Ambassador Finale at the Globe

Last Wednesday, my fellow ambassadors and I were invited to celebrate our year as ambassadors at a reception and awards presentation at Shakespeare’s Globe. As an English major, I was beyond excited as we had the opportunity to meet with Phoebe and Doug, from Globe Education and Marketing, and hear behind-the-scenes explanations of how things work at The Globe. We also got a tour of the theater, and then practiced performing read-throughs of a few of Shakespeare’s plays. First we read from Julius Caesar in the style of Shakespeare’s authentic style, with each of our scripts only including the last 3 words of the line before, so we had to really be listening for our turn (which was much more difficult than it sounds, for me at least!). Next we did a more modern read through with Macbeth in partners and practiced performing different interpretations of the same scene.

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Julius Caesar, Shakespeare style. The orange bookbag played ‘Caesar’s body’.

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Performing different interpretations of Macbeth.

We had our Ambassador reception in the midst of tours and acting lessons, and as always we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The Swan (the restaurant associated with The Globe) had stunning views of the Thames and landmarks along its banks, the nibbles were delicious, and the company was perfect.

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I was also awarded ‘Best Blogger’ for the year, which was an honor. Thank you to all my readers for joining me on my journey!

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Me with Ceri, one of my sponsors from Queen Mary, and Kim, our Ambassador leader.

After the reception, we went to the Yard which is the standing-room area of the Globe theater and watched a performance of As You Like It. I’d been to the Globe before but this by far was the best performance I’ve seen. The actors were absolutely brilliant; I was enchanted by James Garnon’s Jacques and enjoyed the interplay between Michelle Terry and Ellie Piercy, who played Rosalind and Celia respectively. If you get a chance, I highly recommend this production. It was excellently done.

Takeaway Tidbit: Study in London. The experiences are incomparable.

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Entrepreneur boot camp and fun at Hampton Court Palace

I spent Saturday with my LUIP Ambassador friends, first at Kingston University and then exploring Hampton Court Palace. Our time at Kingston was wonderfully impelling because we were led through an entrepreneur boot camp by Dr. Martha Mador, the head of Enterprise Education Strategy. Dr. Mador began by explaining the entrepreneur process:

  • A successful opportunity for entrepreneurial pursuit can occur at any point on the continuum of discovery, evaluation, and exploitation;
  • In order to be successful, there must be a healthy balance of creativity (the generation of new ideas) and innovation (the successful exploitation of new ideas–ideas being accepted in a marketplace);
  • Dr. Mador further clarified that innovation is not just a product or invention, and it’s not necessarily a new idea nor a ‘light bulb moment’. It is a combination of finding novel solutions to peoples’ problems.

After her thought-provoking explanation, we spent the next hour or so working through the entrepreneurial process ourselves. We split into groups, were given photo cards, and told to brainstorm a list of problems based on the pictures we had. The pictures were quite nondescript– a woman running through a field, a row of wind turbines, a person helping another climb a rock–but from those pictures we generated 10 general problems that could be fixed.

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We could even write on the tables…I was awed. English majors don’t get to write on much, other than notebooks.

After generating a list of problems, we chose one and brainstormed solutions to the problem. From there, we created a viable solution and developed and pitched our service to the group. My group decided to focus on the lack of work-life balance for many professionals. We developed a company called Stress Less, a consulting agency that businesses could hire to help convert their offices so that they promoted a more healthy work-life balance. Our pitch even had a jingle, set to the tune of ‘Call Me Maybe’. We won the ‘Best Brand Name’ award…go Team Stress Less!

After boot camp we headed over to Hampton Court Palace, the palace of King Henry VIII (the one who created the Church of England, and had 6 wives in his attempts to have a son. He also fathered Queen Elizabeth I, who is by far my favorite English monarch.). The palace was beautiful, but I was much more enamored with the grounds. The gardens were absolutely stunning, especially the ones along the bank of the Thames. And I was impressed by how successfully lost we became while wandering through the maze. Most of all, I couldn’t have chosen a better group of friends with whom to spend the afternoon.

