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A Final Reflection

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

Although I have been back in the States for a week now, I just got home to North Carolina yesterday. After traveling the world, the country and dragging my gigantic suitcase up the stairs, it is a relief to be home. London was such a great place to live for the past three months, but I really did miss my family and friends so it is good to be back here for the warmest Christmas of my life (seriously it is almost 80 degrees today).

When I left for London, I had no expectations. Admittedly it was a city I never dreamed of visiting or adding to my bucket list. However, at the end of this experience I can honestly say I fell in love with the city and will miss it very much. I learned a lot of things about myself, and how I interact with the world, things I did not expect to learn that will without a doubt shape how I approach the rest of my life.

Last year at this time I was just beginning the process of applying to study abroad and finally attend the dance conservatoire that I wanted to since seventh grade. Now that I have been there though, I realize I learned much more from living in a city and being forced to find inspiration in the world around me rather than just my peers and teachers. London provided an abundance of inspirations that I will now look for wherever I live. As I return to my home university I am going to do my best to look beyond my own campus and go to the arts centers, coffee shops, historical sites, etc. nearby because those are the things I will value as a move forward with my personal and creative life.

Thank you all for following me along this journey and thank you to IFSA-Butler for providing a great group of people to support us students in London.

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Favorites – A final tour of London

Time December 15th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

I am spending my last week in London as a tourist. Tourist is a word a use very broadly in this sense because I am not in the group of people I see so often on bus tours around the Southbank, but I am touring the city in my own way. On my tour, the focus is not on the sites but rather the city that I have grown to love over the past three months. This means revisiting my favorite restaurants, parks, coffee shops, and taking the time to pause amidst the hustle and bustle to create a lasting memory.

After talking with a friend here this evening, we both realized it has been awhile since we stopped and really observed our surroundings. In a new place it is very easy to get caught up in the adjustment period, but even when we became comfortable here and began to call London home, we did not stop. In London, like any other big city, you have to keep up – rush to catch the tube, make it to class, and even make it to Tesco before it closes early on Sunday night. However, without school pressing on my mind this week, it was time to remember the little details of my favorite places in London, and finally look around.

My favorite restaurant is one not far from where I live called Churchill Arms. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of London that you would never run into unless you took sometime off the main street. Unlike the more common beauty of Victorian and gothic architecture around the city, the Churchill Arms is striking because it is covered from top to bottom with flowers. Imagine if you will a flower market that took root over the walls of a building and, if you know where to look, has crept its roots and vines in through the ceiling of a gorgeous dining room. Upon entering it seems like a classic English Pub, but hidden in the back half underneath hundreds of hanging plants and candlelight is a really good Thai restaurant.

My favorite market is one I was shown by a good friend I met at school here called Camden Market. Camden Locks specifically is the place I like to return to as it overlooks the water and has delicious food. The locks are at the heart of the market accessible by bridge through two huge weeping willow trees. I went there for the first time in early fall when the leaves were just starting to turn golden, but more recently I went back and got to actually see the locks in action. Although the reflection in the water creates a beautiful backdrop for the wonderful street food you can buy in the courtyard there, the locks themselves are still functioning which, to a girl who grew up on the water, is really exciting. Though very narrow, the hand operated locks can be cranked open to allow the water level to rush in and change for small houseboats to move up and down that portion of the river.

My favorite coffee shop is one that is very close to where I went to school and one of the places I will missed the most called The Waiting Room. Located just off of Deptford High Street, a short walk through the Friday market will lead you to a cozy escape with plush chairs, a book exchange, and the best latté in London. The shop itself is quite small and can only hold about a dozen people at a time, but it has been one of my favorite places to visit on a Friday afternoon to journal or meet up with friends. The wooden interior mixed with the collage like décor found in many art studios makes it the perfect place to find inspiration even on the rainiest days. This is also where I was introduced to the Flat White – London’s bitter, stronger answer to the latté.

My favorite park where I spent so much time earlier this semester is called Kensington – yes Kensington Gardens which so happened to be less than a ten minute walk from my home here. It is one of the many natural treasures inside of the city itself and a much-needed place to go for quite on the weekends. Especially in the fall it was beautiful to walk through the yellow, maple leaves lining the grass and sit bellow a large chestnut to read or sketch for a couple of hours. Unless you are someone drawn to gardens this is not often a part of the city people come to London to see, but to me the green spaces are what make this city so unique. Almost every neighborhood has a square and every borough has a huge park or garden, all filled with locals anytime the sun comes out.

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Christmas in London: Lights, Markets, and Santa!

