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Month: March 2016

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 3

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 3

As an English major, I have become somewhat accustomed to the frequency with which I am asked to devour and digest literature. Not uncommon is the request that one breeze through a novel of three hundred pages in a weekend, and this for a single class. Therefore both comforting and taxing is the fact that a similar tempo exists in the British education system. For one of my classes, a study of gender and sex in nineteenth century literature, I will have read seven novels at the time of writing this post, in addition to writing some four thousand words in the form of weekly responses.

Unlike the small liberal arts education that we all know and love, however, students of Exeter University enroll in a specific “college,” and take only classes focused in a single subject, I having enrolled in the College of Humanities. As such, rather than a classroom full of diverse interests and majors, classes are comprised of largely like-minded students. Also unlike Vassar, rather than taking four or five classes, one is constrained only to two classes, if both are advanced level (what we would call 300-level). Because of this reduced schedule, classes are far more intensive, and the increase in free time results in higher volumes of work outside of the classroom. A benefit of such a narrow educational emphasis is the opportunity to explore more closely a certain field. Had I known that not taking calculus was an option, I would have moved to England a long time ago.

In order to fulfil my language requirement at Vassar, rather than taking French or Spanish or something practical, I decided to throw caution to the wind and study Old English: in all senses of practicality, perhaps a mistake; in terms of enjoyment and interest, thrilling and fascinating. To study the very roots of the language you speak on a daily basis without a second thought is both engaging and enlightening. After spending a semester leaning the ins and outs of the language itself, and then another semester translating the infamous Beowulf out of the original Old English, I had become somewhat accustomed to its quirks. As such, when the opportunity arose to take an Old English poetry class here in the UK, I jumped on the chance.

There exist today only four collections of Old English: the Junius manuscript, the Vercelli Book, the Norwell Codex, and the Exeter Book. For some reason that escapes me, it was not until I arrived here in England that I made the connection between the city in which I was staying and the eponymous Old English tome. The largest collection of the bunch, the Exeter Book contains poetry, riddles, and more. Imagine, then, my excitement when I was told that my class would be viewing the ancient and priceless collection of poetry first-hand. Located in Exeter Cathedral in the heart of the city proper, the Exeter Book has been housed there since the 11th century when it was donated by Leofric, Bishop at Exeter. Although originally part of a larger collection of tomes, the Exeter Book is the only one that remains in the cathedral library. While normally off-limits to the public, my class was granted special permission to have a private session with the resident librarian at the cathedral.

Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral
Exeter Cathedral

It was particularly blustery that morning as I made my way across town to the towering cathedral. The ornate stone spires groaned against the wind, and I met my class behind the building at the library area. Together we were led down a couple of hallways and into a back office. In place of the velvet ropes, laser sensors, and armed guards that I was expecting, was instead a simple wooden and glass case that housed one of the foundational texts of the English language. It was, to say the least, awe-inspiring. Lying before me was the source of many of my hours of study, impressive and weighty in its simplicity. Made from completely natural ingredients–parchment made from hides, ink from minerals, etc.–the Exeter Book was just that: a book. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but the plainness of the artifact only added to its mystery.

The Exeter Book
The Exeter Book
The Exeter Book
The Exeter Book
The Exeter Book
The Exeter Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being able to view personally an object of such historical significance was a one-of-a-kind experience. And I suppose that’s the purpose of studying abroad: to try new things, to have unique encounters, and to broaden one’s horizons. I’m thrilled that such an incredible chance to reconnect with my origins as an English major, and I hope other students have similar opportunities in their futures abroad.

 

 

Shereen Sodder | Bologna, Italy | Post 3

Shereen Sodder | Bologna, Italy | Post 3

Though I’ve been in Bologna for almost three months, I’m still far from knowing all about this city. For example, after seeing a play, my friend and I got lost on our way home, took a random bus headed in the general direction we needed, and tried to find our way back to the center of town without any maps. I saw the white and black lights of Sephora like a beacon in the distance that led me home (pretty proud that my knowledge of where all Sephoras are finally paid off). Another example of my lack of knowledge of the city is how I stumbled upon the Terrazza Panoramica, a terrace at the top of the Basilica di San Petronio that is pretty much hidden except for a small sign at the back of the church that leads you through the gift shop and up an extremely rickety lift to a beautiful view of the city and the Appennini. My friend and I were both pretty sketched out by the whole situation until we got to the top of the church and found out that it was actually a thing.

View from the Terrazza Panoramica
View from the Terrazza Panoramica

I’ll have much more time to explore the city now that my class at the University of Bologna has ended. Lessons finished in the first week of March, giving me a month to study for the final exam that determines my entire course grade. My studying time has been interrupted by several trips (not the worst type of study break, so I’m totally fine with it) to Ravenna, Mantova, Ferrara and London. In Ravenna it was cold and rainy all day, so we were all pretty done with that trip once the guided tour ended even though the city’s mosaics were definitely worth seeing. Ravenna used to be a capital of the Roman Empire, so there’s a ton of pretty and important buildings there. It’s also in Romagna, which is where piadine (basically Italian pita bread) come from. Before leaving I had a piadina with pecorino and fig preserves, which was so good, and I should really be eating more of these instead of living off of tortellini tbh.

The trip to Mantova, a city in southern Lombardy, was for my urban history course, but even though the trip was for learning my favorite part was eating fried frogs. Apparently this is a thing in Mantova, so for lunch I decided to try it out and received a literal mountain of deep fried entire frogs. They tasted pretty similar to fish, and even though it was weird that they were still intact and I could see their feet and bones and stuff and had many questions about it (like how are frogs prepared for consumption? Does one peel frogs?), I definitely enjoyed that experience.

