Quick Update

Just a quick update because I have to take advantage of internet access when I can get it!  I’m on the Oxford Tube, a bus that for L18 round trip will take me from London to Oxford and back again in a comfortable, coach bus with internet access.  Sweet.

I’m heading out of the city to view the college town of gleaming spires (that’s Oxford) and am really excited to see how I like it!

Wow – it’s been another whirlwind 36 hours and although I don’t have internet access at the moment, I’m going to write this down so I don’t miss anything.

Yesterday mid-day I headed out for an interview with the publishing company Profile Books. They publish nonfiction but not like, text books or anything, mostly fun stuff and good reads (they did 48 Laws of Power, 33 Strategies of War, Art of Seduction and, just to mix things up, Eats, Shoots and Leaves) and they recently acquired another small publisher, Serpents Tail, which does mystery and crime novels. Anyway, it was a really good interview, and fun to meet the people there and see the offices. I think it went well and they definitely gave me the impression I was still in the running but there were a couple of problems. One, they clearly wanted someone who was 100% going to go on in publishing which I don’t think I could commit too. Second, it’s minimum wage which is way above average for internships in the industry but not really enough to live on in London. We’ll see how it goes, I think I’ll probably write them this weekend and say no thanks, but it sort of depends what else comes up.

Then, I went to view some flats and what a disaster that turned out to be. I had one viewing at 6pm, and I literally walked the area for 45 minutes, enlisted eight people to help me, and finally gave up that the street didn’t exist (this is odd because it appeared on my map and the guy claimed he lived there. Weird.) So I didn’t get to see that flat and my second viewing was in the same general area but not until 8:30pm. I called to see if I could meet earlier but no luck so I basically sat in shopping area above a tube stop for two hours waiting for my appointment. I headed over a bit early only to discover that the potential flat was in the sketchiest area of London I’d seen so far and was not at all the sort of place I wanted to be living. I texted him to call off the viewing but had now spent about five hours to not see two flats.

I headed back to the hotel pretty bummed because housing has been the biggest concern (job stuff seems to be moving forward, it’s hosing that’s hard) and I had wasted a lot of time. I decided that this weekend I want to head out to Oxford, about 45 min northwest, to see if I like the smaller city, and college city, a bit better. With that as the plan, I went to bed.

This morning, I got a chance to meet with Alex Will who I’ve been chatting with over email for a few weeks. He started a tech company that does online listings for London events (http://www.spoonfed.com) and his colleague Henry and it was so great to talk to them. Alex knew about Colby because although he grew up in London and went to the LSE, his mom’s from Cape Cod and he spent summers there and knew people who ended up at Colby. Anyway, we chatted about how I might work with them and it sounds like it would be a lot of fun, I’m just a bit worried I wouldn’t have much direction, I’d be just as “senior” as anyone else in the office. Not a problem but I’d have to be super diligent. It was especially nice to meet with him as he offered to make some calls on my behalf to people who might be looking for flatmates and offered himself as a resource if I have any trouble in the city. I made a friend!

After that, I went to view another flat – a single studio apartment which was, no joke, smaller than my college single. It was a converted broom closet – I’m not kidding. They managed to fit a bathroom, stove range, fridge and microwave but must have forgotten the bed as it was built into the wall over the bathroom. But, you know, they only wanted the equivalent of $2200 per month. It’s cool.

You know? I think I’ll pass.

I went back to the hotel and arranged to stay in a B&B in Oxford for the next three nights and I’m catching the bus there tomorrow afternoon. I’m so excited to see Oxford, I’ve heard so much about it from Debbi and Laura and fictionalized in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and His Dark Materials (okay, so, maybe it won’t be quite like that) and I am actually surprisingly excited to get out of the city – I think I’m less of a city person than I generally give myself credit for. But since it’s my birthday on Saturday and I’ll be closer to sheep than big celebrations, I on a whim bought half price tickets to Wicked for tonight!! I got to see it in NYC with Sarah and have been listening to the music for ages and was SO excited to see it again! I loved it so much, it’s such a fantastic story and the actors were great.

