Between a Minute and a Billion Years

I don’t know what to do with this, and I don’t think it’s very interesting to anyone, but it made my head spin a little so I might as well write it here. Kalen and I have been working on creating an itinerary for our trip to London and Paris in a few months’ time, and in addition to watching travel videos and reading reviews on travel websites, I’ve also spent some time simply browsing Google Maps and investigating whatever catches my eye.

While browsing the other day, my cursor hovered over Regent’s University, where I studied for my semester abroad. In planning much of this trip, I’ve been trying to balance satisfying my nostalgia with creating a new experience, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit the school or not. I won’t know anyone there, and I was only there for a few months. I hardly even visit Drury, where I did the other seven semesters of my college education, and it certainly holds far more memories for me. But what I value most in the memories of those places are the interactions with the people and the relationships formed. When those people have moved on to new chapters of their lives, the location is just a faded backdrop. When I do visit Drury, it’s usually to drop into the bookstore to buy a branded hoodie or mug or something, and I thought that if Regent’s had something like that, it might make a nice souvenir.

It’s a very American thing, though, buying and wearing hoodies and especially those from a college or university. I didn’t even remember there being a bookstore when I was at Regent’s. My classes were mostly “cultural experience” type classes (attending theater and learning about the architecture and history of palaces and grand country houses) and we didn’t have books for them. There was a small shop where you could buy pencils and notebooks, but I don’t remember anything other than basic supplies and a fiendish vending machine (The vending machine is all too vivid because it taught me the painful lesson that drinks in England with round, purplish fruit are almost never grape flavored; they are currant flavored, which isn’t bad but it’s not great when you’re expecting grape. It’s the same as when you’re expecting a chocolate chip cookie but it turns out to be raisin, or cherry pie that turns out to be rhubarb. The actual flavor isn’t bad, but it’s not what you were prepared for and the realization is too jarring to allow the appropriate enjoyment. Come to think of it, I even experienced this with people during the pandemic. Remember what it was like when someone you had met during the course of the pandemic took their mask off for the first time and you realized that the bottom half of their face was not what you had been picturing that whole time? It’s all that same feeling of confusion, disorientation, and a little betrayal).

Wary of traitorous vending machines, I ended up on Regent’s website looking for hints that they might have a bookstore or something so I could have a better memento of my semester there than the gray t-shirt with all the students’ names in teeny tiny print that was well-intentioned but unflattering and I have never worn. I couldn’t find any promising main menu options on the website and eventually settled for the 360 Virtual Tour hoping I could just click my way around campus looking for something that might give me answers.

I was a little disappointed to find that I couldn’t virtually wander with the freedom I had hoped. I was limited to a 360 view of individual specified points, but couldn’t move within those spaces, the way you can “drive” down a street on Google street view. I looked around anyway and noted that, in addition to upgrading to Regent’s University (it was College when I was there), a lot of the interior had had a facelift as well. The refectory where we ate our meals had been significantly modernized, and even the classrooms looked updated. Nostalgia got the better of me, then, and I had a look at the residence hall.

While I was at Regent’s I shared a room with two other American girls, one who went to Drury with me, and one I didn’t know before. It wasn’t a large room, and it wasn’t especially comfortable, but it was home for three and a half months, and it was in the city I’d dreamt of for most of my life. We actually really lucked out with our room assignment being one of only four rooms with a balcony (I don’t know how many rooms there were total, but a lot more than four, so it felt pretty fortuitous). It was a small balcony, but it made the room feel more special and had a fabulous view. For the colder months, we used the balcony as a makeshift refrigerator for things like drinks that would be better cold but didn’t strictly have to be refrigerated.

I could tell from the pictures of the lobby and common area that the residence hall had seen significant upgrades as well, and I wondered how much the rooms had improved. I looked at the single room, much brighter and cleaner looking than the rooms I remembered seeing, but I also didn’t remember any single rooms while I was there; everyone shared with one if not two other people. I clicked to view the double room, wondering if they simply weren’t showing triple rooms (because, let’s face it, it’s not a great selling point), or if they just didn’t do triple rooms anymore.

The picture of the double room loaded and I was faced with twin sets of double doors looking over the small courtyard. The curtains were hot pink, the floor a wood-look vinyl, the walls fresh and creamy. But it was my room. Not just any room in that building of, I don’t know, fifty or so rooms? It’s always weird to go back to old places you lived and see how they’ve changed with other people living there, but I wasn’t even expecting to see my specific room. I didn’t think the odds would be that good, and maybe it was one of the other three balcony rooms. I scoured my old pictures, looking for details (“We didn’t have a fireplace; no wait, we did; we kept the curling iron on the mantle!” and “Were we directly across from the end of the other building or were we offset? No, we were definitely right there!”)

I wanted to show someone, but I’m not close with either of my former roommates. The one seems to have unfriended me on Facebook sometime ago (I still don’t know if I offended her or if she was just removing people she didn’t talk to anymore. No big deal), and the other I think I only ever spoke to when we happened to be in that room together and it was strictly necessary. No hard feelings, we just weren’t ever close. I have a few other friends from that semester but even those I’ve grown distant from. It was kind of sad that I found this exciting (to me) thing but I had no one to share it with from that very precious past life. So I’m sharing it here.

I also noticed, in scouring the pictures for background details, that the pictures I took of the room were dated January 16; fourteen years to the day that I found the updated pictures. It doesn’t mean anything, but it was an extra little surprise and certainly added to surreality of it.

I can’t expect things to stay the same while so much time passes. But like the movement of the earth, we don’t always feel the time going as it does. When so much changes so drastically, though, it hits us all at once and I suddenly realize how devastatingly long fourteen years can be. I still haven’t decided if I want to try and visit the school again when I’m there, but I am definitely planning on visiting the surrounding park. We also are going to visit the pub I used to enjoy as a student. It, too, has changed styles pretty drastically since my visit, but it feels more like it has grown up the same way I have, based on what I can find online. I couldn’t eat the same greasy burgers I used to eat then anyway, so sometimes change really is for the best.

Have you ever been taken aback by how much a place has changed between visits? Or maybe you just also have an evil vending machine story to share. Or there’s a hidden gem in London (or Paris) that you’re dying to share with someone. Maybe you just want to say “hi!” Whatever it is, drop it in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Between a Minute and a Billion Years

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  1. Wow! That was some major memory jogging for me, and I am sure even more so for you! Hmmmm, wonder what they charge now for a semester over there what with the upgrades to the place now.
    When you got on that jet that day in January, I thought our hearts were broken forever. That was one bleak winter for us, and yet we were so happy that you got to go there and see things one doesn’t see on this side of that big blue pond. And when you told us that you had no hot water, I wanted you to fly home instantly!
    Certainly go visit the campus, even for just a walkabout. And a new picture of you in that beautiful park would be just lovely!
    Bonus points if you bring home a Regent’s t-shirt!

    1. I’m so grateful you were able to send me, it was such an amazing experience! Luckily the hot water wasn’t out for long, but that was a bad couple of days for sure! We will definitely bring back lots of pictures!

  2. When we visited Germany in November we were fortunate to visit Tuebingen, where Courtney studied abroad 14 years ago. Since we never got to visit her when she was a student, it was as close to turning the clock back as possible. It was the best part of a great trip. She considers Tuebingen her German home town and her delight in being back added immeasurably to the charming German scenery. We didn’t look up specific people from those years but bringing together a loved place with loved people is pretty special, and did create happy new memories for all of us. Bon Voyage in advance.

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