With 4 more days left in London, I've had a lot on my mind. Of course finals have been at the forefront of that but the idea that I'm actually going back to New York after 4 months of being away is kind of crazy. The past 4 months have been some of the craziest in my life. What I got to experience while I was here are things many people never get the chance to experience and for that, I will always be grateful. Not only have I gotten to spend 4 months in London, but I've also had the chance to travel outside of London to Dublin, Amsterdam, Brugge and Paris. What I've gotten to do within London has be fantastic as well. I feel like I learned so much about myself and, as cheesy as it sounds, have changed. The changes haven't hit me yet but I think they will once I go back to familiar territory.
This blog helped me record what I did here and gave me the chance to reflect on it. I often have this problem of having too many thoughts in my head and I need space to pace around and sort through those thoughts. However, when your room is barely the size of a closet, that's hard to do. This blog gave me the chance to focus my thoughts about what I was living. It was nice to be able to read what was happening in other sites; it made the experience feel a lot bigger than just me. It helped knowing that people were having similar doubts and feelings about being in another country, despite the fact that we were all over the globe.
I don't know what going home is going to be like. I've had pictures in my head of how I'll react when I see my family and friends again for the past 2 weeks. I've been through a whole range of emotions from happiness to sadness to excitement to disbelief. And now, with 4 days left, I have a combination of all of those. After all this time away, I don't know what to expect it to feel like when I land at JFK. I suppose it won't help that I'll have cousins over the day I land who will want to know everything about my semester. I'm not sure if I'm going to be ready to try to consolidate this whole experience. The pictures I took will definitely help but they are only one part of the entire semester and I certainly didn't capture every little moment. But it was the little moments that made this different and those are the ones that are permanently etched in my memory and since they don't need to be shared, they can always be my own.
I've decided to leave you with some lyrics from Coldplay (fittingly British) from “Life in Technicolor ii.” This set of lyrics manages to describe London in a way I can't seem to:
“Won't you take me where the streetlights glow
I could hear it coming
I could hear the sirens sound
Now my feet won't touch the ground”
So it's that time of the semester, time to give advice to those who may consider studying abroad or those who are in fact doing so. First and foremost, just living abroad, regardless of where, is important and I think necessary for everyone. Once you've decided what to do, obviously you've got to deal with visas and packing. In terms of packing for London, layers are key. Be sure to have a rain coat, rain boots and umbrella. The idea that London is a rainy city is true (to some extent, though I wouldn't say it rains all the time). Also, keep in mind that not only is London expensive, the exchange rate sucks. Unless you have a Bank of America account (which has a agreement with Barclays), withdrawing money is going to cost you money (exchange rate + ATM fee). To counter this, I came with traveler's checks which can be cashed in Lloyds Bank on Oxford Street. Obviously you have to determine how much to bring with you but there is no commission on exchanging it. You just suffer the exchange rate but at least it's not as bad. You'll most likely be staying in Nido student living which is an international student dorm; this means that there will be many other students from other universities which can mean new friends if you play your cards right. It's a great space except that the rooms are small (very small). Keep that in mind when packing.That being said, you're going to get enough information about these sorts of things so I'll talk about what to do when in London.
It's best to come here with no expectations and completely open to new experiences and people. NYU in London offers excursions on the weekends (to Stonehenge, Bath, Greenwich, Hampton Court etc) and I'd recommend taking as many of those as you can! It's a great way to see parts of England you may not venture to on your own. Also take advantage of the programming events they have such as going to a rugby match (GO! It's amazing) and going on the London Eye. Also go to the tourist-y sites at least once. Visit Platform 9 ¾, go to Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London. It's a part of London that really deserves to be seen.
But what of the non-tourist-y things to see? Well, here's a list of places I'd recommend for you to go to or things to do.
1.Visit a pub (The Rocket, Miller's, Euston Flyer are all on the same road as the dorm). Enjoy the lowered drinking age and the different drinking culture that goes with it.
