I’m relaxing in my room with tea, Bon Iver, and a stackload of reading that I’m procrastinating on, so I thought that it would be the perfect time to write a new blog post.
This past week was my first week of classes, which went really well! I feel like I should give a little bit of background on my program. I’m studying at Queen Mary, University of London, which is located in London’s East End. The University of London actually encompasses a ton of different universities around the city—It’s comparable to the University of California system in the States. One thing that makes Queen Mary unique is that it actually has a centralized campus. A lot of other London students have to take public transit from their dorms to their classrooms, but here, I can walk to class in five minutes. A lot of the campus actually reminds me of Northeastern—it’s urban and modern, but there are still nice facilities and grassy areas.
Throughout history, the East End has been home to London’s slums—it was a very different place than the West End where the wealthy (and royals!) lived. East London was home to poorer immigrant communities, and when these communities became more prosperous, they would move out as newer immigrants moved in. Actually, in the middle of QM’s campus, there is an old Sephardic Jewish/Spanish/Portuguese graveyard from the 16th century. If the Zombie Apocolypse takes place in the next few months, I’ll be the first to know. (Seriously, it’s really creepy looking.) East London is also where Jack the Ripper killed his prostitute victims in the 1800s. I’m really excited to do a Jack the Ripper walking tour—I’ve heard that they’re awesome. Today, East London is home to a large Bangladeshi community. On part of my walk to the grocery store, it almost seems like I could be pushing my way through a market in South Asia instead of England. (The architecture gives the illusion away though—the buildings are most decidedly British.) East London is definitely a very different London than the part that most tourists see when they come here. I like it though—I feel like I’m getting a more authentic experience, in a way. I’m also close to some of the best Indian food in town, which is always a plus.
Okay, sorry for the amateur history lesson. Anyway, I started my classes this week, and I’m pretty happy with them so far. I’m taking four English classes: The Dickens City, Representing London in the 18th Century, Postcolonial Literature, and Feminist Thought. Classes here only meet once a week, so this is my grueling schedule: On Mondays, no class! On Tuesdays, I have class from 2-4. On Wednesdays, no class again! On Thursdays, I have TWO whole classes, from 10-1 and 3-5. And on Fridays, I have class from 10-12. I obviously have way more free time than I usually do in class at home, which is working out pretty well for me, I must say. Grading is different here too—you’re only graded based on what you write. (No attendence points, participation points, etc. Just your midterm essay and your final essay.) The classes are definitely going to be a good amount of work—I’ll be doing a ton of reading and eventually writing quite a few papers. I’m happy with it though. With the Dickens and Representing London classes especially, I feel like I’m getting a heightened study abroad experience. It’s cool to learn about a city’s history and literature while having the ability to explore that city at the same time. Both of those classes will involve field trips and walking tours, and we’ll be expected to “read the city as text,” which I think is really interesting. (Sidenote: Just because I’m raving about these classes now, don’t think that I won’t be complaining when papers are due. Believe me. I will be very whiny.)
One more thing before I stop showing how much of a nerd I am. I had an hour to kill in between classes on Thursday, so I stepped into the library to get some reading done. The library is very nice, although kind of small—maybe I’m just spoiled from Snell? (The largest academic library in Boston, NU tour guide shoutout!) However, they have a nice cafe with Costa Coffee, which is pretty good, so I grabbed a cup and sat down. I then noticed an entire wall of the day’s newspapers and magazines—The Independent, The Times, The Financial Times, The Times Literary Supplement, The London Review of Books, The Economist, The Guardian, The Observer, and so on. Obviously I didn’t get any of my class reading done, because I was sitting next to some of the best journalism written in English, and it was all free! I like reading newspapers anyway, but it’s especially interesting to read foreign papers, where perspectives and opinions differ from articles in American papers. So I was really excited about that. Whenever I feel like reading up on current events or procastinating on a paper, I know where to go.
Alright, enough of academics. This weekend, I had fun exploring more of London. London is actually getting an insane heat wave right now! For the past five days or so, the weather has looked like this:
The past few days have all been around 80 degrees and sunny and beautiful! It’s extremely out of season for English weather, and all the British students I’ve talked to are very bewildered. As a result, it’s been an awesome few days of walking around the city, taking in all the gorgeous sights, and people-watching. Campus has been filled with students relaxing on the grass by the canal all week. The only downside is that I packed NO summer clothes, so things have been pretty sweaty over here. Also, I spent a lot of time riding the Tube this weekend, which is probably not ideal if you don’t enjoy feeling like you’re descending into the fiery pits of Hell. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get back to some proper English weather with rain and lower temperatures, but this has been so nice!
On Friday after class, me and my Northeastern friends Kristen and Eliza ventured out to walk down the Thames in central London. We had a lot of fun taking pictures, enjoying the weather, and we decided to ride the London Eye, which was very cool.