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The English love their roses. Especially those Tudors. 🙂

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Kim and her band of merry ambassadors. Photo Cred: Divi

Being guided through the creative process of identifying and developing a business was unexpectedly motivating. I left boot camp feeling like I could actually create a viable business–on paper, anyway. I started brainstorming ventures I would be interested in and that might actually work. However, after my original elation wore off, I realized I would have some serious work to do on the numbers side of developing a business. Let’s be honest: although I find an odd satisfaction in getting the correct answer on a math problem I am nowhere near confident enough to trust a business’s finances to my numeracy skills. Creates a nice opening for a partner, though. Any takers?

What to do on Pancake Day in London.

Even though Valentine’s Day is this weekend, a stroll through any Sainsbury’s or 99p store will provide not-so-subtle reminders that Easter is the next holiday coming up. For most Christians, that means Lent is just around the corner as well…and so is Mardi Gras (which means ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French). Mardi Gras, also known as Carnaval in many countries, occurs the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a period of fasting and spiritual preparation for the celebration of Easter 46 days later. Mardi Gras is the last day for Christians to indulge in fatty, rich foods before the more austere, penitential period of Lent begins.

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Mardi Gras in New Orleans

(photo courtesy of The Telegraph)

However, England has their own, less-lewd-more-delicious celebration: Pancake Day! Pancake Day is officially called Shrove Tuesday, and is most prominently celebrated in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. ‘Shrove Tuesday’ comes from the word ‘shrive’, which means ‘to confess’. Pancakes became associated with the day before Lent as a way to use up rich foods like eggs, milk, and sugar before the fasting of Lent began. And for all you pancake lovers out there, mark your calendars: Shrove Tuesday is 17 February 2015…NEXT TUESDAY!!

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A day specifically dedicated to indulge in pancakes? I’m in!

(photo courtesy of Perfect Pancakes)

So rather than fly to NOLA in the States, or to Rio in Brazil, celebrate Pancake Day right here in London.

One of the most famous activities to participate in are ‘pancake races‘, held throughout the UK on Shrove Tuesday. Participants carrying frying pans race through the streets, tossing their pancakes in the air and trying to catch them while running. If you’re interested in participating, check out the following events:

The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race raises funds for London’s Air Ambulance. Teams of 4 suitably dressed up (or down) gather to compete for the honor of becoming this year’s champions. They race up and down Dray Walk and prizes are awarded to the winners, runners-up, best dressed team and best behaved team. To enter a team email info@alternativearts.co.uk There’s a free hot pancake for every entrant!

The Parliamentary Pancake Race has served to raise awareness of the work that Rehab does in enhancing the life chances of people with disabilities and others who are socially excluded in the UK. MPs (Members of Parliament), Lords and members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery gather in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament, where they swap their warm coats and woolly caps for aprons and chefs’ hats and race around the course while vigorously tossing their pancakes in the air.

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 MPs in their racing garb

(Photo courtesy of ukstudentlife)

The Better Bankside Pancake Day Race supports Paintings in Hospitals, a local charity that places fine art in clinical settings. Every year their work brings comfort and reassurance to over 1.8 million people across the UK. Put forward a team or come and support members of the Bankside business community as they show off their pancake-tossing skills at our annual Charity Pancake Day Race.

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Don’t feel like running? Make your own pancakes! Since living in London I’ve discovered there are several different types of pancakes…all of which are delicious. Use up those fatty ingredients and make them all:

American Pancake Recipe – makes fluffy and thick pancakes.

European Pancake Recipe – thin, pliable pancakes (aka crepes).

Feeling ambitious? Try out some of the interesting variations on BBCgoodfood’s Pancake Day page.

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German-style cheese and bacon pancakes, anyone?

(Photo courtesy of BBCgoodfood)

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Don’t want to run, don’t want to cook? (Because, let’s be honest, that’s what Fat Tuesday’s all about…indulgence!) Go enjoy one of the many delicious breakfast restaurants around London:

Fat Tuesday doesn’t have to mean a skinny wallet…TimeOut put together a great list of eateries and included pricing guides.

The London Evening Standard also put together their best-of list for London pancake restaurants and features several that I can vouch for (M1lk is just a few blocks from my flat…come visit and I’ll take you there!).