Time December 11th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

Are holidays in London any different than the United States? I found myself being asked this question more often than not by my non-British international friends on more than one occasion over the last month. They are mostly from Eastern Europe, and as Christmas approaches here in the UK a lot of them are experiencing those cultural differences for the first time just like I have been over the past three months. The reality is that I have not noticed much difference. Since I live in a house of Americans even while I am living in London, this time of year feels very much like it would in the states. Yes, it was strange to not be with all of our families on Thanksgiving, but we did manage to all come together and create a proper Thanksgiving meal complete with two Turkeys, sweet potatoes, cranberry applesauce, green bean casserole, enough mash for an army, and yes even pumpkin pie.

Part of me had not really thought about Christmas away from home since I am returning to the states in a few days, but as the questions began to emerge I understood the Christmas season begins a lot earlier here. Christmas began in London on November 1st. Unlike the states where Black Friday marks the turn of the shopping season, early November was the kick off with the lighting of Oxford Street that overnight transformed the city from late Autumn into illuminated joyfulness and trees in every shop window. Even though I went to the lighting, it didn’t really sink in that the holidays were upon us until I spent some time looking at how London changes for the season as I walked around the city this past week.

Of course this holiday driven excursion takes me back to Oxford Street and the glowing silver and golden orbs that hang above the bustling shoppers for many city blocks. Now the glittering bobbles on Regent Street, and the illuminated peacock feathers on New Bond Street have joined these balls of light. The brightest lights are hidden a little farther of the beaten path in SoHo on Carnaby street where silver and hot pink disco balls hang among glittering stars overhead. That is where I ran into Santa Claus a few nights ago!

These lights are amazing and worth an adventure in itself, but my favorite part about Christmas in London that I have never had the chance to enjoy back home, is the beauty of a Christmas market. There are several of these markets throughout the city, but the largest is incorporated into Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. A wonderland it most definitely is as it makes even young adults feel the joy of Christmas all over again. My friend and I stumbled upon the wonderland a few nights ago without really planning to go, but since there was no entrance fee we decided to take a look and were instantly sucked into the mix. The sun was just beginning to set and the day was cooling down so we decided to grab glasses of hot mulled wine (pumpkin spiced wine if you will) to enjoy as we walked through the brightly lit rides and pavilions on every side. The closest thing I can compare it to was a very clean state fair complete with roller coasters, a Bavarian market place, German sausage and beer, and an ice skating rink at the far end ideal for people watching…and we did for easily half an hour. Winter Wonderland was deceivingly large and we spent hours just enjoying the feeling of Christmas before catching the tube back for the night.

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Shakespeare in his Globe

Time November 30th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

It has unfortunately been a while since I have had a chance to write. Even now, although things are going well for me here in London, it has been difficult given so much that is happening in the world to find the reason to write a lighthearted post. I had originally planned to write about my recent trip to Paris, but out of respect I would instead like to reach back in my file to an early outing that I have not had a chance to share with you yet.

Many weeks ago now, a couple of friends and I had the opportunity to see Richard II performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater located on the south bank of the Thames here in London. What I have noticed about a lot of productions I have seen here is the quality of sets and lighting is far superior to what we usually see in the states. I say this acknowledging most of what I see is experimental dance performances, but even so there tends to be a lot more money in the arts here which is really wonderful. The Globe was no exception.

When I entered the theater, it was from the courtyard and ground level into the white washed, thatched roof space that looks a bit like a cottage from the outside. The architecture is very much reminiscent of Stratford upon Avon where Shakespeare called home, and cuts a unique figure next to the modern Tate gallery just steps away.

I stood stage side, literally – I could touch the stage, just feet away from the performers, as common people would have in Shakespeare’s day. With this point of view I was able to gaze up at the entire round of the theater and admire not just the setting of this play, but the history in the space. From my vantage point I could see the seats rising up in three curved tears above the stage, pillars filled to the sky with golden tulle meant to be the walls of Richard’s castle, and vines of an enchanted garden creeping toward the mezzanine. Some of the most interesting detail for me was the use of fire. Excuse me geeking out over the tech ideas, but I had always wondered if old stage shows were lit with fire instead of lamps as we know them today and this was great to see in life.

As this set was remarkably simple, fire was one element used to help transform the space. Since we were in the 21st century, as reminded by the occasionally international flight roaring over the open-air theater, flame was not the source of all light, but it did change the focus of the audience. For example, alter candles were used during a scene where the queen was praying for relief to highlight her distress. In another scene a ring of fire, well of candles backlit the king to make him appear more prominent and powerful above the other players bellow him on stage. From candelabras to hand held torches, the flame was well integrated into the piece and added to the feel of Shakespearean time.

Three hours is a long time to be on your feet, but at Ł5 a ticket it was well worth it to see Shakespeare performed in the Globe.