Fried frogs
Fried frogs in Mantova

The trip to Ferrara was the following Sunday, and I’ve already decided that the castle and surrounding moat in the city will be my future home.

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We had a huge lunch and a nice tour of the city despite the rainy weather, but our meeting with Giorgio Bassani’s daughter (Bassani is a famous Italian author who wrote about Ferrara a lot and whose 100th birthday just passed) was so long. Even our professors were trying to get out of there, but this woman just kept on talking for literally an hour and a half longer than the scheduled end time. She had sick electric blue eyeshadow though #goals.

I spent the weekend after midterms visiting a friend studying in London. My two main reasons for the trip were to 1) buy all the British makeup that Stansted would let me take on the flight back and 2) eat non-Italian food, i.e. poached eggs and spicy things. My first meal in London was eggs royale, which is eggs benedict with smoked salmon instead of Canadian bacon and now I know that there’s an actual word for that. Over the next few days I had Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian, and Indian food, all of which I greatly missed. I definitely love the food here in Bologna, but the options for non-Italian food are pretty scarce. There’s a good Chinese restaurant near me (and the owners know to bring me the vat of chili sauce when I sit down), but it was nice to have more than one non-Italian option for once. In between all this eating I also climbed the Monument (that spiral staircase almost killed me tbh), visited Camden Market and bought a ton of dark chocolate digestives.

View from the Monument
View from the Monument
Camden Market
Camden Market

I also visited the National Gallery with another friend abroad (Hi Bitsy), and we saw so many ridiculously famous paintings for FREE because admission to nearly all museums in London is free. Amazing.

Monet, "Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies"
Monet, “Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies”

She also took me to a pub for fish and chips, where I also ordered a side of gravy since I yearn for chips and gravy (I’m a Northerner I guess), but it’s not a thing in London so the gravy was basically au jus. Still got the general taste though. I also went to a rugby game, which was such a weird experience for me since I literally don’t know what sports are, but the park (arena? Pitch? Place with grass where the men fought each other over a ball?) had cider and fries so I didn’t mind that whole athleticism thing happening in the background. The most surprising thing about this trip, besides my mildly enjoying a sports game, was that everywhere I went I heard people speaking Italian. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to it now so I hear it more often, or maybe they’re all following me and I will never escape the Italian language who knows.

It was great getting out of Italy for the weekend, but being in London made me really happy that I’m studying in Bologna. Even though places like London have a lot more to do, Bologna is so much cheaper, practically free of tourists, and has an almost home-y feel to it that I don’t think I would experience studying abroad in a larger city like London. The huge student community here (100,000 students live in Bologna) definitely makes me feel more like I’m part of the community and not just some American studying here for a couple months even though that’s what I actually am shhh. Now maybe once I figure out how to not get lost in this city and buy a Napapijri coat people will think I actually live here all year round.

Elizabeth Dean | London, England | Post 5

Elizabeth Dean | London, England | Post 5

Hi, Vassar! I hope you’re all enjoying settling into spring break for a well-deserved midterms reward. Up until now I’ve mostly blogged about my international travels from my study abroad experience in London, but now I want to spend some time telling all y’all about how much I love living in the city! For variety’s sake, here’s a “listicle” about my favorite parts of living in London.

1. How easy it is to access culture!

In London, the transit is cheap and most museums are free. In the few months I’ve been in the UK, I’ve seen more exhibits, art shows and performances than I have in all my years of college combined. The access to cultural experiences is fantastic in London. Not only is the city a center for the arts, but it works hard to make those experiences accessible. All the largest museums are free, and those that aren’t either have discount tickets or events that let you experience it for free. For example, instead of paying about fifteen bucks to walk around Westminster Abbey, I went to an open Evensong service for free. I not only got to see the Abbey, but also got to hear the choir and participate in some very British cultural rituals. Performances, too, are easy for students to access; I saw the Royal Shakespeare Comany’s Henry IV Part I with a five-pound student ticket. I even get to sit in a real seat in the stalls instead of standing or behind a pole like some theaters.

 

2. The infrastructure.

Today in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, where I’m from, the entire metro system is down for over 24 hours due to maintenance and safety issues. This isn’t really a surprising failure from one of the most annoying transit systems I’ve ever encountered—but it couldn’t be more opposite from the kind of transit I’m used to in London. In London, the buses are always on time, the tube is pretty dependable, and the overground trains are typically affordable. There’s space for me to sit more often than not. I can always figure out how to get home from an unfamiliar place. Since the fares for all types of London public transport come off one refillable contactless card (called Oyster), getting around the city couldn’t be easier, and Vassar refills my Oyster card every month or so. Not only am I in a city with great cultural access, but my actual physical access to those spaces is so easy and I love it!

 

3. The uniquely British brisk cheerfulness

At first I was going to label this item “friendliness,” but that’s not quite right. The British (in my personal experience here) aren’t exactly friendly so much as they are indomitably cheerful in a brisk, impeccably polite, going-about-your-business kind of way. It can be hard to start a conversation, but you are guaranteed spotless civility, orderly queues, and clipped “cheers” for holding doors. This kind of orderliness and positivity was especially helpful in my first few weeks. Instead of being yelled at for being a confused tourist (looking at you, Paris metro), I found everyone infinitely patient and infallibly courteous. I was actually shocked when my constant repetition of “sorry!/Sorry, oops/Sorry, I don’t know/Wait, sorry …” in my first few days of total incompetence were met not with eye rolls but with actual responses like “No problem” and “cheers.” You know, treating me like a human being who was flustered, confused, and in need of help. I want to extend a general thanks to all the cashiers, tube employees, and classmates who politely helped me flail my way through London while I learned to count British coins, buy unrefrigerated eggs, and use a tube station like a normal person instead of milling about in the way. Thanks for making me feel welcome when I felt lost. Your nod and brisk “cheers!” reassured me that I was doing okay.

