Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Some Long-Overdue Logging

So it's been awhile. I have good reasons, I swear. There's been so much going on in the last few weeks, especially trips, and I'll tell you a little bit about it now, with a few illustrations. (I've set my Facebook albums so that anyone can view them; click a photo to look at the corresponding album!)

Four weekends ago now, we (as a study abroad group) went to Paris for the weekend. This trip was included in our fees for the London program, so everyone went. I, of course, had never been before, so that was fine with me! I was initially afraid about not knowing the language, but that quickly proved itself to be a non-issue. Most French people can speak English, even if they don't want to, and even then, it's pretty easy to get by when buying things just by presenting the correct amount of euros and saying, "Merci!" It was a fun trip; it's a very pretty city with a lot of well-planned out landmarks. The Louvre Museum is huge and very impressive, and Paris beats London in the food contest hands-down.

Of all the places I've been this semester, Scotland is my favourite (at least so far). Through the school, a group of us took a bus tour that left from Edinburgh and took us through the Highlands to Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. It was an incredible experience. Scotland is a beautiful place in its own way (mountains and endless plains and incredible ocean views; that kind of thing). It was also cool to learn about traditional Scottish culture, which the people are very proud of. I wished I could afford to buy a kilt by the time I was done; they're expensive because a kilt is the Scottish equivalent to a nice suit or even a tuxedo. (Also, Scrooge McDuck is a native Scotsman, so the country wins by default.)

Bath, the Cotswolds, and Stonehenge

The next weekend, Carrie and I decided we'd take a weekend trip. A few hours' bus ride later, we found ourselves in the small but beautiful city of Bath, England, home of the natural hot springs that the Romans treasured and used a LOT when they were occupying the country way back when. Today the hot springs are still doing their age-old thing, and there's a modern spa you can go to if your wallet is so inclined (ours weren't). It's a beautiful, historic city with some interesting architecture and a friendly atmosphere. We also took a day-long bus tour from Bath to see the nearby little villages and landmarks all around the nearby Cotswolds region, eventually ending up at the ancient and mysterious Stonehenge. We decided that the most interesting things about Stonehenge were not that stones themselves, but rather in the distance all around the landmark, you can easily see these rather large burial mounds that were made thousands of years ago and exist still today.

And finally, I spent my last weekend in Wales. This trip was different from the others, as it had nothing to do with famous landmarks (as Wales has none, just a ton of sheep) and everything to do with adventure. Saturday, we hiked seven miles along the cliffy coast in the morning and went coasteering in the afternoon. Coasteering is basically where you get on a fullbody thermal wetsuit, you go climb around on those coastside cliffs, and you jump off of them into the chilly water, swim around, climb around, jump some more, and generally have a lot of fun. I'd do it again, I think. On Sunday, we sea-kayaked, which was also a great time. We got to see a seal close-up and some coastal caves and lots of fun waves. I was glad to have a break from sightseeing, I must admit, and this was the perfect trip for it.

And we can't forget, of course, that I've been living and going to school in London this whole time! Living in London is pretty much like living in any big city, I suspect (which is the most I can do since I've never actually done it before). I realized yesterday that I stopped noticing how stunning the buildings on my street are; like anything, you start to take it for granted after awhile. Living in the city does have its plusses; pretty much anything you want to do is at your fingertips: museums, musicals, shops of all kinds, restaurants, parks, music, et cetera and all that. And while I'll be glad to be home come December, I certainly won't ever regret coming abroad; it's making me see things in a different light and appreciate a lot of things I took for granted before.

Time to go. Maybe I'll write again soon; who knows! Cheerio!

(P.S.: If you go to Fisher, I hope you've been watching out for my 'Skip and Cal in London' comic strips in the Lifestyles section of every edition of the Cardinal Courier. A couple of quirky Rochesterian animals in London; what could be better?)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The adventures begin!

Hello, friends and family! As you surely know, I'm in London now! Let me tell you how it's been.

Monday morning I arrived at the Buffalo airport. We flew to Washington, DC, had a two hour layover, and then had our 6+ hour flight over the Atlantic to London Heathrow Airport. As much as I knew I should sleep on the flight (to cut down on the jetlag -- it was 6pm at DC when we left, and would be 6am in London when we landed), and as much as I tried to sleep, it simply did not happen. Check out the awesome photo of the Thames (that's pronounced 'temz') River I took from the plane as we flew over the city.

