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By Taylor Williams

In all honesty, the food has not exactly been the highlight of my trip. I don’t want to say it's been all bad, London is an amazingly diverse city with a wide array of options. All of the Indian food I’ve tried has been unmatched to anything I’ve ever had at home, similar to the Caribbean and Chinese food. Before I came to London all I would ever hear once I told people I was going to London was that the weather was bad and the food was even worse. Well, thus far the weather has held steady and it hasn’t been until recently that a dreary and dark sky has been the constant state of the city. Well, unfortunately, I finally understand what everyone means when they talk about London food. Now, I don’t at all want to say the food is bad. I think its horribly ignorant and rude to say that all of the authentically British food is bad and to be avoided at all cost. That being said, it’s definitely been much different than the food I’m accustomed to eating at home. 

When one thinks of London, you don’t normally think of it being a place that's drastically different than the US, and in many ways that's true. There are times when I can completely forget I’m in another country at all and feel completely come home, and then I’ll walk past Buckingham Palace or I’ll ride atop on the many red double-decker buses and I’ll remember how far from home I really am. I only have one week left to try and soak up as much of London as I can, so I’m going to vow to every day see something I haven’t before. 

By Taylor Williams

3 weeks left. As cliche as it sounds, it's amazing how incredibly quick time can fly. In three weeks exactly I’ll be back at home in Philadelphia and I’m assuming I will be experiencing a wide array of emotions. First and foremost the inevitable sadness I’ll feel from being away from London, and this little flat in Islington that I’ve begun to feel at home in. I’ll miss my roommates, the tube, the fact that everyone around me speaks so eloquently and with amazing accents and I’ll miss this moment in time. Because although I’ll return to London one day and look back with fond memories, I’ll never be able to return to this exact moment and the fondness I’ve grown for this city. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a rocky road. Living in London has been incredibly interesting, as it’s similar enough to home where I don’t feel as though I experienced any major culture shock, and then something will happen, maybe something small like a sign saying “toilet” and not “restroom” and I’ll suddenly feel reminded of how extremely far away from home I actually am. London is an extraordinary city, and even though I hate to be one of those people claiming that “abroad changed me”, it truly did in ways I didn’t expect. And so for that I thank London, and the people of London who will always have a place in my heart. xx

By Rachel Blair

Time has really been flying by. I can’t believe it’s almost November! Last time you heard from me, I was in Normandy. It was really cold there, but it was an amazing experience. I’m really happy that I went because as I said before, I wouldn’t have gone there on my own. These past two weekends have been really busy for me as well. The weekend after Normandy, I went to Iceland with my friend Michael. I loved every second of it, and plan on going again. We stayed at an Airbnb in Reykjavik and rented a car from the airport for the entire weekend. If you go, I advise getting a car because everything is so spread out, and the only mode of public transportation is a bus. We got there on Friday night, and stayed until Sunday afternoon. Friday and Sunday were spent in the city of Reykjavik, but Saturday was my favorite day. That day, we drove around the Golden Circle and hit a lot of our top places. My favorite spot was the Black Sand Beach. We woke up at 6:30am and did not get back to the Airbnb until 11:30pm. I was exhausted after, but it was worth it. I highly advise everyone to go to Iceland. It was so peaceful in its own way. I don’t know how to describe it, but it was a place that brought me real joy.

This past weekend, I went to London to visit a friend that is studying abroad at Queen Mary’s. I left Friday night for that as well, but had a 6:20am flight back to Paris because I had a final exam on Monday that I had to study for. (That’s one of my major signs that time is flying. Since I take 3 GW classes here, each for 3 and a half weeks, every time I finish one of them, it’s a sign that the semester is getting closer and closer to being over. I have already finished 2 out of my 3 and there’s still so much I feel like I want to do here.) But I really enjoyed going to London because I’ve been there before, and have done all of the tourist activities, so this time my friend took me to his favorite spots and the cooler areas of London. It was also nice to be in a country that spoke English for a bit. It was very weird at first seeing everything in English since I’ve been here for so long now.

Being abroad here has made me realize that I would love to travel to a different country every year if my finances and time allow me. Visiting all of these countries has been such a different experience every time, I could only imagine what other countries have in store as well. I’m so happy I took advantage of this study abroad opportunity. It has been an amazing experience that I know I will remember forever. I look forward to the last haul of my program, and can’t wait to see what else Paris has in store for me.


