Written by Samantha Yarwood – from the U.K. – Work and Travel participant working at Chickie’s and Pete’s.
I sit here now, in the departure lounge of Washington Ronald Reagan Airport, finally about to get on a plane and return to England after the most amazing 12 weeks of my life. I actually just welled up with tears writing that line. Sitting here, waiting for them to call my flight to board, I begin to reflect upon my time in the States, the good, the bad, and the unforgettable.When I came here, I was a 20 year old girl who had never been away from home, and had never really had to properly look after herself, I return as a still 20 year old, but now I feel more like a woman. I have learnt so many things, the biggest of which I believe to be independence, and the ability to be independent successfully. It’s quite amusing, I become independent in the United States, the place which took their independence from Britain all those years ago, is the place that gives me mine.
During my time in Philadelphia, I learnt how to cook, believe it or not, from scratch, I learnt (well developed my skills) in cleaning and maintaining a hygienic living environment, I learnt to successfully use a washing machine and dryer, for which I am sure the one in my house in England is just broke and doesn’t like to work, and also how to manage money. I fended for myself completely.
I never realised just how expensive stuff was, my paycheck averaged out at around $600 every two weeks, $150 went on rent, then I had food costs, transport costs, my phone contract, and then anything else I may have needed or wanted. I didn’t go crazy with my money, I wasn’t spending like there was no tomorrow, but still somehow, it always lasted just about until I got my next paycheck. As you hear in movies and TV and even songs, I was one of those people living paycheck to paycheck. Sure, I had savings, but I had to keep those for when I went on my travels, that was what they were there for. Of course if I were desperate I would take a small amount from my savings, especially the first 4 weeks, as that was how long it was before I got my first paycheck.
Living for 4 weeks with no income was definitely difficult, but I managed. I just had to be careful and only spend the money on necessities. It did make me think however, how so many people in the US managed to live that way, and also why the rate of homeless people was so high in each of the cities that I visited. I did feel for them people, I know it is impossible to tell, but most didn’t look like drug users, or alcoholics, or anything like that, most were extremely polite when asking for money, and if you didn’t give them anything they still said â€˜God Bless” as you walked away. I remember I passed one guy in the street, he was sitting on the pavement in a doorway and had a sign by his feet that read “Too ugly for prostitution.”
I am definitely sad to be leaving; I have made some amazing friends whom I will definitely keep in touch. LOVE Philadelphia, it is the cities slogan, and they have LOVE statues in various parts of the city. I definitely do LOVE Philadelphia, it has touched a place in my heart, and I think that part of me will always remain there. The tears are trying to fight their way out, but thankfully I am in an airport with a lot of people and managing to control my emotions. I am truly going to miss the people I became close to, Niki from CHI, Jeff, other Jeff, Nina, Burcu, Ava and all the other people at Chickies, they took me under their wings, I was just the English girl, and they looked after me and made my time here as amazing as it was, I will always be grateful to them for that.
Still sitting in the airport, I continue to think of everything I have done. In two weeks, I ventured a large percentage of the East Coast with Kirsty. When telling people from work my plans and where I wanted to go, I was shocked to learn most of them hadn’t been to most of the places I was going to visit. Despite Philadelphia being only 2/3 hours away from Washington DC, most of my colleagues, even the older ones, had never been to their countries capital. In my two weeks travelling from Philadelphia to DC, New York, Atlantic City, Niagara Falls, Boston, Salem, and even Harvard University, I did everything I wanted to do. I saw everything I wanted to see on the East Coast. I have dreamt about doing what I have done for years, and I have learnt that you really can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.
On top of skills such as taking care of my self, my planning and organisation skills have definitely been put to the ultimate test. From planning buses, to accommodation, to subways, to tours and itineraries, I have done the lot, and coming out of it the sense of achievement is overwhelming. I also now feel the confidence to be able to do this again. I know I can take care of myself, I know I can be away from home, I know I can see what I want to see and go where I want to go, and even though all the skills I have used I had before I left the UK, I had never, and probably would have never used them to there full potential before I came here.Part of me wants to thank America, for taking me in, for accepting me into the country and allowing me to become the person that I have become in such a small space of time. This experience for me has been life changing, and I will never forget it as long as I live. When I am old and grey, I will still reminisce on this trip and annoy my grandkids time and time again with my stories from Philadelphia in 2010. I would encourage anyone to do what I have done. It is an unbelievable experience, and you only live once.