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London, England

Anjali Dassarma

IFSA- King’s College London

Major: Media & Comm Studies

Minor: Journalism

 

September 3rd, 2019

Hi there! I’m Anjali, and I’m a Humanities Scholar here at UMBC. I’m studying abroad this Fall 2019 at King’s College of London in England. King’s College is one of the top universities in the world. I’m very excited, and I can’t believe that my study abroad is about to begin. At UMBC, I am involved with The Retriever, as well as my scholars program. I also freelance for a music journalism blog called Balloon Machine, and read a whole lot of news.

With only a week left to go, the realization has set in: I have to pack all of my clothes into one suitcase, pick it up, and carry it around the world to my new apartment in the center of London.

While at King’s, I’ll be writing these blogs, writing for The Retriever (as I’m the Opinions Editor currently), and taking several classes. Since I have the opportunity to explore other disciplines, this semester I’ll be taking a film class as well as a culture course. I’m really looking forward to doing some photography and a whole lot of writing and finding some lovely cafes to spend my days.
I’m going to be living in a very urban environment, much different from UMBC Hilltop Circle. Though I lived in Beijing once before when I was younger, this is sure to be a different experience. I’m living just a few blocks away from Big Ben, Parliament and more. That’s another thing I’m looking forward to. Being in such an important and large city, I have a lot to learn and explore.

This is a very interesting time to go to London. As many of you probably know, Brexit is underway. Boris Johnson stated that on October 31st, Brexit will occur, “do or die.” While I’m in the UK, I’ll be sure to try to dissect and analyze this complicated issue to make sure students at UMBC understand the impact of this historic event. It’s going to hit close to home for me, as there are protests underway on the very bridge I’ll be crossing to get to my campus.

The academics at King’s are sure to be challenging. In the UK, the academic system is set up a bit differently. Firstly, what we call “courses,” are called “modules.” Modules are judged by one or two very large assignments. And that’s it! No extra credit, no pleading emails, no easy homework grades. It’s going to be quite an adventure, and I’m going to be studying much of the time.

Luckily I was able to procure my own apartment, which means I can study in my room at any time of day or night without bugging my roommate. However, I don’t have a meal plan, and I do have to share a kitchen with 4-9 different people. I’m going to be doing a lot of cooking! Stay tuned for lots and lots of meal prep… And I mean a lot.

Between the nightlife and the theatres and more, London has a lot to offer, and I’m going to do my best to balance everything, including my boyfriend back home, to have the best time ever! I hope you’ll join me:-) Talk soon!

September 19th, 2019

Hello! It’s been quite an eventful few days. After arriving at Heathrow, I was taken along with my fellow study abroad students to the St. Giles Hotel. One of the first things I noticed that was different was the fact that they really do drive on the wrong side of the road here. It’s crazy! You have to be extra careful crossing the road and make sure to look in the opposite direction you might normally look. On some streets, they have helpfully painted “Look Left” or “Look Right” on the pavement.
While at St. Giles, I attended my pre-orientation, and made some friends. I was quite proud of myself since I didn’t get jet lagged. The key was sleeping on the plane, then not sleeping during the day when I got there. I went to sleep the first night at 8 pm!

We took a long tour of the streets of London, as St. Giles is very central to much of the bustling city. There’s so much to see and do here, and much of it is free. Specifically, I’m looking forward to making my way over to the Tate Modern Museum and the British Museum.

A few days later, we moved into our accommodations. King’s owns several apartment buildings and dorms all over the city. This campus is very different from UMBC. The buildings are integrated into the city. One of my friends lives in an apartment that used to be a Royal Hospital and it even has that painted on the side. It’s a very historical and old city, rich with stories.

My apartment is quite lovely. We’re a five minute walk to the London Eye and the Thames, and I can actually see two important buildings that make up the London skyline: The Shard and The Vase, right out my window, past our courtyard.

We’ve been rather spoiled these past few days, because the weather has been GORGEOUS. It’s been around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny, which is very unlike London’s typical overcast weather. But as I speak, the sky is clouded over. I personally love a good cloudy day.

We’ve been all about the city, crossing the beautiful Waterloo Bridge and exploring Soho and the nightlife. Today we did something a bit more mundane and picked up some groceries at Sainsbury’s, a chain grocery store. Eating out is as expensive as they say it is. It’s about the same prices here to go out to eat at a nice place as it is in New York. However, if you’re careful, and you go somewhere like Sainsbury’s and pick up a sandwich, it can be very cheap. I actually got all my groceries for around 22 Pounds, which is about 27 dollars. Not too bad!

