The Experience

Currently I am in the midst of my spring break at the London School of Economics, meaning that I now have five weeks off from classes. That means that I have nothing but time now for the next few weeks. Obviously I need plenty of exam preparation so I can’t just take a month of school work, but it does free up much of my day to day scheduling. Unfortunately, with the lack of hard deadlines and relatively wide open schedule that LSE students have, many fall victim to the trap and binge watch every episode of a seven season TV series. At least for the moment, I’ve been able to avoid this massive pitfall. 

It is crucial for me to step my preparations for exams still, however. One of the major difficulties that I have preparing for exams is the stark difference between the United States and United Kingdom exam procedures. In the United States- and Saint Joe’s in particular- exams are generally based on short answer question, identification, and perhaps one essay question over the course of a one hour time period. The United Kingdom structures its exams much differently. The typical United Kingdom exam is a period in which you cram three fully concocted essays into three hours each exam. The most difficult part of the exam format is without a doubt the time constraint on each of the essays. I took a practice exam under these exam conditions and I have never in my life believed that an hour could fly by so quickly. With more time studying the topics and much more practice under exam conditions, I will hopefully be able to spout what I’ve learned here into a coherent and representative essay that gives me an A.

While I may not realistically walk away from my time here at the LSE with straight As, but there is no doubt that I am going to walk away from my time here a different person than I had started. In my opinion, I will leave my time here at the London School of Economics as a more intelligent, globally aware, and more confident in myself and my abilities. If the year accomplished little else, I now understand the crucial importance of quoting and referencing others. But I believe that the most important realization that I have made in my time here has been the understanding of the term the “study abroad experience.” The experience is more than I ever imagined I could have taken from my time abroad.

The benefits of exposure to the different cultures, peoples, and cosmopolitan cities are just the tip of the iceberg to the qualities that study abroad presents to students. Perhaps the most important ideal that study abroad instills in its participants is the adoption of the “study abroad experience” culture. With this culture one starts to appreciate the value of travel, different cultures or customs, history, and ultimately experiences. The entire nature of the study abroad culture is an attempt to cram as many experiences into the few months that you are abroad. Those experiences can be museums, city tours, new food, plays, nightclubs, parks, or countless other tourist attractions. If someone can honestly argue against having as many experiences as possible for a year, then I think it can be realistically said that they aren’t having the right kind of experiences and may need to go abroad more than anyone. Filling a year with new experiences is something that all should do. It has affected me so much that I want to continue this philosophy when I return to the states. This study abroad culture is something that I will carry on with throughout my life. That, I am sure, will be the farthest reaching and most valuable component of my study abroad experience. That is the reason that I am most thankful that I went abroad. Neither because I developed a network of intelligent and interesting friends, nor because studying abroad has been shown to make you more employable and valuable to businesses. The culture of seeking travel and new experiences is what I am grateful for and what I am hoping to develop continually throughout the rest of my life.

Before coming over to study abroad, talking to other students who participated in study abroad always described it as an experience. Naively I thought they were blasting about their time abroad to seem more worldly and cool. I now understand that they were being completely honest with me as studying abroad is just that – an experience. Taking the plunge into another country with a different culture is an experience that few people have, and I am now lucky enough to count myself among those few. I implore anyone reading this blog to take that plunge and live the study abroad experience. I did, and I certainly do not regret it at all!

Pictures From London Hotspots

 

City at Night

Nighttime view of Big Ben and the London Eye from the Golden Jubilee Bridge.

455830_london_uk_tower_1920x1080_(www.GdeFon.ru)

Tower Bridge (built 1886-1894): this iconic symbol of London is a suspension bridge which crosses the River Thames.

