia/Tennessee though, so I opted to leave a lot of the shorts behind (just packed three pair of basketball shorts for workouts and such.) Anyway, with Traci’s help, I was able to get the packing organized into which bag things should go into… for instance, I am spending the first five days in a hotel in Central London – so I needed things for that leg of the journey in one smaller bag (including my clothes for the theatre to see Hamlet.) Then the next bag was the things I would wear during the first week of school (as I will be arriving early since I am an international student and will have a lot of administrative type things to take care of, etc…) Lastly, all of my heavier/bulkier winter items (and books) would go into a large suitcase that I’m having shipped to a friend’s place nearby to Greenwich – I can go and collect it from her the day I move into my dorm room/flat at the residence hall.

Now I am to the “non-clothing” bits. All of those “vital” must-haves to make it through this next year of school. The electronic bits and chargers, etc… as well as a few toiletries, vitamins/supplements, umbrella, rain poncho, one set of bed linens, etc… AND the “homey” things I will want to bring along to keep me from getting quite so homesick. I honestly think this part is the most stressful, because I’m so afraid of NOT packing something vital… or packing something I really DO NOT need. Last night, I finally had to stop for a bit because I found myself looking over my selection of teas and pondering which ones I might want to take with me. I stopped myself and said “Janni, you DOLT… you’re going to ENGLAND and you’re seriously contemplating packing tea to bring WITH you? Of all the places where you would not need to bring your own tea…” LOL! Yeah. Overboard.

Today, I am still pondering items to bring along, and I am trying to figure out how to get my plush/stuffed Iron Man and Hedwig into my luggage. I sleep with them at night. Go ahead – insert your laugh HERE. (sigh) I will have to just purchase pillows when I get there, because those are not things that would be easy to pack in suitcases. And of course I will have to make a run out to a local discount store like ASDA or someplace to pick up a few essentials, but I am trying to limit the things I have to buy because I need to stretch every penny this year. I’m going to need every little bit that I can save. Thankfully, I am blessed to have some really great friends, and one of them who lives North of London and who is coming down to see Hamlet with me after I get there, is bringing me some towels! That’s one less thing I will have to buy! YAY! I will need to pick up some room essentials though, like a small wastebasket, maybe a pencil cup, and a few school supplies. There will probably be some more books I need too. Which brings me to the hard part. My books. Leaving my Shakespeare library behind is excruciating. You have no idea. LOL! BUT, I am taking my set of Lexicons. I don’t know how much I will need them, but I want to have them there, regardless.

Somehow though, I foresee me smuggling a few little things into my bags that I know others would question (a few favorite posters, a couple of action figures, and a few stress-relief toys…) I’m okay with that though… I’ve found that packing for a big move like this is all about compromise. 😉

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to help out and buy me a cup of tea, or put money towards some of the things I will have to pick up when I get over there, please feel free to visit the links on the right-hand side of my page for my PayPal, or my GoFundMe. GoFundMe is mostly for fundraising for next year… PayPal is for things I can use right away while I am over there.

Today, however, I am going to work on more errands leading up to the move… as well as try to take some time to breathe and relax. My nerves have been taking over and panic attacks have been looming. I am under a crazy amount of stress at the moment, as you can imagine. The emotional upheaval of leaving home, leaving my Dad here, and going to another country for the next ten months is really starting to hit me hard. I need to be sure to take time for “calming” when I feel myself spiraling.  Deep breaths. Please pray for me? Thanks, everyone!

It all started like this…

Okay, so no… I am not going to go back and re-tell my long, arduous story about how I got to this place in my life. It’s a LONG story. And did I mention arduous? There is a lot of heartbreak, heartache, abuse, sadness, and a few triumphs towards the last part of the story… But yeah – I’ll give you the VERY abridged and somewhat cheeky version:

Basically in a nutshell, Girl is born. Girl then struggles throughout her entire life with undiagnosed autism (along with sensory issues and anxiety problems) and learning disabilities. Girl unsuccessfully tries to excel in school, life, and a plethora of careers – even being abused and tormented along the way just for good measure. Girl finally just assumes she is a loser and REALLY stupid. Finally however, Girl gets diagnosed and is provided with the tools she needs to succeed in life. Tragically though, Girl has racked up a huge amount of student loan debt from her countless failures, and also medical debt (which ruined her credit) because she ended up with kidney cancer too (thankfully she triumphed over the cancer!) Girl wondered if she would EVER be able to make something of her life. 

