The ticketing agent wasn’t too impressed as I put my two oversized pieces of luggage on the scale. “They’re overweight. You’ll have to leave some things behind or pay a hefty fee.” This was March 2006 and I was saving any extra penny I had for pints and weekend escapes across Europe. Needless to say my mom and sister walked away with mismatched shoes, college sweatshirts and other items forcibly deemed unnecessary overflowing from their arms after saying a tearful goodbye. My teddybear somehow made the cut though.
I arrived at London’s Heathrow and was instructed to sit on the ground in the arrivals hall with the others who had landed before me while we waited for the rest of the intake to arrive. I was exhausted and nervous. I had no idea what to expect from both the Mountbatten Institute (formerly Mountbatten Programme), nor the other 29 participants who joined me from all corners of the US.
Joanna and I bonded over going to uni in Baltimore. Emily (Z) and I made friends quickly as she was the only volunteer who responded to my invite for a smoke outside to break the ice. I learned it was neither academia nor international work experience that brought her here though. It was simply, Europe!
We were brought by bus to a hostel in Paddington for the first few nights. I was in awe at the amount of luggage Erin, also a fellow New Jerseyian, had managed to bring over. We were going to be in London for a year. Each of us at a different work placement, from mostly prominent banking to only two of us in marketing/special events roles. Erin was fashionably prepared for all of it.
I met Angele on the hostel doorstep later that afternoon. I didn’t believe her when she told me her name. After all I had never met anyone from New Orleans before. Angele, Jaime, Heidi and I walked to Portobello Road the next morning. Flashbacks of my time studying abroad only 3 years prior flooded in and I felt overly confident that I had already mastered London during my first time living there at 19. I was so naive about how this next year would change me forever.
See, what made this time so much more different than the first time I lived abroad was simply, it was no longer my first time. Sure we were older and more mature. I mean most of us were at least 22! College was in the past and we all had a minimum of a year of professional work experience under our belts. To leave our happy lives of “adulthood” behind meant that there was an additional element that unified us all – we were all true travelers at heart and for many of us this wasn’t our first rodeo abroad.
That night our friendship bonds began to form deeper as we partied into the wee hours at the Hiccup Bar in the hostel’s basement, flirting with foreign boys and searching out new partners in crime. Late that night Emily (S) greeted us with Indiana-based childhood friend Gerrad, as they both were the last of the group to arrive. I knew then that we were onto something good.
I started work shortly after at the international leading market research firm Forrester Research. I was an Event Coordinator managing corporate events for the C-level suite where my bosses provided exclusive and customised research consultancy to Europe’s most prominent organisations. I was lucky that my direct supervisor Daniel was one of the original Mountbattens, an English gent sent to NYC years earlier, so his appreciation of a life split between professionalism and adventure was well understood. As part of my role I galavanted around London sourcing amazing gifts to include in our prestigious event invitations such as mini port bottles to invite them to our VIP event in Portugal or tea from Harrods for our annual London event. Later that year after a private tour of Tower Bridge I hosted dinner inside its historical walkways.
While in the Mountbatten Programme we were also working toward our Cambridge-endorsed certificate in international business practice. Throughout the year we were whisked away to attend educational seminars at prominent places such as the UN in London, and other talks in Paris, Oxford and Cambridge; but also participated in team building exercises in Dorset and Brighton. The days were long but the nights were even longer as we surely took advantage of the mini breaks at hand.
My most prominent reflection of Mountbatten lives amongst the friendships that were created during post work drinks sipping pints and eating chips for dinner to save our pennies for weekend escapes across Europe. A typical weekend included dancing to our favourite cover band The Fabulous Feedback Band (now replaced by much younger lads) at Leicester Square Irish pub O’Neills on Wardour Street, arriving home at 4 am, taking a 30-minute nap before heading to catch the budget National Express bus only just in time for the cheapest flight of them all at 6 am. We’d arrive in a new city, drop our bags at the hostel and by 9 am were exploring and trying to figure the new foreign place out with a thick hangover to make it extra special. It wasn’t uncommon when returning to London late Sunday night and being asked at customs where I just came from that I’d stare back blankly, the trips started to blur into one.
This was 2006 remember. Likely only a quarter of us were on Facebook. I refused and was still on MySpace. I called my mom weekly from my international calling card and only would SMS (text) my friends in emergency situations. After arriving in a new town, it was an old-school map and an inkling for the closest pub that got us around.
Once we met the South Africans, thanks to an introduction via Angele and her co-worker, weekends were also spent in east London having traditional braiis while sunbathing in their backyard, learning South African longarming dances late in the evening at Zulu’s and sharing our cultures over too many Savannah ciders. We hosted an amazing Halloween party at the Leicester Square Australian pub, Walkabout, to show our South African and English friends what the holiday really is all about. Em (Z) and I kept the tradition for 4 years later in NYC , and they still were they were the most celebrated parties of the year.
Living in communal housing was a challenge as it took college-living to another level. 8 of us shared a 4-bedroom townhouse in between posh Maida Vale and sketchy Kilburn Park. As most of us shared a bedroom with a friend, Emily (Z) and I’s friendship became even closer as we also combined wardrobes and the large bottle of water to quench our frequently hungover thirst was passed between us as a nightly ritual. When it came time to host the other Mountbattens’ for a good old fashioned American bbq, our house, known as the “crack house” (no drugs were involved) was the place to be. It might have been termed that for our residence in proximity to the ghetto, or the pure debauchery that took place regularly. Frankly, our flat ran out of water most mornings, and Em Z and I, the last to wake up, would flip a coin on who would get to shower before work.
From March 2006-March 2007 I was lucky to not only experience more of London and the UK than ever before, but also 13 other countries. We cheered steins at Oktoberfest in Munich, ate baguettes under the Eiffel Tower, hiked under olive groves in Cinque Terra, and bathed in ancient outdoor baths in Budapest. We ate perogee in Kraków, smoked a spliff in Amsterdam and sat for hours trying as many beers as we could at a small ancient beer house in Antwerp. And the above was just touching the surface.
Being a Mountbatten alumni makes me so proud. I was lucky to move to the NYC area upon returning to the States, along with many of my closest friends. With one of my dearest Mountbatten friends, Jaime, we have mutually made it our mission to keep traveling somewhere new in the world each year together. The bond that you have with a fellow Mountbatten is for life, and still very true today. Once a Mountbatten, always a Mountbatten as the saying goes. It truly is a global lifeline and I’ve met fellow Mountbattens while traveling in Australia, Thailand, Japan, California and South Africa. We are travelers and we are one.
On March 6, 2006 I boarded a flight from Philly to London not knowing what the opportunity would provide. Today is March 6, 2016 and I am writing this on a flight from Philly to London to return to my home now. Ten years later to the day and I am living my dream back in London after a few detours in NYC and Australia getting to know the world beyond Europe. I’m lucky that many of my friends in London today are former Mountbattens, and wherever I go “home” in the world…be it London, Australia or NYC, Mountbatten unifies us all. I feel extremely lucky and grateful for the opportunity.