 

lion-handle

Lion’s head gargoyle used to gauge the height of the Thames River.

statue

Statue given to the UK from Belgium in memory of the Second World War.

java

Cappuccino from the Fleet Street Press

flowers

First day of flowers blooming in the Victoria Embankment Gardens

monument

Cleopatra’s Needle: It is well over 3,400 years old and was originally built and erected in Egypt.

regal-courts-of-justice

The Royal Courts of Justice shining in the sun.

skyline

The “City” of London, which is the principal financial district of the United Kingdom. Also shown in the picture is St. Paul’s Cathedral.

bridge

The Golden Jubilee Bridge: This bridge was named to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.

park-statues

Statue of Arthur Sullivan, which is easily the most interesting statue that I have seen in my life.

statue-2

Statue of the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns.

statues-building

The angel of peace riding his chariot. The angel, a common European image, has always seemed too imposing to stand for peace for me.

london

View from the Waterloo Bridge of the London Eye next to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The best view in all of London!

 

Three Months Isn’t Enough

Three months is not enough. One semester can never really be long enough to fully discover a city like London. For most of the first term here I was exploring the nooks and crannies of this huge city. I fell victim to the belief that I knew London then, I was mistaken. After a few more months of exploration I feel that I now understood more about the city that I’ve called home for almost a year, but deep down I know that I am still just beginning to scratch the surface of experiences that London offers. Each day that I set out to learn something new and interesting about London, I learn something about the history of London and the world that I never expected to learn. Only recently did I discover that on a daily basis I have been passing the Savoy Theater, which was founded by the famous playwriting duo of Gilbert and Sullivan. That type of revelation happened again when I discovered the fascinating history of the London’s version of Cleopatra’s Needle (which has no real connection to its namesake).  

This is not to say that I do not know the area very well, but I have found many of them recently. I have several favorite spots around town that are tucked away into little pockets of the city, avoiding the gawking tourists and representing true London culture better than a tourist attraction might be able to. In fact, as I am writing this entry, I am sitting along the Thames within a view of Cleopatra’s Needle, Big Ben, and the London Eye. The area that I’m sitting at is an often overlooked alcove underneath Waterloo Bridge, close enough to the Thames to be splashed with river water by the larger waves. While not many get to say that they have been splashed by the unusually high water levels of the Thames, I can attest to the fact that it is not an experience that any should seek out. Despite the murky water, that alcove- more importantly the view from the alcove- is one of a select number of images that will almost certainly define my experience abroad.

Another spot that will symbolize my time in London is my new favorite coffee shop. I may have understated my feelings about this coffee shop. I have been to coffee shops and cafés in Philadelphia, London, Paris, and New York. None of these other shops seem like anything more than suppliers of crushed beans heated up in water. What the Fleet Street Press does, however, has taken this meager beverage and molded it into an art form. Such high praise may seem like hyperbole, but this praise is sincere and meaningful. The coffee and cappuccinos are not the only characteristics that make it so great. The reasonable fare, though still pricey as it is in London, is a significant reason why I frequent the shop. Most importantly to me, however, is the cool lounge area that makes for the ideal study spot. Free Wi-fi and the ability to use the area for hours after having bought only a single drink make the Fleet Street Press the perfect place for me to get away from my dorm while doing work. It gives the perfect amount of structured distraction that can keep me moderately productive for hours at a time.

 

Recently I have spent significant time there working on an essay for my class on the Politics of Economic Policy, which is my last obstacle before finals. Differing from the majority of papers here, the essay topic was left up to my own discretion. This was a nice change of pace as I could focus my topic on the areas of the course that I found most interesting. Having picked the topic mere days following watching the Wolf of Wall Street, I surprised a few who know me by selecting regulation of financial markets as my research topic. I am rather proud of the case studies that I will perform for the research topic, as they are greatly outside my usual comfort zone. I will show- or attempt to show- the effects of economic patriotism on financial regulations in France and Australia. This will certainly be difficult to show, but I am looking forward to testing the amount that I’ve learned in this class and at the LSE on how to research and analyze topics. This will certainly be a very indicative gauge for how much effort I will need to put into my time preparing for exams and for any future research that I do.