This morning we got breakfast at our new favourite spot: Gail’s! It’s a delicious little bakery right round the corner from us. I think it has a few other locations in London. I had an iced latte and a maple pecan drop scone. The other day I had their sour cherry and chocolate scone, and that was so good. The coffee here is much better than I’ve found the coffee in the US. Another spot we’ve liked so far was Primark. It’s sort of like Target in the States, and it has very affordable clothing and bedding and makeup. I picked up a pair of boots, and a duvet for my bed.

One thing that’s posed a bit of an issue is the Pound to dollar ratio. I am not quite used to having to adjust for the price difference, but everything is a bit more expensive in Pounds than it is in dollars. One Pound is equal to $1.24 (though it varies from day to day), so you’ve got to get good at math while you’re out and about in the shops.

Today I went to Buckingham Palace. The tour was only around $30, which is so nice considering all of the beauty we got to see. It was so lovely. No photography allowed inside, so I took pictures out by the Victoria Memorial.

While I’m here, one of my big goals is to write as much as I can, and now that I’m all moved in, I hope I can start doing so. I’ve also been listening to a lot of music. A few albums I’ve been enjoying are Contra by Vampire Weekend, Quelle merveille! by Francoise Hardy and Emily Alone by Florist.

If you’ve got any questions about my study abroad experience, don’t hesitate to send me an email at anjalid1@umbc.edu and I’ll try to answer it in my next blog. Hope to see you next time if you’re following along.

October 4th, 2019

Hello!

I’ve finally started my classes. Thank goodness for routine because, honestly, not being in school and having a lot of time to myself has been both a blessing and a curse.

Let me start off by saying that this city is absolutely beautiful!.The architecture, and the people and the fashion… Wow! London is truly a sight to see. I wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere else.

The weather has morphed into more of what I expected. It rains a couple times (sporadically) throughout the day. I learned the hard way that I need to check the weather every day, and even when it’s not predicted to rain… it probably still will. I didn’t bring my umbrella out with me one day, and opted for my thin raincoat and I had to spend the rest of the day with wet socks. Not fun. I bought a nice pair of Doc Martens in the Chelsea boot style so they’ve been protecting my feet since the incident. All that being said, this morning I was surprised to look up and see a pure blue sky, which was all the more surprising since Hurricane Lorenzo is heading our way and is expected to hit the UK.

One of the most exciting days I have experienced so far was the Global Climate Strike. Since London is the capital of Britain, the strike here was among the largest strikes occurring internationally. I headed over there and did some photojournalism and a bit of reporting for The Retriever, which you can read here.

My friends and I decided to head over to East London one night to attend a screening hosted by the Rooftop Film Club under the stars. Though it was chilly and sprinkling, we enjoyed the movie (10 Things I Hate About You!) free popcorn (the card machine was broken!) and the blankets and ponchos provided by the hosts.

We have also visited Notting Hill, a neighbourhood area known for the brightly coloured houses and markets.

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Classes here aren’t easy, that’s for sure, but they certainly are very interesting! I really like the European style of teaching: Each class has a lecture (all of mine are an hour long), where the professor speaks about the topic and students take notes. Then later in the week, you attend a seminar (also known as a tutorial if you’re taking classes in the business school), which is a discussion among students led by the professor or a TA.

My classes are really niche and delve into some very interesting topics, especially my “Science, Nature and Performance” course, which is extremely interdisciplinary. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, both for my own pleasure and also for my classes. I’m about halfway through Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, a story which takes place in London and Paris during the French Revolution.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Maughan Library ever since classes started. We have a few other university libraries scattered about in London, including one directly across the street from my living accommodations called the Franklin-Wilkins Library (https://www.kcl.ac.uk/library/visiting/fwb). King’s is very proud of all of their alumni, and this library is dedicated to Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. These two worked together at the Randall Institute at King’s in the 1940s/1950s, and Rosalind Franklin actually took “Photo 51” which was the X-Ray image that made advances in the DNA structural discovery. You may have heard of Francis and Crick, who won the Nobel Prize with Wilsonfor discovering the DNA double helix. Though they won the prize, Rosalind was a huge part of that discovery, but she died at age 37 and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously. Not only that, but the scientific community was unfortunately very sexist. This sexism had an effect far down the line, and you’ll rarely read Rosalind’s name in American biology textbooks, though there’s been an increase in recognition for her work. One thing I really liked about King’s was specifically that they dedicated a whole library in Rosalind’s name so no one will ever forget about her accomplishments again.

