Last But Definitely Not Least

I definitely prefer the London Underground to the T. Look how thoughtful and well-lit their stations are!

The last full day in London.

What could I possibly write to sum up my experience in this magical city?

On my last day, I got to see Buckingham Palace in all its touristy glory. I walked through St. James’s Park and ate lunch at a noodle bar. I had dinner with 15 amazing Americans and then (in a rare excursion for me) clubbed with 12 of them. I rode in an Uber for the first time and fell asleep at 2am.

My last day here was amazing, as were the 12 days that preceded it. I am so beyond grateful for the experiences I’ve had here and for the new friends that I’ve made–American, English, Lithuanian, and Argentinian–that all share my passion for digital art, empowerment through design, and typefaces (I’m also thankful they’re open to being nerds about it in public, because most people don’t appreciate it when I look at a menu and start discussing a lack or surplus of white space).

I’d like to extend a thank-you to all of the following people (and more) for making this adventure a reality:

Grammi and Grampi: Thank you for being such huge supports in my education and personal life, and especially for helping me navigate the obstacles of air travel.

Grandmaman: Merci beaucoup pour votre amour et des bisous. Je t’aime!

Regina and Ingrid: Thank you for being such amazing professors. The students, faculty, and entire design program are so blessed to have you and your insightful leadership. Regina, thank you for letting me visit you in Scotland and for exploring Edinburgh and travelling with me. It was absolutely amazing! I’ll never forget it.

All my new friends: Thank you guys so much for accepting me and being amazing people and artists! I know I can be a pain sometimes but I really enjoyed getting to know all of you and can’t wait to see most of you in the fall.

Big Radical: Thanks so much for allowing us Americans to participate in your Design Jam! It was an awesome experience and we look forward to keeping touch with you for future events and opportunities. I’m open to internships!!! ?

Mom and Dad: My two biggest supporters. Thank you so much for letting me go on this trip, despite all the mayhem that has been taking place in the past year. Thank you for believing in me and trusting me to be a smart traveller in a foreign country. And thank you most of all for allowing me to pursue my dreams and help me transform them into reality. I love you both so much and I can’t wait to see you!!!

And thank *you*, UMass Lowell, for letting this entire trip happen in the first place, and for keeping tabs on us when the environment became tricky. I’m so proud to be a Riverhawk!

Too Good to be (Al)tru

Today was the last day of Design Jam Depression Hackathon. My team (Love Submarine) rushed to finalize our product, Altrü, in the 8 hours that we had, and developed a presentation explaining our ideology and the benefits of the product.

Five other groups presented, and we were almost certain that one of them won. Our concept was most detailed but others’ product presentations were more complete.

So imagine our surprise when the judges said that Altrü was the winner of this year’s Design Jam.

Hint: we were pretty surprised and also super proud of ourselves.

I am so grateful for this experience. I have made friends with so many people and learned so much about designing a tangible, useful product formulated for user experience. I would love to take this project further and develop the app to help better the community and increase public knowledge on mental health.


Clicking My Heels But Nothing’s Happening

On 10 June, we were able to participate in Design Jam, hosted by a London-based design firm. The whole experience was amazing and I can’t wait to go back for day 2.

Team “Yellow Submarine” finalizing our hypothesis and product idea.

But lately, I’ve been really homesick. Not homesick for America (if I could live here I would), but homesick for my family. For some reason, I’ve been feeling isolated from everyone else. I don’t know if it’s because of my personal problems or if I’m just overreacting, but I miss my family and friends back home. If I could fly them all over here, I would be content.

Travelling is such an amazing experience and it can be even more amazing if you do it with the right people. This group of students is amazing and I am so glad to be experiencing this other world with them.

But as with all travel, one starts to feel a bit cut off. I feel most comfortable when I explore places independently; this way, I can keep my own speed without worrying about falling behind. Unfortunately, in the current climate, we are (understandably) required to be with at least 2 other people when we want to go somewhere.

I miss the freedom of being able to go out alone and find inner peace with myself. I miss my mom, dad, bed, cat, and (as much as I don’t want to admit it) all 3 of my younger brothers. I miss that sense of wonder that I experience within myself when I happen upon a new place or thing. I miss being able to enjoy and photograph a walk in the country’s biggest garden without stressing out because half the group is half a kilometer ahead.