2.Go to Fortnum and Mason's. It's the “Queen's Grocery Store” and is kind of amazing. Not as famous as Harrod's but just as good. Also go to Harrod's. At least once.
3.Eat Indian food. Brick Lane is a good place. You've probably heard that it's really good in London and they are not lying. (This is coming from an Indian person so...)
4.Use ULU (University of London Union). Plently of places within it to hang out and there are always students there.
5.See a play! You have the Globe Theater at your disposal and the West End is full of shows that need to be seen. I recommend 39 Steps; it was absolutely fantastic.
6.Go to a festival that they may be having during the semester you're there. In the fall, they have the Thames River Festival and I'm sure they have many come spring.
7.Walk a lot. Anywhere. It'll help you spot things you want to see and will help you see things you may have otherwise missed.
8.Take the time to appreciate the architecture around London.
9.Go out on a weeknight. At least once. Enjoy a student club night (oftentimes these are Wednesdays).
10.Go to a museum. The British Museum is conventionally located right next to where NYU classes in London are held. The Victoria and Albert Museum is worth a trip as well. It has a whole section on fashion in addition to paintings and sculptures.
Also travel outside the country. There is a break in the semester that allows for that but many cities can be seen on a weekend. But don't forget to enjoy the place that you're living; don't neglect London at the expense of blowing through another city in a weekend. London has so much to see and many things to do and that last thing you want is to leave feeling like you didn't see enough.
Make the most you can of this fantastic experience!
My first Thanksgiving not spent in the States or with my family was spent with a new family: my London one. However, unlike many of the other NYU sites, NYU in London did not organize a Thanksgiving meal for us so we were left up to our own devices. My group of friends had been planning to make our own dinner for sometime so we had set ourselves a challenge. The day before was spent buying up all the ingredients, which are harder to find than you might expect. Day of Thanksgiving was a new experience because I've never had class on Thanksgiving before. My friends and I sat in the class, waiting to get out while our professor kept making jokes about it. When we were finally released, we all rushed home to start cooking in our various kitchens.
Now, the cooking. Here was a lesson in making doing with what you have. We all lacked certain equipment that we had been used to. For instances, I was to make mashed potatoes but had the worst masher in the world. I also did not have a large enough pot to boil all the potatoes so I had to do them in shifts. The problem with that was by the time I got around to peeling and cutting all of the potatoes from one shift, they were no longer as hot as they were and therefore, were harder to mash. Needless to say, from peeling, cutting and mashing, my arms were dead tired, 4 hours later when food started to arrive in my kitchen. Even with the help of 5 people, the potatoes just weren't mashed to the point I wanted them. However, everyone was working off of lesser equipment and therefore were very understanding of less than perfect items on all cases. Effort was very much appreciated.
We outdid ourselves in terms of amount of food. We had a turkey, a 10 pound turkey, rolls, corn, green beans, and pumpkin pie among many other things. People who had seen the table were amazed and impressed by the volume of food we had made. It took us all about 4 hours to make the meal so when we finally got down to eating it...well, let's just say I don't think I appreciated food as much as I did then. After we'd all stuffed ourselves silly, we decided to go out. Yet another thing I've never done on Thanksgiving.
Of course with Thanksgiving, comes the holiday season, perhaps my favorite time of the year. Christmas music and movies suddenly take over my life. This year, the coming of the holiday season also means that my time in London is slowly coming to an end. It's not something I like thinking about. I've a got myself a new sort of family here and despite the fact that we're all pretty much going back to the same school, it won't be the same. Thanksgiving here took on a different meaning. Not only did I help make a huge dinner, but I had new things to be thankful for, like being in London and modern appliances.
I was very intrigued by the idea of the “traveling mind set.” DeBotton says that receptivity is a key part of that and I would agree with him on that. Being in a new city or place is so much better when you have no clear idea of what you should find interesting. It helps to just be open to anything and everything. Finding a building that others ignore fascinating is part of the experience of travel to me. Laughing at a sign on a building just adds to the uniqueness of a place. We photograph everything, annoying, as DeBotton says, the locals. Yet travel would be nothing if we didn't do any of that. And as DeBotton shows, this doesn't just mean traveling to another city or place; it can be traveling within a place we are familiar with.