I’ve taken the tube (London’s underground) quite a bit, but I’ve been doing a lot more walking. Some of the albums I’ve been listening to these past few weeks are Either/Or by Elliott Smith, Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, Abbey Road by The Beatles (it’s the 50th anniversary of the album!), House of Sugar by (Sandy) Alex G and Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend. Coincidentally, I’m going to see Vampire Weekend here in London, and I’m very excited about that!

As always, if you have any questions, you can send me an email at anjalid1@umbc.edu and I’ll be sure to answer them. Talk soon!

October 24th, 2019

Hello! It’s been about a month that I’ve been in London, and I think I adore this city a little bit more every day.

In terms of activities, my parents came to visit, which was so lovely. They stayed at the very swanky Waldorf hotel and we had afternoon tea every day. We went to Abbey Road, which was definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far. I got a pick, a mug and a little keychain. Suffice to say, I love The Beatles. We also saw Mamma Mia at the Novello, and it was literally incredible. They actors were so talented, and by the end of the show, everyone was on their feet and dancing.

I’ve gone to a couple new areas of London I really liked so far, including East London, Islington, and Mayfair. After going to Rough Trade (a very cool record store) in Brooklyn, I knew I wanted to go to the ones in London, and I succeeded! I saw an English rock band called FEET there.

One thing I wanted to do with these blogs was to talk directly to students who are considering studying abroad. There are a lot of things to consider before you uproot yourself and move far far away, including finances and location.

One of the big parts of my decision to come to London was the concept that I wanted to be able to explore this city. Every tiny cafe, every area, I wanted to be able to know it deeply. And the only way you can do that is through mistake-making and exploration. I play open mics at random pubs and take the wrong bus and try to stay moving. It’s all part of something larger I think. I spilled my coffee all over myself and I broke my umbrella this morning in the pouring rain. I say all this just so you know that the unavoidable mistakes you make while abroad don’t make it any less meaningful.

Everyone on social media (not to sound too curmudgeonly) seems to want to put their weekend trip to Paris or their 7 dollar latte on their Instagram feeds. I do it too. It’s prettier, and it just makes sense. Why would you put your broken umbrella on Instagram? But when you’re scrolling, remember that this trip will have dimension and depth. It’s not all easy and it’s not all hard. It’s a delicious in between!

When I walk over the Waterloo Bridge (a walk I have to do every day), I actively try to gaze out over the Thames and take a mental snapshot. I know one day I’ll miss these beautiful views, so I never want to take it for granted.

With all that being said, if you’re thinking about studying abroad, just know it’s okay to stay in one place. Especially if you’re going to Europe, you might feel like you’re expected to travel every weekend. I’m definitely choosing to do the opposite. I adore London, and there’s never a day I feel like it’s getting monotonous. I’ll be taking you all on a bit of a “follow me around” when I take over UMBC’s Instagram tomorrow, so you’ll be able to see a bit of what I eat, drink and do. The albums I’ve been listening to are Close it Quietly by Frankie Cosmos, Salad Days by Mac DeMarco, Songs from the Sunroom by Field Medic and Vampires in the Daylight by Miniature Tigers.

As always, my email is anjalid1@umbc.edu if you have any questions or comments. Catch you soon.

November 12, 2019

Greetings from a very chilly London! I’ve already begun listening to Christmassy tunes as the air temperature has been flirting with the high 30s and low 40s (that’s in Farenheit of course).

It’s been a while since my last blog. Here in London, we have a break mid semester called “Reading Week,” which allows for students to catch up with their assignments before the semester gets going again. A lot of study abroad students travel or meet up with friends. My boyfriend came to visit me and we explored London, and Oxford (on a day trip)!

I have been to Oxford once before, when I was very young, but when I returned almost a decade later, everything was exactly how I remembered it. I adore the cobblestone streets and the covered market, and academia that is sunk in the very roots of the trees and lichens on the castle-like buildings of the campus. We also went to the Pitt Rivers Museum, something I remembered very clearly from my time here before. It is an anthropological museum with the world famous Oxford Dodo bird and the shrunken heads. We went to the Jubilee Tavern for dinner, which is (fun fact) the first place Radiohead ever played. They were called On a Friday back then!

While my boyfriend visited, my birthday came around! I turned 20! We spent the morning at Brick Lane, which is a vintage market in East London. We got breakfast there too, a delicious smoked salmon and scrambled egg toast. My parents always made me bagels with cream cheese and lox on my birthday, every year without fail, so I did miss that a lot. Anyone who has talked to me on this experience knows that I’ve been complaining about the bagels in London. They are very different, and nothing like American bagels. What I would give for just one everything bagel… Besides my mom’s delicious cooking, it’s the one food I miss terribly from home.

