London: Final Weeks and Coming Home

Two weeks ago today, a thirteen-hour plane ride brought me home from three months of excitement and adventure. The London Semester Program was a great blessing to me in more ways that I can articulate, but it feels wonderful to be back in my beloved homeland. Everything I’ve said about the trip so far has been expository because I’ve been too busy and frenzied to write much about reflection, but I’d like to do so now.

Before I do that, though, I want to catch you up on what has happened since my last blog post. Yes, it was a full month ago the last time I posted. No, I’m not going to apologize for that anymore. I’ve realized recently that if I’m going to make my blog what I want it to be, I have to post because I want to, not because I feel obligated to.

Lots happened in London during the month of April: Easter, a weekend excursion to Belfast, Northern Ireland, Shakespeare in Love, a day trip to Brighton, The Play That Goes Wrong, finals, pizza parties, a day visit to Kew Gardens, flying back to the States… I’m only going to talk about some of it.

Easter in London was bittersweet. Easter is always a beautiful day of the year, but it was hard spending it away from my family and my home church because I’ve never done that before. My trip to Northern Ireland the following weekend was incredible, though. I got to visit Queen’s University in Belfast as well as lots of other lovely places, and even better than that was the opportunity to relax for the weekend with none of the pressures of a busy schedule.

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Brighton was also breathtakingly beautiful. It made me wish we had rock beaches here in the US. I also had the best fish and chips of the whole semester there because the fish was brought in fresh less than an hour before it was served to me.

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Finals week was a mixture of fun and frustration, which made me feel right at home since finals week is always like that. The frustration, of course, comes from the stress of studying for your actual final exams, but the fun comes from a strange craving for adventure that is born when you do everything in your power to get away from the stress of studying for a little while.

In London, this craving was even stronger than usual because it was the final week of our trip, so we wanted to fit in as much adventure as possible before it ended. We went back to some of our favorite places in the city one more time as well as visiting places we hadn’t had a chance to see yet. I also got a second hole in my ears.

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The final Saturday before our return was an open day, so I spent mine at Kew Gardens. Kew is home to the largest collection of living plants in the world. I took nearly two hundred pictures there, but I’ll spare you more than one in this post. If you’re interested in seeing the rest of the photos, you can find them in my London album on Facebook.

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It was a wild ride from start to finish, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I was going to say that I feel like a different person than I was when it all began, but really I just feel like I’ve become more of myself, or at least more of who I’m meant to be. I’ve grown so much as a person through this experience and learned so many lessons.

Being an ocean away from so many of the people I care about was difficult to say the least, and I missed everyone like crazy, but it forced me to stand on my own two feet, and I’m so grateful for that. I feel so much more competent and grown up than I was before. I know I’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s nice to actually feel like my adult life is starting.

I also became a lot more adventurous and spontaneous through the London Semester, and that’s something I intend to hold onto. I’ve always believed it’s important to see the beauty in life’s little everyday adventures, but I think this semester has given me a lot of insight into how I can better put that belief into practice.

As I mentioned before, as much as I enjoyed my time in London, it’s good to be home. The past two weeks have been full of all sorts of hustle and bustle with visiting some of my friends at MC, going to graduations, helping with fundraisers for Cornerstone Christian Academy to go to ACE International Convention, and having a root canal, but it’s felt good to be a part of my home culture again.

London: Weeks 7, 8, and 9

This post, like the last, will cover three full weeks of activities. Since my last update, we’ve moved back to the Celtic Hotel from homestay, seen several more plays, gone on our spring tour, and celebrated Easter.

The Tuesday after my last post, we visited Tintern Abbey, which was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my life (second only to the Scottish Highlands, actually, which I’ll talk about again later). Pictures don’t do it justice (as with most of the things I’ve seen this semester).

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The following evening, we got to see Les Miserables, which was just incredible. Better than that, though, was the fact that one of the actresses (she played Eponine, for those of you who know the story) was someone whose videos I love to watch on Youtube (Carrie Hope Fletcher), and I got to meet her afterward, get her autograph, and take a picture with her!

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The week following that was spring tour, which I’ll save for last because it is by far the most interesting thing I am going to talk about. Since spring tour, we have seen three more plays: Isango (The Mysteries)The Heart of Things, and The Broken Heart. I also saw a play call The Nether separate from the program with a few of my friends, and I saw a lovely production of The Passion of Jesus on Good Friday in Trafalgar Square.

We have also toured the Globe Theatre, Old Operating Theatre, and Windsor Castle this past week. The queen was in residence at Windsor, but unfortunately we did not get to see or meet her. We actually got to stand on the Globe’s beautiful stage, though.

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Now for the main event! Spring tour! For our spring break, we saw York, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District, Liverpool, and Wales – and all sorts of beautiful scenery along the way (plus a whole lot of sheep). Spending an average of six hours with people on a coach (charter bus) every day is definitely an experience that draws people together. Spring tour really helped our group grow much closer than we were before. It has absolutely been my favorite part of this entire semester, although spending a week with barely any wifi was admittedly difficult because it kept me from being able to communicate with my loved ones much at all. The Scottish Highlands made it all worth it, though. They were so breathtaking.

