Trading Homes

I leave London in less than a week and am full of mixed emotions. One minute I am ready to head to the airport as I picture hugging my loved ones for the first time in months. The next I am anxious about leaving behind a place that has made me so happy. I am going to miss many little things about this city. It would take far too long to write about all of them here, so I’ll just cover what I’ll miss most:

1) My Neighborhood: I live in the West End, but on the South Bank of the Thames a.k.a. the best section of London. I might be a bit biased. The West End is considered the theatre district and where I was lucky enough to see Wicked, Beautiful, and Mamma Mia this semester. Two out of the three shows were only a 20-minute walk from my flat. If I had to describe the South Bank in only one word, I would choose “lively.” The riverside is home to tons of street food and pop-up bars. Recently, a giant sand box appeared there and became the perfect spot to enjoy popsicles from the ice cream truck or mojitos from the Copacabana. There’s a skate park covered in colorful graffiti and teeming with angsty teens. A stage in the shape of a giant, purple, tipped-over cow has dominated the scene, a feature of the “Udderbelly” festival where you can watch live performances while sipping on some Pimm’s. There’s always a used book sale going on underneath the Waterloo Bridge and Wahaca is a great spot for Mexican eats and margaritas. I am forever grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in this vibrant area of central London.

2) Transport for London (TFL): It is so easy to get around here thanks to the city’s public transporation. The tube certainly puts the T to shame and their famous double decker buses trump the RIPTA any day. I have even come around to the DLR, the futuristic and robotic trains without drivers. Exploring the city was made so much simpler thanks to reliable and safe travel options.

3) Walking: When I didn’t hop on the tube, I walked. A lot. If I could get somewhere in 40 minutes or less on my own two feet, I left my Oyster Card at home. While I was pounding pavement, I realized just how much I miss when driving a car. Focusing on the road leaves little room for observation of what’s really around me. Walking has been the best way to see the city and I’m hoping to bring this healthy habit home with me.

4) Pub Culture: Popping in for a pint or two is a social norm here. If I need a mulled cider to warm up on a cold afternoon or a pint of Guinness to unwind after a long day of class, there is always a pub in sight. There might be a football game on TV and some rowdy fans at the bar. More often than not, though, there is a casual atmosphere for me to catch up with friends. There’s no reason or rush to get drunk like there is in America, just an inclination to sip and savor.

5) Coffee shops: As I picture the coffee establishments I frequent in the States, I cannot help but shake my head. The majority of them are small and furnished with cheap chairs. Many people order their beverages to go and consume them on the run, so there’s no need for homey touches. Here, however, many coffee shops boast comfortable seating, so I can lounge and chat with friends or bunker down to work on assignments. After sinking into leather couches all semester, I cannot fathom plopping down on the metal and plastic seats in Dunkin’ Donuts to read for hours. I am so grateful that my favorite chain of coffee shops in London, Caffe Nero, has recently opened locations in and around Boston. I can only hope that they maintain the ambiance I have come to know and love.

6) Evening Standard: This free newspaper is handed out all over the city at the end of the workday. In general, rush hour is not a pleasant time, but I enjoy the number of noses buried in black and white pages. There is always an Evening Standard employee at the corner of my street so I usually grab one from him before ducking into my apartment building. I like to scan the news while making dinner and I must credit the publication for  teaching me a lot about London and a little about its politics.

7) Free Museums: I have strolled through the Museum of London and Tate Modern, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria & Albert, and Natural History museums. I have frequented the British Museum, visiting Cleopatra’s mummy three times. Because I was spared pricey admission fees, I was free to experience and learn more about the art and history I have been studying throughout my college career.

8) Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Living a ten-minute walk away from such a famous performance center has been a treat. Because I could get there with tons of time to spare, I scored the front row and literally held hands with one of the actors. I was even offered a beverage by another. Seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew were unforgettable experiences. They were also inexpensive experiences. Each show only cost me five pounds! I will miss being so close to a famous attraction that offers top-notch performances for such a low price. My only regret is that I didn’t see a new show every night!

9) The Parks: As warmer weather sets in, there is nowhere in the city I would rather be than outside soaking up the sun. My favorite spot is Regent’s Park where I’ve picknicked among daisies and paddleboated with swans. St. James’ Park is also much appreciated because I can walk there in about fifteen minutes. It’s also right near Buckingham Palace so I can enjoy the music from the Changing of the Guard ceremony at a distance—away from the tourists. It’ll be difficult to leave these beautiful landscapes behind, especially when they are finally in full bloom.

10) My New Friends: The relationships I’ve developed during this semester are remarkable. It’s amazing how comfortable I am around my new friends considering I didn’t know them only five months ago. Now, I am tearing up just thinking about being separated from them. I can’t thank them enough for acting like family when my own family has been so far away. I am beyond thankful for all of the laughs and hilarious stories. I will never be able to look back upon my time in London, or visit this city again, without thinking of them and the fun times we’ve had here.

If said friends are reading this, I’ll just say that there really aren’t enough words to express my endless gratitude to you. Just know that you’ve had more of an impact on me than you’ll ever understand and that I consider you forever friends no matter what happens when we part ways in a week.

Yesterday, one of these lovely friends I speak of described our upcoming transition perfectly. She explained that we’ll simply be trading one home for another. She could not be more right.

Over the course of our lives, we create many different homes for ourselves. None of them are quite the same, but we consider them all home no matter where we are in the world. Well, London, you’ve been a home unlike any other. Thank you for being everything I ever imagined and more.

I’ll be busy admiring every little detail of London in the next few days, so you probably won’t hear from me again until I’m back in the States. Don’t worry, though, I promise to update you on how I cope with trading homes.

Cheers,

Jackie

 

 

A Scottish Tale

I am still in awe of how easy it is to travel from London to Edinburgh. After a five hour train ride that flew by thanks to beautiful scenery and a good book, I arrived in Scotland’s capital city and was greeted by one of my best friends from Providence College.

