Three years ago, I had the opportunity to hop on board a foreign exchange trip to London over the winter interim period at my university. I was super excited to go, as I’ve always been a bit of an Anglophile and at that point in my life I had never been outside the country. 

The trip was actually a two-week course in historical research with a focus on post-World War II Great Britain, particularly regarding rebuilding both housing and the human spirit. It was rather interesting, and when we weren’t holed up in the City of London research library looking up information about the 1951 Festival of Britain (my group’s project focus), we were bouncing around the city checking out the sights and sounds. 

Getting to walk across Tower Bridge, wander around Hampton Court and tour the war rooms of Winston Churchill’s administration were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but one of my favorite memories was the celebration of the new year during our first week on British soil. The fanfare began simply enough, when the cafeteria of the school we were staying at began serving miniature mince pies with breakfast. They were a little crumbly but it was a nice little surprise. 

Because of the lack of open visitation hours for the attractions and record collections we were set to visit, our professors gave us time off on New Year’s Eve, to do with as we pleased. A group of the students on the trip, who suddenly found themselves of legal drinking age due to Britain’s consumption laws, immediately headed downtown to find some pubs or clubs to ring in the new year. The rest of us sought out a quieter celebration. 

Some friends of mine staked out a hill overlooking the center of the city, with a park stretching down below and surrounded by apartments, shops and pubs. It was bitterly cold that night in London, but we found a good spot to sit after some questionable dinner at a little hole in the wall along the way. 

We still had an hour or two to go before midnight struck, so my friend Nick and I decided to go wandering around the area a bit to see if we could find warmer seats in a pub. Everything was full up, of course: It seemed like all of London had turned out to grab a drink with friends in tow. Nick and I amused ourselves by taking some photos in red telephone boxes, circling the neighborhood to keep ourselves warm. 

Ten minutes before midnight, we scrambled back to the mostly-deserted hill we’d left behind, only to find it had been completely filled by the people of London. Despite Nick’s height and my attempts to text other party members, we couldn’t locate our initial watching spot and the rest of the group. We finally gave up, turned our gaze to the sky and watched the giant fireworks display, put on by the city, which we had all come to see. 

About halfway through the fireworks, I realized that all of these people must have come from somewhere, and that we were going to be hours late getting back to our host school if we didn’t leave immediately to catch the train. I grabbed Nick by the hand and wove through the crowd and the mud down the hill, trying to get us back to the tube station we had emerged from earlier before the spectators had the same idea. 

It sort of worked. Nick and I beat the biggest rush, but the part of the crowd closer to the tube station rushed up to meet us as well, and we all were treated to the exasperated expressions of the transit employees who were trying to maintain order. 

Nick and I were mashed into an elevator headed to a lower level, and as soon as the door closed we realized we were among familiar faces: The rest of our group had had the same idea as well, and in the excitement of regrouping we exchanged our well wishes and congratulations on making it to see the beginning of 2015. 

And what a year 2015 was! I went on to graduate college, discover work at the EagleHerald, rent out my first apartment — it all seems so distant now, but I wasn’t even aware of half the surprises I was in for that night in London, surrounded by friends and strangers, each with their own futures of surprise. 

It’s a nice memory to revisit when another new year rolls around, because while a lot of people like to look back on the shortcomings of the ending year, sometimes you need reminding to look forward to the nice things in store for you down the road.