Why Study Abroad?

Why study abroad? At first, I had several different answers run through my head, a compilation of everything I had learned on this trip. There were so many experiences we had, so many museums and performances attended. But for me, the most important part about this trip was not the academic knowledge that I took away from it – although of course that is quite important. No, this trip made me so much more aware of who I am as a person, and I am so grateful for having been given the opportunity to explore that.

Before I came on this trip, there were some unwavering things I knew about myself. For starters, I love books (as you can tell from earlier posts). I was confident, though not by a considerable amount. I enjoy learning in any atmosphere, and I was at a point in my academic career where I was ready to delve further into the things I loved. So yes, I knew who I was, but nowhere near as well as I do now. When you’re taken away from your comfort zone for the first time, it can be a huge shock. You may have guided help, true, but for the most part you really begin to wonder who you are. Are you going to ask a stranger for directions? Will you try whatever the national food is, even if you’re not sure what it consists of? Which surroundings and experiences strike you the most? These questions, and many others, were ones I found myself confronting on this trip.

The first few days were difficult. We were still mentally stuck in a different time zone, and we found ourselves traveling London in a daze. But even then, I found myself branching out little by little. On our first day, I tried raw fish for the first time, and not long after that, I bravely attempted the heights on the London Eye. Neither one of these events would have ever happened in the comforts of my own home, where I feel the most safe. Studying abroad brings out traits in you that you never knew you had, the bravery to conquer fears, the strength to pull your deepest emotions from you. It allows you to feel connections to the things that appeal most to you, to be unafraid of who you are. It’s an experience I’m never going to forget, and I know that I’m going to use the amazing perspectives I gained on this trip for the rest of my life.

Below is a photo of Diana, Mei,and I at the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral – and all three of us are afraid of heights. It just goes to show that you never know what you are truly capable of.

london photo

An Unforgettable Trip Indeed

When you think about it, the Thames River has been such an important part of London’s history for hundreds of years, and it still is today. It winds through the major part of the city, and from places like St. Paul’s or the Eye, you can clearly see its muddy-looking squiggle flow throughout. Quite unfortunately, however, I have had my worst experiences of this trip on the Thames, and both involved boats. Due to inner ear problems, I get intense motion sickness on boats, docks, or any up-and-down motion (so I’m definitely not the best person to go to an amusement park with). I felt somewhat guilty when the group wound up on a ferry, because I was pretty sick both times. I’m taking the time to mention my body’s somewhat gross circumstances for the sheer irony. On the most recent ride, there were dozens of tourists and several different languages to be heard on the deck, all of them taking in the beautiful views along the river – while I’m taking in the not-so-beautiful views of the deck floor. Despite the nausea, I actually found myself laughing. So many of the tourists were standing up and taking photographs, especially of London Bridge. It was lucky that we had already seen it the week before, because I couldn’t see it at all, even if I had wanted to! There were so many gorgeous views from the Thames (or so I’m told), but I spent the majority of the trip fiercely gripping the wooden handrail.

Every unfortunate story has a moral, doesn’t it? I think this story says that no matter how much you plan for a trip, even if you have every detail down to the wire, there will always be something that goes wrong. For me, it’s the inability to enjoy one of London’s most historic parts. We only have a few days left of this trip, and I must say I have enjoyed nearly every minute of it. Just don’t ever put me on a river tour of the Thames ever again.

Here’s a much lovelier picture from earlier that day at Greenwich Park, because obviously, I didn’t get one on the boat.


All the World’s a Stage

Before coming to London, unfortunately the list of live theatre performances I have seen was very small. I have never seen a Broadway show, and most plays I have attended were local to Massachusetts. As a result, I was rather excited to see that we had several plays lined up for this trip, and as our days flew by, I found myself comparing and contrasting everything we have seen thus far. For our most recent two, I have arrived at some fascinating conclusions that I think would be worth mentioning.