I love it here, I really do. I love these experiences and adventures. I really don’t want to leave them behind to go back to America, a place disdained by every bloke and bird we encounter here in the United Kingdom.

I just wish I could click my heels a few times to refresh for a day.

500 Horsepower Vengeance

Let’s set something straight: I don’t love cars. I’ve never loved cars. My ex and my brothers always irritated me beyond reason with their talk of Bugatis, horsepower, and million-dollar price tags. To me, a V8 is a nasty veggie juice and not an engine, and my used 2003 Toyota works perfectly fine even though it can’t hit 200 mph and has crank windows.

But today, I treated myself to cars… and not just any cars:

007 cars.

Aston Martin V12 Vantage “invisibility car” used in Die Another Day (featuring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond).

I was never a huge Bond fan growing up, but I’ve warmed up to the series in recent years. My father was always a huge Bond fanatic and we watch VHSs to this day.

When I was trying to decide what to get my dad as a souvenir, I searched Google for a Bond museum or shop. Lo and behold – the London Film Museum was showing “Bond in Motion,” an exhibit featuring the authentic 007 vehicles from the franchise’s past 50 years.

When I had asked one of my brothers what he wanted as a souvenir, he sarcastically asked for an Aston Martin.

This exhibit was essentially killing two birds with one stone – bring home a gift for my dad, and make my brother insanely jealous that I, a car “hater,” would have the audacity to stand next to a fleet of Aston Martins featured in some of his favorite films. (I don’t even know if 500 horsepower is a thing, but it makes my title sound cool!) (If he reads that, he will probably rip his hair out.)

And that, my friends, is vengeance.

P.S. I got him his Aston Martin, but I don’t think it’s quite the scale he was implying.

A Great Exhibition

Those who regularly visit the Victoria & Albert Museum may be familiar with the first Great Exhibition, held in the very spot where the museum rests. It was a global event designed to celebrate and showcase the world’s many great new innovations (one of which was photography).

The museum strives to provide visitors with a well-informed, experiential, and familiar (yet unbelievable) environment. Walking through the many rooms, one can view beds from the 1800s, sketches from the 1660s, jewelry and silver from the 1700s, and even myriad household items from the 20th century. If you think of anything, it could quite possibly be in that museum. I have visited before, so I know what some other halls contain, but I discovered so many new sections upon visiting a second time.

However, in my opinion, the best part about this museum is its interactive learning exhibits. Today, I was able to experience a Balenciaga convertible skirt/cape and a 1700s hoop and petticoat.

Although the garment was shown as a skirt in its exhibit case, none of us could contemplate how to tie it correctly. Thankfully, it also functioned as a cape, which was easy enough to figure out.

The newest way to smuggle CVS candy into the movie theatre.

Being able to experience something is one of the best ways to learn about it. This is why I love the V&A; most non-science museums are “look-but-don’t-touch”, but this museum encourages the immersive learning of all kinds of history.

I Have Been Changed For Good

Tonight’s excursion was a field trip to the Apollo Victoria for a showing of Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked. I saw the show in Boston 7 years ago and decided to tag along tonight to experience it again.

What an amazing, beautiful, wonderful decision.

This show was far superior to Boston Opera House, where the sets are temporary and portable. No, this was the real deal.

I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in a theatre that was built specifically for the show. I remember absolutely loving it, being amazed at the complexity of the set, props, and mechanics of the stage.

In terms of that amazement, tonight was no different.

The stage, theatre, sets, etc. were all built specifically for Wicked. The vocals were beyond comparison — I daresay Willemijn Verkaik was better than Idina Menzel. Everything moved, the set had rhythm, the lighting was beyond spectacular. I wanted to belt out Defying Gravity, and sobbed during For Good. This show was definitely worth it.

Might I say, it was wicked awesome?

An Entire New England Summer in Just One Day

Rain, shine, rain, shine, rain, rain with shine.

