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.
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.
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.
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!