Our first stop was the hostel which was conveniently located right across from the train station. It would have been even more convenient had we noticed that right away, but we went up and down the street before realizing it had been right in front of our eyes all the while!

As we collected our room keys at the front desk, we couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous. Neither one of us had stayed in a hostel before and certainly weren’t keen on the idea of sharing a room (and bathroom) with strangers.

Unfortunately, the hostess did not ease our fears. As we checked in, she emphasized the importance of sticking to our assigned beds, warning us, “Otherwise someone might climb into bed with you and try to cuddle with you. We’ve had it happen before!” My friend and I just looked at each other with panic in our eyes. That was not the right thing to say to us, lady.

We had convinced ourselves that staying in a hostel would be fine. It was a cheap option suitable for a quick, three-night stay in Edinburgh. We even booked one of the larger rooms that lodges 10 people because of the low price. Yes, you read that correctly. We voluntarily opted to share a room with eight other people. What were we thinking?

When we got to our room on the fourth floor, it was hot and stuffy. It also had a stench that we would never shake during our time there. The best way to describe it is simply to say that it was the smell of humans: humans that have been traveling and wearing the same clothes on repeat, humans that have sweat while backpacking during the day, humans that continue to sweat through the night in their hostel beds.

The beds themselves are worth a paragraph. In a room made for ten people, there were five sets of bunk beds. My friend and I were assigned to different sets which was annoying, but there was no way we were going to switch beds. We did not want to encourage any strangers to climb into bed with us. We took that woman’s warning seriously.

To store personal belongings, there were metal cages underneath the beds that you fastened with a padlock. Inevitably, we were woken up late as fellow guests wriggled locks free to retrieve their pajamas after a night out. Then we were woken up again early as the cages were dragged across the floor so lodgers could grab their things for a new day. Needless to say, the quality of sleep one receives in a hostel is pitiful.

Aside from the overall discomfort that I have described, I have no horror stories from our hostel experience. None of our stuff was stolen. Nobody climbed into bed with us. No one puked in our room. Luckily, nothing went terribly wrong.

With that said, I’m glad that I stayed in a hostel once this semester. After all, this is the only time in my life that I will be able to get away with it. If I tried this in ten years, I would probably get some strange looks from the younger travelers just as the 30+ years-old lodger in our room got some strange looks from me.

Would I stay in a hostel again, you ask? Well, I’m not THAT glad I tried it. From here on out, I’m sticking to Airbnb and hotel reservations so I can go to sleep without fear of being spooned by one of (or all of) the eight men staying in my room.

My accommodation may have been everything but ideal, but my experience of the city itself was not tainted by it one bit. I fell in love with Edinburgh within the first two hours of being there. The medieval architecture was intriguing and served as a constant reminder that I was exploring an old city full of history.

We managed to do a lot in three days, but some of the highlights are Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat and a hilariously fun pub crawl. At the Castle, I was able to see Scotland’s Royal Crown Jewels which were gorgeous (just like those of England). I was also able to enter the room in which Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI who would become James I after uniting the kingdoms of Scotland and England.

St. Giles Cathedral was beautiful and contained incredible stained glass windows. The most exquisite, in my opinion, was a panel dedicated to the poetry of Robert Burns who I must read now that I have seen how important he is to Scotland.

Calton Hill offered lovely views of Arthur’s Seat, the inactive volcano I hiked on my last day in Edinburgh. From the volcano’s summit, I could see the entire city of Edinburgh as well as the bridge leading to Fife, my next destination on my week-long tour of Scotland…

Fife is the county of Scotland in which St. Andrews, both a town and college, is located. Lucky for me, my best friend studied at the prestigious university this semester and was kind enough to house me while showing me her home away from home.

I adored St. Andrews from the moment we set foot in the city centre. It immediately became one of my favorite travel spots this semester. I easily understood why my friend had chosen to study there. The town boasts a rich religious history as many pilgrims flocked there during the Middle Ages to pray to St. Andrew. The magnificent Catholic cathedral and Castle came to ruin, however, during the Reformation.

The mix of old and young in St. Andrews is what made it so attractive to me. The town is steeped in history and tradition. Even the University of St Andrews itself has numerous rites of passage, some of which I got to witness firsthand. When the undergraduates take their final exam at the college, for example, they are soaked in water or covered in glitter. That explains why I saw so many students in bathing suits and alleys that sparkled in the sun.

Although old traditions like that one are of course important, there is also a vibrant energy to the town because most of its population consists of young college students. It was a place where I could really feel the best of both worlds: a historical place with respect for the past, yet full of future thinkers and leaders.

Did I mention that St. Andrews is a coastal town? If you weren’t already in love with the place from my description, it overlooks the North Sea and contains several tranquil beaches. My friend couldn’t help but compare the Scottish settlement to her hometown of Newburyport, a very apt description that I agree with.

In addition to touring the cathedral and castle, we explored the restaurant scene and I enjoyed the best fish and chips of my life. The most memorable experience from my time there, however, was unplanned. A wedding on Saturday made for great people-watching as all of the fancy guests filed into church while bagpipes played in the background.

My last stop in St. Andrews was the Old Course. I couldn’t leave without a picture on the famous Swilcan Bridge. The golf course has been home to golf for 600 years and has hosted The Open 29 times. That’s more times than any other course!

It was hard to part with the beautiful town of St. Andrews and even harder to leave my best friend. I had such a wonderful little vacation with her. However, I left Scotland confident that I would be back one day. The Highlands await me.

I’m back in London now with only 17 days before flying back to the States. I must admit that I’m feeling more ready than ever to come home. I can’t wait to see all of the people I love!

However, I also know that I’ll shed tears on my departure day. Leaving this city for an undetermined amount of time won’t be easy. So, until that fateful day, I must continue to explore and make unforgettable memories. I still have some last-minute things left on my London bucket list. So, I’m signing off with hope of crossing off some of those things!

