Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Living La Vida London: A Reflection

I've been going over the details of my adventure abroad this past summer in my head so many times that it has become somewhat difficult to describe what I learned there. I met so many people that changed me and did so many things that I have a difficult time summing up my experience when anybody asks how it was over there. But I have to try, and I've been putting this entry off for so long that it might be a hard to cover everything in this one post. I will try, though.

I had planned on studying in England since I was seventeen years old; this was when I took my very first trip over to the United Kingdom with my mom back in 2010 for my senior trip. It’s no secret that I was having a bit of a rough time in school as far as my social life went, so this trip was both fulfilling a dream for me as well as giving me an escape from my less than stellar last year in high school. It was that trip that made me fall in love with England and ever since that time I wanted to go back and study there. Oxford for a semester or so was the original plan, but I wanted to get there any way I could.

Fast forward to the fall semester of 2012 when I was entering my third year of college and felt like I was drifting from place to place without any set plans for my future. Fall of 2012 was also my first year at Southern Utah University. Since my freshman year of college, I had attended Snow College in Ephraim, Utah and Collin College in Plano, Texas. Unfortunately for me, my freshman year of college brought to light some issues that I needed to sort out before I decided to dive back in to living away from home, so I spent my sophomore year of college back in my home state of Texas with my family. This Southern Utah University “thing” was my second shot at living on my own again, so I was a bit nervous.

As a transfer student, I was required to go to the freshman orientation programs so that I could better acclimate myself to the school. It was during this orientation that I was presented with a new graduation requirement called the “EDGE Program”. Basically, each student is required to complete a project of their choice outside of the classroom to better themselves and the world around them in some way. The expected outcome is that each SUU student will be able to learn something that could not be taught in a classroom and grow as an individual. It also looks really good on graduate school applications.
Being the sort of person who gets right on assignments, I started thinking about what I could do to complete this new requirement so that I could graduate before my youngest brother graduates from high school in 2016. I then realized that the answer was right in front of my face: I needed to study in England, just as I had always planned. I suppose I entertained the notion of studying for an entire semester abroad, but I ultimately decided that the summer was a better time frame for me. It was a way for me to ease in to the feeling and idea of living in another country.

My next step was to figure out if I was going to study abroad through SUU or another program, and I ultimately decided to go with the American Institute for Foreign Study, or AIFS. AIFS is an SUU accredited program, so the credits I took abroad would easily transfer to SUU. I then had to go through the process of applying, getting accepted, and then getting through various tedious, but very necessary, paperwork in order to obtain permission from Richmond University in London to study on their Kensington campus. After all that was done with, I got permission to live and study in the city of London for twenty-three days.

The day arrived for me to fly alone to London, and I was terrified. I actually wanted to stay home with my family instead of take a class in a foreign country where I didn't know anybody. Judging by my track record for making friends, I didn't feel like my prospects were very good as far as making connections with other human beings went. But I went. I got on that airplane, by myself, and flew all the way to Heathrow International Airport, by myself. The first day there was a giant haze of people moving all around me and tears falling from my eyes because I realized just how alone I really was. I realized that I could very well be alone like that for almost an entire month, and I did not like that idea. Suddenly I missed everything I ever hated about America and just wanted to be home with familiar people and places. I didn't want to be in this strange place with all these strange people.

I can’t quite recall when it all got better, but it did get better very quickly. I believe things improved drastically when I was invited by some people to go to Westminster Abbey and then also to just walk around London after the tour. This is when I talked to people. I think speaking to people becomes so much easier when taking walks- sitting down with someone and speaking face to face is horribly awkward as far as first interactions go.

From that point on, I did more things with people and actually made friends! I would like to pull back here for a moment and point out that I still have a difficult time speaking with people, so that fact that I was able to make lasting connections with other humans while I was in a completely uncomfortable and unfamiliar place is amazing for me. I am still in awe of myself for doing as well socially as I did while in London.
At this point I would like to point out everything that was awesome about my adventures abroad, but I think that my past blog entries are much more accurate and detailed than anything I could possibly write in this entry. I would like to say a few words, though. This will have to be alright because you are, after all, reading my blog.