We went to the Sky Garden that night, a rooftop garden with drinks and seating and a beautiful view, then to Dishoom. Now Dishoom is reportedly the best Indian food in all of London, and let me just say, it truly was incredible. We got Chicken Ruby Murray, naan and samosas. Then the friendly staff sang to me and served us the most decadent chocolate and spiced iced cream. My stomach is grumbling just thinking about it.

The next day, we did the whole touristy thing by going on the London Eye. London is a beautiful city, but honestly, the London Eye is only an activity I did so I could say I had done it. The Sky Garden is free, and has nicer views. Just saying.

My classes are going really well. I enjoy so much freedom that the European system gives me. I do my readings at my own pace and I always get them done with time to spare. I had two assignments due right after Reading Week ended. One of them was an essay and the other was a revised resume. Luckily the UMBC Career Center had already approved my resume, so hopefully the edits I made will earn me a good grade! A lot of the time my boyfriend was here, we spent finding new little spots to study.

This past weekend was IFSA’s trip to the national park: The Lake District. The rolling hills dotted with sheep and golden trees that make up the English countryside are absolutely stunning. We stayed in a hotel called Glaramara and everyone got to choose what activity they wanted to do. I chose the Cultural Tour, which ended up being the best one! We got driven around the entirety of the huge Lake District, and our guide, Graham, knew where the best pictures were, so he would let us out to take pictures, then we would get back in the car. It was freezing cold. I was originally supposed to go on a hike, but I’m so glad I changed my mind!

We visited a little town called Grasmore, and my friend Sarah and I got their famous gingerbread, then went to have tea. Let me just tell you, grilled goat cheese sandwiches beat tuna sweetcorn any day. I misjudged British food though! I had quite a bit of delicious food this week.

We also went to a place called the “Herdy Shop,” a sheep shop! Herdy is short for Herdwick, which is the type of sheep they have at the Lake District. They love their sheep and so do I! I bought sheep earrings and the lady at the counter loved how into it I was. She gave me a bunch of stickers too!

It’s been a very very busy couple of weeks, but I’ve been having a wonderful time. I try to journal as much as I can. I’m comfortable in London now too! What’s so funny is that when I was on the train back from Glaramara, I kept thinking ‘Ah, I can’t wait to head back to London, where I know where I’m going.’ And when I got off the train at Waterloo, I was suddenly back in a place where I knew every corner. That’s the best feeling. It was familiar.

This week, one of my best friends comes to visit me! Maxi will be here tomorrow, and we are going to see Vampire Weekend together. I’m so excited. As always, here are the albums I’ve been listening to: Two Hands by Big Thief, This Old Dog by Mac DeMarco, The Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon and Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album. Talk soon!

November 28, 2019

Hello!

No matter where you choose to study abroad, and at any time of the year, I’m sure you’ll face the same issue: a holiday without your family. Today is Thanksgiving. It’s pretty hard, honestly. Here in London, obviously Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal, or even a deal at all. Strangely enough, however, they have Black Friday. So that’s sort of odd.

I’m spending my first Thanksgiving away from my family, and last year I got to spend it with my boyfriend as well, so I’m missing home pretty badly at this point. In good news though, I’ll be going with a friend of mine and her family to a hotel for a fancy dinner, so I’m looking forward to that.

Since my last blog, I’ve had two friends visit me and it’s been absolutely lovely. I’ve definitely settled in. I can get anywhere in London with no problem (either by buses or by the tube) and I was able to show them around to as many sites as possible.

One of my best friends, Maxi came for a short period of time, and we basically ran all over the city, eating at wonderful restaurants, like Wahaca and shopping. I showed her Primark, and she left with far more scrunchies than she came with.

When my other best friend and UMBC roommate Elizabeth came, we only really had one day, so we hit the stores at Covent Garden, went to a very fancy tea at bbar, went to a Christmas Market and to the top of the Tate Modern. Seeing London through their fresh eyes reminded me just how lucky I am to be here.

The weather has been quite odd actually. The rain has mostly held off, and it’s just cold, as in the 40s. But I truly haven’t seen the sun for more than ten minutes in weeks…

I recently visited the National Gallery, which is close to Trafalgar Square, and right by Charing Cross. They have quite a lovely collection and I spent a few hours drawing there.