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Takeaway Tidbit: Whatever you do, make next Tuesday the most Pancake-y day of your year so far.

Happy Holidays! Christmas in America and New Year’s Eve in London

Getting upgraded to first class with Delta on my 9-hour flight home to America basically set the standard for how the rest of my vacation would go…free drinks and a reclining seat all the way home, baby. It was a fantastic break, and SO nice to be home with family. Saw lots of friends, spent most of our time with family (aka drove back and forth a lot between Nebraska and Missouri), AND I shot some guns. Lucky for my boyfriend, a friend let me borrow her shotgun and I was surprised how much I enjoyed shooting that gun. It might just become a hobby. Hunting though…that’s another ball game. Good luck, Jarin 😉

2014_12_20_6109Best Christmas present ever: a cookbook with handwritten copies of mom’s recipes.

DSC_0182Jarin’s family, wearing the hats from the Christmas crackers we brought home from London.

DSC_0183 (2)Bald eagle in front of the house….so cool. America.

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Shootin’ school. I was taking notes. (And pictures.)

We headed back to London before New Years because we wanted to celebrate in London, and I’m so glad we did. Unfortunately, this year was the first year that you had to buy a ticket to see the fireworks. We didn’t get tickets because we thought we could just meander down that way and surely find a decent spot to watch from. WRONG. They weren’t joking when they said they’d have all viewable places blocked off. And heavily secured. We were steered through the Embankment station up to the Strand on a very inflexible route…which made for a crowded walk.

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Once on the Strand the crowd dissipated a bit because, thankfully, they had the street blocked off from traffic. We walked down the Strand towards Somerset house and really lucked out, because the security working Waterloo bridge decided to gift everyone with a free entrance to the bridge.

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See the green security gates on either side? They were everywhere.

Made for a tight walk through security, but once we were on the bridge it was perfect. Room to take some beautiful shots of London at night:

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And had time to spare to get set up for the fireworks. As cheesy as it sounds, I used some of that time to reflect on how lucky I am to be pursuing my dreams in this marvelous, historic city. I’ve touched on my story previously, but it really has been an incredible ride getting everything in place for London to happen – and it wouldn’t have happened if this kid hadn’t brought up the idea. So I owe a lot of this journey to him, and am grateful that we get to experience it together. 🙂

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I had time to get switched over from camera to video, and was able to record the first part of the show. With no further ado, for your viewing pleasure, here is our view of the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebration in London. (Listen for Big Ben…coolest thing ever!!)

(goshdang WordPress isn’t letting me embed the video. Boo. Check it out on YouTube!)

Home will always be the Midwest for us, but while we’re living in London we’re absolutely making the most of it.

Here’s to a fabulous 2015!!

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Takeaway Tidbit: Make 2015 your year 🙂

Sunday Funday :)

One thing that’s really different in London compared to the States is their Sunday activities. For us Midwesterners, Sundays in the winter are basically ‘me’ days. Church for the church-goers, sleeping in for the night owls, then NFL (National Football League–American football, of course 😉 ) games to rally around before gearing up for the week. In London, however, they have a much more social Sunday lineup. Take your time, do what you choose in the morning, but in the afternoons get ready for a good time.

If you live in London, you know Sunday roasts are a must. If you’re a visitor, word to the wise: don’t miss Sunday roast. Most pubs have their own versions of Sunday roasts, but I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to eat with my Ambassador friends at The Barrowboy & Banker, a beautiful old banker’s building converted into a pub.

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Sunday roasts are basically hearty, warm, filling meals–meat, veggies, and potatoes. A traditional side in Britain is Yorkshire Pudding, which is not anything close to ‘pudding’. I’ve found that the word ‘pudding’ can be applied to almost anything over here…yikes. Yorkshire pudding are the two little bread cup things in the picture (front and center and back right), and are delicious. Our server gave us an excellent history of the Yorkshire pudding and explained how he makes them himself–cold batter, hot oven. The dough is essentially crepe dough. Can’t wait to try out a recipe or two back in the States…bring a little British flavour to our American traditions. 🙂

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The ‘bun’ in the back left is a veggie pie, which The Barrowboy & Banker are famous for. It didn’t disappoint!