My next blog will be my last as my time in London comes to an end, but I will have a lot to report! Our awesome director is stuffing our last days full of outings and activities so we can wring every last drop of London out of the weeks we have left. Talk to you then!

Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 3

Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 3

While spring break at Vassar is just starting, I already had my break two weeks ago, which I used as an opportunity to do some travelling outside of Paris! This is my first time in Europe (and abroad in general), so there are so many amazing places to see that it was really difficult to decide where to go first. I reached out to some friends who are studying abroad this semester as well, though, and decided to prioritize going to those places first, which means that trips #1 and #2 were to Italy and London!

My flight to Italy landed in Florence, but the majority of my trip was spent in a smaller town called Arezzo. Located in the middle of the Tuscan Hills, I might have done more walking each day of that weekend than the time earlier in the semester when I snowshoed up a mountain (after this semester abroad, I’m not sure if I’ll ever complain about the walk from the TAs to the THs on Vassar’s campus ever again). Luckily, walking everywhere isn’t so bad because the Italian countryside is breathtakingly beautiful—even in the rain, which unfortunately never seemed to stop falling the entire time I was there.

One of my favorite things about Italy (aside from the pasta and the gelato, of course) was the architecture. I’ve never taken Intro to Art History, so I don’t know much about the topic, but even I could tell that the cathedrals in Italy are nothing like the ones I’ve seen in France. My favorite cathedral was one that I saw during a day trip to Sienna; the exterior was so intricately detailed, and the interior was full of striped stone columns, a ceiling covered in stars, and a beautiful Music Room with embellished old sheet music and a colorful ceiling that stopped my friend and I in our tracks when we first walked in. It’s maybe a little strange that my first trip to Italy consisted of fairly obscure towns and didn’t include the classic sightseeing spots like Rome or Venice, but going to places like Arezzo and Sienna was actually a really nice change of pace since I’ve been living in a big city all semester anyway. On top of that, even small and less-touristy places are full of hidden architectural and artistic gems: a fact proven to me by this cathedral in Sienna. I’ll just have to save Rome and Venice for next time!

sienna

sienna cathedral

Another thing that really struck me about Italy was how warm and friendly the people I met there were! I don’t know if it’s a general-French thing or a specifically Parisian thing, but it’s often challenging to meet new people here and to make French friends (especially compared to how friendly and open most Vassar students are). But after one night at a bar in Arezzo, I had spoken to so many new people—most of them Italian—and I felt immediately welcome there. I even ended up speaking in French with some of them, which was a surprising but exciting reminder of how interconnected European countries are! Multiple Italian people assured me that it would be really easy for me to learn their language since it’s so similar to French, but something tells me that starting another language would not be as easy as they made it out to be. I don’t think I’m going to be starting a new one any time soon, but my experience in Italy was such a positive one that I’m honestly a little bit tempted to try!

The rain didn't stop until Nicole's last day, but she still had a great weekend in Italy.
The rain didn’t stop until the last day of her trip, but Nicole still had a great weekend in Italy.

The second half of my break was spent in London visiting friends from Vassar. I’m going back to London later in the semester with my family when they visit over spring break, which meant that I didn’t feel obligated to run around and do the classic touristy things; instead, I could follow my friends around to the lesser-known but just as exciting areas that tourists don’t always prioritize.

Nicole and some friends from her a cappella group at Vassar—with Big Ben featured in the background!
Nicole and some friends from her a cappella group at Vassar—with Big Ben featured in the background!

This included a trip to the Museum of Brands and Advertising, which may not be particularly interesting to most people, but the Media Studies major in me loved it. It also included a trip to the strangest store I’ve ever seen—techno music was blasting, there were store workers paid to dance in little booths on upper floors of the store, and almost everything was fluorescent and looked like it came right out of a science-fiction movie. It’s called Cyberdog and it’s the kind of place you need to see to understand why it’s so fascinating, so if you’re ever in London and have some time to spare, I would recommend checking it out. There were also outdoor craft and food markets everywhere we went, which I loved! In general, walking around the city made me feel like London had a certain energy to it that was really refreshing and exciting—though I might have felt that way mostly because it was nice to be temporarily surrounded by people speaking my native language again! It also was just so exciting to see my friends, that we could have been in the dullest place in the world and I would have had a blast.

A fun fact that Nicole learned in London: Big Ben actually refers to the bells, not the tower itself!
A fun fact that Nicole learned in London: Big Ben actually refers to the bells, not the tower itself!

I had an incredible time travelling around, but now that I’m back in Paris again I’m realizing how short this semester has been/will be! My time in Paris is officially more than halfway over, which is a really difficult concept to wrap my brain around. Time has flown by so quickly, and there are still so many things I want to do and see before May 8th, which is when I officially hop on a plane back to the US. I definitely want to do a trip or two to see some other parts of France, and hopefully I’ll get to travel to another country or two as well before I head back! Based on how fun my travelling experiences have been so far this semester, I’m looking forward to the chance to get to do it again!

