Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Krystal R. - London, England - Fall 2011

It’s been a long journey since I stepped foot in Chicago O’Hare airport a mere 2 weeks ago. My first airport experience, my first time on a plane, my first time in a new country, my first mixture of jet lag and a horrible cold, my first 21st birthday that I slept through. Every time I experience something new, I quickly log it into my database of first experiences abroad. It's still such a struggle to realize that I live here--that I'm taking part in this immensely beautiful and historical city. Every time I cross a street or admire a building, my brain flickers to the thought, "I live in London." This thought is most commonly followed by a small chuckle and a smile that probably makes passersby wonder if I'm right in the head. I've experienced so much in the short time I’ve been here and there is still an unearthly amount of exploring and places to cross off my to-do list!
Since being here, I've had the opportunity to extensively explore campus, see where the Olympic Stadiums are being build, visit Europe's largest urban shopping mall (where I bought nothing…I’m so proud of myself), take a small tour of central London, and met so many amazing people. 
In some ways, I feel like a freshman all over again...new school, unfamiliar campus, new flatmates, new professors, signing up for a million clubs (namely, fencing and the theatre company), and being given free stuff at the Fresher’s Fair. I have 8 others living in my flat from the US, England, Singapore, India, and China. It's refreshing to be a part of such a diverse culture, and especially such a small, diverse living community. We've been having themed dinners to get to know each other better, such as last night's Fajita Fest (pronounced "fahighta" if you're from Southern England!)
On to the stuff you’re actually interested in: I’m studying at Queen Mary, University of London which is located in London’s East End. It’s a very diverse community, and not as glamorous as central London, but provides just as many, if not more, cultural encounters. Upon arriving, there was a two-day orientation, which informed us where to find the information we needed, which was very helpful, and also gave me an immediate insight to their academic system. Notice I said they informed me where I could find the information I needed, instead of giving me the information outright. This seems to be a theme in the classroom, as well, which I actually enjoy. 
I chose to apply to Queen Mary directly instead of going through a program. Although this was accompanied by some frustrations and a lot more research than applying through a program, I saved a lot of money. It was a lot of work to find all of the information I needed to make sure that everything was lined out, but it made me a lot more aware of how much work goes into studying abroad, even in the preliminary steps. I couldn’t run to my program every time I had a problem or a question (because I don’t have a program), but the study abroad offices both at EC and Queen Mary have been really great about guiding me to the resources I need. 
The school has approximately 18,000 students (don’t quote me on that!) and is quite crowded compared to the good ole Elmhurst! I’m taking all drama modules here, so the class sizes are still relatively small, which I didn’t expect coming into a larger university. Classes vary from extremely hands-on in the more practical courses, to discussion oriented, to lecture. However, most of my flatmate’s modules seem to be more lecture based, so I suppose maybe I’m special because I’m a part of the ever-quirky Drama department (which, by the way, is ranked number one in England). Here, grades are based on only two assignments throughout the semester—usually research papers. We’re expected to devote 8 hours to each module we take, but usually only have 2 hours of class time, so we’re expected to do a LOT more outside work and reading. 
I’ve heard London referred to as a ‘molting pot’ on several different occasions, but never really understood why until now. Not only can you hear multiple different accents as you walk down a street, but you can also identify multiple accents layered together which is extremely interesting. Because people come from so many different backgrounds, it can be quite difficult to set in place a clear image as to what exactly British culture is like. 
Amusing things I have learned thus far:
1.      Paper towels = kitchen roll
2.      Dish soap = washing up liquid
3.      CCTV is a really nice joke.
4.      All British people love to defame the French…even the French ones.
5.      They don’t refrigerate their eggs…and they still taste delicious.
6.      Shopping in a supermarket can be quite difficult, because so many food names are different. (Tomato juice = creamed tomato, zucchini = corgette)
7.      They don’t drink nearly as much tea as I expected.
8.      British people love having “a go” at the American accent, and some will occasionally tell you how annoying your American accent is in the middle of the supermarket.
9.      “Just a bit up the road” is always more of a distance than one would think.
10.  It costs $25 to call home and leave a 10 second voicemail.
11.  You can only enter Buckingham Palace when the Queen is out. (This means I have to go before October 3, because Kate’s wedding dress is on display! Don’t worry, Alice, I’ll sneak a picture!)
12. If the pigeons of London were counted in the census, I think London’s population would more than triple.
13. Everyone knows that they drive on the opposite sides of the road, but that doesn’t lessen the shock of seeing someone drive on the wrong side of the car, or having to look the opposite direction first before crossing the road.
14. There will always be differences that are amusing, and similarities that are frustrating and vice versa.
15. It’s all an adventure.

            14 days ago, I began my 4,200 mile journey still thinking it was just going to be a dream, and now here I am, looking out my flat window in London and writing about it. So far, my love for this city is immense, and I only expect that to grow!