~ London Logic ~

Shakespearean English is actually much more similar to American English despite the fact it originated in the UK. Because British English has changed so much overtime to accommodate the various accents and speech impediments of their monarchs, it has changed significantly since the time of Shakespeare. The Globe actors are trained to speak Shakespearean English as close as possible to how it would have been in his time.

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When in Wales: Modern Beauty and Medieval Footprints

Time October 26th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

Wow, I think we can all agree I have been putting off writing a post for way too long now. One of my goals while I am here abroad is to live more presently, and as such as soon as things start to get exciting I get caught up in day to day life without taking time to reflect. This morning though, I have made myself a nice cup of tea and a delicious omelet and am sitting down to write. Since I have kept you waiting so long, I think I will catch you up with a more recent event and then may go back in my fill later on.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to Wales with IFSA-Butler and many of the other American Students here and discovered one of the hidden gems of the United Kingdom. Admittedly I needed a break form the hustle and bustle of the city, so an escape to the mountains of Snowdonia was the perfect excuse to get away. My weekend was spent hiking and soaking in the rich history of Welsh Princes and medieval land grabs by England. Although this may not sound the most exciting to the average person, I felt like a kid in a candy store surrounded by the natural beauty and historical wealth of Northern Wales.

We stayed in Llanberis (thlan-ber-ris), which is a small town near the foot of Mount Snowden. This area has become a bit of tourist destination over the years, but it is also home to a number of climbers and boasts of some great climber cafés that will serve you a proper pint of tea. I found this information through one of our guides, who led us on a hike through the abandoned slate mine that once created this town. Part of the abandoned quarry is now home to the Dinorwig Power Station, but it is also a gorgeous place to climb.

The head of the trail is just past Dolbadarn Castle built by Welsh Princes in the 13th century. Although only one turret really remains, this site is quite important to the people of Wales even to this day. It is significant because it is one of the only remaining castles built by the Welsh.  Most of the other castles that are still standing in Wales are English castles built during the medieval time also as a protection from the Welsh people.  One such example is Caernarfon (kyre-nar-von), now a world heritage site, that had a dual purpose as a beautiful castle along the sea and a fortress for English nobility.

In addition to a fascinating past, Wales is home to possibly the most beautiful country side I have ever seen. Although it will be difficult, I want to describe to you the view from my bus window on the way back to London. It is early fall, so the colors of the trees were beginning to change as we rode southward surrounded by green trees turning burgundy and gold. The land was speckled with small farmhouses and divided into a quilt of green pastures stitched together with low shrubs that could be mistaken for the Smokey purple of grapevines on a sparsely populated vineyard. Hills rolled on for miles and mountains spilled directly into the sea. If I had to compare the landscape to what I know in the states it would be to combine the North Carolina Mountains in the early fall, the farms of Central Pennsylvania and the shore of Mystic, Connecticut on a very calm day. Replace the cows with sheep and put these images under the muted filter of an English postcard and voila…Wales!

Needless to say, if your imagination is good enough to picture anything out of those words, it is easy to understand the magic of this place. So if you don’t hear from me again I have gone off to the mountains to herd sheep!

~ Wonder at Wales ~

As I mentioned before, Dinorwig Power Station has been built into the abandoned slate quarry in Llanberis. Unlike most energy sources, this power station burns more energy to create power than it puts out. Rather than consistent usage then, this station emits power bursts at times when the country needs additional energy like half time of the Rugby match between Wales and South Africa the weekend I was there when the entire nation went to put the kettle on (I kid you not, this was the actual example given to us by our guide and she was so serious). In an emergency this plant would also serve as a start up generator for the whole of England.

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Adapting to a New City

Time September 24th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

The other night my friend and I went out for a quick fish and chips dinner at The Fish House of Notting Hill.  This local restaurant, where we ate during orientation, has great food, which, more importantly, we did not have to cook!  We expected a good meal.  We ended up with that and a realization of how much we have adapted to living in London already.

Across the dining room from us was a cluster of American students about our age who had quite apparently just arrived in London.  They were not disrespectful, but still had characteristics of ‘the typical American tourist,’ that I am sure we all had the first few days here.  Although my accent will forever give us away as an American, in just three weeks I have adopted some new habits that make going out to restaurants and shopping in particular a lot easier.  Blending in is a natural part of survival in a foreign country regardless of how similar to the United States it may seem upon first appearance.  Here are a few of my tips for the UK:

 

  1. Use your inside voice! Especially when among other Americans we have the tendency to get really loud, really quickly without noticing it.  In large part, Brits are quiet people and even the busiest tube station is quiet enough to hold a normal conversation.  It is important to blend in here not only for other people’s comfort (although that is very important to this culture), but also for personal safety from theft.  Conversation can wait until you are back above ground.