I've experienced that here in London on my history walking tours. We often take walking tours that take us around places to give us a physical sense of the history we study. I love these walks because not only do they give us a break from lectures, but it's a chance to be a bit of a tourist again. My professor takes us to places that I probably would never discover on my own. He takes routes that I'd never figure out even if I had a map. I consider myself familiar with London at this point, but these walks allow me to travel again within this city. Each time we go on a walk, I allow myself to do as DeBotton does in this chapter. I make myself forget what I already know about London and allow the “newness” to soak in. By doing this, I've found that I really enjoy the walks and more importantly, I enjoy London. I find myself appreciating the juxtaposing architecture that seems to be characteristic of this city more and more. I love the charm of the small streets we take as shortcuts to the next major stop on the tours. I love the little shops we see and the alleyways we pass by. Somehow the charm that I know London has always increases on these walks. The best thing about that though is that the charm carries over. I'll appreciate the walk back to my dorm even though it's a walk I've done nearly every single day.
I think for that reason it is necessary to play tourist as DeBotton does in your own city. You re appreciate the things that made you fall in love with it in the first place. At the same time, you find new things to love about it.
He sits at the front of the room, perched on a table. He always wears a sweater over a button down shirt. He stares at us and smiles. “Hello everyone,” he says in his British accent. This is my history professor, Stephen Inwood, here in London. He is a stately sort of guy, unassuming yet somehow authoritative. In a way, he embodies the paradox that is a British person.
He is a very polite person, often asking us, his students if we mind if he shows us a video or pictures. Whenever he does this, the thought I always have is “why are you asking us? You're the teacher.”But he does it. I don't know if he does it out of actual caring or just to be courteous but either way, it throws me off. He also has a good sense of humor. He'll make jokes or funny references to various things in class that causes us all to chuckle. They are things you don't necessarily expect to hear from your professor but work somehow. I suppose many of the things he says are funny because he says them in a British accent.
As a professor of history, he has a certain “obsession” with the past; he must in order to teach this subject. He has written countless books on London's history and is full to the brim with knowledge. Whenever he talks us on our walking tours, he has tons of things to say about each place. Yet, he also is willing to bypass certain things. He'll often say “oh, you don't really need to know about that.” In this way, my class has glossed over the countless wars that mark England's history. From my class though, you wouldn't really guess that. That is not to say that he is giving us the wrong information. He simply focuses on London's history which doesn't necessarily involve the larger wars of England. My professor is more focused on the social and economic changes of London through the years. He does mention the wars, like the Civil War, that directly affected London but doesn't really say much about the ones that happened outside the country or didn't directly affect London. He'll often mention it briefly, but then say “it's not really that important.” For someone from a country thought to be stuck in the past, this is a strange statement.
Professor Inwood is quintessentially British which to me means he manages to be a lot of seemingly disparate traits rolled into one person. I have my last walking tour next week and I'm going to be sad to see those end. Not only has it been a great way to see London, but it gave us an insight into our professor. The last walk we went on brought us to the Queen's Store, Fortnum and Mason. Our professor let us spend 10 minutes running wild in this store. I don't know if any other professor would have let us do that or even taken us to that store. But to him, it was an important piece of history and we needed to see it. Yet we didn't go see some of the more major tourist sights. Not that I minded...Fortnum and Mason may be one of my favorite stores anywhere in world, all thanks to my professor.
"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."-Tolkien
Here in our London dorms, most of the NYU students have access to a communal kitchen on their floors. We share it with about 10 other students (all NYU affiliated). The idea behind it is that we all hang out and get to know one other through shared usage.
