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Month: January 2016

Alexa Jordan | London, England | Post 1

Alexa Jordan | London, England | Post 1

It’s so hard to believe that I’ve officially been in London for 3 weeks!

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In front of the Tower Bridge in London

I’ve moved into my own little flat, met around 53 new classmates (plus teachers and directors), started finding my way around my new school (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts- LAMDA) and explored amazing places around the city like Hampton Court and the Tower of London.

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The Tower of London

Some of my favorite outings have even just been walking around new areas, like Holborn, Hammersmith, Kensington and Notting Hill- where I live! (There’s an amazing market over the weekend on Portabello Road, about 10 minutes away from me, with tons of street vendors in addition to the usual shops and restaurants. I also live right behind a canal!)

Roughly half of the people in my program are staying at Chapter Portabello- a student residence in Notting Hill which is essentially an apartment building designed for students attending universities/conservatories/etc. Aside from having no dining hall and no communal bathrooms, Chapter Portabello is essentially a little dorm with study spaces, computers, a gym and a laundry room all on the ground floor. It’s about 30 minutes away from LAMDA.

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Alexa’s apartment in Notting Hill

Living in my own little apartment has also been such an adventure. There are so many little things that I’m not used to shopping for after two years of being at Vassar (plus 18 years before that living at home). My parents laughed pretty hard when I told them that I bought items like dishrags, toilet paper, and condiments for the first time. I’ve been sending them pictures of my meals almost every night because I’m so proud of myself for getting a handle on grocery shopping and planning meals. It can be a struggle when you get home exhausted at 6:30, at the earliest, so I rely on microwave meals from Marks and Spencer a lot, but I also cook large portions of pasta or stir fry on weekends to store in my fridge. (Marks and Spencer–M&S– is my go-to grocery store that I love love love and fully recommend. There are a ton scattered throughout the city. I go to the one near Notting Hill Gate, or the huge one in Hammersmith if I’m shopping after school.)

In my program, we move through nine different classes in small groups (stage combat, voice technique, acting, historical dance, singing, alexander technique, movement theatre, voice (dialect), and text) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Then on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we go to a rehearsal space called the Diorama, and work on scenes with directors, in different, slightly larger groups. Right now, I’m playing the Dutchess of York and Elizabeth in a scene from Richard III. It took a little adjusting to get used to the fact that none of my classes repeat throughout the week, but now I really like the variety. Everything that we’re doing is very interconnected, so it’s nice to be able to study Shakespeare from so many different angles but still be able to connect everything that I’m learning at the end of the day. (For example, in singing class we’re looking at songs from roughly the same time period as our history plays are set in.) Some of my favorite classes are also surprisingly the ones that I have little to no experience in: who would’ve thought that I’d love practicing stage combat on Monday mornings, and learning new patterns in historical dance at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays? (Okay, I don’t love the “9 a.m.” part so much, but if I have to be in class that early, at least I get to wear a big flowy skirt.)

Looking back over the last three weeks, I’m just now realizing how everything has fallen into place. And yet, if you had told me that they would fall into place this time three weeks ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. Not for a minute. It was cold and rainy. I didn’t know a soul here. I had yogurt and crappy microwave lasagna in my fridge (I clearly hadn’t discovered M&S, my favorite store, yet), and I was extremely frustrated and confused by the fact that the sun goes down around 4:30 p.m. here and doesn’t rise until just before 8 a.m. Coming to a completely new place, all alone, has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s also been the most rewarding. I’m literally building a life here from the ground up. I look around at my friends and can’t believe that I couldn’t remember their names a couple weeks ago. I catch myself getting lost in an exercise and think “remember how intimidating and scary you thought studying theatre at a renowned conservatory in London was going to be?”

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Please don’t think that I think I know everything, because I absolutely do NOT. Seriously. I’m still working on trying to understand why the sun goes down so early and rises so late. But I have learned a lot about myself, and done a lot of incredible things over the last three weeks. There’s still so much exploring to do, but my life is no longer “a million moving pieces”- as I frequently described it my first week or so here. As scary as it is to not have a routine down or know what’s what for a while, that “million moving pieces” phase is kind of unavoidable and necessary. There are so many things that no one can really prepare you for when going abroad, and I’m not going to act like a sage and list little pieces of wisdom for you here (maybe I’ll do that in future blog posts).

