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.

24

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

25

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.

16

8

3

17

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!

19

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.

Advertisements

Why choose London for international study?

This March in London is a celebration of internationality, especially for students. I have been asked often why I chose to study in London, and being a part of such positive, encouraging communities has allowed me to share my story on several platforms. Rather than repeat what I’ve said, check out my reasons on the sites below:

 

Study London website

Quick version– The birthplace of English, Resources in London, Specialist degree options, Student support, and Student life in London

DSC_0597

 

Queen Mary International Page

Quick version– London allows me an opportunity to “learn something about everything, and everything about something” through my coursework at Queen Mary.

 

DSC_0689

 

Takeaway Tidbit: If you’re considering international study, DO IT. London has absolutely been the best decision I’ve made.

Reading week in London

This past week was reading week for me, which is the Queen Mary University version of spring break. No class for a week, which, as evident by the title, is supposed to be used for catching up or getting ahead with your reading for classes. Which I did…mostly. But I also took advantage of plenty of activities around London during the week too, starting on Sunday with the city’s celebration of Chinese New Year.

Kim

Photo cred: Kim 🙂

I arrived early enough to watch part of the parade, but unfortunately the area I was in wasn’t regulated very well and as the parade approached people swarmed to the center line of the street, effectively blocking the performers into one lane of performance space and resulting in me not seeing much at all, despite my early arrival and (what originally was a) good vantage point. However, lunch with the LUIP Ambassadors at Er Mei Sichuan Restaurant in Chinatown quickly put me in the best of moods. We chatted about some of the family traditions observed by the ambassadors from China, and enjoyed a delicious shared meal.

11

Three of the 10 ambassadors and our coordinator, Kim.

Monday and Tuesday I did do some reading. I’m currently working on research for my term papers, which will most likely be written on Rousseau’s Confessions and Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. After a meeting with one of my professors on Monday, I spent Tuesday at Senate House Library reading original texts, doing research, and taking notes. Wednesday I did a bit of reading, but mostly just relaxed. 🙂

Thursday I went to an art exhibit featuring work done by one of the Ambassadors, Chenyi. The exhibit was called ‘The Cat is Alive!’, a nod to the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. It was aptly named since the tag line for the exhibit was ‘Articulating quantum physics through art’. The program provided further information on the inspiration behind each piece:

Space Program students blur the edges of science and art in a project which started in Oxford University science labs and ends in The Crypt gallery with quantum interactions rendered in new physical, spatial, multisensory and experiential forms.

I have to admit that a lot of the scientific explanations provided alongside each piece went over my head, but I was inspired by the common thread throughout the whole exhibit: although not explicitly stated, each piece seemed to be designed to highlight the fact that every viewer will have a different experience. I was also pushed towards the recognition that in all aspects of life every action has multiple and varied reactions. Equilibrium seemed to be the endgame for some pieces, such as ‘Onn/Of’.

p63

‘Onn/Of’

Others, like ‘The Quantum Curtain’, encouraged participants to record the different and varied experiences,

p61

‘The Quantum Curtain’

while a piece like ‘Collected Excitations’ allowed each person to interact with the piece and reflect on their unique experiences and the eventual return to balance or equilibrium in a more personal, internal way.

p57

‘Collected Excitations’

Of course, having spent the first part of the week studying Coleridge (and, by extension, Emerson), I was much more receptive of the omniscient, ‘Oversoul’-esque ideas that each piece inspired and spent a lovely, enjoyable hour reflecting on how beautifully science and art entwine.

Friday I read a bit more and relaxed, and Saturday spend the day with ambassador friends on the London Eye–I wrote a piece on our ambassador scavenger hunt from November, but neglected to mention that my team won the hunt! Our prize was a trip on the London Eye, and although it took us four months to find a time that everyone could attend it was well worth the wait. The views and photo opportunities were incredible, even on a drizzly day, and the company was superbly sassy. 🙂

p71

p80

After my time at the Eye, I headed up to Islington to meet friends for an Andrew McMahon concert. If you knew me in high school, you knew how obsessed I was with the bands Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate…so of course when another ambassador friend told me the lead singer/pianist from the band had a solo show in London I jumped at the opportunity to see him perform. He played the perfect mix of old and new songs, interspersed with personal anecdotes and background stories for several of his songs. Coupled with the brilliant company, friendly chatter and high-school-reminiscences it was an excellent way to end a great day, and week.

p84

p89

Takeaway Tidbit: Use your breaks for more than just vegging…get out and try something new, or use the time to strengthen friendships!