 

  1. Reserve talking to strangers for emergencies only.  Unlike the states, the average person in the UK has a fair amount of social anxiety and though they will help you find something on a map, they would like to avoid it at all costs.  On the tube for example, the response to an obvious tourist entering the train whilst trying to sort out a map of the area is to raise the daily paper up and hide.  One way to avoid this problem is to download CityMapper, a great app with step by step directions on how to get anywhere down to the cost of the bus ticket.

 

  1. Say please, a lot! Although Americans are very good at saying thank you, please is a word we do not often use in conversation.  Especially when ordering food here, it is important to say please out of respect for the server.  Brits are very polite people, and not saying please may come across as a demand.

 

  1. Learn to say a few words with a small British accent.  Although I think it is very important not to try and mimic and accent in every day life, I have noticed myself, and many of the students I am here with, pick up an occasional accent to make every day life easier.  The first word we all learn is sorry.  This can be used in many ways, but most often when you accidentally bump into someone on the tube.  I on the other hand had “sorry” mastered before I ever left the airplane because I kept tripping over the poor man in front of me.  Next are the words ‘thank you’, ‘sorry – excuse me’ (said together otherwise people are afraid you are asking them a question not trying to get by), ‘please,’ and ‘alright.’  With these four or five phrases you can ride the tube, shop at a market, and get around much of London as though you belong.

 

For the most part this has become a part of every day life I don’t think much of.  When I run into other Americans visiting London for the first time though, I can’t help but self-consciously pat myself on the back for no longer sticking out that much.  Cheers and be apventurous!

 

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Welcome to London! What a week…

Time September 8th, 2015 in College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

Alright, I have officially been in London for a week now…so it is about time I write something!

What they forget to tell you in orientation is how difficult it actually is to wrap your head around the initial experience of going abroad.  There is a lot of talk about culture shock, putting your experience into perspective for the long haul, and learning the difference between study ABROAD and STUDY abroad.  But, there is not much talk about how to process and survive week one.  As I write, I am trying to coherently articulate so many different thoughts running through my mind.  Overwhelmed is not quite the right word, but it is close as I have seen and experienced more things this week than some folks may in a year.

My personal philosophy on this matter, should you care to ask, is that the current frenzy is due to the fact I am both living in a new place and being a tourist at the very same time.  In some countries this might be different.  However, London is a huge city that many of us know about long before we ever get the opportunity to study here, and as such there are the obligatory tourist sites to see and things to eat before we can really experience what it is like to live in a new country.  When mixed with all the errands and necessities of moving into a new home, a lot of things happen at once.

For me, the hardest part right now is deciding what to write about first.  That said, so I don’t overwhelm you all any further with the thoughts in my brain, let’s start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start…wait wrong country).

After a long flight across the Atlantic, I arrived at London Heathrow and enjoyed my first glance at London through the window of a bus enroute to the IFSA-Butler Offices where I now live.  It is a rather ‘posh’ area near the edge of the main city, but a location with a lot of character.  One of the best parts of that day was my first taste (literally) of British culture in the form of Fish & Chips at The Fish House of Notting Hill.  Yes, you read that right, Notting Hill is within walking distance from here! The food was delicious, and much as you would expect, the location is not too bad either.

In fact, after running errands the other afternoon, a friend and I decided to walk home through Kensington Gardens instead of taking the tube since it was on the way home.  Although my writing may sound a bit nonchalant, the natural beauty of the city is almost impossible to put into words.  There are a lot of natural spaces open to the public throughout the city, which is very different from what I am used to back in the States.  I feel very lucky to be just a walk from some of the most beautiful and historic places in the UK, and hope you enjoy this glance at my first week until I have a chance to share more of my adventures with IFSA-Butler in London.

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All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…

Time August 27th, 2015 in College Study Abroad, England | No Comments by

I begin this blog for the first time from my bedroom in Raleigh, North Carolina, surrounded by my packed bags and the bits and pieces of paperwork that will journey with me across the pond in just a few days.  On Monday, I will be hopping on a plane to London for a semester among people I don’t know, in a place I have never been.  In one sense I feel very normal, I am going to an English speaking country for one, and in another I have absolutely no expectations and am excited to see what new experiences and cultures impact me over the next three months.

This blog will chronicle my journey, and I hope you can enjoy the ride with me.  For those of you unsure of what that might mean, it means you will follow a southern born student, from a northern-eastern university, as they explore dance and history in the UK.  As a Dance and American Studies double major, my vision for this blog is to share with you both my experience studying at the Laban Conservatoire for Dance as well as the rich arts and history of the surrounding city.  As I venture out on the weekends and learn more about London, I will have new stories to share with you a few times each week.

Next time I write will be above the Atlantic, so until then, cheers and be adventurous!

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