Above: Dover, England


Above: Iceland

By Taylor Williams

This weekend, I was tasked with the impossible… ok, not so impossible as much as difficult. My sorority sister, Faith, came in from Barcelona and was only staying for one day, meaning I was tasked with trying to show her everything London had to offer in 24 hours. This is a very daunting task, as you might imagine, London has so much to offer and I’ve already seen so much and yet even I’ve barely scratched the surface in the 3 weeks I’ve been here. We set out on an action-packed day and I was able to show her all of my favorite spots. We started in Camden markets, undoubtedly one of the favorite places I’ve visited since I’ve gotten to London. Camden is such a bustling and vibrant City. We started early in the morning so of course, we went straight for the food stalls. There are so many incredible smalls and food choices that it's hard to pick just one. Ultimately, I went with the safest option and I got an amazing arepa from the same stall I went to a few weeks ago. After Camden Market, I decided to show her Harrods. This was my time truly taking in Harrods in all its glory and it's truly an indescribable place. It’s such a big and grand place that we actually got lost trying to leave. Afterward, we decided to go to Buckingham Palace. I’ve never been to Buckingham Palace and ultimately it was a little underwhelming. Maybe it was due to the cold and dismal weather, but unpopular opinion: I was a little disappointed with Buckingham Palace as a whole. Kensington Palace and it’s accompanying Gardens, however, is in my opinion, a lot more beautiful and that's where we headed off next. We ended the day in Leicester Square, home to Chinatown and one of London’s 7 Chipotles’, the only place Faith really wanted to go while she was in London. All in all, it was a fun and action filled day and it was nice having Faithy here and reminding me of home. Until next time xx

By Taylor Williams

I've officially been in London for three weeks! It's insane how much I've seen in such a short amount of time and yet I've barely scratched the surface. In many ways, I’ve spent most of my time in London doing nothing particularly remarkable. I still haven’t seen Big Ben, or Kensington Gardens, I have seen any of the many castles and I haven’t stepped foot in a single museum, and yet I’ve loved every second of being here. Last week, I made the conscious decision to get lost because I’ve told that the best way to explore a city, to just walk in no particular direction. Somehow I made my way to The Kensington and Chelsea area, fans of the amazingly trashy show “Made in Chelsea” will recognize the neighborhood. As I walked around it was like I stepped into the London of my dreams. It sounds cheesy to say, but it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, It was like stepping into a picture book, perfectly serene and picturesque. Whitestone houses and manicured lawns, it was spectacular. Since that day I decided that getting lost is the only way I want to see London from now on. I spent the summer obsessively curating the perfect Pinterest board, and it seems almost seems comical now how I believed that I could plan every moment. Because if I had indeed stuck to such a rigid schedule I would’ve missed out on the little treasures and hidden gems London has to offer. xx

By Taylor Williams

In many ways, London is exactly what I’ve expected it to be. Perhaps, that's due to me being a little overzealous this summer having spent my days, watching an abundance of vlogs and obsessively updating my Pinterest board on things to do in London it almost feels as though I’ve been here before. To describe London as beautiful feels like an understatement. In short, it’s a grand and varied City with a rich and colorful history, and I can’t wait to further explore that it has to offer me.

My favorite place I’ve visited thus far has been Brixton Village Market. Brixton was one of the places I’d been most excited to see as I’d heard it was the “black” section of London, with a large Carribean and West African population. While London is indeed very much a diverse city and there’s hasn't been a shortage of black people near my hotel and while I’ve been walking around the District of Brixton had a palpable energy exuding from it from from the minute I stepped out of the Tube Station. The main strip had an abundance of shops, street vendors, people passing out flyers, a man with a microphone preaching his religion, I was immediately reminded of 52nd street in Philadelphia. I was very much interested in how my dad and I would be received when we arrived in Brixton because although we are indeed black,  we are African American with little knowledge of where our “roots” lie. The waitress at a Nigerian restaurant was all too excited to encounter us as she told us she’d only seen African Americans on tv, and as we know, that's not always the best or most accurate representation!

Although, Brixton was for sure a majority black area, all too familiar were the first stages of Gentrification. The gap between the old and new stores was very evident and it's interesting to note that the issue of gentrification and the displacement of black and brown communities much be talked about from a global perspective. Just a thought! xx

By mariyaskhan

When I wrote my first blog post, I really had to give myself a hard look at who I was. Five weeks into my program, I was beginning to learn more about what made me uniquely American, Muslim, Pakistani, and Indian and how I fit in the world at large. And now, after a few months, I feel like I'm a stronger person in so many ways. I'm still pretty confident about all the different bits that make up who I am.