Jessica Roden | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 3

Jessica Roden | Copenhagen, Denmark | Post 3

The popular song “7 Years” by Lukas Graham represents my study abroad experience a few ways. To start, they are a Danish band; so as Danish-made music is reaching American culture, this American is experiencing and enjoying Danish culture. It also references speeding up from being seven to 60 years old just in the few minutes of the song. I have been in Copenhagen for two months, and that seems like way too little time to be halfway done with my semester. Most importantly, this song reflects my life here because I have been listening to it and singing it as loud as possible for a while now, much to the disdain of my roommate.
The other thing on my mind is my recent trip to Berlin with my Cross-cultural Psychology class. DIS, my study abroad program here in Denmark, arranges these trips so that every student travels to some location in Europe with their class for a week. This is probably one of the biggest strengths of DIS because it really allows us to experience the world and realize what we learn outside of just the classroom. Through tour guides at every location, we are able to learn a lot more about the importance of the place we are in than we would if we were just going as tourists. Berlin was the perfect destination for us to better understand the cognitive and behavioral differences and similarities among people of varied cultures and how that can be played out with disastrous effects. (We also ate a lot of great food.)
Jessica in front of the Reichstag after eating a fancy lunch on the roof
Jessica in front of the Reichstag after eating a fancy lunch on the roof
The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
My initial impression of Berlin was that it was very gray and dull. Compared to lively Copenhagen with different colored buildings on every street, Berlin seemed sad. But that is probably a pretty good description of the emotions of the city considering its tragic past. Our main academic visits were to the Jewish Museum, the Berlin Wall, different memorials, and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
The installation “Fallen Leaves” in the Jewish Museum in Berlin
The installation “Fallen Leaves” in the Jewish Museum in Berlin

Unlike other nations (the U.S.) who try to repress their dirty past, Germany is able to acknowledge their mistakes and pay respect to those they mistreated. For example, the United States can write in history books that slavery was bad, but there is not a memorial that I know of to remember and grieve this tragedy. On the other hand, Berlin, just in what we were able to see for the few short days we were there, has different memorials for Jewish, homosexual, political, and Sinti and Roma victims of the Holocaust. Denmark, too, seems to be ignoring its problems and pretending they do not exist. So, in this sense, Berlin is a pretty special place.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Germany seems pretty fragile, and I am afraid that it is going to break, again. The tension between East and West Germany, while obviously not as salient in the minds of younger generations now, is still visible. For example, we had a discussion with two people, one from West Berlin and one from East Berlin, who were children when the wall came down. Even though they were friendly with each other, there were some subtle attacks between the two that showed that they still held on to some of the antagonistic ideologies they were raised with.
A mural on East Side Gallery, which is part of the Berlin Wall covered in art.
A mural on East Side Gallery, which is part of the Berlin Wall covered in art.

Within the past couple of years, an anti-Islam group named Pegida has gained strength and visibility in Germany. Their name in English means “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” and they have thousands of people helping to spread their message of hostility. They are not located in Berlin, but while I was there I had to walk through a heavily guarded police line to enter my hotel near the central metro station because, according to a policeman, they were preparing for a Pegida protest that occurs every Monday night there. Maybe this is just because I was hyperaware of the circumstances, but I think that I saw more policemen around Berlin during my time there than I have ever seen in New York City. The Nazi rise to power happened so quickly and easily in part because of the feelings of the people at that time. It is terrifying to think about what this group and other anti-immigration or anti-Islam groups will do in the future in Germany, the rest of Europe, and the U.S.

Looking beyond my sadness and fear about the state of the future of the world, Berlin was a pretty neat place. They had orange trashcans everywhere that had funny and sassy sayings on them, like one next to an art museum that said “Museum of Modern Trash,” and one near the exit of the former American sector of Berlin that read “You are leaving the dirty sector.” There were also beautiful murals both on buildings and the Berlin Wall that reflected on the pain of the past and pointed toward an optimistic future. My six days in Berlin, while opening my eyes to a tragic past and an uncertain future, made me appreciate the happiness and safety I feel in Denmark and made me eager to get back to my home in Copenhagen.

 

Ian Snyder | Oxford, England | Post 2

Ian Snyder | Oxford, England | Post 2

Time has been flying by at an unbelievable pace here at Oxford. Cold weather and clouds aside, Oxford has continued to prove to be an amazing adventure. Last time, I left off with my buddy Walter visiting me here, where we climbed to the top of University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the highest point in Oxford.

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The tower offered awe-inspiring vistas of the University, including this view of All Souls College, home to the “hardest exam in the world.” (Guess they never took an Orgo 245 final!)

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Exploring the University and the city has continued to be the best pastime and the most enjoyable part of my abroad journey. Right inside the gates of my college is the New College Chapel, which has the most beautiful wall I have ever seen, adorned with statues of many Saints and other influential figures in Christianity. When the lighting was right, I took a picture in front of it.

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Whilst sunny days are few and far between here, we have enjoyed our fair share of beautiful weather. I try to take advantage of these rare occurrences and get out to explore more colleges. This is a photo of me in front of the dorms where I live. Somehow they manage to keep the grass 100% green no matter how cold it gets outside.

After going to see Guildenstern and Rosencratz are Dead at a theater in Keble College, I took a trek around and found my way into their astounding neo-gothic era Chapel, which contains the famous allegorical painting The Light of the World, by William Holman Hunt. I met an Organ Scholar who graduated from Keble College in 2005 who told me all about his exciting time after graduating Oxford as an orchestra conductor in Manhattan. He was kind enough to take a photo for me in the Chapel.

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My college puts on many exciting events, including dances, pub nights, Quiz Bowls, and even a Blind Double Date charity fundraiser. My friend Wesley and I explored some fine Spanish cuisine (tapas and Sangria) with our awesome dates that we had never met before!

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Kylie Prutisto-Chang, who’s studying in Glasgow, and Bian Zheng, who’s studying in Madrid, came to visit Oxford for a weekend. It was pretty great going to eat at Hall and having about nine Vassar students sitting around the table. It is true that we basically run this place. We took a trip down to London, where we visited the British Museum, the Tate Modern Art Museum, and took a ride on the London Eye. Here we are on the Waterloo Bridge overlooking the Thames River.