 

For the next few days I will surely dedicate myself to the last obstacle before my long five week break and finals, which will clearly be much more bearable when working either with a view from my alcove or while lounging in my favorite coffee shop. While spending any time abroad will help develop you holistically as an individual, I have concluded that one must commit a substantial amount of time to the experience. I realized this after noticing that I discovered many, if not all, of my favorite spots in London during my second term here. To me, it is clear that three months is not enough.

The Hidden Value of My Experience

With coming to a top tier European institution like the London School of Economics, leaving my home country, and adopting a new home for a year, I realized that this year was very likely to present me with life altering experiences. Initially, I thought these experiences would come from submersion into a different culture, traveling across a different continent, striking out on my own away from the safety net that my parents lovingly provide, or learning from world class professors. I had no idea the most impactful part of studying here would be the students.

The students, my peers, are some of the most impressive individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting. The typical student at the LSE is certainly clever, but what has been more remarkable to me is their hard working mentality. The LSE structures their academic weeks with very limited in class time, placing the responsibility of completing class work squarely on the shoulders of the students. For example, I have only eight hours combined for lectures and classes per week. Cumulatively, that is one work day per week. I have never had more time that is not designated for some purpose. What the LSE tries to teach is that you have responsibilities and it does not matter when they get done, only that they are completed. This leaves me developing the skill, or rather the ability, to manage myself and my goals. This skill has already been developed by the students here and many of my general course cohorts.

With the ability to manage their time adequately, the students here have put their times to very good use. Many of the students have resumes that could stack up against anyone’s. I have met students who have interned with the European Union, Parliament, Congress, big four accounting firms, large banks, Fortune 500 companies, Google, and dozens if not hundreds of other impressive resume builders. More impressive than the jobs that my peers have had may be their extracurricular achievements. Volunteering is as common at the LSE as it is at Saint Joe’s, and it is taken just as seriously. Many of my friends are active bloggers, recording not only their travels and experiences abroad, but also analyzing current political issues, both for the United States and internationally. These blogs only help to sharpen their analytical abilities, a very useful trait when essay time rolls around. While these are impressive, they may not demand as much time to effort as what some others do at the LSE. One of the first students that I met here is on also on exchange from the US, where he is part of several high level cycling teams – including collegiate and national club teams. He frequently goes on rides longer than a hundred miles a day. Obviously this painstaking labor is time consuming and effort draining, but he stills finds enough time to be one of the most active bloggers that I’ve met here and to promote the research that he did over the summer on Rachel Maddow, NPR, and other news outlets. We don’t always see eye to eye on many things, but he undoubtedly has inspired me to try to reach my potential.

Admittedly not all students here have their lives as well put together as he does, but he is more representative of the typical LSE student than those simply drifting through life. The overachievers are not the only resource available amongst the students here. London is a global city, and that is eminently reflected in the student body at the LSE. Well over 100 countries have students among the student body at LSE. A friend from the US visited me and said that being amongst the diversity of students on campus was his favorite experience visiting me. This diversity is most striking in my Foreign Policy Analysis course. Among the fourteen students in my class session, which is much smaller than the lecture portion of the course, there is an incredible variety amongst the students. This variety of backgrounds manifests itself in more dynamic discussions of foreign policies of different nations. Having students from different backgrounds gives a clearer depiction of issues affecting their countries than many academic journals or books could ever hope to achieve. When discussing Russian foreign policy, the discussion leader ceased to be the class teacher as she deferred to the students from Russia to explain certain aspects of their policy choices. These students frequently have unique insights that are left out of the academic readings for the class. Long before the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, I learned from a Russian student here of a large sect of the Russian population that believes the Cold War is ongoing. Such expertise and insight prepared me to better understand the Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula as an act representing the beliefs of that sect that was previously left out of academic and mass media reports on Russian-American relations.