Last night, we saw Great Britain at the National Theatre, a recent satirical play centered around an issue the nation faced only a short time ago. The play mocks those involved in a scandal in which millions of British citizens’ phones were hacked, including one from a girl who was kidnapped and killed. For those who were around at the time of the scandal, it was obviously much easier to understand the context, but we as visitors managed, and still managed to pick up some of the references. Nevertheless, the play was hysterical to the point of tears. With its crude humor, foul language, and purposely making fun of others, there were only short periods of seriousness before the audience would be laughing again. The only real serious part of the play was the end, in which the true events of the scandal came to light. In addition to the easygoing dialogue, the play also had rather flashy set designs, but they were in fact quite remarkable. There were three large moving screens that acted as televisions, clear dividers of rooms, backdrop designs, and mirrors. I was impressed with how easily the scenes transitioned regardless of the many intricate details on the set, such as a casual “wet floor” sign in the main office scenes. Everything was carefully put into place, and I admired how real the play became.

On the other hand, today we were able to see Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and my what a difference it was. I was a “groundling” for the three hours, instead of sitting in a plush chair like the night before. Yet it made for a more enthusiastic experience, as the actors often interacted with the audience and rushed back and forth next to me (I accidentally trampled the man beside me a few times). Rather than watching a play, it was like being a part of it. And contrary to the National Theatre, the set decorations in the Globe were sparse, but somehow was perfectly fitting. There was occasionally a tapestry behind the pillars, or one or two large pieces of furniture, but overall the actors took up the majority of the stage. Even though these two plays were vastly different in setup and execution – for a variety of reasons, including location and time period – they had the same effect on the audience as a whole. Our other two shows, Wonderland and The Crucible, were all set up in a variety of ways, but each pertained perfectly to their overall message.

Phew, what a long post! I guess it just shows how much I really am enjoying theatre life here. I will definitely make it a point to attend more plays when I return home, because I’ve taken a real liking to them. It’s an incredible form of literature that is entirely new to me, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what else I can discover on my ever-growing theatrical journey.



The Memory of War

Our past two days here have been packed with the reminders of World War I, and while of course I remember studying it in high school, I was shocked to realize how much it actually affected those overseas. On Monday, London will be celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the declaration of war, and there are reminders of it at nearly every historical site we visit. The Tower of London, upon entry, had a field of red flowers in honor of those who died. Similarly, the Imperial War Museum created a special exhibit, and had many items in the gift shop for purchase and commemoration. Below is a photograph of the book I picked up, a collection of poems from people who experienced the war firsthand. The words are tragically beautiful, but each poem tells an important story.

I didn’t take many pictures at these war museums, and not because I wasn’t allowed to. These experiences are something I don’t need photographs to remember, because I know they will be something I can’t forget. While sad, I do believe that visiting memorials such as these are important to understand history, and the grand impact that these events had. As an avid reader and writer, it is rare that I am at a loss for words, but here I struggle to put my feelings into sentences. There is something vastly different in reading about an event in a textbook, and seeing the artifacts right before your eyes. It becomes so much more real, and yet, there is a strange peace in the aftermath of the exhibits, a quiet understanding that only accompanies a descent from a terrible high.

Here is an excerpt from a poem by Rupert Brooke, who never lived to see his work published:
“There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.”


For the Love of the Library

There’s something I always found peaceful about libraries, and maybe that’s why I chose to work at one. I like knowing that so many stories surround me, words of inspiration from so many years of deep thought. Before I read a book, I go through quite the process. I like to look at the front and back covers, read the little descriptions. I need to slowly flip through the pages and make sure they are of good quality, look at the text the words are printed in. Finally, I do what any crazy bibliophile does – I smell the book (but it’s true in saying that books have different scents depending on their pasts: some are musty, some smell like fresh ink, but they all tell a story). Books are one of my favorite things in the world, so naturally, I begin to swoon whenever we visit a library here in London.

Of the many we’ve seen so far, my top two now include the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and the library and study room at Kenwood House. In Oxford, the books have been there for hundreds of years, read and enjoyed by so many. The stories have touched and enlivened for longer than I can even imagine. But apart from the books, the library itself is unbelievable. The golden paint shines from the ceiling, and the magnificent windows allow for the brightest rays of sunlight to come through. In contrast, the Kenwood House library is painted a sky-blue color, with large plush furniture for relaxing. The books tower in shelves up to the ceiling with enormous ladders to reach them. While Kenwood has a more easygoing feel as opposed to academic Oxford, both places were accompanied by a certain aura of peace and elegance. In any public place, I make a beeline right for the place that sells books, and I can guarantee you’ll have a difficult time getting me to leave. I love books, and the enthralling feelings that accompany them – so to me, I couldn’t be anywhere happier. I can’t wait to see what else I will stumble upon in terms of literature here.