Be prepared, be outgoing, be spontaneous. Most of all, listen to Alice; she’s a study abroad genius.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh!! I'm going to be studying in Oxford this coming semester. Your post made me sooo excited to learn all these nuances that you have already began to see. Also, you are funny! I loved reading your blog! Maybe I should pick up a British accent so as not to annoy anyone???

How's the food?

-Diana Forsberg (Literature, Secondary Ed. @ Elmhurst)

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a friend who has just returned from studying film at Queen Mary and she absolutely loved it! I am studying in Australia next semester and I am excited to hear the accents and pick up new lingo. The school I am studying at is larger than Elmhurst as well. What is it like studying at a larger school?

-Amanda Wright

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Briana Mingus said...

I loved reading your blog! I plan on taking classes at Queen Mary as well but I will also be working as an intern at the same time. It's really great to read your blog because I am in the same position as you. When I leave, it will be my first airport experience, my first flight, and my first time out of the country I'm worry and excited at the same time. I really enjoyed reading the last bit about the different words and phrases they use for things. I'm definitely going to have to keep it in mind.

Briana Mingus
Political Science and English-Writing Major
Elmhurst College

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog just makes me more excited to be going to England. I am going to be studying at Oxford in the spring but I will definitely be visiting London in my spare time. I cannot wait to experience this for myself. Thank you for your list at the end, all of it is good to know. So, enjoy your experience and happy belated birthday!

Kate Kuchler

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Krystal Rhodes said...

Diana, definitely a no go on the British accent! They can spot a fake from 15 kilometers away! The food is generally very good; different but good. The thing I miss the most is Kraft Mac & Cheese!

Amanda, it's the same and different at the same time! Helpful, right? Although the school is much larger, some class sizes may remain smaller. You're expected to be much more self-sufficient with your studies, although, I'm sure your professors will still have office hours and answer e-mails if need be. Queen Mary has personal tutors if you need help, as well as and advice and counseling service, so maybe your school will have these as well.

Briana, good choice! Go, Queen Mary! Just keep an open mind, don't be afraid to ask for help, and you will have an amazing experience! I'm here for the Spring term as well, so if you have any specific questions, let me know.

Kate, thanks for the belated birthday wishes! I'm sure you'll have an amazing experience abroad!


4:07 PM  
Anonymous Briana Mingus said...

What are some tips you can give about the classes in England? Does the teaching style vary greatly from American colleges?

7:27 PM  
Blogger Krystal Rhodes said...

The biggest difference I've found between universities thus far is that professors here really expect you to think for yourself. In the states, we have lectures, and virtually every piece of information you need for that class is within the lecture. Here, lectures give you some information, but are more directed more towards making you think critically about the subject matter. Depending on what department you take modules in, your classes will be set up differently. Most have lectures where the professor rambles on forever and asks questions, and a seminar more often than not accompanies these. Seminar is basically the class broken down into a smaller group with a facilitated discussion about the course materials. Despite my descriptions sounding as though you'll spend a lot of time in class, that's not the case. For the most part, I spend two hours a week in class for a particular module (with one exception), so it seems like I don't need to do much work, which is definitely not true. There's a lot of assigned work as well as extra readings to complete, so it's really important to be aware of these and stay on top of them moreso than you would at home. You'll find that tests and quizzes are a lot less common, and most assessments are based on writing instead. There's a lot less hand-holding, so it's more about self-motivation.

I hope that helps?

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Briana Mingus said...

That was a big help! One of my main fears is that the teaching style will be so different I won't be able to keep up! :)

Did you get any culture shock or are you experiencing any now?

2:27 PM  
Blogger Krystal Rhodes said...

You'll be fine, I'm sure! It sounds terrifying at first, but it's nor difficult, just different.

I don't know if I would describe what I had as culture shock, per se. The first few days were overwhelming because I was so jet lagged and sick. Apart from those few days, I haven't had any troubles adjusting. I was very open-minded and ready to start my new life here though (and I'm also used to living away from home). I think it was actually more of a culture shock for my family at home!

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I am planning on studying at Queen Mary in Fall 2012 most likely. I have pretty much decided on Queen Mary but still exploring options. Just wondering if you feel safe in the East End. I have heard that it has been a historically dangerous part of London and I'm just wondering what you think about the area. Thanks!

Anna Blaserur

5:21 PM  
Blogger Krystal Rhodes said...

Hi, Ana.

Yes, it is known as a dangerous area, but really, it's like living in any other part of the city. It's a matter of being smart while your out. You don't want to walk down the street at 2 am by yourself, but I don't feel like my life is being threatened any time I step off campus. Also, campus has great security, and there are gates at practically every entrance.
The east end may be known for being a bit rough, (Thanks, Jack the Ripper) but it's also extremely diverse and a really enriching cultural experience.
Best of luck,

3:58 PM  

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