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Midyear madness: living life in London

Published: October 21, 2011
Section: Opinions


As a midyear you have a couple options: Go abroad; stay home and try not to strangle your sibling; do an internship somewhere; or go to community college. For me it was a no-brainer. All my friends fled from my hometown like it was the plague and so I found myself doing the same. Except instead of heading to the nearest domestic location, I hopped on a plane to London to experience my “first semester” of college.

This is not my first abroad experience. As a midyear who also took a gap-year in Israel (shocking, I know), I was prepared for the awkward chit-chat and the adjustment to unreliable public transportation. I was unprepared, however, for the depth to which I would become entranced by this city. I won’t deny that I was sad about not being in Israel to rejoice with the rest of the country as Gilad Shalit was returned home after five excruciating years, but I comforted myself by watching the streaming newsfeed of his return as European sirens blared outside my window.

I’m taking four classes here through Arcadia University, the Philadelphia-based college this program is run through. The good news is that most of my courses are amazing and I can finally understand the Bard, making my Shakespeare class much easier. The bad news? I have to write a 4,000-word paper about the screwed up characters in “Much Ado About Nothing” and my analytical-essay writing is a little rusty. Not to worry, I’ve drafted my parents as intercontinental editors.

One of my most interesting classes is called “Environment, Community and the Arts” in Britain. It is the perfect combination of environmental science, art and literature which suits my hippy-green-art-loving-poetry-reading self just fine.

But the class that by far beats out the rest is “Writing London.” My professor (or lecturer as they are called here) wears skinny jeans, is in his late 20s (I think) and is full of wise words. We read Virginia Woolf, Andrew O’Hagan, William Hazlitt and all the other major British essayists who had a thing for writing about London. I’m discovering a whole new portal of literature that didn’t fit into my high school English class curriculum.

A major part of “Writing London” is that each week we’re given wacky prompts to which we respond that makes us think and write and then cringe about what we’ve written, and then write again. We read our work for the class out loud to critique. It is mortifying. As expected each writing workshop my face takes on the color of a ripe tomato. Hopefully I will train my body to stop resembling fruit as time goes on, but I’m not entirely convinced this is possible.

Unfortunately, my “Intro to British Art and Architecture” class isn’t living up to my expectations. I love art history but have been placed with a teacher who would rather prattle on about forgetting her drink in the loo than remember significant facts about paintings. Despite the fact that my lecture isn’t always so informative, the field trips we take mostly make up for it. We visited the Kenwood House today and, although I’m not a fan of Pepto-Bismol colored ceilings, it was wonderful walking through a home literally rich with paintings and history.

That’s the great thing about London. I can learn in a classroom and then I can go experience it. Nothing is more gratifying than researching a Turner and then strolling into the National Gallery to stare at it for hours.

Despite the fact that I’ll be entering Brandeis in the dead of a winter that this North Carolinian is not prepared for, the frostbite will be worth it. My London street-roaming and British people-watching is fabulous, but I’m excited to be on a campus where I can put down roots and become part of an amazing community. It helps that I won’t have to deal with the threat of being run over by an angry taxi driver on the way to class.