Cheers,

Jackie

 

 

 

Finals Are Finally Over

After writing 12,000 words worth of essays and poems, I am happy to say that I have turned in all of my final assignments. My studies abroad have officially come to an end and my junior year of college is over. It is hard to accept those facts. I am not ready to leave London nor am I prepared to be a senior. Luckily, I still have a month before returning to the States and four before my final year of college begins.

The past two weeks were tough. I had somehow convinced myself that having all of my final coursework due on the same day was great. It was not. Completing four assignments by May 3 was overwhelming and resulted in too many anxiety attacks.

I couldn’t help but panic every time I considered the weight of the assignments. My Renaissance Wordplay portfolio counted for 100% of my final mark in the class. My Mapping Modernism research paper determined 100% of my grade in the course. My First World War Literature essay was worth 100%. Finally, my portfolio of poems for Creative Writing accounted for 60% of my grade, a lesser evil, but a high percentage nonetheless.

Finals therefore entailed even more pressure than usual and I now resent the U.K. university system. Up until finals, I had no issues with my courses at King’s College. In fact, I rather enjoyed the way they were conducted. Fewer hours in the classroom and hardly any writing assignments left plenty of time to do reading and prep work before lecture and seminar each week.

I have come to realize, however, that my prep work means little to nothing when it comes to my final grades in the classes. Because I focused in on specific topics in each of my final papers, the hours I spent reading about other topics do not count toward anything. I read every text and participated in every class discussion, yet my grade will be determined by one written assignment in each course. My other efforts seem useless.

Of course, they are not completely pointless. I really enjoyed all of the reading I did and certainly learned a lot from my classes because I was prepared each week. I am beginning to understand, however, why some of my classmates were not like me. They skipped lectures and neglected texts knowing their lack of preparation wouldn’t hurt them when all they had to do was write one paper.

The U.K. university system has really made me miss the structure of college classes in the U.S., especially those at Providence College. At PC, there is a lot of incentive to be prepared for class as our class participation counts for part of our final grade. Our grade is also determined by multiple assignments and the feedback on each of them helps us do better on the next.

When it comes to these papers I submitted for King’s College, the feedback will ultimately be too little too late as I will already be done with my studies in the U.K. The comments my professors offer may help my writing in the future, but they will not improve my performance at King’s.

Furthermore, the pressure of final assignments in the U.K. is unhealthy. Finals are  stressful for students in most countries simply because they require a lot of work in an inhuman amount of time. When an assignment’s worth is so high like in the U.K., however, the work becomes unbearable. One assignment makes or breaks your grade. One paper or exam determines passing or failing.

I didn’t have to take any exams though. All of my English classes required final papers as opposed to exams and were due on the department-wide due date. Some of my friends, however, are not yet done with finals as they have exams anytime in between now and June 3.

Some of my friends’ final exams are just as cruel as my final papers though. They have tests that determine 100% of their grade. Can you imagine the pressure they are feeling? They don’t even have time to construct a paper reflecting what they have learned over the course of the semester. They simply have to write down all that they know in a 2 hour time period and hope for the best. Suddenly, my papers aren’t looking so bad.

Now that my criticism of the U.K. university system is off of my chest, I must clarify that I do not regret a single moment of my studies here at King’s College. Although I ultimately did not find the structure of their classes or their grading scale fair, I have learned a lot.

The reading materials were interesting. The lectures and seminars were engaging. I have certainly taken away tons of knowledge. Furthermore, I can say that I have participated in a different form of evaluation and am eager to see if I have adapted to the system. I won’t hear about my final grades until the end of this month though.

If it turns out that I did not excel at the U.K. education system, I will be disappointed. After all, I have worked hard to prove myself in my classes. On the other hand, however, I cannot be too upset. Like I mentioned before, this semester abroad has already taught me so much both in and outside of the classroom.

Whether I do well or poorly, my final papers do not reflect my experience at King’s College or in London. A terrible grade does not take into account all of the good I have accomplished like learning how to live in a big city, take care of myself, and move past culture shock. Likewise, a perfect grade does not acknowledge the battles that I’m still fighting like homesickness and anxiety.

Ultimately, final grades do not reflect my semester abroad nor do they reflect the person I have become thanks to studying here. They’re just arbitrary letters and numbers. At the end of the day, all I can hope is that my best effort was enough. If it wasn’t, I can at least say that I’ve had the experience of a lifetime while taking in as much knowledge as possible.

The only good thing about having four finals due on the same day is that I am now completely free of schoolwork for the next month. So, you may be wondering what I am going to do with myself! After two hectic weeks, I am relaxing and enjoying my final month abroad.

The weather in London is finally improving. Although it snowed last week, it has been sunny and warm every day this week. I am enjoying aimless strolls around the city and lounging in my new favorite place—Regent’s Park.

I’m also planning to travel some more. My next trip will be to Scotland to visit a good friend studying at St. Andrew’s. She and I will be spending some time in Edinburgh too so I am very excited!

Overall, I am just trying to make the last weeks of this incredible experience really count. I can’t believe four months have gone by and I know the last month will fly by too. I’m so grateful to live in this exciting city and will be sad to say goodbye. So, here’s to 36 more days across the pond!

Cheers,

Jackie

 

 

 

 

 

Daydreaming about Ireland

Visiting Ireland with my Mum was a dream come true. During most of our vacation, I was in total disbelief that we were even there. I had to pinch myself to recall that the trip wasn’t just a dream anymore, but an incredible reality.

Even before planning this trip, there was no doubt in our minds that we would make it to the homeland of our ancestors someday. We just weren’t sure when we would make the trek or who we would go with. Mum thought she may end up there with other family members. I thought I might go with study abroad friends. In the end, however, we were both extremely happy that we made our first trip to Ireland together.