Most of the space in the kitchen is taken up by a long table surrounded by about 8 chairs. The refrigerators, storage cabinets for food and freezers are on the right side from the door. The refrigerators are interesting. From the outside, they look like the normal ones we're used to. However, once you open it, you find multiple metal compartments with room numbers on them. Each of us has a key that opens a compartment that yields... well.. not too much space. It's enough for about a week's worth of food, if you're good at packing stuff together. The problem is that sometimes you forget what you have in there simply because you can't see it all. The cabinets however, are much larger, which makes it seem like it's trying to make up for the fridge. On the opposite end is where the microwaves, stoves and ovens (yes all plural) are. Above those are cabinets which contain a random assortment of pots, pans and key ingredients like salt and pepper (though these are often easy to forget about; too commonplace to remember perhaps?). The counter space is limited due to the microwaves, stoves and sink and isn't helped by the boxes of utensils sitting around.
The walls are what make the kitchens on each floor different from each other. Some floors have red walls, others all white. Each kitchen has two pictures, one on each wall. In my kitchen, there is a picture of a gargoyle of Notre Dame overlooking Paris and one of Big Ben reflected in a puddle of water. In the corner near the sink, there's a TV on which people watch everything ranging from Judge Judy to X Factor.
On any given day, the kitchen will be a place where I run into my hall mates, some of whom are also classmates. Usually, we'll both be making dinner or putting away groceries. Conversations are struck up with those I know; brief greetings are exchanged with those I don't know well. However, sometimes the kitchen becomes the meeting place. Some days it's where the group meets before going out. Other times, it's where we meet to hang out because we just don't want to leave the building. The kitchen on the 9th floor of the building is the most common choice for the simple reason that most of my friends happen to live on that floor. These communal kitchens do what kitchens in homes tend to do: bring people together. Food has always been seen as something to gather people around. The kitchen is where that food comes from so the fact that the kitchen is used as a place of socialization isn't surprising. But it still manages to amaze me at what people can turn a kitchen into. Something that is so specific in function is somehow flexible to the will of the people in it.
I'm late in posting because it's been my fall break for the past week. During this time, I've had the chance to travel outside of London to Amsterdam, Brugge and Paris. All 3 of those cities seemed completely unreal and fairytale like. Let's start with Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is known to many people as the place where marijuana and prostitution are legal. For that reason alone, people make treks to the Netherlands. There is more to that country though, and it comes in the form of cheese, clogs and windmills. As my guide told us, “if you don't like windmills, there is something immensely wrong with your personality.” Our journey to and from Amsterdam was a fairytale in itself. After nearly missing a flight to Dublin the week before and journeying in the pouring rain, the sheer idea of not having to deal with airports was great. My friends and I took a tour that took us by bus and ferry to Amsterdam. Going this way means you don't have to even show your passport until the return trip. No check in. No baggage restrictions. No security check line. In other words, the easiest trip ever. Once we got to Amsterdam, this fairytale got even better (is that even possible?). The houses are beautiful; the people tolerant. We stayed in a hotel (not hostel, a real hotel) which had one of the best breakfast buffets ever. The nightlife...is, well, what you'd expect. Fascinating, oftentimes overwhelming, yet fascinating. And the food? Chocolate covered waffles at nearly every corner made it better. Of course, the discovery of the Heineken Brewery on a rainy day just added to the surreal feeling I had of the city. The guide put it best: “Amsterdam can't exist anywhere but Amsterdam.” There is something about it that doesn't seem real; how can a place be so tolerant, so beautiful and have nothing really hidden under the surface? My friends and I tried to find flaws but seemed to only find dead ends. The only flaw I could really find with it was that it was small.
2 days in that surreal place led to a day trip to Brugge, yet another fairytale. We got to watch the movie “In Burges” on the way to the actual city (I highly recommend the movie). Brugge is a picture perfect city. It is a city still in its medieval form. Streets are still cobblestone and with the leaves in their fall colors, you couldn't ask for a more gorgeous place. We got to go to the top of the Belfry Tower which gives a bird's eye view of the town. Standing there, you can't help but think that you're in a movie. Where in the world can you find a city that has kept its charm and original form and yet evolve with the passage of time? It seems like a movie concept: stuck in a time period yet with modern trappings. Also, Brugge, as is Belgium, famous for chocolate and beer, a fantastic combination. In fact, you can get chocolate beer (pretty good actually). Who doesn't love at least one of those two things? There is no end to either. Walking throughout the town makes you feel like a kid in a candy store.
And finally, Paris. Paris is a city known for its beauty. People spend years studying art and fashion there and once you go there, you see why. Every building contains beauty and is inspiring. The monuments are stunning and you expect nothing less of the city. But even the houses are gorgeous. They are the typical Parisian style, recognizable for their elegance. It's easy to see why artists come here; there is so much to get inspired from. It is this beauty that makes Paris fairy tale like. The beauty is everywhere; there does not seem to be a place in Paris that isn't beautiful. Even when I went to Versailles Palace which goes through the suburbs of Paris, the suburbs, though not as elegant as Paris, still have beauty. It's an undeniable beauty too. What I mean by that is in NYC, there are places I find beautiful that others would argue are not (i.e. St. Mark's Place). However, these places in Paris would be beautiful to almost anyone. Anytime you get a place that people can agree upon, that's magical in itself. And lastly, the journey to and from Paris? Eurostar makes that incredibly easy. 2 ½ hours in comfortable chairs and you can go from one country to another. The security and customs checks are quick. There's no worry about checking anything in. No restrictions. No issues.
And what better way to have a fall break than one free of issues?
The second book I chose to read is “Imagined London,” by Anna Quindlen. The author writes about London as it exists in literature (how it portrays the city and the people) vs. what she encountered she visited it in 1995. In one of the chapters, she describes blue (sometimes red) plaques that are located all around London on various buildings; these plaques usually identify that a famous person, author, statesman, etc, lived, worked or met there. I've seen a number of these including ones marking where Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson and Sir Clive all lived. The NYU building here in London used to be the house of Lord Eldon, a prime minister of Britain, this fact marked by a now commonplace blue plaque.
The NYU building is located in the heart of Bloomsbury, which is thought to be the center of intellectuals. The University of London is actually located there, giving backbone to this claim. Quindlen remarks on this fact and reminds the reader that it is where the Bloomsbury group, of which Virginia Woolf was a famous member, met. NYU made a good choice with location. One reason being that our classes and academic center are located by the University of London Union, putting us in the center of student life. Another reason is that the area is absolutely gorgeous. The architecture is fantastic, row after row of typical Victorian houses. And lastly, as I've already alluded to, Bloomsbury is full of history. There are so many houses with the plaques indicating someone important lived there.
The idea of commemorating people and events is big here in London. London may have more statues of American presidents than big cities in America do. They have JFK, George Washington and FDR among many others. They have monuments to the Battle of Waterloo, the Crimean War and the people involved in those events. If you had any doubts about London's s history, just walk around. It's not all that uncommon to walk down a road and see a palace or large house that belongs to a titled family. It happened with St. James's Palace. I was walking down a street and suddenly I saw the palace. It's just there. On a street with cars and buses passing by it. That's something you don't see in NYC, the obvious reason being that NYC doesn't have any palaces. But there is a strong juxtaposition between buildings of the various eras; Whitehall Palace stands with the London Eye in the background, for instance. It's a charm I'm going to miss about London.