 

The combination of inspiring hard working peers and exposure to the culture and issues of other countries has certainly had a dramatic effect on my personality. Previously, I had always considered myself to be both personally motivated and globally aware. Since my time here, my resolve to be even more active in approaching both of these traits has been strengthened. In response to seeing so many others dedicate their time to self-betterment, I have started learning another language, built my own website for analyzing political and economic issues with a global emphasis, and am approaching internships with a renewed fervor. Many, if not all, of these projects that I have taken up this past year are at least partially due to drawing inspiration from my peers at the LSE. 

The other component of the projects is the culture of competition that is captured at the LSE. Being a competitive person by nature, I fit right in amongst the hyper-competitive students that fill up my classes. I came to the London School of Economics knowing only its reputation for excellence, which intimidated me immediately. Since I have spent a good deal of time here and amongst the students from all levels here, I have concluded this apprehension was unfounded. I figured that I could keep up with these kids intellectually and that means I should keep up and even outperform them on my resume.

 

While I am still in the midst of these projects, the atmosphere of inspiration and competition is one that I hope sticks with me for the rest of my life. Striving for improvement was instilled in me back at Saint Joseph’s University and has been kicked up a notch during my time abroad.  This is due to the competitive nature and global background of the students that I have had the pleasure to meet abroad.  It is clear to me that the students, my peers, are the hidden source of value in my time abroad.

The Hard is What Makes it Great

Winter break was a fantastic respite, alas, all good things must come to an end. Four weeks of family, friends, good food, and sleeping in were much needed. Unfortunately, left off that list was catching up on work as I barely cracked a book to review or preview for my classes. I was, therefore, left to catch back on up to speed as the LSE expected students to hit the ground running this term.

This term will require more essays, more readings, and more presentations than last term. I am very much looking forward to the next break already. The term system here at the London School of Economics is rather condensed to make for a more focused and structured term. There is no doubt that lecturers and class teachers need to move quickly to cover all the material.  It may be hardest on the students, however, as they need to comprehend material for the year end exams that very well may never be covered in the term. The amount of readings required is astonishing, and the amounts that are recommended is even higher. With all of this reading, you might wonder how students like me are keeping up. The simple answer is that I am tragically behind, but making due with a cursory knowledge of many of the readings. I expect to expand on this basic layer of knowledge throughout the rest of the term and greatly catch up during the spring break that now seems incredibly far away.

One thing about all of these readings that I greatly appreciate is the need to skim has forced me to adapt my reading ability. Before this year, I was a hopelessly poor skimmer of material. I had a great retention of information that I did read but I read at a snail’s pace. The focus on reading for quantity rather than quality has helped me learn to skim through many of the readings before the classes so that I understand the conversation and can contribute to it meaningfully. I have not developed to become a faster reader, but I expect that with enough reading, I’m sure that will follow. 

This term I expect to bring a greater focus to my studies than I had during the fall term. The courses that I am taking are related greatly to government and international relations, thereby tangentially related to my primary major of Economics. My main interest in terms of future career choices is more correlated with my courses this year. The courses that I am taking– Foreign Policy Analysis, Public Policy Analysis, The Politics of Economic Policy, and Public Choice and Politics– are unquestionably dense and theory driven. This is certainly not ideal, but I enjoy most of them regardless. Despite being theory intensive, there are certainly practical applications that make them all interesting. There are many overlapping features and authors of the topics. The variety of topics has only made me appreciate what I’ve learned at Saint Joseph’s University more, since I came into the year having read many of the authors and concepts that I am further developing here. It is comforting knowing that in the Political Science and International Relations courses I am reading the core readings and authors, like Graham Allison or Kenneth Waltz or Joseph Nye.