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In my spare time (which I have a lot of), I love to participate in weekly lunch and learns put on by the Oxford JSoc, which is basically the equivalent of Hillel in the United States. We cover many thought-provoking topics over a plethora of delicious bagels (by UK standards, of course).

Possibly the biggest event to occur at Oxford since I have been here was #ELEVATE, where Shia LaBeouf spent 24 hours in an elevator and live streamed the whole event. Hundreds of students lined up for hours on end to get a chance to spend some time in the elevator with Shia; the only catch was that once you were in the elevator, you were allowed to spend as much time as you liked. This created a stressful experience where some people were spending upwards of 45 minutes with Shia, much to the dismay of others in line. It was exciting to see that while I was in the line, “Shia LaBeouf” was the #1 trending topic on Facebook–now that is a sign of a truly historic event. While I decided against spending the entire day in line (some people spent over 10 hours in line to see him), I did go to see him talk at the Oxford Union. This can be found on YouTube for anybody interested. My friends, however, did go in to spend time with Shia 23 hours and 50 minutes into the period, and got a shout-out for longtime Shia fan and Vassar student Gelsey White!

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Also at the Oxford Union, I had the opportunity to see Janet Napolitano, former Governor of Arizona and Secretary of Homeland Security, speak about her views on the “Hedgehog and the Fox” in politics. While she was at one time considered to be one of the most likely to hold the title of the first female President of the United States, she is currently a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court position vacated by the late Antonin Scalia. I asked whether she was interested in such a position, to which she responded that she “trusts the judgment of the Obama Administration.”

Now we are in March, and I cannot believe that it is almost time for my quite lengthy Spring Break. A lot of time has been spent trying to figure out plans for the vacation, and while I cannot disclose those quite yet, I am confident it will be quite an adventure. Flowers are blooming at Oxford, as you can see on this beautiful tree in front of the University Church.

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I am currently in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I am visiting my mate Walter at the University of Edinburgh. Although Edinburgh has similar vibes to Oxford, there are more opportunities to get out and do some much-needed hiking. Yesterday, we climbed Arthur’s Seat, “a hill for magnitude, and a mountain in virtue of its bold design.” It is located right in the center of Edinburgh and offers splendid views of the city. Here we are making our way to the top (in our matching Vassar beanies)!

Ian and Walter at the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh
Ian and Walter at the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh

We also saw Hollyrood Palace (the Queen’s official residence in Scotland), took a ghost tour, saw a production of King Lear, and spent some time in the National Museum of Scotland.

Can’t wait to see what excitement the next month brings!

Alexa Jordan | London, England | Post 3

Alexa Jordan | London, England | Post 3

A list of things I’ve done since my last blog, i.e., since I got back from Paris:

  • I saw a completely improvised musical.
  • I visited Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford upon Avon. There, I saw the first preview of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Dr. Faustus, two of the best plays I’ve ever seen.
    The bed Shakespeare is believed to have been born in
    The bed Shakespeare is believed to have been born in

    Alexa at opening night of the RSC's production of "A Midsummer's Night Dream" in Stratford!
    Alexa at opening night of the RSC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford!
  • I turned 21! For my birthday, I saw Wicked and had a fabulous dinner with some friends from my program here.
    Alexa saw Wicked for the fourth time on her birthday.
    Alexa saw Wicked for the fourth time on her birthday.

    Alexa and friends from her program out to celebrate her 21st birthday!
    Alexa and friends from her program out to celebrate her 21st birthday!
  • I hit the halfway mark—and then some—for my semester here. (CRAZY!)
  • I attended a fashion show and saw a showroom at London fashion week.
    Amazing dresses designed by Laura Theiss, who Alexa met at fashion week. She "transformed a DNA helix into a digital template and then thermowelded it with aluminum and holographic foil or light reflective materials on organize and wool." That's  why her dresses light up when photographed with flash.
    Amazing dresses designed by Laura Theiss, who Alexa met at fashion week. She “transformed a DNA helix into a digital template and then thermowelded it with aluminum and holographic foil or light reflective materials on organize and wool.” That’s why her dresses light up when photographed with flash.
    Alexa standing on the runway after a fashion show.
    Alexa standing on the runway after a fashion show, channeling Carrie Bradshaw.

    London Fashion Week
    London Fashion Week
  • I saw my first show at the National Theatre, As You Like It.
    As You Like it at the National Theatre
    As You Like It at the National Theatre

    The As You Like It stage, having been transfomred over the course of Act I
    The As You Like It stage, having been transfomred over the course of Act I
  • There was a dance night at LAMDA! My semester group performed the linear carroll. Another group did a variety of historical dances, and one a number from the latest musical at LAMDA, Fiddler On the Roof. There was even a fun number where some students did “Fosse: 3 Ways”, where they performed the same Fosse routine to one typical Fosse style song, as well as to “Uptown Funk” and “All About that Bass.” I think Fosse would have been really pleased or really confused. Either way, I loved it.

    Alexa at the dance night, where her group performed the linear carroll
    Alexa at the dance night, where her group performed the linear carroll
  • I had my first performance at LAMDA! Each group performed scenes from comedy of manners and Restoration plays, such as The Country Wife (mine!), School for Scandal, The Importance of Being Earnest, Private Lives, and A Trip to Bath. It was so much fun spending the day with my entire semester group: we usually only see the people in our classes and rehearsal groups, and there’s often overlap there. We were all really excited to see the other groups perform. All of the scenes were directed so differently.

