First Ever WSA Tour in London a Success!

Oct. 23

Back in your Junior year of high school, everyone (and I mean everyone) asks where you’ll be going to college before you even have the slightest clue. Then, as time wears on, you at least know the list of schools you’ll be applying to, and people keep asking. Then after you've applied it’s a waiting game to hear where you got in. And finally you can make your decision after you know which school wants you. Things were much the same way for me over these last couple years when it comes to graduation from college and finding a job. It first became clear to me that I’d be sticking around for a fifth year at Notre Dame. While all my friends struggled to find work, I was still writing essays, and turning in design assignments. The fifth year allowed me to put off answering the question for a little while longer.

About 4 months ago, I finally made the decision to run with this WSA concept, and in the last 3 days, it’s turned from an idea into a reality. Things have been building up to October 22nd for a long time for me. Every time I’d start getting nervous about this first tour, I would just remind myself that I had done it any ways many times for friends while I studied abroad myself. This was just the first time people were paying me to do it (even though we’re offering our tours at cost for this first tour season).

The week leading up to the tour, I ran around to as many museums and walking tours as I possibly could to continue getting a feel for London. And finally, it was Friday, the morning of the first ever WSA tour. My tour members shuffled into the breakfast café one by one, exhausted from red-eye flights with RyanAir. I came to find out that the majority of the group of eleven hadn’t really slept the night before, but their pure excitement for being in London was keeping them awake and running. Immediately this enthusiasm rubbed off on me and turned my nerves into nervous excitement.

I couldn’t have asked for a better, more laid-back group. Guides often make the mistake that American tourists are simple or don’t have their historical priorities straight. But to that I would answer that who can blame the guys coming in from Indiana or Washington State for caring more about the contemporary culture and modern vibe of a living cultural capital of the world than the forgettable dates and names. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all about the historical origins of cities, but when you have 48 hours in London, the last thing you want to be doing is memorizing dates from a thousand years ago.  I’m much more of a big picture, theme-oriented sort of “historian” myself, and if I can portray why this culture drives on the left rather than the date and time a particular road was built, I see that as much more rewarding for all parties involved.

So I gave a little orientation talk and went over the WSA handouts they received when they checked in. And we kicked off the first ever WSA tour with an orientation walk through the Borough market where I played sugar daddy and handed out fivers with the challenge to see who could bring back the most extreme lunch-time meal. In the 20 minutes the group had succeeded, and brought back curry, along with some awesome veggie burgers, double chorizo sandwiches, and cups of the best coffee in London from MonMouth. I think it is safe to say it was an 11-way tie in deliciousness.

We then continued on to catch the Tube across town for our bike tour that afternoon. I’m happy to say we successfully navigated riding on the left side of the road thanks to our trusty and experienced guide, Brandon. We saw the four “palaces”: Kensington, Buckingham, Parliament and the Abbey, and the four “gardens”: Kensington, Hyde, Buckingham and St. James’s. All in all, the bike ride proved to be a great orientation tour for this great city. Post ride, we caught a double-decker bus over to a one-of-a-kind trendy restaurant in the Soho neighborhood where we ordered our meal via the touch screen that also served as our dinner table--pretty sweet stuff. And it gave me an opportunity to speak to how important it is to keep up on the trendy way of life for Londoners.

We capped the evening with a walk through the West End, led by a good friend of mine, Matt. Matt grew up in Camden town, the ultra-eclectic neighborhood north of the city. He went to school over at Trinity in Dublin, but has since returned to work as a guide to show fellow students around the city that he loves. One of the most rewarding things about travel for me is meeting people who are equally proud of the city where they come from as I am about my own. Not only does your diverse background give you countless things to talk about and discuss, but it also reminds you about the sheer humanity of this world, which also provides a motivating factor to never stop learning and sharing about this world we live in.

At the end of our first day, I set the tour members free and was overcome with a genuine sense of accomplishment, and I realized how endlessly rewarding it is to provide a service that is truly needed—a service that I can already see the tangible value to students even in the first few hours of our first tour. More on our second day soon.


Kyle Cook, Lebanon Valley College

Happy Backpackers

I went to Rome with a few of my friends. Before we got there, our tour guide, Rhianne, sent us plenty of information regarding how to arrive at the hostel, and what our Itinerary would be like. She also made it a point to meet up with people the night before if their flight got in early so students would have something to do. Having a tour guide that lived in the city was amazing. It made me not have to stress about getting lost, and provided many opportunities to eat at the best restaurants, and, most importantly, the best Gelato places. By the end of the tour, I was good friends with each of the 14 members of the tour group, including our tour guide. I definitely recommend taking a tour through WSA because the guides make you feel like they actually care about each person on the trip. I knew that I could just relax, and enjoy my trip.

Kyle Cook, Lebanon Valley College ~ Kingston University, London, Fall 2015

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