My theory is that it’s called Sunday roast rather than lunch or dinner because you eat it right in between the two meals, around 3pm. I was 100% ready to eat when we sat down and didn’t need to eat again for a day or two afterwards. So filling. And because I was with the ambassadors we decided to do dessert too. Those chefs knew the way to my heart…can’t go wrong with chocolate cake. Sunday roast is a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon with good friends having fun conversation.

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We ♥ Kim!  🙂

Another cultural novelty for me were pub quizzes. Although they’re not exclusive to Sundays, that particular day of the week lends itself quite well to some rowdy competitions. I have to say, they are rapidly climbing up my list of favorite activities in London. Get a group of friends together (for a Sunday roast, perhaps?), pay a quid or two, and get ready for intellectual warfare. Pub quizzes here are no joke. I played my first pub quiz earlier this month with a group of friends and was floored by how challenging the questions were. Team Bacon had a great time, but we definitely need to brush up on our knowledge of…everything before going back for another quiz. Being from the States probably doesn’t help much either.

Takeaway tidbit: Social time and intellect make for a really fun combination.

London for free..in the Winter!

My first winter in London has been a pleasantly surprising experience so far. In the Midwest winter is a chance to spurn all social relations and rekindle that annual romance with your couch and comfy blankets because you’re not moving until spring. Or at least, you’re not going to be near as active because it’s just too much of a hassle to go out.

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Unless you’re a kid. Then it’s the best thing ever. (That’s me…queen of the mountain over my siblings 😉 )

But in London there is NO excuse for your couch to develop a derrière- shaped indent. Winter is your chance to enjoy the copious amount of free indoor events that you skipped during the summer in favor of enjoying the weather. Just because the temperature is plummeting doesn’t mean you have to abandon yourself to the friendless, magnetic pull of your couch. Or at least, not every night.

A few of the free activities I’ve had a chance to experience this winter so far are:

Tate Modern: I had always wanted to visit the Tate, but didn’t realize it was free until I went with the LUIP Ambassadors. It still blows my mind how many museums are free (basically all of them), especially considering the quality of the pieces on exhibition. There are exhibits you have to buy tickets to view, but we had a great time walking through the free exhibit halls and “contemplating” the artwork. Luckily we had some really intelligent ambassadors to help clarify some of the pieces 🙂

IMG_0595Fellow Ambassadors Sarah, Beatriz, Jamaal, and Brittany

Volunteering: Queen Mary offers quite a few one-off volunteering opportunities, which is awesome. Although it might sound kind of selfish, my primary motivators for getting involved with one-off opportunities are:  it means I get to see a lot of the city I wouldn’t have sought out otherwise, I get to make new friends, and it’s not a weekly or even monthly time commitment if you don’t want it to be. Less selfishly, it means I get to help out in my new community. I’ve only done a couple so far, but they have been really fun!

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Whitechapel Mission clothing drive

volunteering1St. John’s Christmas Fayre workers

Christmas markets: Markets are some of the most fun things around Christmas time. We have them in the States of course, but it’s a slightly different twist when you walk around a London Christmas market. For starters, there’s usually a lot of mulled wine around…tried that for the first time at a Christmas market. YUM. On top of that, there are lots of new, different food stalls. And then the icing on the cake: there are fun, new, British goods being sold in the stalls. Wine, and shopping, and Christmas…well, what more can a girl ask for? One thing to be aware of though–some of the best markets are only one day long. So make sure you scout out which ones you want to go to in advance to ensure you don’t miss the good ones!

