Wow, I can't believe this wonderful experience at Oxford has come to an end 🙁 As a creative writer who loves literature and history, I'm really sad to leave a place that holds so much significance. Never mind that thousands of famous faces have sat under the same ornate ceiling of the Radcliffe Camera. I walked pass the lamp-post C.S. Lewis walked by and inspired the Chronicles of Narnia, and I visited in the same pub the Inklings discussed their stories at. My friend even had the luxury of having class in J.R.R. Tolkien's old office!
During my time I enjoyed visiting the little English villages and big palaces and castles, especially places with special literary significance. My all-time favorite trip has to be to Haworth, a tiny village in Northern England by Leeds and York. It's the village where the Bronte sisters grew up and produced their great novels. I ventured there for a couple days with a friend who was a hard-core Bronte fan.
It took a while to get there. We took a train from Oxford to London, switched to another London station, took a train to Leeds, navigated through the local train system and ended up in a village called Kheighly, and then finally rode the "Bronte Bus" until we reached Haworth. I know it seems long and grueling, but I actually enjoyed the journey. We got to travel through lands that contained crumbled factories and mills - remnants of the North's Industrial past. Haworth was such a small village that it mainly consisted of one long street. And I loved its washed-out stone buildings and flower pots.
Wow, I can’t believe that this course is already halfway over! The Oxford term is winding down to its final week, and then I have to write a seminar essay and a 6,000 word research paper. We only have four hours of class a week, so I spend most of my time in the libraries working on my weekly 5-9 page essays or exploring Oxford. I’ve worked through many of the routes and shortcuts I use on the daily, and I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore with getting the layout of the city. I guess you could say that I have finally made Oxford my home. Here are the places in Oxford where I spend most of my days.
One of the best parts of being in a European location during your study abroad is that you have the opportunity to see other primary cities in Europe.
My first stop in London was to Berlin - Germany's Capitol.
Getting to Berlin was relatively easy. I booked my flights through a website called Ryan Air, which is a premier option for students looking to travel on the cheap. The flights were about 50 pounds of 60 dollars all together. Then, I booked my hostel for about 15 dollars a night. Altogether, I was able to book flights and accommodations for less than 100 dollars, which is a pretty great deal.
When I was in Berlin, the weather was not great, but that didn't stop me from seeing all that I could..
I went to the Berlin Wall, Berlinische Galeria, and a very popular bookstore called "Another Country" where they host film clubs and dinners. I loved the bookstore because it was founded by a woman from London who one day, decided to open a store so she could share her collection with other people. I grabbed two new reads for myself.
Studying abroad in London has been quite a different academic experience. In the United States, courses have assignments that are due within two classes, and require your attendance. However, in London, there are rarely any assignments apart from a midterm and a final exam, or a paper rather than a midterm. As a result, classes in London require less attendance, and it’s not rare to see that students don’t usually attend. My experience has been that as a result, students focus more on studying the material outside of lecture sessions rather than attending them and taking notes.
This is similar to what I experienced in China as well. It seems that American schools are the only institutions that require such frequent attendance.
In my opinion, this suggests that European student are expected to be more independent learners. Rather than having constant gauge of what their grades are, and memorizing material, Europeans actually have to work to maintain a working knowledge of their academics, since they have fewer opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge.
Another major difference is that college in the UK lasts three years, rather than four. As a result, students here must have a very good idea of what it is they want to study. If a student here decides that they want to change their discipline, then they must start over, and do three more years. In America, school is four years, and costs much more. Most universities in the UK are about 7K, and loan repayment is very lax.
Looking back at the first week in your host country, what has happened, what are some of the challenges you faced have you overcome them, if so how? What things you are looking most forward to when you return to GW?
Looking back at my first week in London, it’s insane to believe that I’ve been here for two months. I think that I’ve grown a lot and seen a lot in the time that I have been here as a result of the challenges I’ve faced.
One of the immediate problems I faced was that my dorm was way too far outside of the city. I lived in a location called Stratford One, which was one the edge of central London, at the very last stop on the Jubilee line. I called the university and they were very gracious in allowing me to move to a dorm by the London Bridge, which made my time so far much better. Being so far would have had massive financial as well as social costs for me. Transportation would have been a huge burden, and it would have been much harder to see my friends.
One of the biggest challenges I faced immediately when I got here was making sure I had a daily / weekly routine. I wanted to establish one of these early on so that I didn’t feel like I was living in the city listlessly, and I wanted to feel like I was actually achieving things. This involved finding friends to hang out with, a place where I could grocery shop, and a gym. In the beginning, I was anxious that I hadn’t found these things within the first couple of days. However, within two weeks, all of them had fallen into place. I was concerned originally that it would be hard for me to make friends to hang out with and be social with, but the people on my floor have been extremely welcoming. One lesson that I learned from this is that getting into a routine and getting comfortable in a new place is extremely difficult.
Over my time in London, one of the things I’ve enjoyed doing the most is walking around the city and exploring new cultural nooks, to understand what ideas people value, and why. So far, the richest parts of the city in my opinion have been SOHO and Brixton. In these parts of the city, Londoners passion for culture and the ideas it promotes is on great display.
In these parts of the city, it becomes apparent how much British people value unique ideas and the stories behind works of art. In my first week walking around the city, I found several extremely interesting stores. There’s a store where each and every guitar is crafted by hand in Memphis to the specifications of the storeowner, then shipped over for sale. There’s a store that sells vintage records from the 70’s and 80’. There’s even a store where the owner hand curates each and every article of vintage clothing to be sold to her customers.
