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By maxikaplan

photo (1)

With my days left at LSE numbering in the teens, it is somewhat unfortunate that my daily routine has turned into waking up, studying, and going to sleep. With finals just around the corner, I don’t think that the other GW students here are doing much else with their time either, and the same definitely applies to the other LSE students for that matter. I did get a bit of a study break last weekend when I went bungee jumping north of London in what turned out to be an incredibly beautiful day (see photo). Of course, just as I am preparing to leave London, my friends and I discover that the site of our bungee is actually on an enormous lake only 40 minutes north, where you can also rent kayaks and canoes for the day. If we had known earlier we most certainly would have been out there more than this one time, but it is amazing nonetheless that such a place even exists so close to the city center where we live. Unfortunately, I never made my way to many other areas in the UK north of London, but from what I have heard it is very mountainous and picturesque.

As I’ve mentioned before, my exit from the study abroad world will not be made with parties and fun, but will instead take place the day after my most difficult exam. This is going to make for a very interesting packing experience, considering there is not much time for me to spare as of right now to pack beforehand, and I can’t picture much coming my way before then either. Somewhat ironically I am looking forward most to that Friday night that I can come home after my exam to pack up my things and be ready to get on my way. In hoping to not sound too dramatic I will leave it there, but it will be a great mix of emotion when I say bye to many I will not see again for a long time amidst a flurry of stress and fear of exams. This would be much harder, however, if I were not looking forward to returning home so much. Nine months is a long time, and from talking to a lot of my friends I think we are all beginning to really miss home. I love London, and I would maybe even move here one day, but for right now I have had my fix—there is no doubt that I miss the little things. Most of all, I think, I am ready to leave this mini bed that my residence has provided for my oversized body to sleep in.

Luckily, I am not the type to drown myself in coffee during finals season—I am more of a slow and steady studier, over preparing information that I will likely not use. This has made this finals season less hard than I thought it would be so far, but in terms of study time, LSE is not messing around—I have definitely spent more time studying for these finals than I have in my two years of studying combined at GW. No longer is there the one-week of cramming a semester worth of information. This six-week study period exists for a reason, I have realized, but as I’ve mentioned before, the GW students do not have it as nearly as bad as the other kids studying abroad here do, since their grades are carrying over. I must have mentioned this 4 or 5 times by now, but when you realize how difficult these exams can be, it is NOT something that you take for granted. I will leave this blog at that, and speak to all of you next week for my last post.

By maxikaplan

This weekend will be my second go at bungee jumping here in the UK, where the weather has a tendency to cancel your first bungee attempt. I can’t think of a better way than jumping from a cliff to blow off stress while I get through this study period. Anyway, in my last blog I think that I wrote all there is to say about my study party here, so I’ll try to avoid it all together. It will do everyone some good to just not think about it, right? It will suffice to say that it is hard.

I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have gotten the chance to stay here for a year as I say goodbye to my friends who arrived for study abroad in January and are now leaving before I am. It is a really weird feeling because these are my friends from home home (New Jersey), and it is as if I am living here and they are just visiting, when in reality I leave in under a month. That is definitely weird, but what’s even weirder to me is when I take a day off to explore and find more and more places that I never knew existed in my nine months here. If anything, this is a lesson to myself to never stop exploring the city that you live in, because there is almost always something new that you haven’t seen before. London has old alleyways lined with pubs and townhouses in the way that Washington tries to have old alleyways, except the ones here are actually breathtaking. When I say that I explored a new area, it could be something as simple as a couple blocks that happen to have great food and great scenery. Many of the townhouses in London will have blue plaques on them indicating that a famous person once lived there. Around the corner from me last weekend I found the old residence of “Monty Python”—I didn’t even know that Monty Python was a real person.

I think that the perfect definition of how I feel about leaving London is undoubtedly bittersweet. I am past ready to leave this prison cell of a room that I currently occupy—while on a trip to Dublin my friends and I visited an old prison, and upon walking into a cell we quickly realized that it was just about the size of our bedrooms at LSE. I am definitely not ready to leave my friends here though, with whom I’ve spent my entire junior year. That is 1/20th of my life, to be dramatic. I have so much to look forward to when I get back (like returning to GW) that I really feel a combination of bittersweet and conflicted. Either way, I am excited for what lies ahead.

