GW Expat: Accelerated nostalgia

Junior Jeffrey Parker, a history major from Winston-Salem, N.C., spent the spring semester in Oxford, England, after also spending the fall term there. Twice a month, he shared his experiences and observations from England as one of GW’s many expats. This is his last column, but he will be spending the summer in England.

It being the end, I thought about what I miss about America. It’s best not to think about that sort of thing most of the time, because it just gets you depressed and outside the moment, but I figure right now it counts more as anticipation than lamentation.

I miss my family and friends – that goes without saying. But that’s not interesting (sorry, family and friends), so here’s what else I miss.

I miss not paying for records and concert tickets. I love writing about music for The Hatchet, but even if I didn’t, I’m not sure I’d stop, as it subsidizes my addiction. A CD here costs roughly four times what it costs at home when I can’t get it free from The Hatchet, and between the tickets and transportation to and from London, I had to drop about ?30 to see a show last night. The show was absolutely worth it, but the value would increase even more if I weren’t paying for it.

By the way, that ?30 translates to around $54, thanks to the god-awful exchange rate here. So, I miss not paying obscene amounts of money for everything. My new favorite toast is “To the collapse of the British economy.”

I’m also sort of going through sports withdrawal. This may surprise you. I remember being at a party once where I was talking about college basketball in a room full of people comparing their vinyl collections, and everyone turned around and sort of stared at me, until my friend explained, “Oh yeah, Jeffrey has this weird thing where he cares about sports.” Apparently you can’t enjoy both Wes Anderson films and Chris Paul runners. But I digress. Anyway, as much as I’m looking forward to playing croquet on the lawn at Pembroke (the only sport for which we’re allowed to sully that hallowed grass), it doesn’t make up for missing Lebron’s playoff debut triple-double.

And then of course there’s the slurry of little things that you may or may not care about – cook-out milkshakes, “The Daily Show,” 3 a.m. breakfasts at the Diner, that bookstore by Eastern Market packed so tight there are even books in the bathroom, the ethereal ringing of the voices of the LaRouche people trying to yell over the Jews for Jesus (and vice versa) by the Foggy Bottom Metro stop, and decent Mexican food are chief among them.

I miss it all.

But if you told me today that I could stay another year, I absolutely would. Nothing against D.C. or North Carolina, my home state, but it’s frankly not even close. I never want to leave.

It’s the fact that I work harder here than I ever have before, and still love it. One morning over breakfast with a friend after pulling another all-nighter, we started complaining about the obscene workload. After a while, though, we both admitted that we wanted to stay. If in that moment, running on nothing but caffeine fumes and the promise of sleep some time in the next 36 hours, I didn’t want to leave, imagine how I feel the rest of the time.

In all likelihood, I’ll be pulling another all-nighter this Thursday. I don’t really care, though, because I’ll be pulling it for a class called cultural history of 20th century popular music in Great Britain and the United States. In case you missed that, I’m taking a class on rock ‘n’ roll. Granted, it’s all very serious, and I’ll be reading five books per week for it just like with any tutorial, but come on, where else can I get academic credit for listening to Clash records?

It’s not just the academics I’ll miss, though. I’ll miss 4 a.m. trips to McCoy’s kebab van for chips with cheese. I’ll miss my Lebanese friend who, after a fellow GW Pembrokean jokingly referred to me as a communist, said, quite seriously, “In my country, we would take him out to the garden and slaughter him.”

I’ll miss the fake American accent coming out of proper British mouths – even vague xenophobia is endearing here. I’ll miss coffee and digestive biscuits at 2 a.m. between pages six and seven of a paper on Paul Muldoon. I’ll miss the ridiculous formality that mandates more uses of a tuxedo per term here than I’ll probably wear in the next 10 years of my life. I’ll miss the impromptu bullshit sessions among everyone here about what exactly it is to be where we are. The college-subsidized alcohol is nice, too, as anyone who has enjoyed Pimms on Chapel Quad will tell you.

Most of all, I’ll just miss the experience of existing here for a year. I’ll miss the people here, and the atmosphere that surrounds us. Something intangible develops, and while I can’t quite put my finger on it, I know it lingers in the air, even when it’s raining outside (which is often). I don’t really expect you to get this, because I know that I wouldn’t if I were you. I feel like one of those people who comes back from vacation and wants to show you all their pictures that aren’t that interesting to anyone else but are enthralling to them. But the pictures are enthralling, if that makes any sense.

I’ve come to realize that I always miss a place more while I’m actually there than I do when I leave. It’s like I suffer from premature nostalgia. So maybe I’ll get back to America this summer and realize that it wasn’t that good. I doubt it, though. It is that good here, and I would encourage everyone to study abroad, so they can ramble on about things that they don’t even expect other people to understand because they weren’t there and couldn’t possibly get it. I’ve got one more term here, and while I’ll be happy to come home, I’m holding on to everything here for dear life. It’s been a good year.

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