Our first destination was Dublin and I loved the energy there. On our first night, we had dinner and drinks at a pub just below our hotel. What we thought would be a casual dinner turned into the perfect introduction to Irish pub life. Our waitress embodied the friendly attitude of the Irish and my Steak & Guinness pie did not disappoint.

The place quickly filled up with football fans as a match between Manchester City and Paris St. Germain unfolded on the television screens. Then a local band started playing traditional Irish tunes. Pretty soon the volume of the TVs and the sound of the music were duking it out for domination of the pub. It was pretty comical. Mum and I could only turn to each other and say, “Well, this certainly feels very Irish!”

The next day included a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Guinness Storehouse. Church and beer just go hand-in-hand don’t you think? We felt the same. Then we got a lovely tour of Trinity College from one of my best friends studying there. We were so grateful to her for showing us around Dublin (and for getting us into the Book of Kells and Trinity College Library for free) that we had to take her out to a wonderful meal in the city.

It was so good to see a fellow Friar thriving in her city of choice for study abroad. It reminded me how proud I am of my friends for taking a leap of faith and making themselves at home in unfamiliar but awesome places.

Then we were off to Galway which was my favorite city of the three we visited. It was a beautiful harbor city with colorful pubs and quaint homes. I really enjoyed roaming around there as it made for some really unique experiences.

Oddly enough, one of the first things we stumbled upon was a Dominican Catholic church which of course reminded me of PC right away. We wandered through Galway University where I ran into another fellow Friar on the street. The world felt so small in that moment and I found myself smiling the rest of the afternoon while thinking about how awesome the PC network is.

Then we checked out a local book shop hosting a launch for a local author. She was 16-years-old and publishing her first young adult novel! I was truly impressed by her ambition and decided to buy her book and have it signed with hope that she becomes famous. Staying for the launch and talking with the author Elis Barrett made me feel more connected to the community as opposed to just a tourist. She also inspired me to get on with my writing. She is 16 after all and I already 21?!?!

Our next destination was the Cliffs of Moher which were absolutely breathtaking. Even while looking out on the fascinating rock formations and crystal blue waters, I could not believe that I was actually there. I had seen so many pictures of the site before, but photography doesn’t even do the landscape justice. You have to see the cliffs in person, but I recommend gazing at the from a distance.

Mum and I were horrified by all of the tourists taking extreme measures just to get that “perfect” picture. There were people running, jumping, and simply getting way too close to the edge of the cliffs. Mum and I took our time touring the coast and didn’t feel like risking our lives for pictures. Besides, I think we still got some pretty great shots. I have included them below and you can be the judge of whether or not dangling off the cliffs is really necessary.

I should also mention the spectacular drive we took from our hotel in Galway to the Cliffs. For the entire week, we rented a car and Mum bravely drove on the opposite side of the road. She did a marvelous job by the way. I really am proud of her. Driving around was pretty great because we got a taste of life outside of the major cities. There were lots of cows, sheep, and so much green. I miss the fields a lot already. I could go back tomorrow!

From the Cliffs of Moher, we made our way to Cork where the weather gods turned against us. We were pretty luck all week, but our first full day in Cork was a wash-out. It down-poured literally all day. We only ventured from the hotel once and that excursion was just long enough to buy some more wool wear and have a rather strong Irish coffee. Then  we retreated to the comfort of our hotel. (We highly recommend The Kingsley in Cork after spending so much time there).

Because the skies had gotten every drop of water out the day before, the next day was gorgeous and the PERFECT day to see Blarney Castle and its magnificent gardens. Again, I still cannot believe that I saw the Castle and kissed the Blarney Stone. I have wanted to go there ever since my grandparents went years ago!

After kissing the Stone, I supposedly have the “gift of the gab” which simply means that I am now an eloquent speaker. In all seriousness though, it is crazy to think I kissed the same stone that Winston Churchill did many moons ago. Legend says that the Blarney Stone is responsible for his famous speeches.

After roaming the massive property Blarney Castle sits on, we hit the road to head back toward Dublin which was rainy. The weather gods had officially abandoned us. So, we spent the last night packing up our stuff and getting ready for our flights the next day. This is where the story gets sad.

I was so happy to see my Mum but am disappointed that our time together went by so fast. It was hard to say goodbye to her three months ago at Logan Airport, but even harder to say goodbye a second time.

After looking forward to her visit to London and planning our trip to Ireland for so long, it was difficult to accept that all of the excitement had suddenly come to an end. Even though we were constantly on the move from one city to the next, being with my Mum made me feel right at home in each place.

Homesickness set in the moment we parted ways and is desperately trying to get the best of me while I’m in my most vulnerable state. Upon returning to London, I had to face reality: four major assignments due at the beginning of May that determine my final grades this semester. With so much on my plate, I have been stressed, anxious, and longing for my big comfy couch at home.

I quickly realized that I do not need the comfort of home to get me through the stress of the next couple weeks though. I simply need to find comfort in the new home I have made for myself here in London. So each day I am hoping to do something that allows me to escape from all of the work.

My break the other day consisted of lunch at the Sky Garden in London with friends, a really cool getaway in a high-rise building at 20 Fenchurch Street. The skyscraper is actually one of the most distinctive in the city because it looks like a giant walkie-talkie. On the 35th floor of the building, there is a glass dome with indoor gardens and outdoor terraces where you experience beautiful views of the city. Because visiting the Sky Garden had been on my London bucket list for a while, I was so glad to take a breather there.

Since then, I’ve been doing little things here and there to help me through finals: brunch dates, running to Buckingham Palace and back, grabbing coffee at a different shop. These things keep me excited and energized in spite of the mental exhaustion that comes with writing essays. They also make me even more eager to explore the city around me which is all I will be doing after these assignments are turned in on May 3. Well, I’ll also be exploring some other cities too. You’ll have to wait to hear about those though.

I’m warning you now that you probably won’t hear from me again until after May 3. Until then, I will be hanging out in my favorite coffee shops and the library typing away all of the work that I have due!

