Friday, August 9, 2013

Home Sweet Home

  • So after two days of travel (one for the flight back to the US and one for the train ride back from the East Coast), I am finally home and settling back into normal life. I have re-adjusted my sleep schedule and am back to work, but I am missing London and the people that I met there. Before this trip, I had never been that far away from home for that long by myself. It was a life changing experience.
  • While I was away, I learned a lot about myself. For instance I've noticed that I've become a more independent person. Despite being away from home and anyone I knew (before this trip) for such a long period of time, I did not get homesick. I also felt very self-sufficient and confident within the city when I was on my own (during the days that I extended my trip).
    This trip allowed me to experience things that I've never seen or done before. Some of these made me think about what I'm planning to do with my life. Seeing the musical Wicked (the first professional production that big that I've ever seen) positively affected my outlook on theater and the arts. Though both are thing that I've always had an interest in (and have been doing for a while), this show made me want to become more involved. Don't get me wrong, I do love biology (my major) but if I would have seen this show before entering college, I would have probably decided to major in theater production. This show made me realize just how big of a part the arts play in my life and how I need to find some way to incorporate them into life when I graduate and am working in the Biology field. I knew that I liked the arts but it surprised me just how much of an impact they have on my life.
    Like some other people I met on my program, this wasn't the first time I've gone abroad (last time I did though it was with the Carlow University Theatre Group). Naturally I did have a couple of worries. The scariest one was that the exchange rate between dollars and pounds is notoriously bad. To make myself more confident I saved up spending money for months before I left till I had a comfortable safety net (extra money in case anything unforeseen happened). I also gave my parents my banking information and since I just used my American debit card to withdraw money while abroad, my parents had the chance to deposit money into my account that I could access the next day. Another issue that I was apprehensive about was making sure that I packed everything that I would need for the trip. To combat this, as I mentioned in my first blog, I packed and repacked my bag about 8 times.
    Studying abroad has made me realize how much there is to see and do in the world. It made me want to travel more, see more, and do more things throughout the world as well as within the United States. I am no longer content with just experiencing the same things all of the time. I want to adventure. It has made me more confident in my ability to handle the new situations and experiences that I know are out there.
    For me the single greatest benefit to studying abroad was that I got to meet so many amazing people. Though I didn't get the chance to meet and get to know many (or for that matter any) British people, I did get to know some amazing people on my program for the States. So far we're all still keeping in contact with one another and attempting to plan a reunion trip already. Though through this trip I got the visit London, a city that I've always dreamed about going to, the people that I met topped that.
    By going on this trip, I had the chance to experience many different and new things. As I mentioned in my previous blog, My favorite place to be within the city was the South Bank walk. However, my favorite experience of the trip was just getting to experience the city with a bunch of new people (most of which were also there for the first time). It was exciting to explore a new city and experience the differences in culture between the US and the UK.
    For anyone who ever wants to study abroad, my advice is to do it. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have had in my life. I had the chance to meet people from all over the United States (who were on the same program) as well as Russia. Nothing quite matches the excitement of being in a new place with people you just met. In saying that, I hope to go abroad at least one more time while I am a student. Weather it is with a third party program (like with this time) or with a Carlow University class or program.
    Though I attended numerous talks about culture shock, one at Carlow and several through my program, I feel that I escaped the grasp of it for the most part. I did begin to miss my family half way through the program, but after talking to them over Skype, I felt a lot better. While I was there, I kept my mind open and didn't see London as better or worse than Pittsburgh. I think it was easier for me because it was an English speaking city. Some words were different, but it was easy to get used to.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Favorite Place

Well, since I've been here for 3 weeks now,  I've seen a fair bit of the city. However, there is one area that I've been to more than all of the others: The South Bank. The South Bank of the Thames, from the London Bridge (not the Tower Bridge) to the London Eye is my favorite place to walk. It is an area filled with culture and sights to see.

Starting at London Bridge, the walk passes Southwark Cathedral (believed to be the oldest cathedral church in London). The next major attraction on the South Bank is Shakespeare's Globe. Just a short walk away from the Globe is the Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge. Between the Tate Modern and the London Eye is an area filled with culture. There are areas for cultural festivals (I went to a Turkish festival today), street vendors, a skate park, and restaurants among many other things. When you reach the London Eye, you can see the houses of Parliament just across the river and it is a magnificent sight (especially at night).

Though I walked on the South Bank Walk  by myself, I still got to see some amazing things on class field trips. The class that I took was about Victorian London and the context of the Jack the Ripper murders. We went on 3 class trips. The first was to look at the West End of London, the Second was the East End, and the third was to the London Museum. My favorite of these was to the London Museum (which is exactly what it sounds like, a museum of London's history). My favorite part was the Victorian area and an exhibition called the Pleasure Gardens. It was all very interactive and a lot of fun.

I know that I am going to miss everywhere that I have been and everyone that I have met while I was here. I can't believe that it's already been 3 weeks and  I only have a couple of days left.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Meeting New People is Easy

So one big question I had when planning my study abroad experience was "where will I be staying?" Before I got here I knew I would be staying in one of the student housing areas but I didn't know which one. When I got here, I found out that it would be in the complex called Alexander Flemming located in Hoxton Market in the Shoreditch area.