Before the show, I went to grab dinner at this cute Spanish tapas restaurant and since I was there by myself, I pretended I was a restaurant critic and took notes on the meal. Who knows, I might actually write up the article J (I still have an open offer from a travel website to publish any articles I write – no pay, but a byline).

I’m sure I have more to say but this took a lot longer than I expected to write and I’m exhausted! Tomorrow, I head out to Oxford!!

Another day and I’m still in limbo here – but having a really amazing time.  Yesterday, I got up early to make my bank appointment and open my bank account.  It ended up taking quite a bit longer than I expected – I experienced first hand the horror of the “minor delays” on the Tube which meant my seven-stop tube ride took a little over an hour, then I got a bit lost looking for the bank.  I got there just a minute before my appointment and was congratulated on being the first person that day to arrive early.  Go me!  A really nice guy opened my account and was incredibly helpful, including suggesting I go change my traveler’s cheques at a shop a few blocks away where the exchange rate was loads better than the banks (he saved me about $200 or 100L).  So I ran over there, did the transfer, brought it all back to the bank and deposited money into my account.

By that point, I was starving for lunch so grabbed a sandwich at a coffee shop and tried to figure out what I’d do for the rest of the day.  I was way on the opposite side of the city from Mimi’s flat (and all of my stuff which I needed to get to my hotel for the next few nights) but had about three hours before check-in and decided to walk back across London and drop off my CV at any place that looked like a good job fit.  I started to head back, and was completely stunned by the amazing architecture and views but got horribly lost  amid the maze of London streets (which make absolutely no sense).  I was coming up on a giant building with a bunch of people in front and figured this would be a good place to check my map and figure out where I was – much to my surprise, the big plaque told me I was standing in front of Buckingham Palace!!  Guards and all!  I wandered around a bit more, checking out Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Tate Modern and the general sites.  I thought I was heading in the right direction when I realized I had gone in a big circle so had to hop a traditional double-decker bus (sat on top of course) back to Mimi’s.

By the time I got back, it was nearly 3pm so I loaded up my backpack and left my suitcase with her and took the tube to my hotel.  It’s a great spot, a little too pricey to stay for very long but still very reasonably priced for my own room, bathroom and tea kettle.  Once settling in, I headed a ways outside the city to visit a flat that had an open room.  The woman I met with seemed very nice and I liked the neighborhood, but the other three housemates smoked so I guess that one’s out.  After that, I was starving and exhausted so grabbed an early dinner at a pricey but delicious Indian restaurant (SO good!) and went back to the hotel to indulge in some BBC1 and an early night, but not before sending out a number of emails to potential employers.

Allowed myself to sleep in late this morning, and now need to make some calls and prep for my interview this afternoon with a publishing house (it’s a minimum wage internship, but it’s only 2 months which might be a good fit) and another flat viewing this evening.  This weekend, I’m planning on heading out to Cambridge or Oxford to look at some flats and jobs there (I think I might like it a bit better than London which is just so big) and I can’t wait to see how it goes!

Whew! I just had my first full day in London and I think I actually managed to be productive!  Here’s the basic run down:

– Left Mimi’s flat at about 8:30am to navigate my way through the London underground to the BUNAC offices.  BUNAC is the company sponsoring my student visa and they have a mandatory orientation before I am allowed to use my work visa.  It was a great orientation that touched on a lot of details about taxes and banking, including giving me a temporary tax ID number (required to get a job, and you need a job to get one – good thing they gave me a temp number!) and a letter of reference to open a bank account.  I also learned about the programme, including their info regarding housing and jobs.  They have a job board with open positions and I took a brief look over but found that they were mostly pub, waitressing and secretarial/typist jobs (which is fine but I wanted to look around a bit more first).  Then I found a job as a P.A. for a PR firm and wrote down the number to call later.  I also got some advice on my CV (what they call a resume) and edited it to make it more cuturally appropriate.