As my study abroad slowly approaches a close, I’ve made a list of places and things I still want to do. That way I have sort of a bucket list, where I can cross things off. There are a lot of things still left to do. One of my favourite parts of London is the fact that even if you live here for years, there will still be a million things you haven’t seen. It’s just so expansive. There are around 9 million people who live here. In Baltimore, there’s around 620,000 people, just for comparison.

I don’t think I’ve really mentioned enough how grateful I feel to be here. London is absolutely incredible, and I think my adoration grows a bit every day I get to walk these streets.

I went to Alexandra Palace twice while I was here. What an incredible venue! And I got to see Mac DeMarco and Vampire Weekend, two of my all time favourite bands. My last concert here is Whitney, and I bought the ticket absolutely on a whim. The public transit makes these venues really accessible. I’ve been listening to Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest, Real Estate’s self-titled album, and of course, Sufjan Steven’s Christmas album: Silver and Gold.

Talk soon. Cheers!

December 12, 2019

A (Very Cheesy) Love Letter to London

Dear London,

Firstly, I’m going to miss you. Every inch of you (that I got to see). Though there were times that you overwhelmed me with your confusing politics and aggressively unpredictable walking (no one sticks to one side of the street??) I couldn’t have imagined living anywhere else for the past three and a half months. It’s been quite a wild ride.

I remember when I first got a glimpse of you from the plane, leaning forward in my seat past the family sitting across the row from me. I made some friends when I first moved here, and though they may not have stuck around the whole time, that was okay. This city gave me the solace I needed to find out who I was, without anyone else by my side.

You have so much going on! I don’t think anyone who hasn’t lived here has any idea how actually huge this place is. Any night of the week, you could find something to do. That was scary. I’ve never been to a place like that, but I loved it. I loved walking next to your landmarks and gazing up at you. I fell in love with your cobbled streets and architecture and the way the lights shine here at all times of night.

When I think of leaving you, it brings tears to my eyes. Even though my flat may have been teeny tiny, I loved the way you, as a city, made me feel: like a grown-up. The South Bank Centre was probably my most near and dear part of you. How could something be as quaint as your sweet streets, and charming Christmas Markets and lovely street performers? It is probably the most beautiful walk I’ve ever taken.

I adore your fashion. It pushed my boundaries, and I’d like to think of myself as much more fashionable than when I first came here. Thank you for that.

Since you’re so large, I find myself a bit sad. I wish I could have seen more of you. There are so many things I wish I could have seen! There is still so much I have left to see. Though I spent most days trying to explore and see what I could, I still know there is so much you have left to offer.

For those of you wondering if London is worth a trip, I can tell you it absolutely is. There is no doubt in my mind that this city has a piece of my heart.

I just can’t wait to come back here someday soon. London, I know we’ll meet again.

Love,

Anjali

January 10, 2020

It has almost been three weeks that I’ve been back in the States, and I miss the tube more than I ever could have imagined! I’m commuting into DC with my internship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and I can’t help but miss an effective and on-time subway system.

Studying abroad was such a wild ride. It’s definitely something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Not only did I grow, I also know Central London like the back of my hand, and that’s a really unique skill set that will surely help me as I mature.

In a very serious way, my study abroad was clouded by political turmoil. The world is not a simple place to exist in, and watching Brexit brewing hate in another place made me realize that America’s leadership has effects worldwide.

And with my internship, I can see how history repeats itself. Studying abroad makes you remember that the United States of America is not alone in it’s pursuits. The rest of the world has lost sight of our common goal as humans: working together, and it shows in the current events. It’s been quite a scary few weeks, and though it may be 2020, the only thing that has changed is the year.

But being home, I realize how badly I missed my family and friends, and I missed the familiarity of home. I really missed my cat too. He was very happy to see me! There isn’t any place like home, and being so far away from home did make my heart grow fonder.

Your study abroad experience very well may be vastly different from mine. You are sure to face different challenges and political events and homesickness. In my opinion, it’s a step towards understanding the globalized world and all our differences. If we never expose ourselves to differences, where will we be? And even though America boasts incredible diversity, there is nothing quite like living in another country. It stretches you to be a more flexible, a more adaptable person.

If you can, study abroad. Live and breathe another culture. Go on the trips your program offers, visit museums, take time to go on walks or bus rides or train rides and read books and eat delicious new foods. Though London is huge, I feel as though I know part of it, and I know that I did everything I wanted to do there. And of course, I’m excited to see what the future will bring… More travels, hopefully!

If you’ve been around this long, I just wanted to sincerely say thank you for following along. Until next time!

Anjali