Cheers,

Jackie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Emotional Last Day

The first day of April marks my last day of classes at King’s College. I have been hoping all day that somebody would slap me on the back while saying “April Fool’s, you still have another month of classes left!” Our academic schedule, however, appears to be no practical joke. I am actually finished with my lectures and seminars in London. Hold on while I shed a few tears…

I am sad that I will no longer see the incredible people I have met through my modules. Most of these people have no idea how much they mean to me and how could they? To them, I’m just an American student who has drifted into their classrooms for a semester. In spite of that fact, they have made me feel so welcome at their university.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about certain classmates who made me extra excited for class each week—those  who walked to class with me, hugged me, joked with me. They were probably just being themselves and think nothing of their words or actions, but they’re superstars to me. They have made me feel like an integral part of the King’s community and for that I am grateful.

Having now met with all of my professors one-on-one, I have to mention how awesome they are too. They teach so many students yet they all knew my name within a week. Most of them also knew my story and on top of that wanted to learn more about my studies in the States. They all had so much enthusiasm and an obvious passion for teaching. Adjusting to a new education system certainly has its difficulties, but all of the complications were simplified thanks to them.

So, here I am raving about people I may never see again. When I realize just how temporary my relationships with these people are I get pretty emotional. It feels weird perhaps even weirder than when I left all of my friends and family back in America. After all I at least knew that I would see them again.

I can’t say the same about my London contacts. I’m stuck facing the question: Do our bonds simply fade away? My professors and peers have shaped my experience abroad. How am I supposed to accept that they are no longer part of my existence? It just doesn’t seem right. I suppose, however, that is how relationships work.

Whether you are studying abroad for a semester or just going through the motions, relationships are strained. You change your location, your goals, your personality and maybe you lose touch with people who at one time had a major impact on your life. How do you cope when you know that losing touch is almost inevitable?

In my case, I have two very distinct options. I can either make a conscious effort to stay in touch with people from King’s or simply learn to live with the unfortunate but realistic truth that drifting away from people happens. I would like to dedicate myself to the former cause but I can’t really make any promises. After all, relationships can be hard to maintain.

With that said, I know that I have made friends here in London who will continue to play an active role in my life when I return home. At the same time, however, I know there are classmates and professors who will only be brief acquaintances.

It’s hard to accept that when considering how much they have inspired me, but I suppose it’s helpful to understand that some connections are only temporary even if they were really lovely at the time. I guess it’s also necessary to note that their transient nature doesn’t make them any less important. The relationships that I have made at King’s will forever hold a place in my heart even if the relationships themselves don’t last forever.

I might be a little sad today because classes are over, but I know things are going to look up again. In fact, they’re going to look up a lot tomorrow morning when I welcome my Mum to London. Things are going to feel even better when I’m using all of this newfound free time to explore London and other European cities.

Besides, once I start working on all of my final assignments (which are due at the beginning of May), it will feel as if classes never ended! Overall, there’s a lot to look forward to and my learning experience in London is far from over. So here’s to looking forward!

Cheers,

Jackie

 

Socializing in Solidarity

I wasn’t planning to write about terrorism this week. I was looking forward to updating you on the incredibly social week I have had, but every time I sat down to write about my fun outings I just stared at the blank page. I was experiencing writer’s block at its worst—my mind and my words were all caught up in the chaos of Brussels.

Finally, I realized that as much as I wanted to simply gloss over the events that unfolded in Belgium, I couldn’t. I have to get my thoughts on that issue out on the page before I can tell you about the otherwise amazing week I have had.

On Monday night, I received messages from several friends in the London area warning me not to take the tube the next day. Apparently, our city officials were intercepting threats left and right so we all promised each other to be extra cautious the next day.

I didn’t sleep well that night. I had a dream that my apartment building here in London was under attack. I have never been so happy to hear my alarm clock go off as it put an end to that nightmare. Within five minutes of waking up updates from CNN were flashing across my iPhone, alerting me that explosions had detonated in Brussels.

Of course I continued to receive notifications about Brussels all day long, but I must selfishly admit that my thoughts were no longer with the Belgian city. As I moved throughout the day I was convinced that my own city was on the verge of disaster. Despite avoiding public transportation altogether, everything around me seemed threatening.

I looked at people with suspicion. I jumped at every loud noise and shuddered at every siren. By the end of the day the sound of sirens was actually stuck in my head. I had thoroughly convinced myself that I was constantly in danger. I was incredibly paranoid.

If you ask any of my friends or family, they will tell you that I am a paranoid person. I get that from my mother (thanks Mum), but that particular day in London was probably the most paranoid day of my life. There was nothing enjoyable about questioning the motives of everybody around me and living as if my entire world could change without notice.

I have written before in The Cowl that we cannot let terrorism deter us from living our lives and traveling the world. I stand by that philosophy but must admit that it was much easier to preach that when I was across the pond. Being here in Europe where the majority of attacks have taken place makes everything a little more personal and me a little more paranoid.

All that means though is that I have to be a lot more positive. Constantly worrying about the uncontrollable does not make this war on terror any easier. Unfortunately the terror is not going anywhere, but at least my negative attitude can disappear so long as I let it.

I had my day of paranoia and that will be the only one I allow. Now I am simply determined to make sure that there are no more days like that. For those of you worrying about me back at home, try not to worry too much. Shrugging off my excessive worrying will not make me any less observant or alert.

I have always had a writer’s mind and always will. I am predisposed to notice the most minute of details in any given situation, a personality trait I am more grateful for than ever. I promise to use those skills to be extra cautious but refuse to walk around in suspicion of every little thing.

After all I am here to enjoy the city of London, an impossible feat if I allow my mind to be consumed with negative thoughts. So there will be no more of those!