I would like to say thank you to the girls who took me under their wing that day and invited me to do something with them. I don’t think any of you will ever understand how much that meant to me and how much that still touches me. I’m not a very sappy person, but I wanted to say that your actions made me so incredibly happy and gave me so much comfort. I felt very lonely and scared before all of you came along. Our paths will probably cross soon enough, I’m sort of counting on that.

To my incredible teacher, Jon Mackley: I don’t even know where to begin. To say that you have become someone that I look up to is very much an understatement. We spent three hours a day, five days a week for three weeks in the same classroom, but that never felt like enough time to really learn all you had to teach me. You are one of the nerdiest people I have ever had the pleasure of learning from, and I felt that I had found I kindred nerdy spirit in you. I do hope that we will see each other again. (I would also like every person reading this to go check out his books, Crossing the Threshold and Heaven’s Devils on Amazon…)

To the cities of London and Paris: I don’t know what to say, really. I will be back to explore your streets again. You both have shown me how “grown up” I can be. I speak mostly of your public transportation systems- I come from a place that doesn't have underground or above ground trains or what seems like hundreds of buses, so those things really tested my patience and sometimes brain power.
I should probably also thank AIFS for allowing me to utilize their program for living abroad for a while, and SUU for getting me moving on an actual plan for studying in England.

This feels too much like an acceptance speech, but I think I needed to thank all those people, places, and organizations because they were all part of the overall experience I had across the pond. I also think that I avoided writing this final post for so long because I didn't want it to be over. I know I've been back in the U.S. for a little over two months now, but I am getting these aches to go back. Well, the aches now feel more like Ireland and less like England, but I would still be going across the Atlantic Ocean.
When all is said and done, I’m glad that I did what I did in England and that SUU pushes its students to “Experience More” as their slogan goes. I am now in my second year here and I think a huge part of that has to do with me growing up a little bit during my adventures in England. I now know I’m capable of a lot more than I give myself credit for, even though I don’t act like it.

My hope through all of this is to not convince others to study abroad because I did, but to study abroad because it will help them grow academically and as a person. Yes, it costs a pretty penny for certain programs, and yes, you will be away from everyone and everything you love. That’s the point, though: you are not always going to be in situations that make you comfortable because life isn't always comfortable. London smacked me around pretty well, and I’m glad it did because now I know that I could live in a place like London and be alright. I know I can do hard things and come out pretty close to on top. If you are considering studying abroad, do it. Don’t look back while you’re doing it because the view from wherever you go is probably a lot better than the view from your easy chair in your house.

Please, for your sake, just go out and do it.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Living La Vida London: Day 23 (The Final Day)

I missed my bus to Stonehenge and Bath but not because I was late. I missed it because I waited for it in the wrong place and couldn't catch up with it when I saw it drive away. I was really looking forward to being out of the city for the day, but I had to go back to my room and figure something else out. I was able to check in for my flight in good time and then decided to try and feel better about my situation by going to Nando's again and then heading to a play called Casualties that is running in a theatre far from where I'm used to hobnobbing around. When I saw far, I mean that it's in a more affordable part of London. You know, where a lot of the shady characters live. Luckily I went there for the matinee, so it was bright and sunny outside. More sun, less crime. After all that, I just went back to my room.

It doesn't sound like I did a lot today, but not getting to do something that you were really looking forward to  and then getting lost in a part of town you're unfamiliar with, AND THEN getting stuck on a Tube two separate times with no way to open a window sort of takes it out of you. I suppose that makes this an emotionally exhausting day. I'm ready to go home now.

I realised that I take any pictures today, but then I remembered that I have a few on my phone.

This photo was taken on my first Monday here in London. I really love it for many reasons, but mostly because that was the first night that I discovered that I have the ability to be so much more than I give myself credit for.

I am in no way Bill Shakespeare's biggest fan, but he represents so many good things for me: the best times I had at Snow College included him and SUU is all about the Bard, so naturally it makes me think of SUU.

This is the inside of the Hogwarts Bridge and this photo reminds me of the day I realised that I really do have the ability to make friends, even if the very thought of doing so makes me extremely nervous.

