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. ūüôā

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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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Queen Mary’s English department: Because literature is more than just books.

When I decided to go back to school for my Masters, England was an obvious choice. What better place to study English literature than its birthplace, right? But choosing a school was a bit more complicated. I spent several weeks researching schools around England, but ultimately chose¬†Queen Mary because they are the only school to¬†offer a pathway specifically tailored to my academic interests. Although my research on American schools was minuscule, I don’t think many universities in the States offer explicitly defined areas of study for Masters students. You have your general ‘American Lit’ or ‘English Lit’ programs, but I never came¬†across any programs that were specifically ‘Romantic Lit’ or ‘Shakespeare’ or anything very detailed. queen mary

¬†Queen’s Building, QMUL

Photo courtesy of: The Student Room

¬†My pathway,¬†Eighteenth Century Literature and Romanticism (ECLAR), has completely broadened my understanding of not just literature but history, philosophy, politics, theology, and early science. The professors teaching the modules for this pathway are top scholars in their field and having the opportunity to learn from them has been invaluable. It was a completely new experience for me to be reading a book or article and find that my¬†professor had been quoted as an expert. I would get¬†quite star-struck the next time I saw the quoted professor. ūüôā Queen Mary’s English department also goes out of their way to¬†bring our studies to life. In almost every module¬†I took, we spent at least one class at a location other than Queen Mary using archives, making connections between literature and other subjects¬†(London has an amazing number of free museums!), learning the procedures for different libraries available to us–the British Library was particularly different from any library I’d ever used before, and visiting relevant historical sites like Newington Green Unitarian Church, London’s oldest nonconformist place of worship (founded in 1708) or¬†the Tate Britain to talk about the Turner exhibit and Romantic themes. p44

 Archival experience with the National Portrait Gallery

We even took a day trip to Margate, which is on the East coast of England. That was absolutely one of the most lively and entertaining classes I had the chance to attend. We left just after noon on a Friday, spent the afternoon visiting various landmarks, discussing the literary and historical significance of Margate, mingling with the locals, and ended the day with a beautiful sunset and delicious fish and chips. Margate1 p.11.1

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Our brilliant day trip leader, Dr. Matt Ingleby (left), and a rhapsodic Margatian (right).

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¬†In addition to exponentially broadening my understanding in many different fields, ECLAR and the English department as a whole are dedicated to providing their students with real-life connections to their studies. There are¬†weekly Postgraduate Research seminars which bring in speakers from a number of academic institutions to discuss their current research, and the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies¬†also hosts¬†regular seminars and an annual conference. I could not envision a more preparatory English program than the ECLAR pathway at Queen Mary. Obviously if your research interests are different you should seek out a department that can support your pursuits, but when looking into potential universities make sure to think about what they will offer you outside the classroom. Get in touch with people in the department to ask any questions left unanswered by the websites. I’ll be the first to admit that Queen Mary’s website isn’t particularly insightful, but each of the professors I e-mailed responded within a couple days…and that was over their summer holidays! Takeaway Tidbit: Ultimately the choice of university is yours, so make sure to do your research, but Queen Mary provides an excellent approach to Masters-level study and real-world preparedness.

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

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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.

 

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

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. ūüôā

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. ūüôā

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!

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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 ūüėČ

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. ūüôā

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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 ūüôā

Houses of Parliament and the no-good-very-bad night bus

This weekend I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Houses of Parliament with my London Ambassador program (for those of you who don’t know, I was chosen to represent Queen Mary as a LUIP Ambassador for the year–It’s been an incredible experience so far, with more to come!).

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The tour was absolutely perfect, thanks to our tour guide Joanna. We weren’t allowed to take pictures once inside the official Houses of Parliament, but if you’re in London and interested in politics and/or history this tour is DEFINITELY worth your time. Ask for Joanna if you can, our coordinator Kim said Joanna gave the best tour she’s experienced (and she’s been accompanying the Ambassadors on tours since the program started, so she should know!).

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The tour gathered in Westminster Hall, on the Big Ben side of the building. Joanna themed our tour around the events of the State Opening of Parliament, which marks the start of each new parliamentary session and is the only day of the year when all three parts of Parliament come together AND the only day on which the Queen enters the Parliamentary buildings. (If you’re interested in finding out more about the State Opening, this website has an excellent, short overview of the day.) Since the theme was the State Opening we began our tour on the opposite side of the complex, in the Victoria Tower:

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We proceeded through the Palace of Westminster (commonly referred to as the Houses of Parliament) from the Victoria Tower to the clock tower (aka Big Ben) accompanied by Joanna’s excellent commentary on the history of the building, the explanations and historical significance of the traditions associated with the State Opening, the current practices of Parliament (which can change relatively easily in comparison to the US, since the UK doesn’t have a written constitution), and the general history of the English monarchy which was illustrated by paintings¬† throughout the tour.

We finished the tour where we started, in Westminster Hall, where in 1649 they chopped off Charles I’s head and simultaneously planted the seeds for the eventual development of modern-day autonomous government.¬† I should have put it together prior to my visit, but the current practices of Parliament are a direct result of the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution and the subsequent cultural shifts that happened over the course of the Enlightenment era. Aka everything I’ve been reading, writing, and talking about in classes for the last three months. It was fun to see how the time period I’m studying connects in a very real, powerful way to today’s 21st-century government.

IMG_0582Inside Westminster Hall

After the tour, my boyfriend and I headed over to a friend’s house for homemade pizza, drinks, and good company. We chatted, ate, made some new friends and ended up enjoying the atmosphere so much that we missed the last train for home. At that point, we realized were left with some pretty unfortunate transportation options.

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Fun times with friends=don’t want to leave=miss the train=night bus ūüė¶

I knew the night buses existed but had always been cautioned against taking them if it could be avoided at all costs. Now I know why. BUT, since neither Jarin nor I had taken one before, we figured it couldn’t be that bad. Plus we were extremely far away from home and financing a cab ride for that distance would have required another loan. The fact that it was raining didn’t really lend itself to the enjoyableness of the experience, but to sum it up quickly: night(mare) buses don’t have the fleet size or run as frequently as regular daytime buses SO you wait longer for one to arrive, ride longer since they have extended routes, get some…interesting characters considering they are the cheapest form of transportation after 1am, and have much less personal space than usual on a bus. And did I mention the ride is longer? Like, significantly longer. What is normally a 45-minute tube ride turned into a 3-hour marathon. Didn’t get home til 3:30.

Good thing the next day was a Sunday ūüôā It was worth it for the experience, but I’ll be making it a point to get to the tube on time from now on.

All-in-all though, it was an excellent Saturday!

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 Takeaway Tidbit: Visit Parliament. And avoid night buses. Most importantly, pizza parties with friends are the best.

“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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā