London Calling: Reflecting on a Transformative Semester

I was trapped in the middle of a dark storm with the only light for miles coming from inside a packed train car. Torrential rain pounded on the windows and doors, begging to be let in. My friends and I were packed into the small compartment, having already waited five hours, and questioning if we would ever make it back to London. Before this day, I never imagined it possible I could be entwined into the lines of a story, sitting across from an old lady and her even older-looking dog.

Photo provided by Sophia Smith ’25

In my fall semester of junior year, I attended a semester away in London. Some would argue they never saw themselves living miles away, across an ocean, or as some like to say, across the pond. Although younger me always imagined myself living in some type of Roald Dahl boarding school in England. In sophomore year, the opportunity to live in a third grader’s chapter book presented itself. My grade was forced into the gym for a school meeting that 10th grade Sophia would typically groan about. However, this time was different.

Following this meeting, we were told to return to the gym during lunch if we were intrigued in order to hear from representatives of various semester schools. I walked past the signs promoting schools surrounded by forests, knowing I was never too interested in woodland tales. After putting my name on a few email lists that I never ended up responding to, I saw the booth for the School of Ethics and Global Leadership, SEGL for short. 

At this table sat Tyrell, someone I never knew would be guiding me on the tube and looking for me when I thought the meet-up time was 3:45 and not 3:20. This interaction would be my first, but definitely not last, with a SEGL leader. After an application process that made me express my entire world views without spelling out my political affiliation, and a long-awaited acceptance, I was on my way to London.  

My time away allowed me to have two first days of school, something I’ve been dreaming of since watching every TV show and movie character switch schools. My first day of Junior year in London was awkward, to say the least. After an eight-hour plane ride, we were rushed into a museum of milk, not the best scenario to meet the people who would supposedly become my second family. 

I bonded with people from all over the country. We chose to live under one roof that was kept in-check by the owner, an old man named Patrick, and the foxes who lived in our yard. Having the opportunity to focus on my academics, surrounded by dedicated teachers, and caring classmates with such strong drives reminded me of some of the reasons I love to learn.

Being on the train back to London, after an amazing week’s trip in Scotland conversing with university students, while hearing a few of my friends jokingly lie to British students about the American education system, was so surreal. I was in a place in my life that I didn’t see coming, yet always anticipated. By the end of my semester, I was saddened to leave but felt fulfilled by the time I had spent away, and was ready to embark on my second first day of school.  

Adjusting back to Grace has been a complex experience for me.  Unlike my first first day of school, I knew of all the joyous and kind faces welcoming me with open arms.  However, being back in my old school feels like my time in London was a deep dream that could only stem from falling asleep while reading a book. It felt as though I had multiple versions of myself living in alternate worlds. There is the Sophia from before London and the Sophia in London. Like in some sort of tale where I have to preserve the space-time continuum, I must merge the two. With the flick of a magic wand or finger, I have merged the two to create Sophia number three, the surviving version, in the living world. Despite having to conduct a complicated magical spell with the world being held together by a single string, I would still choose, on any day, to be on that train straight out of a book.    

Sophia Smith ‘25 is a staff writer for The Grace Gazette.