By maxikaplan

With no time left to travel in this month long study period of mine, I’ve had to re-explore parts of my own neighborhood to keep myself entertained. Fortunately, it turns out that London is quite a big city, and that after 8 months of living here there remain parts of the city only a few blocks from me that I didn’t know existed. What is unfortunate, however, is the good weather that’s come to London just as I’m beginning to stay inside week after week to study. It’s as though my last eight months of fun were all at the expense of this study period, but as I’ve said before, if somebody would have told me this would be the case I would have come to London for the year regardless of study time. Whereas before the study period I had decided to take a few days a week off to explore, now I cherish my Saturday’s as my one vacation day, and so far they’ve been incredible. This past weekend there was a food festival of sorts in central London along the Thames, and since I’d never miss a food festival, I quickly made my way down there with my friends. These day breaks are proving to be the best way to re-energize for the week ahead of studying—one day of fooling around helps to keep me focused for 6 days it seems like.

With an exam on May 30th and my flight back to New Jersey booked for the 31st, my friends and I are beginning to realize that this year won’t be ending with much of a blast. Most students in the General Course here who are American would of course be used to the semester ending in excitement, but this program has flipped this idea on its head, and I’m not too happy about it. Surprisingly complaining won’t make it any better so I will stop here, but after 4 semesters at GW ending with partying, it will be interesting to see what it feels like to just take an exam and leave. In a sense it feels like I’ll be leaving London without a proper goodbye, but oh well—I will be back one day I am sure.

Now that I’ve painted this picture of all the fun being over and life going back to a regular schedule, I should say that I’m still having fun—just not as much fun that I was used to having over the past few months. That level of entertainment and freedom is very hard to beat, but once everyone makes it through these exams I am sure life will be good again. Until then, I’ll remain studying.

By maxikaplan

My first week of studying for finals has commenced, and I can safely say that it was not all that bad. Yes, studying is time consuming and nobody wants to do it, but it feels good to get those parts of my brain going again after no quizzes and tests for nearly 9 months. Did I spend most of my time inside this past week, doing nothing but working? Yes, but it was good practice for what's to come, and I rewarded myself by taking this weekend off, which was incredibly helpful.

On Sunday was the London marathon, which I did not participate in, but I did go to the Paul Smith museum that day, and that was equally as fun as running 26.2 miles. Paul Smith is a well known fashion designer from London whose work also spreads to car designs, snowboard designs, etc., and this museum was wonderful. Paul had taken everything that was lying around in his office and put it into this museum for display—a brave move, but I am happy he did it because it was one of my favorite museums I have ever been to. The weather outside was 65 and sunny with not a cloud in the sky, and you can’t ask for anything much better than that in London. Saturday was nearly the same, and both days I spent eating well and enjoying the weather. Thankfully it does not cost anything to breathe in London, although it might soon.

As my time abroad is slowly coming to an end (I just booked my flight home for May 31st), I am getting quite excited for things that I have been deprived of for some time now, like $1 pizza from New York, and cheap food in general. Of course I miss my family too, but it is the little things that you forget about while you’re gone that seem so sweet when you are reminded of them. And I am sure of the fact that a few months from now I will be writing in my journal of how much I miss the little things in London. The grass is always greener on the other side I suppose, so you have to enjoy these things while you have them. With that, I now have to go enjoy my homemade dinner that is waiting for me. Ciao!

By maxikaplan

Today is the day. I have about two months left at LSE until my finals begin, but I’m beginning to study for them today due to the sheer amount of material tested. Luckily, my grades do not carry over towards my GPA directly, but I am studying hard nonetheless because equivalent grades will be displayed on my transcript. This isn’t exactly the beginning of the end for me, however, because there is only so much time that one can spend studying—eventually you need a break, and I’m hoping to take full advantage of that time. Two months is a long time to do anything, let alone study, but I suppose what I should really be talking about here is my recent trip to Switzerland.