I'm living in Kensington, which it turns out is one of the classier parts of London. Just look at the street I live on! It's quite a sight. I'm living in Ambassador House, so-named because it is right next-door to the actual French Ambassador. Apparently he hates us, and I don't blame him; the walls are paper-thin, and you know how loud university students on their way back from the pub can be. According to our RD, on the day that students move out every year, the ambassador and his wife sit out on their balcony and toast the wonderful occasion.

I'll admit, I was kind of grumpy my first day. I blame it on a combination of not sleeping for 31 hours straight and on culture shock. When suddenly cars are coming at you from the wrong direction and you're the one with the weird accent, it can be a bit much to take. Fortunately, that all passed after I slept the first night, and it's been an excellent time ever since! I love living in the city: being able to walk anywhere and do anything whenever you feel like it without ever stepping foot on a gas pedal. Being unique in a crowded city of unique individuals; it's a great feeling.

The school sent us on two great tours the first couple days here. First, a walking tour of the Kensington area, including Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana lived, beautiful Hyde Park, which NYC's Central Park was modeled after, and Kensington High Street, a shopping center to rival any mall I've been to. The next day we took a bus tour of the city, and were shown all of the major areas and landmarks. It was very educational and made me very excited to come explore these places on my own time. Both of our tour guides, native Londoners, were excellent. During the tours, I couldn't help but notice how proud they were of their culture and history. One thing in particular that I noticed was that the bus tour guide referred to Gordon Brown as "our prime minister", whereas as Americans we would refer to Obama as simply "the president".

This first week was Orientation Week, and as such, the school encouraged us to explore London by subsidizing some touristy activities in the city. For example, yesterday most of went to take a ride on the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel-type construction that was originally built as the Millennium Wheel. It was so popular that they've decided to keep it around indefinitely, and it certainly does provide an excellent view of the city from above. The night before last, we went on an evening boat ride up and down the Thames, which provided an equally excellent view of many the city's landmarks, but from the viewpoint of low tide this time. (What you see on the right is actually quite a rare event; Tower Bridge barely ever opens up anymore, and if a boat wants it to, they have to request it at least 24 hours in advance. We were lucky enough to see it firsthand during our bus tour!)

Well, I think this is about enough for now. Congratulations if you've read this far! Maybe I'll send you a biscuit. My classes start tomorrow, but I don't expect any trouble from them. I'll write again sometime soon. You can always find me on Facebook; just remember that I'm 5 hours ahead of you!


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It approaches!

So here it is. There's no pretending it's not happening any longer (not that I'd want to). I'm going to London -- the furthest I've ever been from home -- for the entire Fall 2009 semester. I know it's going to sound cliché and all, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway. Such is the nature of a blog. I'm hoping I'll be able to direct friends and family members here when they ask about my adventures, and also hope it'll help convince students to go abroad in the future. I know this is the sort of thing that helped convince me!

I depart from the Buffalo airport at 2:21 PM on August 31st (Note: Stalkers, please ignore that sentence.) This is less than a month away, if you're keeping track. Less than a month! I'd better get organized.

A few minutes ago I finally bit the bullet and purchased tickets for weekend and day trips during the semester through the school I'll be at (which is Richmond, the American International University in London, in case you're wondering, while the program I'm going there through is AIFS). You can see details of the trips here if you're curious; the ones I'm going on are Scotland, Wales, Stonehenge/Bath, and Cambridge. (The picture on the left is of the national park in Wales.)

So, why am I going to London? Studying abroad is something that's been in the back of my mind for a long time. I'm going because I'm an English major, love the language, and am a big fan of British culture, and thus want to get to know it in the way you can only by living in it. My biggest reason for going, though, is best expressed in this paragraph excerpted from my application essay to the London program (please excuse the "You won't be sorry if you pick me!" sort of language; such is the nature of application essays):
But that is not the only reason I want to study abroad. Who am I? This is a question that every individual asks of him- or herself at some point in life, and this is a question that I have been slowly discovering the answer to for the past few years. I have so many interests – English, art, computers, psychology, and cooking, to name just a few – and so you might not be surprised that I have found it difficult to forge a distinct definition of myself. I believe that immersing myself in a culture entirely different from my own will help me in this quest of self-definition. Away from my usual, comfortable environment, I will be able to recognize the aspects of myself that still remain no matter what the circumstances. It is through this quest of self-definition that I hope to find my place in the world – my role in history. And will I get all of that just from a semester in London? Probably not, but it’ll be a big step in getting there, and it’s a step I’m willing and excited to take.
Anyway, that's all I have to say for now. Check back periodically to follow my adventures! Whenever I make a new post here, I'll try to make note of it on Facebook and Twitter for those who are connected to me there. Cheerio!