Interestingly, a couple of my English classes involved reading texts with references and stories that only people with strong Christian backgrounds would understand. I'm not going to lie - I did feel a little out of place every time I asked for an explanation or heard from a professor that I was at a disadvantage because I wasn't Christian. But instead of letting those kinds of things really bother me, I engrossed myself in those stories and loved analyzing things from a different perspective. I've always enjoyed looking at things in unconventional points of view.

Part of my program includes writing a giant research paper on a topic relating to Europe and its relationship to the world before the 1800s. When it came time to choose a topic, I knew that I was interested in exploring something to do with the Islamic World and Muslims during that time. I didn't exactly know what to pick, until I started exploring travel narratives. I sat through lectures going through Eurocentric ideas of the "Other" (a concept that I've always been interested in), and remembered an account of Viking customs from a Muslim travel writer. It got me thinking: How did Muslims view Christians? Are there Muslim travel narratives that have the same kind of Othering language as the Christian travel narratives? I finally decided to focus my research paper about two Muslim travel narratives from the 10th and 12th centuries. I think my Muslim faith and background gave me the unique perspective to come up with a topic like that, and I'm glad that I'm working on something that relates to my identity.

I'd also classify myself as a pretty introverted person. I'm pretty quiet and off to myself unless I'm surrounded by friends I'm really comfortable with. I've gotten pretty close to all the people in my program, and I love how we're such a tight-knit community. I feel less introverted and shy in general, which really lets me try new things and take some chances. I also love travelling and consider myself a city-gal, and I'm more confident in going off on my own and quickly figuring things out. Heck, I went to Greece alone for a few days, had a bunch of crazy problems that involved me staying in an airport for 12 hours and standing out in London at 2am waiting for a bus, and somehow managed to survive and get back to Oxford!

...continue reading "Gaining More Confidence in My Identity"

By Closed Account

Before studying abroad, I had never left the country, never even been further west than Minneapolis. I spent all summer saving up for weekend trips, including one to Edinburgh, Scotland.

On our second day in Edinburgh, my group and I hiked to Arthur’s Seat. Or maybe up might be a more appropriate preposition, since Arthur's Seat is the highest point in the city. We're talking reeeeeally tall here. At first, it wasn't so bad. The scenery was breathtaking, and I was used to walking up hills in Exeter. But then the rolling hills became more mountainous, and I started to fall behind. There were steep clay faces and craggy rocks, and the path was becoming increasingly indistinct. Keep in mind that it was windy and pouring rain, so everything was slippery.

Car in Edinburgh ...continue reading "Arthur’s Seat"

By Closed Account

During my first month in Exeter, I decided to continue consuming British pop culture during my free time under the title of 'cultural immersion'. There was one book in particular that had been on my list for some time: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. The acclaimed children's novel, not the blockbuster-budget cinematic trainwreck. Anyways, I've always been fascinated by linguistics, fantasy, and folklore, so I knew I'd enjoy it. But I never expected to identify with it. And yet, this fantastical story about a homebody hobbit named Bilbo who is forced into a harrowing quest to steal a dragon's treasure is all about identity. And many times while reading it, I've found myself thinking about how my own adventure have changed how I see myself. ...continue reading "Wandering towards Home"

Exeter Cathedral
When you walk into Exeter Cathedral, it feels like someone knocked the wind out of you, and you have to sit down and crane your neck as you quietly take in the soaring Romanesque and Gothic vaults. To quote a British friend, "That's the glory of England- we have stuff here that's so old we aren't even sure when it started existing, but that's endured all the way to the present."
Exmouth Beach
Exmouth Beach is a gorgeous meeting of the mouth of the River Exe and the Atlantic Ocean thirty minutes train ride from Exeter. It's a striking reminder of my host community's natural coastal beauty: sandy beach surrounded by quaint buildings on one side and far-off rolling hills in the distance, the smell of seaweed and salt and fish mingling with the cool sea breeze and ringing calls of seagulls soaring above.
When I saw this woman feeding a massive (and I mean massive!) crowd of bird at the Exeter Quay (pronounced "key"), I couldn't sworn I just walked into a scene from Mary Poppins. I love this photo because it visually captures the sort of "feed the birds" mentality I've encountered with many locals in my host community-- the seem genuinely kind, polite, and willing to help even complete strangers!

...continue reading "Integrating at Exeter"