Unfortunately, my little four-day vacation cut quite deeply into my wallet—not a surprise in a country where the minimum wage is the equivalent to 25 US dollars—but to me every penny was worth it. The contrast between Switzerland and Croatia, where I had been the week before, was immediate from the moment I walked into the airport in Zurich. Everything was pristine and every train was on time. You can imagine my excitement over their efficient public transportation considering we got stuck twice in Croatia while we were traveling because of poor bus scheduling. We were to spend two and a half days in Zurich and a couple final days in Lucerne, about an hour train ride away. Zurich was fantastic, but the beauty in Lucerne is unlike any other country I have seen thus far. We rented boats to take out onto the lake, and the weather was so incredible that we took a second boat out the very next day. With the Swiss Alps in the background and not a cloud in the sky, there wasn’t much you couldn’t love. At night, my friend from GW had invited my friends and I to dinner at her family’s apartment in Lucerne, which was placed beautifully over the city. It was maybe one of the best views that I have seen in my past few months of traveling—it compares with the top of the Eiffel tower—and these people lived there! I was instantly jealous, but it was inspiring in a sense. And just like that, all my traveling for this year came to a close. It was incredibly sad but also incredibly rewarding, a feeling I had never felt before.

At this point, I’m beginning to prepare myself mentally for the many weeks of studying that lay ahead of me. In a way I feel as though I haven’t actually studied in a very long time, since the work you do at LSE during the year can’t exactly be considered studying. You are really reading a lot of information and taking as many notes as possible so you can review them later. Now, I have to remember how to get back into the groove of studying, and although I’m not looking forward to it, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Two of my exams I’ll be taking in New York during my internship, so that should make for a very interesting experience. If you plan on coming to LSE it is important to know that their exams stretch all the way until June 20th. This is very important for students who will have internships over the summer, because it will most likely conflict. With all my traveling over and done with, it looks like my next few blogs will have to be about London and my life in this beautiful city—I cannot complain.

By maxikaplan

photoWith week one of spring break under my belt, I’ve arrived back in London from Croatia and am packing to leave for Switzerland later tonight. Two of my friends and about 40 other students from LSE spent the last 5 days in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, as well as Plitvice Lakes and Zadar where we experienced some of the most beautiful natural landscapes and some of the worst infrastructure a city can build. Getting around was certainly difficult, but once we arrived to where we needed to be the travel was well worth it. At Plitvice Lakes for example, Croatia’s largest national park, we arrived at 2:30 and were waiting for the bus by 6:00 pm, but by the time 6:30 came around, we had realized that there was not going to be a return bus. With daylight quickly fading, we walked back into the park to find a hotel and luckily stumbled upon one of the only open hotels for miles. It seems that traveling in Croatia is one part planning and one part luck, but I could have cared less about the missed bus because of the natural beauty I witnessed there, as you can see in the photos below.

As I unpack from Croatia and prepare for Switzerland, I am expecting a very drastic difference between these two cities. In Croatia I was warned that a pizza pie in Switzerland could cost up to 35 euros (approximately 50 US dollars), where in Croatia a three-course meal just barely topped 20 dollars. I suppose that you get what you pay for though, and I am trying to enjoy my spring break as much as possible before the reality of finals begins to seep in. It was a stark reminder of reality when I received my finals schedule in Croatia and saw that I have exams beginning May 20th and ending June 17th, which should make for a particularly interesting few weeks of my internship. My friends in the General Course at LSE often mention how this is a price we would have been willing to pay to come to LSE no matter what, because the past 7 months of fun fully justifies a month of studying. How much studying my friends and I will actually get done during this study period is still up in the air, although it is definitely something to be taken seriously.

Before I go I just want to mention that any readers of this blog should feel free to reach out to me about any questions regarding LSE—GW will be putting my contact information on one of the sheets at the pre-departure orientation coming up, and I would be happy to answer any and all questions. Before I left for LSE I must have spoken to about 6 or 7 former General Course students for advice, and some of the things they told me were incredibly helpful for navigating LSE and London once I arrived. I have a plane to catch in a couple of hours, but I look forward to giving an update after Switzerland to see how it compares to Croatia.