How to travel around Europe cheaply

This past weekend, my boyfriend surprised me with a trip to Ivalo, Finland. It was beautiful, and romantic, and well-planned — and a complete surprise. Also, we came back to London engaged. 🙂

IMG_0068Oh, and I chopped my hair. 10 inches donated!

While we were flying there, Jarin pulled up a map of Finland to show me where it was and, as usual, I was surprised by how close the countries are. We could have easily driven to Sweden, Norway, and Russia from Ivalo. That’s one thing I’m still getting used to in Europe – there are SO MANY countries so close to each other! A three-hour drive in the States will only get you one state over, and that’s only if you’re semi-close to a border. In Europe, however, three hours will get you to at least one new country, if not a couple (or four, in Ivalo’s case). Since the countries are so close, it makes it incredibly easy to travel around Europe. There are obviously several ways to travel — plane, train, ferry (for those traveling across any of the channels or seas), hiking, biking.. but how do you know you’re getting the best deal??

The first and most important thing when trying to get the best deal for your money: you need to be ready to buy tickets and reserve hotels/hostels/airbnbs as early as possible. I’m talking months (three or four at least, six is best). Start looking at and comparing airfare on sites like skyscanner or google flights, and think about using websites from the country’s destination (google.co.uk   vs   google.com)  — Sometimes you’ll find slightly better prices, and if nothing else the currency will be local so you can start getting used to the exchange rates.

A nice feature on skyscanner is their ‘Price Alerts’ option, where they send you an e-mail if the price drops below the price you’ve set as your lowest. Don’t get crazy and set a price alert for $2 because you’ll never get an e-mail, but if you set a realistic price and they find an airline with lower prices, they send you a notification. This is also only useful if you’ve started planning in advance, because once you buy your tickets they don’t offer to refund the difference.

SkyscannerThe red circle is the ‘Price Alerts’ button. Also, £36 for a flight to Dublin..WHAAA?!?!

Some great, inexpensive airlines around Europe are Ryanair and EasyJet, but make sure you check that they fly to your destination because they only have certain cities to which they fly inexpensively. However, you can grab a super cheap flight to a city near your destination and then take a train or hike or bike or find the most appealing mode of transportation to get you to your final destination.

Trains are the most fun way to travel, in my opinion. I just find the novelty endearing. (Trains are not as common in the States.) I’m sure it will wear off eventually, but I love being able to enjoy the scenery, bring as much liquid as I want without restriction (if you’re sneaky, you can even bring your own adult beverages!), have a dining car to grab slightly better food than what’s served on airlines (and for semi-reasonable prices, too), use your phones and actually have service, and stand for as long as you want. I think Jarin appreciates the standing areas more than I do. 🙂

Eurostar is the train service I’ve used to get from London to Western Europe, and if you sign up for their mailing list they have fantastic deals on tickets every three months or so. Currently, you can get a round-trip train ticket to Paris for £69, but I’ve seen offers where it’s £59 round-trip. However, you have to be willing to travel at slightly less popular times and/or days to get those rates.

Locally, train tickets are incredibly inexpensive. We took a day trip to Bath, England, bought round-trip tickets a couple of weeks beforehand, and only paid £20 each. Tickets to Oxford are less than £15 round trip if you are willing to leave during off-peak hours (not during rush hour). Again, if you have time, make sure to play around with times and days…often a Saturday morning departure is surprisingly less expensive than a Friday evening departure, and same for Monday morning vs Sunday evening.

One tip for my local readers, check out the rewards programs at stores you frequent. I have a Nectar card through Sainsbury’s and rack up points all over the place, since groceries are essential (obviously). The best part is I can redeem my points with travel companies like easyJet, Eurostar, or Expedia. And oftentimes when I check out and use my Nectar card, they’ll give me a coupon for double points on my next visit. Cha-ching!

Nectar

An extra card to carry around…but completely worth it.

(photocred: nectar.com)

If you have a credit card, chances are you can redeem your rewards points for travel of some sort — cash in on those! And if you fly a lot, use your air miles and/or hotel points to help make your travel less expensive. When it was official that I would be moving to London, I switched my credit card to a CapitalOne Venture Card because it had no foreign transaction fees and also because it gave me the best ratio for earning miles.

Takeaway tidbit: Plan European trips in advance to get the best deals. And use rewards programs to get free trips!

 

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.

DSC_0193

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.

p6

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.

p2

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:

DSC_0216

DSC_0211

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. 🙂

p3

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!!

p5 DSC_0316

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.

IMG_0611

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. 🙂

p97

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.

IMG_0613

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.

snow

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!

volunteering10

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.