Paris was one of the best trips I have ever taken, and it has inspired me to go to countries that I'm not familiar with despite what people might say about them. 

The escalators in some of the Tube stations... blessings is what they are. Stairs are so overrated. 

Exhaustion at it's best looking. On the Tube just trying to stay awake and alert.

Did you know that dogs are allowed pretty much anywhere here? That adorable chocolate Lab was waiting to catch the Tube with his master.

London really has been a great experience for me in more ways than one. I learned so much about British fantasy literature and also about what I can do on my own. To put this into perspective: I went 4, 724 miles across an ocean to a foreign country without knowing anybody and was expected to learn and hopefully create a social life for myself while being in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. It was a lot and I am very proud that I was able to both make friends and learn, but especially make friends.

I'm nodding off as I type, so I should sleep. I have a flight in the morning back to my beautiful home country. I will definitely check in as some point before I head off to San Diego Comic Con with my family.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Living La Vida London: Day 22

Today was my first day not going to school while I've been in London this time around so naturally I decided to start it off with missing my train to Cardiff. I didn't get to go to the Doctor Who Experience or Wales, but I did spend a day literally wandering around London. It's pretty amazing that I was able to wander around from about 7:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. I mostly walked from place to place, crossing most of the bridges on foot and passing by all the landmarks. I think my feet started to swell because my ankles looked a little odd by the end of my seemingly endless hike.

I was up early first of all because I had to be out of my dorm room and into my hotel room by, as well as on the train to Cardiff by 7:00 a.m. I went as fast as I could from task to task until I got to the train station at about 6:58 a.m. just as the train was rolling away. It's strange, I actually felt okay that I had missed it and had to stay in London. I really do want to go to Wales and have fun at the Doctor Who Experience, but I also want to be with someone else who also loves the show like I do.

So I got back on the Tube and went to the Tower of London. I sort of sat outside of it for a while, watching people get in the queue for a ticket in the Tower and then sort of got up and left. Before I did, I took this picture.

I then walked to the Millenium Bridge that ultimately leads to the Globe and the modern art museum, but also found this interesting angle of St. Paul's Cathedral. I love the different colored buildings here.

Right before you exit the bridge on the side that the Globe is on, you have this view of St. Paul's and I have to say that it's pretty amazing despite the fact that it's a view of St. Paul's. Obviously I'm not too keen on that building- too many stairs for not enough pay off. It's also very noisey whenever I visit it.

Something cool that I learned on the ghost tour I took is that the London the general population is familiar with is actually made up of two cities: Westminster and London. The entrance of Westminster is marked by a lion and the city of London is marked by a dragon. Yes, a dragon. Part of the reason I like Wales is because they have a dragon on their flag so finding out that the "mascot" of London is a dragon kind of made me excited. So this is one of the dragon statues that marks the entrance of London. This one is on the Blackfriar Bridge. 

I took four photos today, so that's all I have as far as visual aides go. 

For lunch I went to a restaurant my friends from my program raved about called Nando's; this place is basically a Portuguese barbeque and really did live up to all the hype. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to feel some real heat in my mouth again! I chose the medium spice option for my chicken, so it could have been even hotter, but I was still very content. 

After filling my stomach with delicious Portuguese barbeque, I went back to my hotel room and layed on my bed staring out the window for a while. Suddenly I came up with the great idea to take a hot bath- something I haven't been able to do for almost a month now. The bathtub is deep and the soap they provided smells like honeysuckles so I was obviously excited to take a nice bath. I must have fallen asleep in the bath because I all of the sudden woke up to the maid knocking on the door to see if I needed anything. That was nice of her. 

So I got out and was thinking about what I could do with my evening, but then Step Up came on the TV and the Step Up movies are some of my guilty pleasures, so I didn't even think about leaving until it was over. By that time, I was hungry again and decided that falling asleep in the bath was a sign that I need to go to be early today so that I can rock it out at Stonehenge and enjoy the Roman baths in Bath tomorrow. I won't actually be getting near those baths by the way, just so we're clear. Anyway, I watched an English cooking/reality TV show and then Big Brother UK. Some show about a serial killer is on in the background at the moment, so naturally I'm in heaven. I really am fascinated by things like this.

