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Hi! My name is Andrew Cortez from the Dallas office and I get the honor of being a part of the HKS Xchange program in London. Along the way I will try to capture London through the senses, from the smells, sounds, sights, tastes, and the feel of the city. Here we go!
The Queen and Crumpets
The flight was long and rough. The overnight flight, turbulence and the excitement of arriving in London kept me up most of the night. As I stepped off the plane I could already feel the cold damp air pass by as I walked through the jet bridge. I walked and walked and walked some more, until I made it to the dreaded customs line. There I waited for what seemed like an eternity, until I finally received the stamp of approval to cross over onto UK soil. After picking up my bags I was greeted by the cab driver and we were off to the flat. Along the way we chatted about my stay and he filled me in with some helpful tips like how to convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius. We made it to the flat where I met Fanella. She showed me around the flat, gave me the rundown on how to use everything, handed me the keys, and I was off on my own to start my journey as an Xchange Fellow in London. My journey began by eating my first crumpet and macaroon from the stocked pantry and refrigerator.
After nourishing my hunger, I decided to walk around the busy streets of Chelsea. I was on my way down the street taking in the smells and listening to the sounds of horns and engines revving. I could see the River Thames and just as I was about cross the street I caught myself looking the wrong direction for oncoming traffic. I sat and waited, looked at where the cars were coming from, stared at the stop lights, clearly confused, I just followed another person until successfully making my way across. This seemingly easy task became much more difficult for me to conquer as this was my first time overseas. I was on my now that I figured out how to cross the street, where I explored Chelsea where I passed Sloane Square, hung out with Mozart,
and got lost for the first and what I suspect will not be my last time. Like all guys, I decided to pass on asking directions and relied solely on my handy internal gps, but mostly on recognizing a tall building and walking towards it was the best solution to find my way home. At this point jetlag and lack of sleep was setting in, so I pulled out the bed from the wall and took a long nap. I woke up fully rested and ready for the next day, ate breakfast, and met Tobias who showed me my bus route to work. Along the way he pointed out some of the sights like Hyde Park, Fortnum and Mason department store, Piccadilly Circus and finally Chinatown which happens to be just down the street from the HKS office.
We walked into the bright office on the 4th floor, where I met all of the fresh new faces. After settling in I was handed off to my project manager, Luciano. He downloaded me on my new project which is a Hotel, Apartment, and Villa development in Abuja, Nigeria. This is quite a change of pace for me as I typically work on Healthcare projects back in the states, but being part of the Xchange Fellowship provides this unique opportunity to explore new projects and sectors. For lunch I joined the sports department to eat at an Indian restaurant called Busaba Eathi. I had the spicy tofu curry with sticky rice which was spicier than I expected. Before I knew it my first day was coming to a close, but before it ended I had to enjoy my first afternoon tea (which I found out was a real thing), brewed by my friendly HKS Dallas friend, Fil. On Friday morning, I set out to walk to my bus stop. I came around the corner, and found the usual stop was barricaded off, and my bus was nowhere to be seen. I asked a friendly police officer what was going on, and he explained to me that the bus drivers were on strike for wage increases. Apparently this happens quite often, so I was left with my backup option to work, and that was to walk. Along the way I stumbled upon Buckingham Palace so I snapped some quick photos and took in the significance of the site and building, before heading into work. I showed my pod mate Ben the photo and he explained to me that the flag flying meant the Queen was in the Palace. Pretty cool to be that close to the presence of the Queen.
After work, I enjoyed my very first warm pint in London at Nellie Dean’s. After working up an appetite, Fil and the gang from Cox Architects took me to Pizza Pilgrims. We enjoyed delicious pizza on the finest table in the house, which was the foosball table of course. I learned that Wallace and Noogi are part of the team working on the soccer stadiums in Saudi Arabia.
As the night ended, I made my way to the underground station, I was surprised by how far I actually had to travel underground before I hit the tube platform. Sitting in the tube winding through the dark tunnels, I reflected on my first week in London and recalled the new and unique experiences I had encountered. Such as walking at a faster pace and with a purpose down the busy sidewalks is important during rush hour, unless I wanted to be trampled by a local. Learning how to count British currency will come in handy so I won’t be stuck with a piggy bank of change at the end of my stay. Learning how to use words such as cheers, rubbish, and learning the metric system are all a must. As the driver called out Victoria station, I thought about how cool it is to be a part of the Xchange Fellowship, grabbed my bag, and continued on my journey through London.