After walking around, we went to the London School of Economics, where Eliza’s boyfriend is studying abroad. Eliza and Sean went off, while Kristen and I enjoyed a pint at the LSE student pub (which was WAY classier and older than Queen Mary’s.) One of the different things about the UK is that there aren’t open container laws here, so when the weather is nice, everyone stands outside with their beers and socializes. It’s pretty cool—me and Kristen ended up talking to two nice LSE grad students from Canada. We exchanged impressions of London and talked about how great British humor is. Afterwards, we headed back to Queen Mary, where we went to one of the local college-y pubs, which is quickly becoming a go-to favorite.
On Saturday, I got up early because I had signed up to attend an international college admissions fair for Northeastern. The fair was in Kensington, so I figured out which Tube lines I had to take, and was on my way. The Tube is very accessible and easy to get around, and I love how trains come just about once a minute. (A luxury after spending three years living on Boston’s Green Line!) However, since the Tube is so vast and old, closures of certain stops and lines happen all the time, especially on weekends. I got to Notting Hill Gate to find out that I couldn’t transfer from the Central line to the Victoria line because it was closed. Luckily, I had my handy London A-Z map book in my purse, which I successfully used to navigate my walk to the fair. Did you hear that, Dad? No smartphone navigation, no printed-out Google Maps directions, but a real-live map. London streets are complicated too, so I was pretty proud of myself. Also, Notting Hill and Kensington are absolutely gorgeous. I walked through a lot of residential streets and pretty much wanted to cry at how adorable and perfect the houses were. There were also a lot of people outside, walking dogs or picking up their papers, and most of them waved or said hello to me. It’s times like this when I’m pretty sure that I’m in love with this city.
I love how a lot of English pubs have flowers all over the outside, but this one in Notting Hill really took the cake.
The college fair went well; I stood at a Northeastern table with 2 other students and an Admissions officer, and we talked to British high schoolers interested in coming to study in the States. The fair was absolutely huge…every college I’ve ever heard of had a table, and there was a line of students down the street waiting to get in. Honestly, I don’t know why you would choose to pay 50,000 dollars a year to come to school in the US when you could stay home in the UK for 12,000 pounds a year (the highest price in recent history thanks to UK budget cuts.) But that’s just me. One of the good things about US universities is that the education is much more broad and liberal-arts focused. In the UK, you pick your major, and you spend three years at university studying only that subject. There isn’t room for a single elective, and you’re not supposed to change your mind and switch majors.
Afterwards, I set out and explored Kensington, a rich neighborhood in West London (actually Westminster.) There was amazing shopping on the main road, and then I took a left to walk down a gorgeous street with Kensington Palace on one side and stately mansions of foreign embassies on the other. Kensington Palace was the official residence of Princess Diana, and apparently Harry stays there now when he’s in London. I looked and looked, but I couldn’t find him!
After that I was starving, so I got lunch at Cafe Diana, a nearby Lebanese restaurant where Princess Diana used to come get pitas sometimes. The entire inside is a shrine to Princess Di—the walls are covered with framed photos of her, including a few of her in the restaurant with the owners. So that was kind of cool, and my falafel wrap was delicious.
After lunch, I walked around Kensington Gardens, which was absolutely beautiful. The warm weather had brought everyone outside to the park, and I had a great time people watching and taking pictures of the gorgeous flowers in the “Enchanted Garden” section. There were kids playing everywhere, leash-less dogs running around fetching sticks, old men feeding the ducks and swans, and people rollerblading and riding London’s rentable Barclays bikes. There were also a ton of couples having picnics—one attractive older couple was drinking red wine out of wine glasses and playing chess on a fancy, old-fashioned wooden set on their blanket. I sincerely hope that when I’m in my sixties, my husband and I will drink red wine and play chess together in a beautiful London park.
On Saturday night, I hung out with some friends and we ended up at a bar in East London. It was a fun, low-key time. London nightlife is crazy, but it’s definitely too expensive to go to the wildest venues every weekend. On Sunday, I ventured to Camden Market with my friend Liz and her flatmate. Camden Market was really cool—it’s in North London, and it’s a huge market that has an alternative/punk flair. There were a lot of stalls where you could buy all kinds of ethnic food, kitschy Union Jack tshirts, Goth outfits, posters, crafts, jewlery, etc. My favorite part was a huge underground area that used to be a stable. Everything down there was vintage, and they had a lot of cool clothes, old teacups, and, my favorite, secondhand books! I found a collection of Shakespeare’s complete works from the 1800s, which was exciting. Didn’t buy anything, but I had fun looking around.
There was a lot of cool grafitti inside one of the buildings.
Sounds like my kind of place!
Alright, it’s time for me to end the longest blog post in the world. If you actually read this whole thing, I’m impressed and flattered! Till next time :)