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I can’t believe the semester is almost over. I’ve got less than a month left to go now, which is such a bittersweet thing. I’m so excited to come back home and see everyone that I miss so terribly, not to mention start a summer that is full to the brim with things to look forward to, but I also know I’m going to miss London like crazy. All I can think is how immensely blessed I am and how much I have to be thankful for.

London: Weeks 4, 5, and 6

It’s been quite awhile since my last post, and for that I apologize. Things have just gotten busier and busier, and I haven’t had much time for things like blog posts or sleep. Not that I’m complaining – I certainly haven’t been bored! It’s just that I have three weeks to cover in this post instead of one or two. So fasten your seatbelts, folks: we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

We’ve seen five plays since my last post: Man and Superman, La Traviata (which taught me, unsurprisingly, that opera is not really my thing), Love’s Labours Won (an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing), Romeo and Juliet, and Antigone. Shockingly enough, Romeo and Juliet has ended up being my favorite thing we’ve seen so far. I hated the play when I read it in high school, but this particular interpretation of it was extremely impressive. We saw it at a fringe theatre (a fringe theatre is a small, unsubsidized theatre that is often experimental in style), so it was admittedly kind of strange, but I enjoyed it a lot because it was such a unique and creative take on something so well known. I would happily see it again if I had the time.

Romeo and Juliet

On our London History and Culture (LHC) walking tours and day trips, we have visited the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Wesley Chapel, Greenwich (where I stood on the Prime Meridian!), and Hampton Court Palace. LHC is taught by a husband-wife team of two blue badge guides (professional UK tour guides). The husband, Donald Rumbelow, is considered an expert in Jack the Ripper lore, and we got to participate in one of his acclaimed Jack the Ripper walks this Thursday night. We also visited Oxford and Stratford-Upon-Avon (the birthplace of William Shakespeare) on our two non-LHC day trips.

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Saturday a week ago was our open day for the month of March. I decided to spend the day by myself, and it was lovely. I explored Kingston and did some shopping before seeing an AFC Wimbledon game in the afternoon (they won, by the way). Everything about the day was wonderful. I was glad to have some time alone, I got to visit some cute little shops that I haven’t been to before, and I supported the football (American soccer) team sponsored by the Nerdfighter community.

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The end of this past week marked the halfway point of the trip. I can’t believe I’ve been here for six full weeks already and only have that many more to go. I am so grateful to have been blessed with this incredible opportunity, and I can’t wait to see what else lies in store!

London: Weeks 2 and 3

Well, it seems I have failed to be timely yet again. In my last post, I said I hoped this update wouldn’t have to cover a week and a half of activities. Unfortunately, this one covers two full weeks. A lot has happened in the fortnight it’s been since my last update (hence my inability to post before now), but I’m going to do my best to cover everything as concisely as possible without leaving out any of the juicy details. I’ve also recalled a few things I failed to mention from the first week simply because it was so jam-packed with busy-ness, so I’ll try to cover those things too.

The day after my last post was a Sunday, so I’ll start by talking about the churches we’ve visited so far. The first Sunday we were here, we attended service at All Souls, an Anglican church, which I mentioned briefly in my last post. The Sunday after, which was the Sunday immediately following my last post, we attended service at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. This past Sunday, we attended service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is High Anglican, meaning it was very similar to a Catholic church. These three services were a scheduled part of the London Semester Program. From here on out, though, our Sundays are completely free, so we can choose for ourselves where we would like to attend.

The Monday following my last post was the start of our second week of classes. I barely talked about the first week of classes in my last post, but there’s no better time than the present, so I’ll do it now. We are taking five classes while we are here in London. Three of them are being taught by British professors: London History and Culture, Theatre Appreciation, and Art Appreciation. The other two are taught by the two Mississippi College professors who are here with us: Landscape and Legend in British Literature and Elementary Statistics. For all five of our classes, we are given assignments that require us to visit various galleries and museums around the city and look at certain exhibits in order to answer the questions our professors give us. We also go on “course related excursions” (CREs) for each of our classes. For example, our art teacher takes us to a museum or art gallery each week after class and shows us a few of the pieces there, telling us all about their history and purpose.

For our theatre class CREs, we get to see lots of plays. So far, we have seen The 39 StepsThe Caucasian Chalk CircleLittle Light, A View from the Bridge, and The Grand Tour. Every play we’ve seen so far has been absolutely phenomenal. We have had the chance to see a lot of very talented actors perform. After seeing A View from the Bridge, I even stayed after and got the autograph of the lead actor, who just so happened to be Mark Strong.

Mark Strong's Autograph

Tomorrow night, we’ll be seeing Man and Superman, and I’m sure it will be equally wonderful. Never in my life have I gotten to experience so much great theatre, and it’s really given me a new appreciation for it as an art form. I intend to see more plays when I get back to the States.

The Tuesday after my last post was our first “open day,” meaning no events were scheduled, so we were free to do whatever we wanted. I spent that day exploring Camden Market, which is a lot like a big flea market. It’s a huge conglomerate of street vendors. I had so much fun that day.