Finally Girl re-discovers the THEATRE. Girl had loved it as a youngster and had done many plays, but finally realized that the theatre is the one place where she felt alive – mostly because she didn’t have to be herself (a task at which she isn’t all that comfortable…) and could instead be a variety of fun, interesting, and amazing characters! Girl participates in some really great community theatre shows, and is over the moon with happiness. (Girl is basically SAVED by the theatre!) Oh yeah… and Girl is also obsessed with Shakespeare. Girl decides to go back to school one last time to see if she has any sort of true abilities whatsoever in theatre. Girl enrolls in a local community college in their really fabulous two-year conservatory style Professional Actor Training Program and does very well. Girl went to two major US cities her last semester in the two-year program and auditioned for three different London drama schools, but did not get in. Girl is disappointed, naturally, but still believes she gained valuable audition experience as well as gaining newfound independence during her travels. (Girl made two trips within a week to a very snowy Chicago via a 14 hour bus ride each way. Girl also flew to NYC for a super quick weekend for one of the other auditions!) Finally, after a grueling last semester in which she undertook eight classes, a spring musical, and a final play – Girl eventually graduates Summa Cum Laude and receives her Associate of Arts degree in Theatre Arts in May 2015. But Girl wants MORE!

Girl desperately wants to get her Bachelors degree, and then to hopefully go on for a Masters (maybe in Shakespeare studies,) and perhaps even a Ph.D. someday. Girl has decided she wants to teach Shakespeare/Drama/Lit on the university level OR be a researcher (in addition to acting.) Girl REALLY wants to do something Shakespeare-related. Girl looks into many colleges, both stateside and abroad, but since Girl has no money and no financial aid left, Girl was very limited. Girl gets accepted into a university in London with her DREAM combination programme in Drama and English Literature and is beyond elated! University tuitions are generally less expensive in the UK than the schools stateside, but since girl was at the end of her financial aid rope, how would Girl pay for it? Girl spent nearly two months, nearly 24/7 doing online research to try to find scholarship help. Girl either did not qualify due to age or due to chosen major. (There were a few with cut-off dates she had missed though, so she will apply for those for next year.) Girl tried fundraising and it wasn’t hugely successful initially, so she was just about to give up when a friend (who shall remain anonymous) offered to pay for the first of her two remaining years towards her Bachelors programme. Girl was ELATED, HUMBLED, and SOOOOOOO OVERJOYED! Girl still had to find more money though, for something called “maintenance funds” to show the UK Student Visa people that she could support herself over there. When Girl was just about to throw in the towel (it looked as if the remaining funds could not be raised) Girl was told by the university that she still qualified for a little bit of financial aid and it would be enough for this year. Girl will STILL need to find a way to pay for next year, but after Girl graduates with her Bachelors degree, Girl will once again be eligible for federal student loans for her Masters programme because the aggregate level is increased. For now, Girl is on track to enter as a year two student on the three year Bachelors programme… and will be leaving for the UK on Sept. 6th, 2015! 

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By now, you’ve probably guessed that “Girl” is me.

I will be attending the University of Greenwich and studying on their BA (hons) Drama and English Literature programme. The term officially begins on Sept. 21st, but I have to arrive the week earlier because there’s a week’s worth of workshops, seminars, and other planned events for the International students. I’m ACTUALLY arriving on the morning of Sept. 7th and staying in a hotel in central London for the first week because I’m meeting up with friends to see Hamlet at the Barbican Center on Sept. 8th. Then I move into my room at the residence hall on Saturday, Sept. 12th. Oh yeah… and I also registered for a Shakespeare Master Class at RADA for the evening of Sept. 28th! My September is going to be BUSY!!

I’ve been spending the last few weeks working on securing my student visa. I just received word today that it’s been printed and they are sending it out to me soon, so I should have it by next week – just in time for my trip! Things are really happening… I’m starting to get VERY excited! My bestie came over today and helped me pack. It’s amazing how much stuff will fit into suitcases. 😉 I still have a lot of things on my “to-do” list but every day I am crossing more and more of them off, and making progress!

Packing, packing, and more packing!
Packing, packing, and more packing!

Admittedly, during all of the trying and heartbreaking times as I was attempting to make this dream happen – I was losing faith in myself and in my abilities. I was starting to fall into an ugly pit of despair. After having worked SO HARD these last two years to do well in my program, and succeed – and then to have such a hard time when it came to going on and “finishing what I’d started…” it was overwhelming. I was under incredible stress. I just kept hoping and praying… and praying some more. I couldn’t give up. I just couldn’t. And just when I thought I was going to have to give up – things miraculously worked out!

This is certainly a dream come true. I am going to be studying in my favorite place in the world – London! London makes my heart sing with happiness. I feel alive and “at home” there. It’s where my soul is at peace, and I simply cannot WAIT to get back there!

I will be using this blog to write about my experiences abroad, both with university life, theatre projects, etc… and hopefully with any fun “extracurricular” stuff I do in London as well! I cannot begin to tell you how very BLESSED I feel that this is all coming to fruition. It’s a life-long dream, really, and I’m seeing it unfold before my very eyes. God is good. That’s all I can say about it… I am truly thankful.

Stay tuned!