    Alexa right after finishing her scene from the Restoration period. Her face looks red because Restoration ladies wore a lot of makeup. The pashmina around her waist is acting as a corset.
    Alexa right after finishing her scene from the Restoration period. She says that her face looks red because Restoration ladies wore a lot of makeup. The pashmina around her waist is acting as a corset, and she can’t imagine how women actually wore them every day.
  • I had my first tutorials (basically student/teacher conferences) with my head tutor and director from the Restoration scenes.
  • I saw Cymbeline at the San Wanamaker theater (right next to the Globe!) in the standing area. You lean over the rails and have a pretty restricted view if you’re in the very back like I was- but it was an experience!
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Alexa shopping at Harrods
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Tea with a family friend in Mayfair
The chapel where Alexa's family friend, David, plays the organ. This is the view from the choir loft.
The chapel where Alexa’s family friend, David, plays the organ. This is the view from the choir loft.

This blog is a lot less structured than my previous two. I decided to let it be a little more free-flowing and casual this time because a) I thought it would be fun to try out a new form, and b) I’ll just admit it: I’ve been really busy lately, as the list above and all the pictures in this post illustrate. Part of me felt weird not sitting down and writing this post out the way I usually do, but part of me thought, “Maybe it’s a good sign that I’ve been so busy making memories and having all of these experiences to put into the blog. Maybe it’s okay that I wrote this blog in the backseat of an Uber on the way home from a show, during a break at one of our final Restoration rehearsals, while my friend who’s visiting from Paris is getting ready.” (We’re going to Camden Market, Brick Lane (for Indian food—so excited!), and the National Portrait Gallery, and then seeing a play, Nell Gwynne, tonight.)

I also thought it would be fun to take advantage of this more free-form style I’m trying out and write a few small pieces of wisdom/things I’ve learned.

A Note on FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): So yes, I just wrote out a list of all these really cool things I’ve done in London, and there are some great pictures to prove it. But what I didn’t write on that list or document in photographs are activities like watching Netflix for three hours, grocery shopping on Friday nights, putting on my pajamas the second I get home from school every day (which can be as early as 5:45) and getting way too excited when I get to have Mexican food for dinner. (We discovered the Chipotle in Convent Garden a few weeks ago, and there’s also a great place called Tortilla near LAMDA.) My point is that not everything you do while being abroad will be about being abroad; I don’t go on an adventure every single weekend. In the beginning, I thought I was going to. I thought I would be traveling all the time, every chance I got, and I’m NOT discouraging that. I have a lot of friends who travel every other weekend. But I also have friends who haven’t travelled at all, and some who have only travelled al little—like me. What I’m trying to say is that you should feel comfortable doing as little or as much as you want without worrying about missing out on things or bonding with people. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from getting out there and having fun new experiences, but I promise that you can take some time for yourself without worrying that everyone is hanging out without you and that you’re not doing enough. I’d much rather relax when I want to and then go do something really cool that I’m really interested in than force myself to go do something random that’s probably great but that I’m just not too interested in when I know I need some rest.

A Note on Homesickness: Yep. It’s happened. On the way to school a couple of weeks ago a friend was talking about her mom’s visit over the weekend and I sat there and smiled but inside just wanted to burst into tears. Sometimes, big waves of homesickness hit you. I tried to stomp them out at first, but now I find that it’s just better to accept what you’re feeling, know that it’s normal and know that it will pass. Also, don’t brave the storm alone! Call/text your friends, parents and loved ones. Even a short conversation can sometimes boost your mood exponentially.

A Note on Croissants, Scones, etc.: Live your life. It’s not like there are fabulous apricot croissants in every cafe when you get back home. If you don’t like pastries, thats fine. But if you do, live your life and take advantage of them while you’re here because they’re wonderful.

That’s all I’ve got for now! See you next time!

 

Elizabeth Dean | London, England | Post 4

Elizabeth Dean | London, England | Post 4

When I said I was going to do a blog from abroad, I’m sure my online editor Kelsey and all of my friends back at Vassar expected me to, you know, do a blog about being in London. Where I am studying abroad. And I promise I’ll get to those things before my time in London ends, but I’m having such a great time traveling abroad in Europe while I have the chance that I keep blogging about that! Since my last blog, I have had the chance to visit Cardiff, Wales and Paris, France! As a compromise, I will blog about all of my great outings right now, and before I finish with my last blog I will tell you about all of the amazing sights and museums and I have seen while I have been in London.

I was excited to go to Wales because I could get to a whole other country without actually going through an airport. I took the National Express coach service from London to Cardiff, and it only took about three hours. I slept through most of it. I found the people in Cardiff to be the friendliest people I’ve met so far, but maybe that’s just because Cardiff is much less of a tourist city. When I was in Cardiff I got a chance to explore Cardiff Castle, which has a great giant Anglo-Saxon keep in the middle, crumbling into ruins. My inner child-nerd was so excited to see it!

Cardiff Castle flying the Welsh flag
Cardiff Castle flying the Welsh flag

I even indulged in buying a little red beanie baby dragon from the Welsh flag. Also in Cardiff, I saw a church that was more than 800 years old and visited the glass roofed Cardiff market.  However, my favourite thing about Cardiff was the friendly atmosphere, especially in restaurants. The first thing I did in Cardiff, after a 3 hour long bus ride, was get tea in a cute little shop by the park. At the shop, I tried for the first time “Welsh cakes,” which are a delicious little treat halfway between pancakes and cookies.

Welsh cakes
Welsh cakes

Then, for lunch, I had the chance to sit down in a cafe across the street from a castle and people-watch the Cardiff locals while I had a lamb stew called “Welsh cawl”: it was rich and delicious with a thick gravy, better than any British food I’ve had in London so far. Cardiff was beautiful, and I was surprised by the amount of green space in the city and especially that it was blooming with daffodils so early in February. Before I knew it, and way before I was ready, I had to get back on the bus for London. If there’s one place that I definitely want to revisit before I leave, it’s Cardiff.

