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By maxikaplan

I have been in London a little over a month now, and have been lucky enough to witness an interesting trend that has taught me a great deal, which I thought I’d share here.  This trend has a lot to do with who your friends are, and even more to do with who your friends aren't.

Since this is study abroad and few people come here with an already established friend group (unless you are part of the ~20 GW students at LSE), I find that a lot of people tend to stick with their friends who they met in the first week, or who they live in close contact with.  This is fine, as it largely sums up my friend group as well, but the mistake I see people make is a failure to branch out after they've found a few people they connect with.  The fatal flaw I notice is that people really, really enjoy being comfortable—besides, once you have a friend group, why put time between  you and them to explore what the other 10,000 students might be like?  I’ve seen both sides of this coin, and rarely, if ever, am I disappointed I took the time to meet somebody new.  In fact, of the people who I’ve met after I made a good group of friends here, a majority of them play a significant role in my time abroad.  In short, never get too comfortable.

Unfortunately, our mind works in such a way that it sometimes tells us we should settle in and stop putting ourselves “out there”.  But the truth is we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take.  For every night we choose not to go out and meet new people, whether at school or in the city itself, we give up a chance to meet someone who might change our lives.  It’s incredible to me how studying abroad for only a month has taught me the significance of this dilemma, and it’s something I’ve come to realize has great potential.  I tend not to use the term “lean in” now, since it’s the title of a new book from a Facebook executive, but, nonetheless, we have to “lean in” to the discomfort of meeting  people we do not know.  In the end, it is incredibly rewarding.

Of all the values I will learn from study abroad, I believe that this is truly one of the most important, because study abroad is really just a snapshot of what the rest of your life will look like: traveling, moving to new places, making new friends, and leaving old ones.  Wisdom to me is the ability to recognize the value in long-term benefit, and studying in London so far has definitely shown me that there is a significant long-term benefit to getting uncomfortable.

By maxikaplan

I’ll admit that I’m jealous of students on other study abroad programs who are able to afford more free time than me given their class schedule and workload, but my decision to come to the London School of Economics was made knowing that I eventually would face this harsh truth.  LSE isn’t easy, and I don’t anticipate it getting any easier from here, but I don’t regret, not even for one second, my decision to come.  When I tell my other friends abroad about my work schedule, they lament how this is the one time in my life to really travel, and that I could have chosen to make my time abroad much more fun.  I do agree that my time here is work intensive, but I wouldn't have it any other way.  A simple revelation made me understand why.

Classes at LSE are different from lectures—it is the smaller meetings with your TA’s that consist of only 10-15 students, whereas lectures are much bigger lessons taught by professors.  But classes are no walk in the park.  They are taught by PhD students studying at LSE extremely well versed in your lecture topic, and they challenge you constantly.  Exhibit A: it is my third week of class and I have a 45-minute presentation to make this coming Friday.  The revelation I had occurred this past week during a student’s discourse with a group making their presentation in my Business in Britain class.  The way in which he spoke, the nature of his question, and the expectations he had of the students to fully answer his question, all provided me with an odd sense of inspiration.  This, I thought, is the reason I came to LSE, because although traveling and seeing the world is undoubtedly a learning experience and something I look forward to, it is an entirely different experience to have your beliefs questioned academically in a way that forces you to see the world from a new perspective.  Both avenues—travel and academia—provide different paths for a person to perceive the world, and it was clear to me during this argument that my view on things is never going to be “right”, but the way in which I change my view is where I find my inspiration to work and to live.  LSE is a special place to do this, and it goes almost without saying that the rest of the students in my class were keen to voice their own opinion in just the same manner, which I found incredible.

Contrary to my rambling, I have done other exciting things this week, such as take my first tour of Parliament and eat Indian food three nights in a row.  But what really made my week was sitting in that class.  I’ll be back to report how my own presentation goes this week, and maybe during my next blog I’ll learn to not focus so narrowly on my own experiences.  For now that is all as I enjoy the fact that the clocks in London were set back by an hour.

By maxikaplan

Study abroad is famous for the travel opportunities that it offers students, but so far my experience in London has consisted of—well, just London so far.  To put this into perspective, I, like a handful of other LSE students, have classes on Friday evenings, which makes it both expensive and inconvenient to travel during the weekend.  This is a frustrating situation when other students, including a few from GW, enjoy the fact that their classes meet only on Mondays and Tuesdays, giving them the chance to travel for 5 days without having to stress about missing classes.  If any future study abroad students happen to one day stumble onto my blog, I wanted to create this post to tell you that things are not as bad as they seem.  Let me explain how I came to this realization.

In the few days that I allowed myself to wallow in self-hatred for the fact that I had booked a 5-6 pm Friday class, I lost nearly all appreciation for the city that I had actually decided to come to in the first place!  Ignorance is certainly bliss, but in this case it was too much of a good thing—I had forgotten just how amazing the city around me could be, and losing sight of that truly upset me.  Sure, I thought, there are things that I am missing out on by staying here, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot still enjoy everything that London has to offer—its pubs, its music, its culture, and, of course (as my previous posts have revealed), its food.  All this worrying left me stressed out and shortsighted of the opportunities that the four weeks of winter break, and five weeks of spring break, would bring me.  As Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”  I realized I was on the side of the majority simply by studying abroad, and paused to reflect on how amazing this experience is in and of itself.