We started off the day with a nearly twenty-minute soak in order to catch the closest Underground station (unfortunately, our usual was closed due to power outages)… during rush hour… along with everyone else who couldn’t catch the main line at Tower Hill.

How joyous does that sound? Sopping wet, vinyl-clad and sweating humans all piled into Tube cars with little to no breathing room (or pure, unadulterated oxygen).

Quite the treat, let me tell you.

My main gripe of today was all the walking and all the rain and all the walking in the rain. Had we been dancing in the rain, I might have had a different perspective, but walking is not my favorite sport, and as my podiatrist will tell you, it’s not a winning talent of mine.

However, I am here not only to complain, but to celebrate. So here are the celebratory sections of my day:

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

While New York’s establishment has much better wayfinding, the London location has much more to offer. “The Spirit of London” was a fascinating little ride smacked right in the center of it all. My absolute favorite part was the final walk-through: Star Wars. Young Han Solo will forever be my favorite character, and I got to sit in Greedo’s spot and challenge 1977 Harrison Ford to shoot first (albeit this Solo couldn’t exactly draw his blaster).

The exterior facade of a café where we had some lunch before heading over to the British Museum. The typography is modern, inviting, and fitting for the environment.

British Museum

I entered the British Museum with the intention of exploring the Egyptian mummy collection, and I was not disappointed. I was expecting sarcophagi and tombs and treasures, but never in approximately 30,000 years would I ever expect to see a genuine mummified corpse right in front of me (with only a single sheet of glass to keep it from coming alive and attacking me). I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed the pop art exhibit. Normally I dislike modern art; it seems too conceptual to me. But seeing these pieces in person is more fascinating and real and seems more like art to me (except the likes of Josef Albers; layering squares in a frame could merit an entire opinion column page in the Times).

Peter Rabbit

I’m sure many of my classmates will inform you, but after dinner at a nearby pub we got a tiny little quivering surprise. A baby bunny had wedged itself in the doorway of the pub, looking for a safe place to burrow. I had the honor of holding him snug in a jacket while we deliberated what to do with him. I’m glad to say he has been released in a pleasant little park on Tower Hill.


    A view of Tower Bridge from our boat tour on the River Thames.

The last time I was in London, I had a guided coach tour of the city. This whole Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour idea is bloody brilliant! We were able to see parts of the city that I had never even seen before, all from the comfort of an open-air double decker rooftop. Then, we could hop off and hop back on whenever we liked.

This gave us a chance to explore the city in our own way. First, we all took the bus to Westminster Square where we caught the City Tour boat. This brought us down the Thames back to Tower Hill, where we picked up yet another line to Leicester Square.

My little travel group originally hopped off at Leicester to get food (unfortunately of the American variety, but when you’re that hungry, it doesn’t matter too much), but ended up staying for its storefronts. We explored a variety of souvenir shops, all selling the same exact items (which, as you can imagine, was very frustrating… fidget spinners are highly overrated), and then ventured to M&M World, the Nickelodeon Store, LEGO World, and the Kingdom of Sweets (to anyone on this trip reading this, avoid buying Haribo, Kinder Eggs, or Kinder Buenos, etc. in these kinds of shops; a grocery store or druggist is much cheaper).

Having the freedom to explore the city gives us the freedom to explore our interests, and I am so grateful that we are able to do that with this program.

I Won’t Leave, Not When I Just Got Here

Police guard a street entrance to London Bridge earlier today while crowds and TV crews filled the pavement.

I have been in the UK for a few days now. I started in Bagshot to visit my cousin and her family, then spent a day in Edinburgh. When I woke up this morning, my phone nearly buzzed right off the table. Somehow, I knew instantly that there had been another attack. Thankfully I was in Scotland, an 8 hour car ride from the scene of the crime.

I do not know what will happen in the days to come. All the tension from the elections has gotten people fired up and anxious… anything could happen, anywhere, at any time.

But I love travelling and London is one of my favorite cities. So for now, I’m going to enjoy this historic, beautiful, magnificent city and absorb every ounce of knowledge that I can. I will be brave, I will stay safe, and I will be happy. Right here, in this very spot.

As I explore, I will constantly hear Professor Mad-Eye Moody’s voice in the back of my head: “Constant vigilance!”