The Political Science Department prepared me for the analytic discussions that occur in higher level courses in their fields. In Foreign Policy Analysis I am even reading Dr. Baglione’s dissertation about US-Russia arms negotiations at the conclusion of the Cold War. Since SJU set me up with this knowledge, I know that it has only grown in my time at the LSE. I am sure that I am being pushed harder than I have been pushed before, but I am only looking forward to it since I am sure that I’ll come out on the other side better prepared for the real world. 

Now it is up to me to put in the time and effort required to make the most out of the education that I have received from Saint Joseph’s and the education that I’m receiving from the LSE. It won’t be easy, but as my dad loves to quote from the movie A League of Their Own, “if it wasn’t hard then everybody would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”

Christmastime in London Town

Well it is the most wonderful time of the year again– Christmas! I had expected to find it hard being away from home for Thanksgiving, but that was not a problem as I was both swamped with work and fed rather well here as well. Thankfully, I would not have to experience spending Christmas abroad, however. With that said, this is my last week of my first term here at the LSE before I go home for the winter holiday. I can honestly say that it was very different than I had imagined it would be. It has been a struggle at times for sure, and having essay pile on top of each other never has been fun, but it has been better than I would have imagined. I am grateful that I pushed through my nerves of leaving home, living in a continent where I didn’t know anyone, and studying at one of the best schools the continent had to offer. All of this has pushed me out of my comfort zone thoroughly, but I can now say that I’ve walked out the other side (of the first term) familiar enough with London and the people that I’ve met here to say that I’ll miss both over the winter break.

One of the last things I have done this term was explore some of what London had to offer during the most wonderful time of the year. I say some because, unfortunately, I have not had enough time to make it to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. As I’ve been reminded by my friends, this is a cardinal sin, but I have not had the time. What I have been able to visit (several times) has been the South Bank Christmas Market. The market stretches for about a half mile with stands hawking wares of anything that could possibly be related to Christmas. As I made my way through the market, somehow always swimming upstream against the strong current of tourists crowding the market, I was wonder struck by all of the sights, sounds, and smells that I took in. Christmas music was obviously ringing throughout, broken up by street performers playing their own jazz or hip hop. Those playing hip hop were break dancing for an audience that must have been up to a few hundred crowded around to see their moves. Despite it being late in the winter in which it becomes dark daily at around 4:30, the South Bank was lit up by thousands of Christmas lights which only compliment the already magnificent glow that emanates from the London Eye and Big Ben across the river. There are lights hanging across the pathway and draped across the stands selling trinkets. And the trinkets alone would have brought tourists seeking Christmas gifts. Hundreds of stands each sell suprisingly great gifts. In fact, every Christmas gift that I’ve bought this year has come from this Christmas market. They even have a stand dedicated to making instant snow. As someone who struggled through Chemistry in high school, this is incredibly impressive. Other stands were dedicated to artists’ paintings and drawings, but none could top the paintings of the street artist who stations himself on the Golden Jubilee bridge selling depictions of my favorite nighttime view of London– the view of Big Ben and the London Eye illuminated over the Thames. This view alone rivals that of the Philadelphia skyline in my very biased opinion.

Lastly, I am devoting this entirety of this paragraph to the food of the market. London very frequently, and often deservedly, get criticized for its subpar food scene. I have been one of the critics who suggest that a city such as this could stand for an improved food staple over fish and chips. But that was before I stepped into the magnificent holy land of food named the South Bank Christmas Market. Anything and everything you could ever desire is at your fingertips here. Walking through it the first time, I couldn’t decide what I wanted first. The cheese stand giving away free samples obviously won out. But it was not long before the dozens of other food stands lured my hunger back out. No less than half a dozen stands demanded me to take a few steps closer to examine the masterpieces they were creating behind the counter. Not least among these was the stand that smoke racked salmon directly behind the counter, or the stand that made exotic burgers from ostrich and kangaroo meat. What eventually won me over was a call from the part of my heritage that is German as I passed by and was lured to the stand selling bratwurst. While this was clearly not a bad choice, it could not hold a candle to the food stand that I tried on my next trip to the market. Throughout my time in London, I had been disappointed in the burgers here. That was no longer the case when I tried a burger from a stand there. It was glorious. It puts every burger I’ve ever had to shame. I have log been a fan of Five Guys, but the burger that I had in London was better than I’ve ever had in the United States. It was the biggest, juiciest, most tender burger that I’ve ever had. I liked it sufficiently enough to return for another the very next day because I could not think of eating another type of food than this.

