Living in London for Five Weeks

At the beginning of this summer, a week after finals had ended, I departed Salt Lake City to live and study in London for five weeks. The English department offers a Learning Abroad Program to England every summer, and I was lucky enough to participate in the program this year. The theme for 2019 was Underground London: Crime and Disorder. While I wasn’t initially sold on the theme of crime, I was really interested in studying British literature in the place it originated, I wanted to travel throughout London, and I enjoy a good crime story as much as the next person, so I figured it would be a good fit. You don’t have to be an English major to participate in this program, but as an English major, I was able to knock out a few credits while fulfilling personal goals of traveling in England.

Soon after arriving in London, we got settled into our flat and I began to meet the people that I would be living with for the next month. I decided to go on the trip before I had met anyone else, and while I was nervous about not knowing anyone and not making any friends, my fears were quickly subdued. I realized that I had in fact already met, gotten to know, and had taken classes with a few people, and I became close friends with some people that I might not have met if not for the trip.

While we did have class three times a week, and we read four novels and a few essays over the five weeks, the class was more of a jumping-off point for our program’s excursions throughout the city. We were encouraged to make the most of every moment, and with our explorations in London and the EU, I almost felt burnt-out by the time I returned to the states because we filled our days to their capacity.

Although classic literature may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I loved reading Oliver Twist, Sherlock Holmes, Jekyll and Hyde, and Moll Flanders in the place where they were written. Being able to see the connections and references in the text from the city was an extraordinary element of the course that I did not fully appreciate until we were in London.

With the class, some of my favorite excursions were going up to Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace), taking a Jack the Ripper walking tour, seeing a Van Gogh exhibit at the Tate Britain, and visiting the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Some of my other favorite activities in London were the National Gallery, Borough Market, seeing a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre, the Portobello Market, visiting Abbey Road, walking through Leicester Square, the Tate Modern, the Tower of London, Regent's Park, getting afternoon tea, and seeing plays on the West End.

In addition to this list (and everything else we did in London), I also traveled throughout the EU with the group of friends that I made. After our first week in London, we took a train up to Edinburgh, Scotland. First of all, the train and public transit systems there are so much more efficient and helpful than anything I have experienced in the states. While in Scotland, we were able to visit the Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument, Scottish Parliament, we took a ghost tour of the city, we went to a few parks, and we hiked Arthur’s Seat, which overlooks the town. With its ancient buildings and the overcast skies, I felt transported to a different world while in Edinburgh.  

The weekend after Scotland, we took an Easy Jet flight to Barcelona, Spain. I was a little terrified of taking a budget flight somewhere, but once we got on board, I felt a lot more comfortable. Because I am pursuing a minor in Spanish and have studied the language for so long, I was excited to get the chance to use my language skills while traveling. In Spain, we visited the Barceloneta Beach, Park Güell, la Sagrada Família, the Arc de Triomf, the Picasso Musuem, and the Gothic Quarter. Our second day in Barcelona, we were met with Spanish rains that unrelentingly soaked us through—but we kept exploring the city because we were so excited to be there. We could only be in Barcelona for a few days based on how the class schedule worked out, but I loved utilizing my Spanish and being able to see the buildings and the culture that I have previously studied.

Then, our third weekend abroad, we decided to take an overnight bus to Paris, France. Our time in Paris was a whirlwind—we went to the Louvre, the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Palace of Versailles, the opera house, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and we attempted to see the Catacombs (but saw yellow vest protesters instead). We lucked out with the weather, and sunny skies were the perfect backdrop for our explorations in the city and our never-ending consumption of crepes and baguettes.

After Paris, we decided to stay in England, but took a day trip up to Oxford and booked another day trip through a company in order to go to Stonehenge and Bath. Looking back, it is easy to just list off everything we did (because we did so much), but each short trip, and the program as a whole, pushed me outside of my comfort zone and taught me something about myself. Before going to Paris I knew basically zero words in French, and while I still don’t know much, I learned how to communicate on a new level. I’ve also never been fully confident in my navigating abilities, but having to figure out various metro systems taught me how to become more self-reliant (but I did still fall back on my friends’ directions through the cities).

I will always look back on this study abroad as an amazing experience, and I am still baffled at just how many places we were able to visit, but here are some of my favorite moments from the trip:

  • stepping outside of the house where Shakespeare was born and being met with actors performing scenes from his plays (and then being called up to participate in a scene along with others from our program)
  • taking a ghost tour of Edinburgh and walking through “haunted” graveyards where J.K. Rowling got inspiration for her characters’ names
  • running into a few of my sorority sisters in the Picasso museum in Barcelona
  • practically getting detained by Paris police for having the wrong metro card, and then eating baguettes underneath the Eiffel Tower
  • stepping off at a tube stop to be immediately met by a someone with a saxophone playing “Careless Whisper”

Studying in London was such a fun, enriching, and crazy experience. At times, I still can’t believe that I lived there for a while this summer, but I am so glad that I had this opportunity. So, for anyone thinking about studying abroad, I think you should go for it! There were many points where I was outside of my comfort zone, but those moments are where I experienced the most growth. And, now I can truly say that London is one of my all-time favorite cities!

 

*I own all photos featured in this article*