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I’ve noticed I always have a ton of fun when I go shopping here in London. I’ve always liked shopping, but I’ve never been quite this passionate about it. London is just a really fantastic place for shopping. I also spent the last two Friday afternoons after class shopping. Last Friday, I visited the M&M Factory (a huge store full of only M&M-related things); this past Friday, I went to Hamley’s (a huge toy store).

The Saturday after my last post, aka Saturday a week ago, was Valentine’s Day, so we got to go to a concert and see an orchestra perform classical love songs live. It was beautiful. This past week, of course, we had another full week of classes, complete with museum, gallery, and play outings. More interestingly, though, we moved out of the hotel this week and into homestay. For the next few weeks, I am living with a British family in a suburb of London. This means I have to get up earlier in the morning because it takes almost an hour to get to class from here, but it’s much nicer than staying in the hotel. In homestay, we have dependable wifi and home-cooked dinners, and the family I’m staying with is super cool. Not much more one could ask for, in my opinion.

Yesterday, we went on another day trip, this time to Dover and Canterbury. We saw the Dover Castle, and I even got to walk on its roof, which was absolutely incredible (I had been wanting to walk on a roof for a long time, and to walk on a castle roof was doubly awesome). Then, we went down to Dover Beach, where I collected a few rocks to take home and thought of the Matthew Arnold poem of the same name (“Ah, love, let us be true to one another!”). After Dover, we went to Canterbury and toured the cathedral, which ended up being my favorite part of the day. I saw the candle that burns where Thomas Becket’s shrine used to be (before King Henry VIII had it destroyed after Becket, who had been dead for 600 years, failed to show up for his trial). I think yesterday was my favorite day of the trip so far.

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The biggest difficulty I have had these past two weeks is finding time to be alone. If I don’t have some time to myself now and then, I find myself becoming exhausted and grumpy. Hopefully now that I am in homestay with only two other students rather than at the hotel with the whole group, I’ll be able to get away sometimes and just spend some time alone. I have already made plans to spend my next open day alone. That will be Saturday the 7th of March, and I’m planning to attend an AFC Wimbledon football game (football as in what we call soccer in America). I’m also hoping to visit places like the bridges over the Thames River soon, both in the daytime and at night so I can see them lit up.

Got ideas for other places I should make sure and visit while I’m here? Let me know! Any and all suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading!

London: Week 1

Hey there, followers of The Vessel. It’s only my second blog post, and already I’m falling behind. I should have posted earlier in the week, but life has been a little crazy. Here I am now, though, better late than never.

I’m in London! Our plane arrived safely at the London Heathrow Airport last Thursday morning around 11am UK time. That’s 6 hours later than Central Time in the US, for anyone back home who doesn’t know.

The next day, we had a competition called the Tube Rallye where we were split into teams for a sort of scavenger hunt. Our professors gave us a list of questions that we could only answer by visiting various locations around London. This gave us a chance to both get a taste of the many wonderful sights of the city and to learn how to use the transportation here – hence the name Tube Rallye. For anyone who might not know, the “tube” is the London subway system. The rallye required us to ride the tube multiple times. At the end of the day, my group actually won the competition! We got £5 each, which is honestly the best part.

Tube Rallye Winning Team

Friday night, we saw our first play: The 39 Steps. It was hilarious and so much fun. Then, on Saturday, we went shopping on Portabello Road, and I saw George Orwell’s house!

George Orwell's House

Afterward, we were set free to do whatever we wanted in London for the rest of the day, so I explored Trafalgar Square with a few of my friends. Pictures of Trafalgar from multiple visits there can all be found on my Facebook page.

Sunday, we went to All Souls, which is an Anglican church, in the morning, and our professors took us on a walking tour of London in the afternoon.

We started classes on Monday, which was strange and kind of surreal. After nearly 2 full months of no class during our extra long Christmas break followed by days that felt like weeks in London without class, we had gotten spoiled to not having to go to class. We got started right, though, with London History and Culture. Our professor gave us a general overview of London’s history during class, then took us on another walking tour in the afternoon.

We had another class on Tuesday, this one called Landscape and Legend in British Literature, after which we got to see the Churchill War Rooms. That night, we saw our second play: The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Both the war rooms and the play were phenomenal and indescribable.

We had class all day Wednesday, with Theatre in the morning and Art in the afternoon. Our art professor took us to the British Museum, where we stayed until closing time. It was tiring, but so worth it because I got to see the Rosetta Stone!

Rosetta Stone

Thursday, we didn’t have class until 1:30, so a friend and I explored Covent Garden and did some shopping in the morning. We had Statistics in the afternoon, which was interesting and fun. Our math professor is really good at teaching. Yesterday, we had our English class again (Landscape and Legend in British Literature), after which a few of my friends and I went to Covent Garden again to check out the rest of the shops there.

Today started bright and early with a coach ride to Avebury and was packed to the brim with a trip to Stonehenge and to Bath, where we saw Bath Abbey and the ancient Roman Baths. Stonehenge was my favorite part.

Stonehenge

And that brings us up to tonight! Hopefully I’ll be more timely for my next update so it won’t have to cover a week and a half of activities. Thanks for reading!