Because I had the entire week off for something called “reading week” at Goldsmiths, I then jetted off to Paris not long after I got back from Cardiff.

Paris from the top of Notre Dame
Paris from the top of Notre Dame

I had the great fortune to stay in the apartment of a very generous Vassar professor who showed me a great time in Paris. I got a chance to go to the Louvre Museum, which was beautiful and huge and had great architecture. I’m in love with the glass pyramids.

The Louvre
The Louvre

I did get to see the Mona Lisa, which was a bit more small and brown than I expected, but I also had a great time seeing stunning Greek marble statues like the Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo. I got to see, of course, the Eiffel tower, which is much bigger than I expected in person and actually beautifully wrought, not just some big building but an intricate work of what looks like iron lace. The next day, I was able to go to a cheese shop, a chocolate shop, and a patisserie, in which I destroyed all principles of a balanced diet and had the best time experiencing French cuisine.

An open air market in Paris
An open air market in Paris

I’m sure anyone reading my blog (mostly my mom) can tell what a giant medievalist nerd I am, so of course I had to go to the Musee de Cluny while I was in Paris. The Cluny Museum houses mediaeval arts and artifacts, including gilt reliquaries and the famous “Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries. I was so excited to see it all that it turns out that the only photo I managed to take during the whole trip to Musee de Cluny was of a gravestone that belonged to someone apparently called Nicholas Flamel. The nerd life is a serious commitment.

The trip to Paris also concludes all the international travel I have planned for now, so perhaps in my next blog I’ll finally actually get to tell you what it’s like to live in London, featuring such modern marvels as the Thames Barrier, The Shard, and the almighty Oyster card. But for now, thanks for reading!

Shereen Sodder | Bologna, Italy | Post 2

Shereen Sodder | Bologna, Italy | Post 2

Now that I am almost two months into my time in Bologna, I’m finally following a regular academic schedule. My course at UniBo, Sociolinguistics, is pretty interesting, but the professor basically whispers when he lectures. He also lectures for the entire two-hour period; one time he even went through an article in class and summarized it instead of us having us read and discuss it. This didactic style is typical at UniBo, but it takes some getting used to coming from all discussion-based courses at Vassar. Within my program I’m taking a course on theatre and another on urban history. These classes are also mainly lecture-based, with basically the entire course grade determined by the final exam. That’ll be stressful later, but now it means that I have pretty much nothing to do. I only have classes Monday through Wednesday (with one hour of class on Thursday, but does that count, honestly?), leaving me with four days out of the week to do whatever reading I have and then watch Netflix or explore Bologna and the surrounding area.

I’ve done two day trips to fill this ridiculous amount of free time to Parma and Venice. Parma is about an hour away from Bologna and is the home of parmesan cheese and prosciutto, so basically everything good in the world. I bought almost a kilo of parm to take back with me and I still have it and it’s amazing and no you can’t have any. It was still Carnevale when we went, which is basically Italian Halloween. There was a parade going through the entire city with kids on floats dressed in costumes, including standard Carnevale outfits but also a lot of Minions. Everywhere. (They were also present in a Bologna Carnevale parade a few days later, so I’m pretty sure they’re just going to follow me around forever. It’s fine). There was also a float of children dressed up as Native Americans, and we quickly fled from this image by going into Parma’s Duomo. The church was beautifully painted, and there were even some mind-fuck paintings that looked like statues at the corners of the ceiling but it was just. Paint. Crazy.

Inside Parma's Duomo (La cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta)
Inside Parma’s Duomo (La cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta)

Those children dressed as Native Americans were unfortunately not the only instance of racism I’ve seen in Italy. Even though the ladies at my eyebrow place in Waltham call me “Snow White” for being such a pale Indian, in a country full of almost all white people I stick out pretty drastically. Most Italians I meet seem to be fascinated by meeting someone who is American but not white, but sometimes this turns into that thing where people try not to be racist but end up being really racist because they keep asking you questions about your culture and exotify you instead of letting you live. For example, my program includes three weeks of a cooking class with an Italian chef. This lady makes a mean ragu, but on the first day of class she asked me and a friend with Mexican heritage some rather uncomfortable questions. For example, while rolling out pasta dough, she asked my friend if this was how he made tortillas. Later on, she asked me if I ate beef because she found out an hour prior that I’m Indian (after her somewhat pushy questioning about what other “food cultures” we have, directed at everyone but first to me and my fellow POC). She asked this even though weeks earlier we sent in our food restrictions so she could plan accordingly. But apparently she was “just checking” (even though she didn’t check with a Jewish friend if using pork was fine). To deal with her questions for the next two weeks, we decided to get a drink before every lesson. It worked pretty well but made chopping cabbage with a giant knife slightly terrifying.

In addition, most Italians refer to POC shopkeepers as “Pakistani,” regardless of where they actually come from. Even though there are many immigrant groups in Bologna, they are all grouped together as the “non-white people who run bodegas so let’s just call them all Pakistanis because that’s close enough” group. The Italians even laugh about this labelling of POCs, as if it’s a joke to have POCs in their country. I hate that I’ve already gotten used to this, and it’s weird to think that I’ll be happy to return to America because there’s less racism there.

Back to the travels: the weekend after Carnevale we went to Venice. A group of foolish friends who did go during Carnevale told me that it took them 40 minutes to cross the Rialto bridge. Meanwhile, we were able to cross it in two minutes tops depending on how hard I was panting. #asthma. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about going to Venice at first because I really hate all things touristy (Everything is more expensive and there are more PEOPLE there. It’s the stuff of nightmares, honestly), but the city was really pretty and the food was great since I had actual seafood for the first time in two months (a personal record as a Bostonian and general shellfish fanatic).