The South Bank market was not the only Christmas market in town, however. Another Christmas event that I thoroughly enjoyed was the Leicester Square fair. In the same area that hosted the World Premiere of the Hunger Games sequel that I saw, now sat a giant Ferris wheel surrounded by a dozen stands. Many of the stands housed carnival games. Now, I generally stray away from carnival games as there is plenty of opportunity for embarrassment and relatively little opportunity for success. This time, however, I strayed from that policy and jumped right into a game that gave away a stuffed minion from Despicable Me. The prize was good enough for me to risk embarrassment. Luckily for me, I won this game by hooking onto a rubber duck. Needless to say, getting the prize felt sweeter knowing that I could compete at carnival games with the best of them. The minion, Dave, will certainly make for a great gift this holiday.

That’s all for now! Hopefully I have a nice relaxing holiday and get back to London ready for a new term!

Let’s See Europe!

LSE stands for Let’s See Europe!  These were the words that a student ambassador said to me at an orientation event for LSE.  Knowing the academic reputation of the school, I couldn’t be more incredulous.  I believed that this year was going to be hunkered down in the library for 15 hours a day just to scrape by.  This is not too far wrong, as there is a substantial amount to be done every week, but I have recently got the opportunity to cross visit Paris and Belgium off my bucket list.  I have to say this; I may be the most stressful traveler of all time.  Despite all of this stress, traveling is without a doubt worth it.

The first place I traveled to was Belgium to visit some of my friends, including my girlfriend Anna, from Saint Joe’s, who were studying and working there.  They were studying with another program that arranged for internships at European Union while earning academic credit and living in Brussels.  These internships were more than just awesome resume builders, but they were incredible practical work experience as well.  Anna had an internship with the Danish Member of the European Parliament where she helped him work on Iranian relations and climate change – these internships were clearly not just making copies and coffee.  I booked a room at their dorm, which happened to also be a hotel with full catering services!  I wouldn’t trade being in London at LSE for anything, but these amenities were the only real time that made me second guess London.  The first day I was there we traveled Brussels, hitting all the major tourist spots.  First, we visited the Manneken Pis which was truly a strange experience.  It is perhaps the most famous of Brussels’ monuments, and it is a fountain.  I then tried the most amazing chocolate that I’m sure has ever graced this Earth.  Believe the hype about Belgian chocolate, because it is all true.   After the chocolate, we went to a traveling exhibit that featured the works of Leonardo da Vinci, both his artistic work and his inventions.  The inventions were all replications, but it was clear that da Vinci was brilliant.  On the way back to the dorm, we crossed off another Belgian must from the to-do list – eat a Belgian waffle.  This, however, is largely exaggerated and I stuck to the chocolate from then on when it came to pick a snack.  The following day we traveled to Bruges, which had just been named one the best cities in the world by CNN.  There we saw several wonderful churches.  It always amazes me to see the craftsmanship that was put into even the smallest details of the buildings here.  It is something that I believe is not present in many American cities.  We also visited a Belgian celebration of Oktoberfest.