By maxikaplan

It is beginning to feel unreal that this is my second to last week of class at LSE. I’m not anticipating my six week study period here will be too adventurous, especially considering I have to take my exams in New York. What this means is that I have to really make the most of the next few weeks, because before I know it I will be studying for 12 hours a day. This sounds all gloom and doom, but it could be worse—a few of my friends at other schools have their grades at LSE counting towards their GPA, while I only receive a pass or fail. With that in mind, it looks like next week will be a night out on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the week after I am hitchhiking to Croatia. So I suppose that I cannot complain too much.

photo 1I know that a rant about the greatness of the city of London is a surefire way to deter all readers immediately, but bear with me quickly. Today my friend David and I took a trip to Regents Park, which is North of my neighborhood (Holborn) and only about a 25-minute walk. I think for the first time in my history of blog writing that I will actually attach a photo to this post because the beauty of this park is indescribable. It felt as though I was no longer in the city of London, because everywhere we turned there was either another waterfall somewhere, or another pond where you can go paddle boating. I haven’t taken the time to look into why yet, but every park in London has a wide array of different species of birds, each one more beautiful than the next. They have the usual mallard duck and annoying pigeons, but the swans and other exotic birds add the perfect touch. Of all the people in the park, I would say half were probably sleeping in fields today because the weather was impeccable. In a city where it typically rains 6 days out of 7 a week, the locals definitely make the most of the sun.

In many ways, London reminds me of New York, not just because each are major developed cities, but because of their geography. Last weekend we took a trip to Chelsea and Kensington, which one could say is the equivalent to the Upper West Side of New York, and the neighborhood had an entirely different smell and feel than mine does. I mentioned in my last post that I would be spending significantly more time exploring the city than I have previously, and I suppose that that explains the contents of this blog quite well. I may miss a blog post while I am traveling to Croatia and then to Switzerland, but I will do my best to find a computer and type something out! I hope you enjoy the photos I’ll try to 2

By maxikaplan

With two weeks left of classes in Lent term, there are only two things left to do: work hard and plan spring break. The working hard part is proving particularly difficult, especially because the weather in London this past week could not have been better. In a city where it rains almost every day, 60 degrees and sunny is most definitely not the norm, and it makes you want to throw your books out the window and go for a run. The looming danger of finals is far enough away—about 2 and a half months—to still take the lazy Saturday off to explore London, which has been very rewarding but which can’t last forever. In two weeks, however, I’ll take off for a hitchhike to Croatia, and then fly to Switzerland and Greece, so I am really in no position to complain.

This week GW again managed to put together a great event by taking many of the study abroad students to see Puccini’s Turandot at the Royal Opera House on Friday night. This was an opera written in 1924 that takes place in China, although it was written by Puccini who was Italian, which made for a confusing story line, but the orchestra was incredible and it was an amazing experience nonetheless. These events seem to get better and better, and I would definitely recommend to the potential study abroad student that they try to attend as many of these as possible. Not only are they free, but you get to see all the other GW students who are studying here too, and it is reassuring to be reminded of how many of us there are in London. The day after the opera I walked around London with two of my friends that turned into the longest I’ve walked in London since I’ve been here. My legs really didn’t appreciate it, but it was an interesting experience because after living here for seven months you tend to think that you’ve seen everything there is to see. And then when you walk around you’re reminded of how massive this city is and how much there is to do, and I can probably say I’ve only experienced just the tip of the iceberg. Much to my dismay I have not even been to Brick Lane, which is a famous street in London known for its Indian food—something my long time readers (if I have any) will know I love.

Even though I am really looking forward to my spring break and not having any classes, any work, etc., I can’t express how in a weird way I will miss my classes at LSE. I’ve said before how the teaching style here is different from the US and GW in particular, but the breadth of material that they’ve taught me has been incredible, and I’m truly indebted to many of my teachers for their hard work as well. I am sure many of my blogs sound like an advertisement for LSE, so I will stop there, and in short just say that this experience has really defined my time in college. I’ll check in with ya’ll next week.