P88Mulled wine stall at the market outside of the Tate volunteering5Rides at St. John’s Christmas Fayrep91Rows of books and prints and vintage maps at Southbank’s Winter Festival

Decorations: They’re not explicitly offered on most of the ‘Activities’ lists, but just walking around and seeing all the different decorations is a really fun way to spend a day. Since it’s London, most places are done up right. 🙂 The unusual thing (for this Midwest girl, anyways) is that it’s the businesses and shops that are decorated much more than the houses. Of course, there aren’t really any yards for people to decorate, but there are some admirably tenacious souls in London who decorate their windows, doors, or ornamental trees.

p93Covent Garden treep92Covent Garden baublesp82Random beautiful (and huge!) blue wreath on my walk to the tube from Senate House Library

Concerts and Lectures: If you look at the list of lecturers and performers who put on free events around London, you’re moronic to not attend some of the concerts and lectures offered at institutions around town. As a student you’ll have access to more than a tourist would, so take advantage of it! Visit other universities, go see a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, or attend a late-night event at one of the museums. My friend Brittany wrote a great blog on her night at the Natural History Museum. If you Google “free concerts and lectures in London”, the results will give you more than enough to start.

79St. Martin-in-the-Fields after a free lunchtime concert.

 This is obviously just a cursory list of activities available in London for free. To find out what else is available, Google is your best friend. If that gets too overwhelming or frustrating, TimeOut London and Londonist are two of my favorite websites to use when looking for free events in London. They always have a great, comprehensive lists of free activities going on around town. Even if you’re only here for a short time (tourists, I’m talking to you), you can use these sites to help you get the inside scoop on what’s going on in London during your visit.

Takeaway tidbit: London offers so many free, awesome activities — there’s no excuse for you to sit on your bum all winter.

“Why London?”: The Academic Version

International students hear that question all the time, particularly from native Londoners. My response is usually a quizzical eyebrow raise coupled with, “Why not?!?”

For me especially, London made sense. English literature was born and raised and still exists today in England (crazy, right?) so why would I study anywhere else? London in particular has several advantages for students that aren’t found anywhere else: first-rate research facilities, world-class universities (London has 7 universities in the top 200, more than any other city in the world), eminent and acclaimed professors and a plethora of free lectures and other cultural opportunities. And these are only the academic benefits! …Social benefits will be its own post 🙂

The British Library, which is arguably the world’s best research library. A library card here provides access to around 150 million items, with 3 million added each year. They house the Magna Carta, some of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and Beatles manuscripts, among other treasures. The other items include manuscripts, journals, magazines, newspapers, prints and drawings, videos, and obviously much more. You’d be hard pressed to find a topic for which resources don’t exist in the British Library.

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The British Library (photo source: Sussex Doctoral School Blog)

Senate House Library, to which I owe my ability to participate in class discussions. The University of London system allows all students within the cohort to access this library, which has over 150,000 books. Because of its size and ease of access many of the professors at Queen Mary assign secondary reading material housed there. The staff doesn’t know me by name yet, but I’m currently sprinting my way down that path.

Archives abound in London. Most universities or public institutions have archives associated with the organization, so if you’re doing research on a specific topic there is probably an institution to help you with your research. The National Portrait Gallery has the Heinz archive and library, the Poetry Library has every piece of poetry published in Britain from 1912 to today, the Dr. Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies has a unique collection of puritan, Protestant, nonconformist and dissenting literature…Essentially, if you can’t find resources for your research in London it means you’re not looking hard enough.

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The National Gallery during a festival. (The Gallery faces Trafalgar Square, where a lot of free events are held. The square is also the ending point for most protest marches in London.)

Museums here are often free, which is even more impressive when you see the caliber of exhibits on display. The National Gallery features work from masters like Rembrandt, Monet, van Gogh, Michelangelo, Raphael, and da Vinci–for free. The Natural History Museum, also free, has an incredible dinosaur exhibit, a volcanoes and earthquake gallery with an earthquake simulator, and life-sized models of animals and creepy-crawlers both living and extinct (they have a life-sized blue whale in the mammals gallery). These are just two of more than 240 museums that exist in London, and most institutions also have seasonal exhibits (although these exhibits usually have an entry fee). The British Library is currently featuring an exhibit on the Gothic Imagination, which I can’t wait to visit.

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View of Hintze Hall, entryway of the Natural History Museum. That’s a Diplodocus ready to greet you as you arrive.

For factual information about why London is truly the best place to earn your degree and to figure out how you can get over here yourself, check out this blog post.

Takeaway Tidbit: For research and general academia, there’s no place like London 🙂