I find that in London, unique experiences related to stores and shopping are valued more so than chain stores. In major cities such as DC and Washington, this is still the case, and it’s sometimes hard to find truly unique brands and labels. Here, that is not the case.
Additionally, the music scene in London is vibrant. Intimate shows with bands are quite common, and good music travels around the underground quite quickly. The benefit to be had in this is that people connect extremely well off of ideas. There is always some fashion event, art show, and music room to go to, allowing for many opportunities to get to know the people, ideas and cultures that surround you.
I’m sure almost every GW student has been asked this question at least once. Sure, everyone wants to know where you’ve grown up and where you call home. But they really care about where you’re from from. It’s like when you have to check those boxes on questionnaires to say whether you’re Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Latino.
My response? “My mom’s from India and my dad’s from Pakistan. But I’m 100% Muslim.” But growing up, the answer wasn’t so simple.
Before, when someone asked me where my family's from, I’d say Pakistan. Sometimes I wanted to say India because it’s easier, but then they’d think I’m Hindu. But was I lying to people if I didn’t include every part of my identity that composes who I am?
It’s definitely been complicated to really hone in how I share my identity with other people. Though I’m just starting to find a healthy balance between my ethnic identities, my Muslim identity is the strongest. To me, my Muslim identity matters more than the country I hail from.
I’m a Muslim girl who grew up in an American suburb. I’ve lived in America my whole life, but my parents have always kept the religion and culture of my ancestral home alive. It’s a result of colonization, globalization, and diaspora. I contribute it to a sense of longing and connection to the homeland. Is my established homeland America (where I was born) or Pakistan and India (where my culture and parents’ families are from)?
I don't know how, but my time studying abroad is over. My time as a study abroad student isn't technically over since I still have another paper to write, but all my classes are done and I am leaving London in two days.
Last Wednesday I met up with a GW friend studying at LSE to get a final dinner before we said goodbye. We're both seniors and she's staying for another semester, so the next time I see her will literally be at commencement. Before we went out separate ways, we talked about how crazy it is that it's all ending. Both of us could remember in March when we saw each other at Colonial Crossroads and tried to calm one another down about getting into the schools we wanted and getting all our visa and financial stuff in order. Last April wasn't that long ago, but it feels like it.
I've been walking around alone a lot this last week because all of my friends have left for home. So I've been ticking stuff off my London bucket list. And I'm happy to say that I managed to do the things I wanted. Which is a weird feeling because, in reality, I spent a lot of time in bed watching Netflix while I was here. I don't mean that as a joke--I really did spend a lot of time in my room watching movies and reading books. And I felt really guilty about those days. I felt like I was wasting money and opportunities and I was taking all of this for granted. I thought back to reading random blog posts off Google searches that warned me not to spend time on Netflix and to go out all the time and travel and explore and squeeze every ounce of joy I could out of this experience. Now that I'm at the end, I feel like I genuinely didn't do that, but I still had a lot of fun, and I saw so many things, and I feel like I got the most out of this.
I took a solo trip to Spain last week. It was the most affirming, anxiety-inducing, and wonderful thing I've done since I came to Europe. And, traveling alone is something you should all do if you plan to study abroad.
The trip started out as one that I was supposed to take with a friend of mine, but her visa wasn't processed in time, so I was forced to take the trip alone. I was admittedly nervous before going, which was weird for me. I pride myself on not being scared of travel or city life. I've done some pretty unsafe and questionable things since I was a little kid, whether it's walking around Times Square by myself, taking flights alone, or getting lost in the middle of Maryland by myself my freshman year at GW. I'd never felt that scared doing all those things, but traveling to Spain alone was something that genuinely worried me. I took Spanish for four years but my proficiency is still incredibly poor. I didn't have enough time to plan out the places I was going to because of finals so, in turn, I hardly knew anything about the three cities--Seville, Madrid, Barcelona--I would be going to.
The week leading up to my trip was a difficult one--I had three papers to write and one project to finish all while packing for this trip and taking care of some . . . let's call them "mishaps" that happened in regards to my booking details for this trip. I was feeling pretty hopeless on the Thursday night before my flight. I had to calm myself down repeatedly and tell myself that it would all be okay. And, of course, it was.
I've been in London for about three months now and I have been to the Tate Modern about 25 times. I don't know how. I somehow always end up going. If not going inside to look at some of the pieces, I go just to sit at the outside patio area. Staring at the massive museum. The Tate Modern looks odd from the outside. It's big and dark brown. A huge pillar rises into the sky that's noticeable from the other side of the Thames. I didn't like it at first. But if I've learned one thing here studying abroad, it's to think more critically about the ways in which we utilize the past to tell stories about the present and the future.
The building that is now the Tate Modern used to be the Bankside Power Station. It opened in 1891 and, if we know anything about the history of London, the city was pretty dirty then. I can imagine this building then. It's brown-ness probably bled right into the pollution that undoubtedly surrounded it. Smoke would billow from the power station's chimney to the point where citizens would complain about it.
And, throughout the building history as the Bankside Power Station, the grit and grime it caused was a source of controversy. After some evolutions and attempts to clean up the station and the area around it, the building was officially shut down right before the 80s. In '94, it was announced that the building would be recycled to be the new home for Tate Modern, and the rest is history.
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