Experiencing Halloween while abroad in the UK has probably been one of the more interesting times of my life. Since people here usually go out to pubs nearly every night, there have been events happening with different clubs for the past week. But it has also been the equivalent of midterms here (they call it Reading Week, most classes have papers due so they cancel those classes all week so that you can focus on writing your paper) and as a result I do not know anyone who has actually been out for every night all week. And being a science student, I do not have that many papers due and still have class. Anyways, it makes walking back home from the library interesting.
Other than that, celebrating Halloween in the UK seems to be pretty similar. People are still dressing up and kids are trick or treating and pumpkins are being carved. The US is definitely more gung ho about Halloween, since it is not quite as huge of a celebration here, but overall very similar. For example, there are a few houses and shops around here with an oddly carved pumpkin or witch decoration out, but it is pretty unlikely to see anyone going wild with the decorations or creating a haunted house in their backyard.
However, an unrelated difference between the two is that in the UK the clocks go back an hour a week earlier than in the US. Which means that there is an extra hour of darkness on Halloween in the UK, but we also do not get an extra hour of sleep to recover from Halloweekend, so it is a bit of a mixed bag. Personally, I do not understand why the weekends are different, but there you have it.
Besides holidays, I have managed to do quite a bit of exploring around. Last weekend I went on a day trip up to the gorgeous Glencoe valley in the highlands. Historically, Glencoe is known for being the site of a medieval massacre that wiped out an entire clan. There are still pretty strong emotions connected to it, especially since it was started by the English wanting to punish this clan for not properly swearing loyalty, and has never been fully apologized for. (Scotland has a bit of a love-hate relationship with England.) Besides the rocky history, it is an incredibly gorgeous area. On the day I went, it had rained that morning and the clouds were hanging low in the sky. I expected it to look sad and gloomy, but everything looked beautiful anyway. The ground was like a painting, with patches of green, yellow, orange, and even a little purple that would change as the sunlight started to come through. And the clouds obscured just the top of the mountains, making it look as though they went on forever. It was incredible to see.
It is also very easy to get to England from Scotland. London is in the southern part of England, so I flew down for the weekend. It was essentially a whirlwind tour featuring me trying not to look like a hopeless tourist as I walk between different tourist destinations. There is so much to do in London that it is impossible to see it all in a few days, but I gave it my best shot. I think I also gave myself a blister. The British Museum by itself has an incredible amount of artifacts in it; it would be impossible to see it all in a day. And then there are all of the necessary trips to places that are a bit more touristy, but still great to check out (like 221B Baker Street or the Big Ben). It would not be a trip to London without that. The city itself felt a lot like New York City, since it is so international. While walking around, you can hear all sorts of accents, not just English ones.
Another place in England that felt more “English” to me was Liverpool. It is not as well-known of a city so you hear more English accents and get a more authentic English experience, in my opinion. I really liked Liverpool, originally I went down there because it is the hometown of the Beatles, but it is an incredible city in its own right. It is a port, so there is a lot around about ships and sailing, including a Maritime Museum and a Museum of Liverpool that talks a lot about that aspect of the city’s history. The culture there is very vibrant with plenty of local bands and quirky public art. My personal favorite were the Super Lambananas, which are everywhere in Liverpool!
Being abroad and having all of these experiences has been eye-opening as well. This is probably the most active that I have ever been, since now I am making an effort to go to different events and travel around. Compared to when I am at home and staying within the Vassar bubble, it is a pretty big change. It makes you realize how much more you could be doing in your home country. It also has been really empowering. For example, I managed to navigate my way from the London Eye to my hostel in the dark without getting lost. It requires so much more than just Google Maps, and I am still amazed that I managed to do it.
I guess what I am trying to say is that you learn so much about the world and yourself when you start travelling. I never expected to do half of these things, and I never expected to find out so much more about myself in the process. I hope that I can continue to have that mentality, that life is a huge adventure, back at home and at Vassar.