As it turns out, I couldn't have asked for a better place to stay. First of all, the area around me is great. It's only a couple of tube stops away from my classes and any major attraction with in city (as well as many of the major overground stations for access to areas outside of the city). Another great thing about this area is that there is plenty to do and see right where I am at; there are Victorian Squares, street art (by artists such as Stik and Roa and even a Banksy), as well as shopping and many other things to see and do within walking distance.




The flat I'm staying in is also pretty nice. It's flat (or apartment) style housing. There is one street entrance to each 3 or 4 flats and each flat is on it's own floor. Within each flat there is 6 individual bedrooms (I live with 2 other girls from my program and 3 people from another study abroad program), 2 bathrooms, and a kitchen with full appliances (so I can cook instead of eat out all the time which is expensive here).

The living arrangement makes it really easy to meet other people (both from my study abroad programs as well as others participating in the University of Westminster Summer Program). Within my building alone there are 24 people and over the past 2 weeks I have gotten to know the majority of them fairly well. After classes we usually have plans to go sight-seeing or to do some other activity to fill the day.

However, that isn't the only way that I have meet other people here. I have also had the chance to get to know other people (who live in other student housing complexes or elsewhere) through class (doing group work). There is also a social program through the University of Westminster that my study abroad program enrolled me in. Through this program we to things such as walking tours (around the city) and we've done a weekend trip to York and a day trip to Oxford. During each trip, though people from my flat building and class have been on it, there were still more people which I got to meet.

Group Shot on the London Eye (through the Social Program)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The First Week

So far I really like the city. There is plenty of public transport (a lot more than Pittsburgh). Riding the tube is a change from Pittsburgh and so is paying for a weekly card to travel on the tube and the bus. I really like it because it is fairly easy to get around despite the network being so large. Between the tube and the bus, it is easy to get anywhere in the city (even when a tube line is closed or delayed). 

London is also similar to Pittsburgh in the way that there are different districts. The difference is that some of the districts go by more than one name (that makes it difficult when you talk to someone who calls it by a different name). 

Perhaps the biggest change is the road markings. I still haven't learned what they mean. For me it is really difficult tell from which direction the traffic is coming from. Fortunately at many cross walks there is a message writtten on the road saying which direction to look. The traffic rules aare also very different. For instance, cars and bikes have the right -away on the road and sidewalks (pretty much the complete opposite of the States)

My programs orientation was nice. There were actually two seperate ones; one for Global Learning Semesters and one for the University of Westminster. The orientation for GLS was very casual (actually held in a smoothie bar). It was a nice thing for it to not be such a formal lecture (as other orientations I have attended have been). The one for Westminster was the next day and rather a long process immediately followed by class.  It was still nice though to meet the people in all of the other program.

I promise the next post will come a lot sooner. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Adventure Begins

I figured, since I am sitting here, packing my bag for my trip across the pond, it might be a good idea to kick-start this blog. Though this is approximately the 4th time that I have completely packed my bags, I am still anxious that I am forgetting something despite having all of the items marked off of my handy-dandy check list.

I am extremely excited to go on this study abroad trip. Going to London has always been a dream of mine. That's the main reason why I chose the location. I chose to study abroad in the first place based on advice given by the Carlow University Global Learning office. During my first year, at a meeting I attended hosted by the office, they stresses how much easier it is to travel abroad as a student. After traveling to Ireland last summer with the Carlow University Theater Group, I decided to heed the advice given by the Global Learning Office and go abroad again.

I do not hope to be drastically changed by this experience, but I do hope to gain friends from both abroad and other areas of the United States. I hope that my view of London and the U.K. dose not change too much while I am there, though I do expect it to change some (though for better or worse, I do not know yet).

While I am abroad I hope to learn more about British culture, and more importantly history (since that is the type of course I am taking). In addition, I hope to visit many of the historical and/or famous sites such as the Tower of London, the London Eye, and Westminster Abbey. I want to absorb as much of the culture as possible while still earning an acceptable grade in the course I am taking (Did I mention it's called Jack the Ripper's London. Yeah, I'm excited).

To fulfill these goals, I already have list of attractions that I wish to see, as well as walking tours I hope to go on. Though I do not have a set itinerary, I do hope I have the chance to make it to most of what I want to see. This should not be a major problem though, because I have extended my trip for an extra 4 days so I have extra time to fit everything it. As for the course, I have been receiving email updates from the University I will attend and the course does not seem to be very difficult (though to ensure that I don't fail, I will try to avoid that mentality while I am actually taking the course).

I am a bit nervous about the end of my trip. I am staying 4 extra days in London, by myself! However, I hope that by the time the program session ends, I am familiar enough with the city to feel comfortable. Perhaps I am also a bit nervous about the jet lag. The past week has been hectic and action filled and the next few days before I board my plane will be the same.

There is no particular thing I am looking forward to the most. Right now I am just excited to be going. It still seems a bit surreal that I am actually going to be spending almost a month in a city that I have wanted to visit since I was a young child.

TTFN (Ta-ta for now). I will post again a few days into my trip.