To any other students studying abroad now or in the future, I recommend you put such pessimism out of your mind too. Just don’t sacrifice your cautious nature completetly. Be aware of your surroundings and take care of yourself the same way you hopefully would in any country, city, or situation.

Ahhhhh (that’s the sound of the deep breath I am taking now that all of those thoughts are out of my system). It’s time to move on to happier times and go on with my plans the way anybody must in the wake of terror. It’s time to talk about all of the wonderful things I did last week. I was very social!

First of all, I was delighted to show one of my high school friends around London, catch up with him, and hear about his studies in Italy. I cannot thank him enough for teaching me so much about the Italian education system and about the world in general. He was able to explain to me how the eccentric performers in Trafalgar Square “levitate.” I won’t go into the details here but  will provide you with the key to their amazing acts: welding.

I was also happy to have a much anticipated lunch with a PC alum who lives in London and happens to be the generous man behind one of my scholarships at PC. It was so lovely to meet him and as if he isn’t providing me with so much already (an education!), he also treated me to a fabulous lunch. I left our meeting feeling very lucky to be a part of such a wonderful network of alumni, a feeling that was only augmented after attending a dinner on Saturday night with even more PC peers and alumni.

My scholarship donor’s generosity just kept going as he organized a fantastic dinner for PC students and alumni in the area. It was so nice to catch up with some PC peeps in London. On this particular night, I missed PC more than ever before. My longing seems rather silly seeing as I was surrounded by PC people, but having some really great laughs with other PC students reminded me why I love our community so much.

I also indulged in the arts this past week as I attended a poetry event and saw Wicked the musical. The poetry event was held at King’s College and I listened to Thaddeus O’Sullivan, an extremely talented Irish film director, speak about the “poetry of film.” Then I heard poet and playwright Glynn Maxwell read some of his poetry before eventually shaking his hand and talking with him face-to-face after his reading. I totally geeked out over that!

All in all, it was a busy but fantastic week. At the outset I was really worried that I had over-extended myself by committing to so many social events on top of classes and homework. As someone who gets anxiety over scheduling and making sure I have enough time to spend with everybody, it was a serious test of my sanity, but I am so glad that I set aside time for so many fun activities with friends. I have said before that this experience is nothing without the people. After such an exciting week filled with wonderful people, I stand by that statement more than ever before.

To bring everything full circle, I should also say that being social and attending exciting events in the city of London (or wherever you are) is the best way to combat terrorism. We cannot hide out in our homes afraid of what the day may hold in store. We must prove that we are committed to going on with our lives. So I am not nervous about, but excited for, the events that the next few weeks have in store.

Cheers,

Jackie

 

 

 

 

Fresh Air & Deep Breaths

As much as I love London, it was not easy to come back to the city after a relaxing weekend in the Lake District of England. Today I found myself longing for fireside pints, acres of green grass, and crystal clear lakes. Instead I got subpar coffee, miles of pavement, and the murky Thames River.

I suppose I now understand why John, my boating instructor in the Lake District, “hates” London. After being immersed in the beauty of the countryside, the city certainly loses some appeal. Although I do not despise the city like John, spending a weekend away from the lights and the noise reminded me how important it is to stay in touch with nature.

In Cumbria, I took deep breaths because I did not have to worry about cigarette smoke or car exhaust filling my lungs. The only smells that greeted me were those of grass and firewood. The worst scent in Cumbria might have been the manure of sheep, but even that was welcomed over the stench of public restrooms here in London.

In addition to fresh air, the Lake District also boasts loads of open space. Fields and fields of it. Instead of being pressed up against other human beings in a crowded tube train or forced next to strangers in a small theatre, I could take back my personal space—and plenty of it.

The entire weekend opened my eyes to how physically taxing life in the city is. I was therefore especially happy to participate in activities that strained my body in a more healthy way through exercise outdoors.

I chose to go hiking and had an opportunity to drink the fresh water running off the mountain. That was pretty cool. Now, I don’t go around taste-testing water often, but  I can say in all honesty that it was the most refreshing water I have ever had.

The hike was not very challenging although there were a few nerve-wracking moments. At one point, we had to walk up a very steep and narrow path of slate. Yes, slate. It is everywhere in the Lake District and quite a slick rock under your feet especially on the downhill. The descent was probably the scariest part. (I have included pictures below of what this slate maze looks like).

When we reached the summit, we had a beautiful view of Derwentwater Lake, the lake I went dragon boating on later in the day. (For any Star Wars nerds, there is a scene in The Force Awakens in which a battle takes place over a lake. Well, that was Derwentwater. I hope you are jealous). It was on this aqueous excursion that I met good old John who “hates” London. I have forgiven him for that but only because he has so much love for the lakes.

As a native, John had so much to say about the area. I learned that the entire District used to be considered woodlands. Now, however, the woodlands are few and far between due to all of the sheep grazing, the mining of charcoal and graphite, and oddly enough the National Park Society.

He explained that Society members are hesitant to plant new trees in the area not only because of grazing, but because the look of the Lake District would change. If new trees are planted, the mountains will no longer have the streamlined appearance they are known for.

I have since done my own research and have found a couple of articles written by environmentalists who advocate for new seedlings, insisting that tree growth would prevent some of the catastrophic flooding the Lake District has seen in the past few years.

I am no expert on the politics of the District, but there seems to be a conflict between encouraging tourism and protecting the environment. All I know is that John finds the lack of new trees disappointing so I do too. I trust the locals.

The locals were perhaps the best part of the whole trip. I cannot thank them enough for welcoming us to their homeland. I appreciate all of the knowledge they have imparted on me and am thoroughly impressed with the adventurous lives they lead in the countryside.

Personally, I have always said that I would never survive out in the country. I have always hated the thought of being cut off from civilization and am therefore more drawn to city life.

After this past weekend though, I am not so sure anymore. I still love London and still thoroughly believe that I am in the right city at the right time of my life, but I have not stopped missing those mountains.