Tomorrow's post will be the last before I finally get to go home! I'm excited to go back to the States and see my family, but I'm sure that I'll miss the UK and France at some point in the future. For now, I will be passing out in preparation for a long day of old things tomorrow.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Living La Vida London: Day 21

I am so tired from today that I almost skipped writing this.
Believe it or not, I got a little sunburnt from taking a boat tour on the Thames and walking around the more "hipster" part of London near the Tate Modern Art Museum. Here are some shots from my adventure over there.

The first thing I discovered was that there is a small beach type area just off the walkway, so I walked myself down there to get closer to the disgusting death water that's probably infested with all manner of disease and mutated fish. I discovered a lot of razors and razor blades on the shoreline, but I also found some shells and sea glass. I'm looking at you, mum. I got you some sand as well!

As you walk down the shore, you'll find a funny musician in the water playing his guitar and singing. When I walked up, he said, "This next song's for all of you recovering Roman Catholics." and I laughed. He was actually pretty good; in other words, he plays the weird kind of folk/rock stuff I really like.

There were so many books near the main part of the action on the walkway. There were probably ten or so of these long rows of tables and they were lined with books! 

And now we come to some of my favorite kind of art: street art. Some people call it graffiti, I call it art. What made it even more awesome was that there were English skaters who were actually pretty good, just tearing it up. I guess you would say they were "shredding" or something, but I don't really speak that language.

Fun fact: I apparently love to take pictures of signs. I suppose my life has just kind of reached that point.

This happens to be the best apple juice I've ever had. I got it freshly squeezed right on the walkway.

This is where the pictures from my boat tour begin. The picture immediately below this is of an ancient Egyptian obelisk given to Britain after they beat France. It's over 3,000 years old, and the former aspiring Egyptologist in me demanded that I take a picture.

 The name of a boat passing by... 'MERICA is what it should read.

The Shard has become one of my favorite things in London. I don't think I'll go to the top of it this time around, but I plan on actually going inside the next time I come.

I'm only slightly obsessed with London's City Hall. I would love to work in that building, not as the mayor or anything. Probably just as a temp or something. Or maybe I'll just wander in there and hang out until they force me to leave. Long story short, every other town hall is lame in comparison.

I've discovered that of all the things I love about London (speaking strictly of structures) Big Ben and it's clock tower are my favorite. I think that I could just wander around the city and see all these amazing things, but if I saw Big Ben at any point in time, I would stop to take its picture. 

So here we are. Another play, and this one really was the best one I've seen the entire time I've been here. It's called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and everything about it was outstanding. It's apparently a book, so I'll have to add that to my list of things to read. I would recommend that you do the same.

This amazing photo is of the star of the show, Luke Treadaway. He plays a fifteen year old boy with Asperger Syndrome, but I would like to point out that he doesn't actually have it. Or any other mental issues... except for the one that caused him to pull the "ugly face for a photo" bit, which is usually my job. I think this photo is cool and that's all that matters.

 And we'll just end with a couple of posters with quotes from the play on them. This is yet another example of me not having enough self-control to pull away from taking these pictures.

Tomorrow I am off to Wales for the day and will likely be completely exhausted by the time I return. I will also have been to Wales, so that's nice. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Living La Vida London: Day 20

I am tired and hungry. I really just want to sleep, but I knew that I would not be pleased with myself if I didn't write something here... I also had enough energy to tweet about getting to listen to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat speak at Comic Con, so I decided that I had no excuse. But that's happening this summer and I am determined to ask them questions and be a bit of a fangirl toward them. They are kind of two of my screenwriting heroes, plus the panel is going to be about Sherlock. I don't think I need to say much more about that.