The grass is always greener on the other side, and after I understood this I enjoyed my week here to the fullest.  After spending an unthinkable lump sum on a 9-month gym membership, I’ve spent a good deal of time getting back into shape in the gym.  Consequently, this has meant I have also spent a good deal of time trying to prevent myself from laughing in front of men who choose to wear shorts that are shorter than anything I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  But, to be fair, I am probably what they would consider an American who is simply ignorant of the culture here, and in this situation I would have no choice but to agree—that is, until I decide to embrace my study abroad experience by waltzing into their gym sporting my own pair of very short shorts.  When this experience comes about I will be sure to report back to the blog, but for now that is all I have.  Wish me luck as I attempt to balance work with life this coming week.

By maxikaplan

What has made my second week in London better than my first is a general feeling of comfort that I didn’t have my first few days here.  Although I still manage to lose my way at least once a day, I think I have more or less “settled in”.  With this mindset, I was able to enjoy myself a bit more before class work begins to take on a much bigger chunk of my free time.

Although a lot has gone on throughout the past week, and I could undoubtedly write many pages on my experiences, my favorite was a trip to the Globe Theater for a showing of Macbeth.  It certainly helped my wallet that GW put the trip together and paid for it, but it was nonetheless incredible to see the play and understand that part of London theater that people so obsess over.  The only downside to seeing a play at the Globe in the middle of October is the cold weather, since the theater is in open air.  Wrapped in many layers though, I can hardly complain myself considering the actors on stage (many of which were quite famous) were wearing next to nothing, and acting as well.  As I sat with the other 10 or so GW students who attended, I wondered for how long the Globe theater can stay open throughout the Autumn/Winter season.  Probably the best way for me to find out is to book another show to see, since Macbeth was simply incredible.

In my previous post I mentioned how in London it does not quite feel like home is too far away, and I was reminded of this on Saturday when I went to a USA barbecue organized by the USA society at LSE.  What helped make the event feel even more at home was the sunny weather, which took me by surprise, but the rain is never far away in London, and it poured later that night.  Societies like the USA society are ubiquitous around campus, and come off to me at first as more of an irony than a real society, but each of them organize real events and are serious about their role as an organization on campus.  I remember listening to the president of the club reminding members about an upcoming debate on the US constitution that they would be holding, but this was seen as a chance to practice a real debate, and not a form of mockery.  The LSE consistently impresses me in this way.

With home apparently never too far, I was lucky enough to get dinner tonight with my friend from GW, who also goes to LSE, and his family who are visiting until next week.  Events like this seem to pop up on occasion here, and I make sure to never take them for granted, especially considering that I will probably not be enjoying a cooked fish as good as tonight’s for a while longer.  This is all I have to report for now, and I can only hope that next week will be as exciting as this past one was, as I stare at my coursework waiting to be finished.

By maxikaplan

Since arriving in London this past Saturday, it still seems unreal that I have the opportunity to call this city home until June 2014.  At London School of Economics (LSE), like many other programs, the first week here is the school’s orientation with no classes, giving me the chance to meet new people, explore new places, and, my personal favorite, eat more Indian food than ever before.  Unfortunately, nothing is ever free, and London will go out of its way to remind you.

After checking into my dorm, I was promptly handed a schedule of events that the LSE Student Union had put together for the students for orientation week.  This schedule acted as a bible to my friends and I at night for many of our outings, with our days interspersed by LSE meetings with professors, deans, and academic advisors.  There is, to the dismay of many, no hand holding when it comes to these events: make your own schedule, be on time for your meetings, and take advantage of everything that’s offered.  I thought this theme contrasted nicely to the attitude of schools in the U.S., and it reaches farther than just LSE.  I was happy to learn that this would be the extent of my culture “shock”—it could be worse, I thought.  In many ways London reminds me of New York, and it has been easier getting assimilated here than I expected.  With my first day of classes this coming Monday, I am in for a surprise after not sitting in a lecture hall since the beginning of May.

As I spent hardly any time worrying about my class schedule in this first week and worried more about where to eat and explore London, I was able to get a good feel for the geography of the city.  Walking more than my body liked proved to be the best way to understand the city, though I wouldn’t quite call it an “understanding” after I gave a passerby some of the world’s worst directions to Covent Gardens this Sunday.  After this week surpassed all my expectations of the LSE and London, it is hard to say what I am most looking forward to in the coming weeks while my brain slowly adjusts.  But remembering that this is only the first week of 40 in my experience here is reassuring that there is much more ahead.

With the week finally coming to a close, I was able to meet on Friday night a family friend at a pub who currently works in London.  It was an interesting experience to see someone who I know from home in a different country with me, but it was comforting as well to know that home is not too far.  With around 15 other GW students in the LSE’s study abroad program, it’s been easier than I thought it would be to try and make LSE feel like a second home.