I suppose I should start embracing more opporunities to explore the great outdoors even if those opportunities are simply right here in the middle of the city. With spring right around the corner, I am excited to see what Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, and the Kew Gardens have in store.

Right now, before I get swept up in the final weeks of classes, I am promising myself some more fresh air and deep breaths.

Cheers,

Jackie

The People Make the Place

Last week I cheated on London and went to Paris, but the affair was well worth it. In spite of having many concerns before traveling, I enjoyed an incredible time in the French city and all of my worries faded away.

As I prepared to leave England, I was anxious that Paris would not be all that I remembered it to be. I was also fearful of replacing my former memories of the city with new ones. After all, I have carried those wonderful first impressions of the city around with me for years. I was not ready by any means to let them go.

I realized in Paris this time around, however, that it was impossible to replace such memories because they are not actually dictated by the city itself, but by the people I had been in the city with.

While crowded around a coffee table spread with bread, cheese, and wine, I listened as one of my new friends said something I have yet to forget. She told us that she could never forget her unique experiences with us.

She explained that although she may forget what the view looks like from the Arc de Triomphe in a few years time, she would never forget how we huffed and puffed climbing 284 stairs to the top together.

In this past week, I have thought about her words a lot. Although Paris was not a different city like I had feared, it was an entirely different experience with new people.

There is no forgetting my friend’s panic attack as we climbed higher and higher in the Eiffel Tower’s elevator. I simply cannot forget how we conquered the many stairs leading up to Sacre Cœur after having already walked 30,000 steps the day before. Finally, I wish I could forget the incredibly delicious meal that we all shared together because then I might stop trying and failing to recreate it (I have made pesto twice this week and am still not satisfied).

In spite of all of these new memories, I still remember being out to dinner in Paris with three of my closest high school friends and accidentally ordering soup containing cow intestines. I also remember suffering through the awful texture of said intestines as the chef watched us eat from across the room. I recall that we all had the same rap song stuck in our head that week and certainly remember the shenanigans we pulled off in that hotel.

It occurs to me now that my love for Paris runs so deep because my love for the people I experienced the city with runs just as deep. I remember and will continue to remember all of these specific memories because I share them with specific people who are very special to me.

I think I have learned perhaps one of my greatest lessons on this trip so far and although it is cliché, it is important nonetheless: It does not matter where you go, but who you go with.

Looking back on all of the time I have spent abroad thus far, I must conclude that I am extremely lucky. Being thousands of miles away from your family is only made easier by making new friends who become your family. I am grateful to say that I have found such friends.

I now understand that even if I forget the minor details of my travels years from now, I will never forget the major memories I have made with my friends during them. More importantly, I will simply never forget my friends.

With that said, I suppose I am ready to return to Paris again and again to create more and more unique memories. All I need is some volunteers to go with me!

For now though, I am happy to be back home in London surrounded by familiar streets, to hear English as opposed to French, and to still have the same awesome friends by my side.

Cheers,

Jackie

 

 

 

 

 

Bedtime Reflections

I should be asleep right now. In ten hours, I will be on a flight to Paris for the second time in my life. I was lucky enough to visit La Ville Lumière when I was a junior in high school. After learning about French language and culture for more than seven years, I was eager to experience them outside a classroom.

When I landed in Paris, I fell in love with the city. The sparkling Eiffel Tower dazzled me. The view of the city from the artist’s quarter of Montmartre took my breath away and Versailles was the most ornate palace I had ever seen.

I decided that it was my favorite city in the world and that I would come back one day, but I had no idea that day would come so soon. I am so grateful for the opportunity to return to Paris and I am so excited for my trip, but I have to explain some really strange feelings I get when I think about leaving tomorrow.

First of all, I am overcome by this weird belief that I am cheating on London. It sounds absurd, but I swear that is how I feel! I have been dreaming of living here for so long that I I feel guilty losing even three days of time that could be spent in England.

Second, I am a little nervous to return to Paris after having already made such incredible memories there. I do not want to replace them! What if Notre Dame is not as impressive as I remember it? Will the city lose some of its allure simply because I have lost some of my French language skills? I am terrified of falling out of love with a city that convinced me to be the world traveler I am today.

Third, Paris is a different city. Even if every landmark is exactly how I remember it to be, things have changed there. It is a yet another city that has been under attack. It is a place haunted by unspeakable tragedy, but defined by courage and hope.

Fourth, I am a different person. I do not want to sound overdramatic and say that I am a changed woman since high school…but I am a changed woman since high school. I have experienced, coped with, and persevered through a lot in four years and I am so curious to see if my new outlook on life changes my outlook on Paris in any way.

These are all thoughts passing through my mind (and keeping me from sleep) as I come closer to my first excursion outside of England this semester. It it so strange to me that after so much planning, preparation, and waiting for my first trip to Paris that I can hop on a two hour flight tomorrow and be there. It is mind-boggling and exciting at the same time.

Seeing as tomorrow is a Tuesday, you may be thinking to yourself, “Doesn’t she have classes? Paris triumphs over studies, I suppose!” I should probably clarify that I am not just blowing off classes this week to take an impromptu trip to Paris.

This week at King’s College is considered “Reading Week” and actually marks the halfway point of my semester. Can you believe that?! I certainly cannot, but I suppose time flies when you only have ten weeks of classes to begin with.

It is also the week in which midterm assignments are due and I am lucky to have only one essay to write. In fact, it is already halfway done and on track to be finished when I return from my Parisian adventure on Thursday!

I am actually quite proud of myself for even starting the assignment so early seeing as I am normally the queen of procrastination. See, I am already learning so much from my study abroad experience. Work hard so you can reward yourself with trips to other countries! I think I am going to bring that philosophy home with me.

Well, I am going to get some rest before my travels tomorrow, but look for another blog post at the end of this week with details of my return to Paris! I am eager to see if I can solve this love triangle I have with London and Paris, find out if I glorifed Paris too much in my memories, and decide which is more different after four years: the city or me! Stay tuned!