Today was Harry Potter day in my class and we each got to go around and say how Harry Potter has touched our lives. I remember when I was in third grade that my class had the opportunity to read the first book (this was probably in 2000) and I saw that some of my classmates went to the room next door because their moms didn't want them to read a book about witchcraft. Being the devious little child I was, I concluded that I could read the same book by myself in the other room instead of having to sit criss-cross applesauce with a bunch of other kids. So I lied to the teacher and said that I wasn't allowed to read Harry Potter. I finished the book before they did and didn't think much of it. That summer, my parents took us on a road trip to California, I believe, and they thought it would be nice if we listened to the book on tape. And yes, it was on an actual tape because we drove a van with a tape player. Since then, my dad and I have read the books as they came out and my family usually saw the films together. I think Harry Potter was more of a bonding experience for me with my family than anything else. There were people in the class who found that they loved to read because of the books, or that the story served as an escape for them. I have always read and can honestly say that I love Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games more than I love Harry Potter, but that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate all that it's done for me. I would be more likely to pick up a dystopian novel or a book about serial killers throughout history than to go to Harry Potter, but I do love them and I'm glad that I can be part of a fandom that has some pretty great people.

Enough of that. I went on a ghost tour of London instead of partying with a bunch of drunk Americans on a boat in the middle of the Thames on the 4th of July.

I learned far too many things to mention at this late hour, but I'll be sure to make a post later that is completely dedicated to telling a few stories.
I got to go over the Tower Bridge, which was pretty cool. The traffic also wasn't that bad for a Thursday night.

Me with the tour guide and the guy photobombing the picture was the "health and safety inspector" on the bus. He was an actor. He wasn't a health and safety inspector. He came and sat by me a few times AND he looked like what I imagine Vincent Van Gogh looked like, so that wasn't such a bad deal for me.  

The tour ended and I realised as I was walking back to the Tube station that I am nearing the end of my adventures here in London. You're probably thinking, "Well, duh Christine." but it really hadn't hit me until I almost walked past the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges. I took this opportunity to go on the bridge and take some night pictures like I did all at the beginning of my trip.

I'm starting to think that I'll miss London more than I thought I would. I'll be back. I know I'll be back, and I'm not just saying that. I knew I would be back the first time I came about three years ago, and I know I'll be back at some other point in my life.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Living La Vida London: Day 19

I met someone today, but I'll get to that later.

Today was full of anger, frustration, and heartache all because of this stupid paper I have to write for my class. I got it done, but not without much difficulty. I made myself a promise that if I finished my paper I could go see a play, so I finished the first draft of my paper and headed out to see The Hothouse starring John Simm who plays the Master in Doctor Who.

 I was under the impression that the play was about policeman or something, but was pleased to find that it's about people working at an asylum. This sneaky picture of the set sort of shows how it's set up like one of those auditoriums that they used to view medical procedures in, which kid of gives you a unique perspective regarding the play because you never actually see a single "patient," only the people who work there.
The show was brilliant and I think I found another play that I would eventually like to direct. The man pictured below is Simon Russell Beale who is apparently a pretty prolific stage actor. It makes sense because he was hilarious but was also able to give a poignant performance.

And this is the part where I tell you about the guy I met and pretty much fell in love with. 

 This guy was an absolute joy to watch onstage. He's almost 24 and was not onstage that much, but when he was I was captivated. Now, I initially could not think of where I recognized him from so at intermission the Wi-fi gods saw fit to bless me with some service and I found out that this is Harry Melling... Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter films. I could not believe that I had unwittingly seen a play that had yet another Harry Potter film child in it! But I'm basically obsessed with him as of tonight and I plan on going back another evening to get another picture with him because I'm that in love. I'm not sorry about this Mum and Dad. Basically, #sorrynotsorry for all you hashtaggers out there.

One of the coolest parts of the night though was meeting this girl named Quincey who is originally from Seattle and just finished her master's program at the Royal College of Music in piano performance and both deciding that it was a good idea to try and get a picture with Bonnie Wright, as she's also in a production in London. We had to take the Tube to a stop called "Elephant & Castle" which is in a less well off portion of London and also full of hipsters. Unfortunately we missed her, but we did meet a really nice girl from Uruguay named Daniella who was also waiting for Bonnie... so we all missed her together. I rode the Tube back to a station that would take me back to Kensington with Quincey and walked home a different way than I usually do.

Again, how gorgeous is Kensington? Probably the most gorgeous. 

I will be back to see Harry one last time before I leave because I'm going to be completely honest and say that he is the most attractive guy I've met on my trip. Basically I love Dudley Dursley.