Stop and Smell the Roses




On one of our first days in London, we had taken an exceptionally long tour. The six of us were still somewhat jet-lagged, and by late afternoon, our feet were dragging on the streets of London. Just as we had almost reached our tube station, Diana called out from behind us: “Wait! Stop and smell the roses!” We all somewhat laughed, but obliged as she led us to an overgrowth of English roses in someone’s garden. She then explained how London was famous for its flowers and told us to notice the little things around the city, but up until now, I had a difficult time doing so. When you arrive in a city with so much to see, your senses want to capture everything, and your eyes can only find so much to look at. However, the longer I am here, the more I am understanding what she truly meant.

The photos here are from Sigmund Freud’s garden and Westminster Abbey, and although it is hard to see detail (especially in the window), I took some time to gaze at these sights. I have always loved the intricate details on flowers, but these were exceptionally gorgeous. Being at Freud’s house further peaked my interest in analysis, so I took the time to carefully examine all I could (pictures inside were not allowed). Similarly, at Westminster Abbey, it’s another place where I feel so small, yet here I felt like a piece of history, of the millions of people to step foot inside and feel the same tranquility. Again, I could only take photographs of certain things, but I absolutely enjoyed the stained glass windows. Each one tells a story, and each pane is carefully selected both for viewing purposes and for emphasis on its meaning. Since that day in the quiet London neighborhood, I have tried to notice the smaller details, and while I may feel minuscule next to some of the grander places in London, I have also begun to feel like a part of something so much bigger than myself.

Flying High


It’s not every day that you conquer your biggest fear, but why not do it when you’re having the experience of a lifetime?

On my first day in London, I tried raw fish for the first time simply because I was here (and also quite jet-lagged), but it actually turned out to be rather good and I’m proud of myself for the attempt. Since my arrival, I have tried to do things that I never would have in the comforts of Massachusetts, including public transportation and asking for directions. I have tried to branch out in smaller increments, yet I was in for my biggest shock today. One of the biggest tourist attractions here is the Eye of London, an enormous Ferris wheel that was built to celebrate the millennium. Of course, all my classmates were dying to go, but I was apprehensive to the point of sickness; I am positively terrified of heights, and often the fear is coupled with nausea and tremors. It took some coaxing, but along with my friend Mei (who shares the same fear), I stepped into the car and ascended into the sky.

For my first few days at London, I have felt like an ant: small, easily crushed by moving cars, being shoved left and right on the tube and on crosswalks. Yet today, for the first time since we arrived, I felt on top of the world – and I literally was. There are no words to describe the beauty and the tranquility of the Eye, and even the 50+ photographs I took do not do it justice. I’m not sure what it is about the wheel, but it has a way of making me feel great, and my fears seem small, like tiny specs from another world.

You only get one lifetime, so live fearlessly.

Last but not least…

Around 10:30 P.M. last night, I was talking with my classmates for this trip, and they said, “Have a great last night’s sleep in America!” to which I promptly panicked and realized oh my goodness we are going to London tomorrow. 

Ever since I was a little girl, I found comforts in reading and writing, so of course being an English literature major at UMass Lowell was the optimal choice. To this day I carry at least one book with me at all times, but being a bibliophile is only half of it. With my education minor and hopes to become a teacher, I have always been on the lookout for new eye-opening experiences. I love to analyze, to look at little details, to make connections. Naturally, when the opportunity for this trip arose, I was immediately interested. Not only would I have the chance to study in a foreign country – an experience of a lifetime – but I would also gain a variety of insights on new experiences that would aid in my path to teaching. London has always been a place of great cultural activity and literary achievement, and until I first sat down with Dr. Diana Archibald, I didn’t know that one of my biggest dreams in life was about to come true. I’ve never been away from home by myself before, so I’m a little nervous, but over the last few months or so I have really come to bond with the other wonderful ladies, and I am excited for us to share our passions about the trip.

Get ready, London, because here we come!