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?

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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 🙂