– Grabbed lunch at a too-pricy-but-quiet Italian restaurant where I could sit down, decompress after the two hour orrientation, and made some phone calls to potential flats (no longer available, shoot) and to the PR firm.  They asked if I could come by and drop of my CV later that afternoon.

– Bought a cell phone!  I got a pay-as-you-go phone which will allow me to spend lots of money on local calls (but lots and lots less money than I would make my parents spend if I used my current phone).  For all calls in the UK (that’s Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England) there’s a flat rate for calls out and no fee for calls in.  Should you be in the UK and looking to call me, my number is +44 (0) 752 298 2530.  Apparently the zero is mandatory regardless of where you call from but we’ll get to that in a bit.

– Made my way over to the PR firm and loved it! It was such a cute little setup in a really posh suburb-ish area of the city.  They’re a lot bigger than I thought they were (the listing said small PR firm – I figured startup size) and it’s called Gabrielle Shaw Communications.  I had a somewhat impromptu interview with one of the employees and they said they’d follow up.  I really liked it but I’m trying not to get too excited about the position because, although I think I’m a good fit, I’ll have to wait and see if I get a call back.

– Realized I was only about 3 or so miles from Mimi’s flat so decided to walk back and ended up dropping of my CV at a really cute bookstore and at a Starbucks so at least I’ve got some other places that know I’m looking for work.  Made it back to the flat at about 6pm with killer blisters and a really strong desire to go shoe shopping for something that doesn’t hate my feet.

– Spent about an hour setting up appointments to view flats in the area and booked three nights at a cheap hotel/B&B-type place.  This means I officially have a place to stay until Friday.  There was a bit of a panic when I called to confirm my booking and the number wouldn’t go through and I worried I’d been scammed by the online booking site – until I realized that I wasn’t dialing the required zero before the number.  Oops!

Whew! Bit of a crazy day and the only physical things I have to show for it are a cell phone, a booking confirmation for a hotel and a growing hole in my wallet.  Tomorrow, I open my bank account, do some more job hunting and visit flats in the evening.  I’m going to try to do something touristy and post some pictures but I may have limited internet access for the next few days while in the hotel.  Hope all is well back in the States!

And here I am!

It’s really quite unbelieveable that less than 12 hours ago I was nervously awaiting my flight in JFK and now I’m in London! I’m staying in the cutestest little flat that belogs to a friend of my mom’s and her four roommates.  They’re kind enough to let me crash with them for a few days while I get my bearings.  This afternoon, assuming I’m not too jet lagged, my mom’s friend Mimi is going to take me around the neighborhoods in the area so get an idea of good places to live.  She’s also given me an oyster card (for tube travel – they actually say Mind the Gap about every three minutes) and her old phone for local calls until I can get my own.  I’m beginning to wish I had brought her a lot more than oreos, ibuprophen and dryer sheets (the three US things she says she can’t find abroad).

In fact, my trip has already been a bit of an adventure (alright, adventure might be a strong word.  Problematic might be better).  I arrived in customs with my Blue card (which allows me to work), my passport, and a UK entry visa which BUNAC, the program sponsoring my blue card, said I needed to receive otherwise I’d have problems traveling.  No one in customs had any idea what the entry visa was.  I ended up waiting for about 45 min while they made calls and generally looked confused.  I’m pretty sure I’m legally allowed to be here, but I hope everything went through properly because apparently if I need to get my visa changed or a different stamp in my passport, I actually need to leave the country then come back in through customs.  Yikes!  In any case, the woman said that I should probably be fine but I might have to reexplain myself every time I leave the country and come back.

Of course, that isn’t an issue until I find a job and a place to live, the next few tasks now that I’ve arrived.  Tomorrow morning is my BUNAC orientaion in which they give me info on taxes, banking, jobs and general living info and after that it’s time for some serious house and job hunting.  Wish me luck!