One of the many many things that NYU people told us at orientation was that we should try to make British friends. However, we were also warned that this would be a difficult task and that one major complaint NYU in London students tended to have at the end of the semester was that they didn't meet any British people. Well, of course that just made me eager to go out and meet British people. In theory, that should be easy, especially since all NYU in London people (nearly all) live in an international student dorm which has quite a lot of Brits. We also are part of the University of London Union. What could be problematic about this situation? Well, one thing none of us counted on was that in the UK, summer includes September. This means that university here starts in October. For about a month, we were pretty much the only students in this building, which is great for making new friends at NYU, but not too good for making British friends. Finally, over a month into the program, the elusive Brits made their appearance. Now, I can't take credit for meeting anyone on my own volition. A friend of mine here when to high school in London and he introduced us to some of his old friends. Out of the friends, four of them are British; two are like him, Americans who went to school in England. Upon meeting them, I realized why it was so important to make friends with people who lived here; you learn so much just by having a conversation with them. You learn what you always wanted to know, and many things you didn't know you wanted to know. The simple act of speaking to someone from another country does so much for your mind. There is also some weird unexplainable satisfaction in telling friends at home, “I made a British friend today.” You just feel so accomplished. Now granted, in my particular situation, it wasn't like I went up to random Brits and started a conversation; so that sort of accomplishment didn't really happen. However, you feel like you've broken a kind of barrier. People know the stereotypes; Brits aren't all that fond of Americans. But when you manage to befriend a British person, you feel like you've conquered that. You feel like whoever said that was wrong; they don't mind us really. In fact, they find us funny and interesting. I wonder what you guys in the various other study abroad sites have experienced in terms of this. I can only speak for myself at this point so I'm curious to see what you all think.
What struck me the most about this article was the six stages to get from the front to back regions. I decided to trace my time in London through those six stages to see just how much it applied to my time in London so far. Stage 1: This is the stage that, if you seek authenticity, you try to get around. I reached stage 1 the first week here. NYU in London took us on a “panoramic” tour of London via coach bus. We went to all of the locations that you'd expect to see (Trafalgar Sq, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, London Bride, The Globe Theater). This is what every tourist in London will see or want to see on their first trip here. While this was my second trip to London, it was nice to see these places again. However, I wanted to go beyond that see London as Londoners see it. Stage 2: This stage is described as a front region that in some ways is meant to look like a back region. An example of this is a nearby bar called The Rocket. For all intensive purposes, this is a college student bar, especially an American college students in London bar. Not only do most NYU London kids frequent this place, but many others do as well. However, this bar shows football (soccer) matches and has pub quizzes, two very London things. However, it's not really a back region bar. Stage 3: This stage is a front region that is created to look almost exactly like a back region place. I think that this stage at its least convincing is like stage 2 while at its most convincing it is like stage 4. That being said, I'm going to move on to stage 4, which is more distinct. Stage 4: In this stage, the back region is open to outsiders. In London, that would be something like the Senate House Library, the library affiliated with NYU London here. This is open to almost anyone, but at a price (a certain amount of money). It is not particularly tourist-y; it's a library that mostly Londoners use. However, since it's open to the public, it fits the qualifications for stage 4. Stage 5: Another library is a prime example of this stage: the British Library. Anyone can enter the British Library (a change from the past), but not everyone has access to all the collections. The exhibition in the library which contains the Beatles's manuscript and the Magna Carta is open to the public; everything else not so much. But the public can see the stacks of books and so is given a glimpse into the world of a British intellectual. Stage 6: This stage is what a person craving authenticity wants to see. The nitty-gritty of a place. In London's case, this would be a small side street that seems to go nowhere interesting, but in reality, actually does. Case in point: my walk to class. There is the way that the NYU people showed us on our first day here; this involves taking major roads. However, on one of my walking tours, my history professor showed us a back road that goes behind the main road in a twist and turn sort of fashion. It would've been confusing if my professor hadn't taken us there... nor would I have ever found it. My history walks have been very good about doing that for me. They've helped me find these places that I wouldn't have found on my own; they're hidden away historical places. After making this list, I have a slight bone to pick with MacCannell. I don't think these stages have to happen in this order. I think you can skip from 1 to 5 if you want. I feel like I did that. I did the touristy thing and then kind of threw myself into the authenticity or at least, into getting a taste of that authenticity. The stages are a good way to look at it, though. It helps organize a way that one can go from the front region to the back region. However, I wouldn't say it's something that has to be stuck to rigidly. It should be, and is, in my experience, flexible.