Venice
Venice
Piazza San Marco in Venice
Piazza San Marco in Venice

I also learned that Venice is obsessed with cats. Every mask store had at least two different versions of a cat mask and they even sold postcards and magnets featuring cats dressed up as Venetian Carnevale characters. I might’ve bought several of these for all my cat lovers in Po-Town (hi guys).

Shereen finds a new look in a souvenier shop in Venice.
Shereen finds a new look in a Venetian mask shop.

Bologna’s location in north-central Italy made these day trips so easy and left us with plenty of time to still explore the cities, but next month I will be heading out on my first international trip this semester, to London. It’ll be refreshing to speak in English for a change and eat chips with gravy instead of fries and mayo. It will also allow me to continue mentioning fries at least once in all of these posts. It will also be my first time flying with Ryanair, which, based on all the stories I’ve heard, will be quite the experience in and of itself.

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 2

Morgan Strunsky | Exeter, England | Post 2

It is only after two months of residence across the pond that I can say with some certainty that the euphemism “where the sun don’t shine” refers, in reality, to Exeter, England. Although I’ve been assured on multiple occasions that this winter has been particularly harsh, and that such volumes of rain are atypical even by British standards, this does little to alleviate the pervasive dampness that seems to creep its way into every available nook and cranny, indiscriminate in its sogginess. Each day seems to hover around a not-quite-warm-enough-to-be-enjoyable and yet not-quite-cold-enough-to-wear-a-winter-coat 45 degrees; moss and fungi appear to cover every inch of the prevalent stonework, thriving on the moist sheen draped over the entirety of the city; perpetual puddles grow and shrink endlessly, never having the wherewithal to disappear completely.

But before I’m accused of complaining (I can hear clearly the chorus of “suck it ups” coming from beneath the feet of snow received not too long ago by the American Northeast), quite the opposite is true. For one, were I to have any other experience of the fabled English weather, I would feel mildly cheated. And secondly, by discussing the weather, I further cement my position as honorary British citizen.  For those uninitiated readers, England has two national pastimes: queueing, and discussing the weather. The former is an unspoken rule of thumb (if you can line up for it, there’s going to be a line, and if there isn’t, it’s customary to start one); the latter is, instead, so culturally ingrained that I have yet to make it through a full day without the topic arising in conversation at least once. The cure-all for awkward pauses and uneasy introductions, the weather is a common ailment that binds all Brits together, and is therefore a surefire way to strike up an exchange. Be it unseasonably warm, predictably waterlogged, or anywhere in between on the broad spectrum of meteorological possibilities, one can be assured that somewhere the weather is being pored over on a level of detail bordering the excruciating.

So as not to be completely boring, I’ll move to the more exciting topic of tourism. In order to make the most of my stay here in England, I’ve attempted to go on as many adventurous daytrips as my admittedly taxing workload will allow. The first of these excursions was to St. Ives (the seaside village in Cornwall, not the lotion brand based in Los Angeles). Nestled in southernmost reaches of the country, St. Ives boasts a lazy atmosphere, scenic vistas, and an excessive amount of people walking dogs. Sporting a central harbor surrounded by a selection of trendy eateries, a variety of shops and stores, and a number of quaint historical sites, the relatively small village screams “retirement destination.”

St. Ives
St. Ives

Upon our arrival, my group, hungry after our two-hour bus ride, hit the streets in search of some grub. A plethora of pubs, bakeries, and cafés awaited us, each as alluring as the last. We settled on “hub” (lack of capitalization here being intentional), a self-proclaimed “bar and brasserie.” The restaurant was packed, as it was lunchtime, but we luckily found a spot. As is apparently commonplace in St. Ives (due, in all likelihood, to the large volume of canine companions we had seen earlier), many restaurants boasted an open-dog policy, inviting diners to have their furry friends tag along. Because of this, we were surrounded by pups, creating a laid-back atmosphere that was both hip and homey.

Feeling adventurous, I shunned the standard hamburger in lieu of their homemade nachos. I was not disappointed as a large plate of fresh chips, cheese, and toppings was delivered to the table. The food was delicious and reasonably priced, and I found myself with each bite being more and more swayed into fantasies of early retirement in some cottage along the shore. Snapping myself back to reality, we finished our food, payed our bill, and were on our way.

Framing the cool blue water of St. Ives Bay, the rolling hills of the surrounding area were covered in a thick coat of soft green grass. We decided to scramble down toward the shore and climbed onto the natural stone pier that jutted out from the mainland. From here, we could see across the bay to Gwithian, some three or four miles away, as well out onto the far-stretching Atlantic.

The coast of St. Ives
The coast of St. Ives

After that, we made our way up a nearby hill to investigate a small stone building that was darkly outlined against the grey sky. Upon closer inspection, the structure turned out to be the “ancient chapel of St. Nicholas” which, according to a plaque affixed to the front, had “stood upon this site from time immemorial.”

Plaque on St. Nicholas Chapel
Plaque on St. Nicholas Chapel

Related to the denizen of the North Pole or not, the rundown building stood as a reminder of the history inherent in all of England, something lacking from the relatively fledgling America.

St. Nicholas Chapel
St. Nicholas Chapel
St. Nicholas Chapel
St. Nicholas Chapel

All in all, my experience thus far has been one of general awe. There is a certain entrenched wisdom and ancientness that seems to emanate from the very stones themselves. High-steepled churches and cobbled streets leave one with a sense of the thinly-covered grandeur that sleeps just below the surface. I look forward to continuing my exploration of this historically rich country in order to discover more of the hidden treasures it conceals.