But for now I’ll leave you with this: saying yes to everything, not being too hard on myself and staying grateful/positive have been the three nicest things I’ve been able to do for myself. Yes, I’ll go on the “Jack the Ripper” tour even though I’ve been out every night this weekend and I’d usually stay in.  Yes, I’ll come to your birthday dinner even though I don’t know you that well. Yes, I’ll come to high tea on Saturday morning at 11 even though I’m exhausted from my first week of classes. By “not being too hard on myself” I mean that I’ve been giving myself more credit than I usually would for just showing up. I have a huge tendency to beat myself up for the smallest things, but when everything is new you have to give yourself credit for things like grocery shopping in under half an hour, or getting to bed before midnight. Because at the end of the day, no matter how overwhelmed I am by intense classes, balancing work and play, and trying to bond with everyone- I’m living by myself for the first time, in a new country, going to a new school, with great new friends, doing what I love all day long. That’s something to be really grateful for that can change my mood in a matter of seconds.

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Until next time!

Elizabeth Dean | London, England | Post 1

Elizabeth Dean | London, England | Post 1

Hello from London!

This semester I’m studying abroad in London, and it’s my first experience overseas. I’m so excited by the program so far, even though we’re just getting started. This week was the beginning of classes, and I just had my first class at University of London, Goldsmiths today. I’m going to start at the beginning, though, and tell you about my first week in the UK!

The journey began with a seven hour long flight from Newark, New Jersey to Heathrow Airport, where I joined the other Vassar students that I’m traveling, learning, and living with abroad–it’s been a great comfort to have these friendly and familiar faces along for the ride.

I’ve never taken such a long flight, let alone overnight, and wasn’t sure what to expect. The only thing I can tell you is not to expect sleep if you’re as excited (and as bad at sleeping sitting up) as I was. When we landed at Heathrow, a quick trip through surprisingly friendly immigration officers sent us on our way to our director, who met us at the airport. We spent the first three days in the UK doing a program orientation, where we get acclimated to the city of London and settle a little into our new lives–resetting sleep schedules post-jet lag, getting phones or British notes, confronting the Tube, etc.

For these first few days, we stayed in a hotel in the London neighborhood of Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames, in the London Bridge area. The neighborhood used to be home to London’s more industrial areas of warehouses and wharves, but in the last few decades has undergone a revitalization–and arguably a degree of gentrification–that has made parts of the neighborhood attractive to tourists and young professionals. Think Brooklyn or inner-harbor Baltimore. The neighborhood was packed with cute cafes and pubs, and backed up against the historic and adorable outdoor Boroughs Market.

The London Bridge area

What’s struck me most so far about London is best represented by something I saw in Southwark. Near Clink Street (so named for its proximity to a historic former prison) there is a single, ancient chapel wall rising from the ruins of an 11th century building with the remains of a stone rose window. Immediately beneath and using a patio in the shadow of this wall, is a Pret a Manger. This layering of city on city–ancient monument under modern convenience chain, national history rubbing against globalized commodification–is what London has come to represent for me so far.

Later in our stay, my group has spent time with our director learning about the historic layering, repurposing, renovating, and growth of the city. We took a bus tour around the city, where I saw a view of the Shard (a recent building and the tallest in Europe) peeking out from behind a section of the ruined wall of Roman Londinium.

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The Shard peeking around an old building–layers of city!

We later climbed to the top of the Shard, where I could see the intricacies of the layered city laid out in the curving streets below.

View from the Shard

It was funny to look down from the Shard onto the London Eye, which we rode a few days before, and remember how high I thought we were then. The Shard is breathtakingly tall and aesthetically pretty to me, despite its departure from old London stone-brick-and-buttress architecture. My favorite modern building, though, has to be the “gherkin”–it’s so cute! The class has also visited the Tate Modern and many fun and diverse restaurants up and down Southwark.

Although we’ve moved out of Southwark and into New Cross to study at Goldsmiths, the cultural learning has definitely not abated. Today I had my first classes at Goldsmiths, and the lecture-seminar format will definitely take some getting used to. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying my classes and especially enjoying living in a flat and cooking for myself (sorry not sorry, Deece). I can’t wait to update again in a couple weeks, when I’ve gotten the chance to do more in central London!