I’m actually really starting to worry about how little time I have left here in London. It feels like only yesterday that I was frantically typing up my last blog post, talking about how “I haven’t even come close to finding everything that London has to offer, so I’m definitely glad to have two more months of exploration ahead of me” (Crilly, 2013). Now it’s suddenly mid-November and I’m having trouble reminding myself that I’ve actually experienced a lot during my semester abroad.
One of the plus sides of having only two papers to write and one exam to take this term is that I have much more time outside of class to participate in school activities. I’d really recommend that Vassar students studying at UCL take advantage of such activities, because if students are living in a less active dorm like me, participating in school activities is the best way to meet people. The school activity that I chose to join was UCL’s Model United Nations Society and their Debating Society because:
1. I thought clubs that require members to argue with each other would mean that the members are more outgoing and social,
2. The different debate and Model UN tournaments throughout England meant that I could travel during the weekend while still pretending to be productive, and
3. This is apparently my idea of fun.
It turned out that I was mostly right. A neat part about England’s lower legal drinking age than that of the U.S. is that literally every club has a post-meeting hangout at the student bar, which– assuming that other students ignore their coursework as much as I do–means that everyone really get to know other club members. It helps that most of them have amazing backgrounds; 40% of UCL’s student body is made up of international students, and that percentage is even bigger in the Model UN society. For example, here’s a group photo of the UCL delegation at the Oxford MUN conference:
Out of these 13 people, we have the UK, the US, China, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Portugal, France, Singapore, and Lithuania represented. Not to (intentionally) sound pretentious, but it really has been amazing getting to know these incredibly intelligent people and how they view the world. It’s been a little weird to figure out just how much of an influence that the U.S. has on people all over the world (along with how crazy that we seem to everyone in the process).
Travel-wise, it turned out that both societies don’t really go anywhere that is more than a 2-hour train ride away, but I have still had the opportunity to visit both Oxford and Cambridge. I’m actually going to Cambridge again in a couple of weeks, but based on first impressions, Oxford definitely feels like a more commanding, regal town, whereas Cambridge has more of a village-y, student-friendly vibe to it. I’d really recommend at least seeing Oxford, because I’ve found its air of refined elitism really interesting. It seems to me like it could beat out the “Vassar bubble” in that it’s cut off from other big cities, but there’s actually enough to do in the city to persuade students to study there for the rest of their lives.
Probably one of the classiest moments of my life so far was attending a Masquerade Ball (strict Black Tie policy) in the Oxford Town Hall, with a complimentary glass of champagne and a jazz band playing in the background.
Sure, the jazz band only played for one hour, and yeah, the illusion of sophistication was a little ruined by the fact that we were all wearing the same £4 masks that we found in the Oxford costume shop. On the other hand, free champagne. Eat your heart out, Dormal Formal.
Besides my escapades with Debate and Model UN, I’ve done a little more sightseeing and museum-visiting within London. The British Museum is basically a gallery of various artifacts from the last few millennia that Britain wants to show off. As someone who owned a shirt of the Rosetta stone for most of my time in elementary school, that moment when this suddenly popped into view…
…was pretty overwhelming. You can’t really tell it by this this photo, but the well-preserved stone is truly breathtaking: every carved character looks like it was written yesterday.
Deciding to forgo the London Eye, I instead went into St. Paul’s Cathedral. Even though the ticket is absurdly expensive, I absolutely got my money’s worth, especially when I considered that I didn’t pay the even more exorbitant prices for the London Eye. It’s quite frustrating that photos are not allowed to be taken inside the cathedral, because the mosaics above the choir space are worth the price of admission alone. However, the view of the London skyline at the end of the several-hundred-stair climb to the top of the dome made up for the lack of photos taken inside.
The only issue at the top of the dome was how windy it was, which meant that my thoughts were constantly switching between, “This is so beautiful!” and, “There’s a 50% chance that I’m going to drop my iPhone 300 feet above the ground.”
Being at the top of the cathedral, though, really made me think about the vast size of London and all of the things that I could explore. I only have four weeks left during my program, and my weekends are already scheduled with a trip to Dublin next week (with a Polish Model UN friend named Marta), Cambridge Model UN the week after, and potentially Essex the weekend after that. In spite of these planned excursions, I know that I’ll be leaving London with some form of regret that I did not get to do even more during my stay here. What I’ve learned from studying abroad is how much there really is beyond the U.S.–in terms of cities, in terms of arts, in terms of people and the ideas and experiences they can share. And no matter how much you see, or how many people you meet, there will always be the potential for more. I would recommend studying abroad at UCL to everyone, because it’s in a thrilling city, is filled with extraordinary students, and has given me experiences that I just could not have had in the US.