Cheers,

Jackie

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On a different note, I have included some pictures below from my trip to Stonehenge last week! It was so cool to see this ancient structure up close, but who knew you had to pay to see it?! Not me! I was so surprised to learn that the English Heritage Society charges almost 15 pounds to see this landmark. I had assumed I could just waltz up to these famous rocks like it was no big deal!

I suppose I should not be surprised. Everything seems to be a money-making business these days. Even my taxi driver, Will,  from the city of Salisbury (where Stonehenge is located) is appalled by the amount of money the Society makes off of the attraction. He spoke with nostalgia of a time when residents and tourists alike could visit the site for free.

He finds the “commercialism” of the site “disgusting” and it was really interesting to hear his opinion on how the Society capitalizes on the legendary artifact of Stonehenge, especially since he has lived and worked in Salisbury all of his life.

Stonehenge was really cool of course, but one of my favorite parts of the day was simply talking with Will about the history of his city. He talked about the Norman invasion of the city and pointed out the site of the old city on our drive back to the train station. I could tell that he was really passionate about his hometown and the history behind it.

I cannot say that I have met too many people who are as knowledgeable and excited about their cities of origin as Will which I suppose is sad if you think about it too much like me. He also talked a lot about his travels to America. He has been to Vegas ten times and was “disgusted” that I have not been once. He tried to convince me that I have to go even if I do not like gambling and am not convinced that I would enjoy it.

Looking back and realizing how happy this simple conversation with a British local made me, I am thinking that I need to start striking up more conversations with the Brits and people of other nationalities here in England. It is so interesting to hear their unique perspectives and learning from them is one of the main reasons I am here!

It is too easy to get comfortable with the other American friends I have made from my study abroad program and forget to branch out. Do not get me wrong, my new American friends are amazing and hopefully friends for life, but I have to remember to keep pushing my cultural boundaries so that I can meet awesome people like Will and hear about their lives in England or beyond!

Cheers again,

Jackie

Making Room for Imagination

Although countless people rely on public transportation in London, few would describe their travel experiences as enjoyable. Passengers cough and their germs linger in the airless train for all to inhale. Some travelers snack in between stops, leaving crumbs and the smell of Doritos behind. Others simply speak, an act that is usually frowned upon.

In spite of all of these frustrations, I am one of the few who would describe their public transportation experiences as enjoyable. In fact, I would even deem my time on the tube  inspirational. Before questioning my sanity, recall that I am an aspiring writer and that writers need to create characters…There are plenty of characters on the tube.

On Saturday, a slender woman with a short blonde bob did not open her eyes once from the instant she sat down across from me to the moment she stood up to leave the train. She remained entirely still with one hand holding her other wrist as if she were taking her pulse. She was so unresponsive to the world around her that she seemed to be meditating.

I have no idea how she managed to find tranquility on the tube, but while she sat there with closed eyes, I had a great deal of fun defining her character. In my imagination, she had just come from lunch with her sister and two nephews. Conversation was constantly interrupted by whining and consequently, scolding. In comparison to the restaurant she had come from, the tube was a soothing space perfect for self-care.

I have found that my imagination often runs wild like this here in London. Between the cafés, theatres, and city streets, my mind is full of potential settings for short stories and poems. Furhermore,  I am constantly interacting with (or keeping my distance from) interesting people.

Virginia Woolf described the effect London has on the creative mind, writing in her diary, “London itself perpetually attracts, stimulates, gives me a play and a story and a poem…” I came across her words on the way to my Creative Writing Poetry class the other day as they are posted in the lobby of our Virginia Woolf Building:

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Since stumbling across her words, I have been thinking about the numerous ways in which my lifestyle here in London lends itself to creativity. Furthermore, I have been thinking about the numerous ways in which my lifestyle at home in Providence does not.

First of all, I believe that I am more creatively inclined here simply because I have not confined myself to a routine. I did try to establish a schedule at one point. Remember when I said I would post to this blog every Wednesday or Thursday? Well, that routine crashed and burned last week as you may have noticed, but I am so glad it did.

Putting the blog aside for a few days allowed me to do some pretty amazing things. I visited Wembley Stadium, got high tea with my friends, and visited the city of Bath. I learned that for every 100 blades of real grass at the football pitch, there are three blades of artificial grass. I saw a funky, high-end hotel that offers Mad Hatter Afternoon Tea and I drank mineral water at the site of ancient Roman Baths.

All of these experiences were enlightening and I am so glad that I broke my routine to take part in them. If I did not, I would cease to feel excited and motivated here the same way I often cease to feel inspired back in the U.S.

Back at home, I often get trapped in a set schedule and leave little room for spontaneity. I get caught up in the amount of school work I have and insist that I am too busy to try a new restaurant in Providence. I have no time to attend a guest speaker’s lecture because I have to work at The Cowl. I deprive myself of adventure and exploration.

Here, on the other hand, I am allowing myself the freedom to do things other than just school work. This week, I am attending a creative writing workshop hosted by some of the poets whose work I am reading in my poetry class. I am also visiting Stonehenge. Next week, I am going to Paris!

I am also doing other things that I would never make time for back at home. I am keeping a journal of all of my adventures here. I am writing poetry. Oh, and I am maintaining this blog! (Even if it has been over a week since I last posted).

Now, there is no need to worry. I am not writing school work off completely. Those of you who know me well also know that I love school too much to ever do such a thing anyway. My classes mean a lot to me too and for that reason, they also remain a priority.

I am trying, however, not to get too worked up over deadlines and assignments simply because there is no room for stress here. It is possible to learn from my classes and enjoy them without making myself crazy over them.

By pushing the stress and worry out of my mind, I am able to make room for free and creative thoughts. I am able to imagine that a quiet and motionless woman on a tube train has just come from a disastrous lunch with her family.

Cheers,

Jackie