By maxikaplan

With only about three months left to my time in London, it’s really begun to hit me how long I’ve been here. I know that six months doesn’t sound like a long time, but recently, for one reason or another, I’ve felt that the next few months are going to go by quicker than I anticipate. With this idea breathing down my neck, my friends and I realized a few days ago that if we were to leave London today, we would not be 100% satisfied with the amount of new experiences and places we have discovered. So, despite our schoolwork, we’ll be taking almost every Wednesday and Saturday “off” to explore the UK and more of Europe as well. We have not yet planned where we will be going or what exactly it is we want to do at these places, but this is a plan that’s better than no plan, and I know that I won’t look back at my time at LSE and say, “I wish I had spent the day inside writing an essay rather than exploring the North of England with my friends.”

I am not sure if GW maintains the same level of involvement with other students study abroad experiences, but it seems that here in London there is another GW event every couple of weeks. On Thursday I’ll be having tea with the other students at the National Portrait Gallery, which might not sound like the most exciting event there is, but the Londoners appreciation for tea is pretty interesting. Some of the places that I’ve been to for tea have over 200 types of teas on their menu, and the food that they pair with it is usually a “biscuit” (dessert) of some sort that is absolutely delicious. If it sounds so far like my week hasn’t been filled with exciting new action, it’s because of two reasons: First, I had to catch up on the work I missed while I was on my mini-vacation, and second is that the highlight of my week was watching someone blow bubbles.

On Saturday, with a rare occasion of perfect weather, my two friends and I walked for hours along the Thames River through many markets and shops, and towards the end came across one of those giant bubble making contraptions street performers use. We stopped for a second, leaning against the rail by the water and not thinking much of it, but as more kids came around and were fascinated by this man’s talents, we found ourselves sucked in. It was an ephemeral moment that words can’t quite do justice to as we stood there fixated on their happiness, but it was akin to staring out at a landscape and feeling that time has climaxed, and suddenly stood still. There wasn’t anything in the world I cared about in that few minutes we stayed there, and watching these kids chase bubbles twice their size was, surprisingly, my favorite moment this week. It is moments like that where I know I’ll look back on these Wednesdays and Saturdays I’ll be taking off with nothing but joy.

By maxikaplan

It probably will not come as a surprise to most, but there is no culture shock in London. If there is and I have overlooked it, it cannot compare to what some of my other friends are going through in countries like Africa and Asia. So as I made my way this past week from Budapest to Prague through Hungarian cities which I cannot pronounce, I had my first, “I’m seeing the world” moment. History has not been so kind to some parts of Eastern Europe, but during my 7-hour bus ride to Prague I appreciated looking at the influence of the former Soviet rule on the dimly lit cities we rode through. Since my bus ride was overnight, I looked at the people getting on at 3 am from Bratislava and other far away cities and wondered why on earth they were getting on here and now. But they probably thought the same of me, and so it goes.

When we first arrived in Budapest and somehow negotiated where we were going to a taxi driver, I was practically in tears to see how cheap everything was. Two dollars for a beer? In London, I can barely find one for six, and I was almost sure that this was a little piece of heaven on earth. But then we came to Prague and beers were fifty cents and I nearly kissed the ground of the grocery store. Although Prague and Budapest are not too far from one another, the differences between the two are like night and day—in Budapest you can find a smile only so often, whereas Prague had far more of an uplifting spirit to it. This was a great pace of change for my friends and I, especially considering a bomb scare at the hostel in Budapest that had us shivering in the cold, wearing next to nothing, from three to six in the morning. Fortunately, when you don’t plan your days you have the luxury of waking up at noon, and this surely helped.

Without going into too much detail of either city, it will suffice to say that I had a fantastic six-day vacation that, to me at least, was much needed. It is a strange feeling coming back to London after a week away, because in a sense it felt like I was coming back home, but nothing can replace that feeling of actually coming home, and I missed my real home then. For better or for worse, I have only three and a half months left in London, and I am surely making the most of it before I head to New York for a much busier summer than the life I live here. My next two countries to visit are Croatia and Switzerland, and I will provide a more in detail blog when I return in about a month from them.