I saw “Midnight in Paris” shortly after its release in theaters, and instantly fell in love with Paris.  The city seemed so amazing, beautiful, and full of culture.  I had wanted to visit as soon as I could when I arrived in London.  I ended up visiting Paris with Anna in December, right in time to buy Christmas presents on the Champs Ellysees.  Along the Champs Ellysees there was a Christmas Market stretched out for the entire length of the famous street leading up to the Arc de Triomphe.  The Arc de Triomphe is the grand arch that commemorates the soldiers of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  It was the largest Triumphal Arch in the world until 1982, so large that a biplane has flown through the opening safely.  From the Arc de Triomphe, we went on to visit the Louvre.  Among the many things that you hear when planning a trip to the Louvre, is that the Mona Lisa is very underwhelming.  That couldn’t be more right.  You stand ten feet away from the painting which is small already and still displayed behind a layer of bulletproof glass.  Yet, along the wall opposite the Mona Lisa, there is a magnificent painting that seems to be unfortunately ignored.   The painting is The Wedding at Cana by Paulo Veronese and it is shockingly unnoticed for such a large artwork in such a densely populated room.  I believe that this piece more accurately depicts the impressive collections at the Louvre.  I spent several hours there, but I barely scratched the surface of all there is to see in the museum.  The next day we set out to see the Eiffel Tower and take the many obligatory pictures with the tower in the background.  From there we went on to see the cathedral of Notre Dame which was surreal.  The cathedral was built about a hundred and fifty years before the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus; it was a little hard to fathom what this church has seen throughout the years, including the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of France.  Seeing these amazing places is something that I am sure to never forget.  I certainly cannot wait to get back to France very soon.

These are just a few of the places that I have had the opportunity to travel to.  Over spring break, LSE has five weeks off from school where I’m sure to do a good bit more traveling as well.  Hopefully this becomes a habit of traveling which sticks with me throughout the rest of my life, because it truly is the best way to immerse yourself into another culture.  Traveling also shows you a different perspective that you would not have seen before.

Brave New World

WHAT A CITY!!!

I’ve been in London for about three weeks at this point and I love every second of it.  It’s been everything that I expected and much more.

I am going over as part of a group of IFSA-Butler students, which I think has worked out incredibly well.  It allowed me to fly to London with a group and get myself acclimated to both the city and the culture before being thrown into the fire my first week abroad.  Since I didn’t know a single person who was also studying abroad in all of England, let alone at LSE, it was so important for me to be able to make friends like I did through IFSA-Butler.  The prep team at IFSA also gave presentations that gave safety tips and background on British culture.  While those were very helpful, the coolest presentation was given by a member of the House of Lords!  He discussed the state of British politics for us, which is very lucky for me because I was woefully uninformed about their current politics.

I then parted ways with the IFSA-Butler prep team and moved into my dorm.  I know that I already talked about how great a location I have in the center of London, but I need to say again: living here is unbelievable!  I have the best location in all of London, right in the epicenter of all of the most interesting places in London.  I am still in shock that I live close enough to hear Big Ben from my dorm room.  That being said, there is something that I have noticed in my brief time abroad.  Everything in England is at least 30% too small. That applies most directly to my dorm situation.  The room is much smaller than I have ever lived in, even my freshman dorm at SJU.  But I can live with cramped quarters if needed; something I may not be able to live with is how small my bathroom is.  The toilet is literally inside the shower!!! I am not quite sure how I’ll end up dealing with that.

Walking the streets of London is a special experience.  All of it is beautiful: the architecture, the art and sculptures, the cars, everything.  Walking to class every day, I almost don’t believe that I live here.  The architecture is astonishing. I walk past the most amazing buildings on a daily basis.  The shift from modern financial buildings to Victorian pubs and theaters is seamless with classical museums and hotels scattered throughout.  That amounts to a breathtaking walk to classes that is one of the highlights of my day.  The architecture works in tandem with some of the most incredible sculptures that I’ve ever witnessed.  Leaving my dorm and walking by Trafalgar Square, Admiral Nelson’s statue rises heroically over the horizon.  It looms above the horizon and is surrounded by several majestic lions.  Admiral Nelson’s Column and the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace are unequivocally impressive.  Around both statues are major roads filled with some of the most expensive and nicest cars in the world.  That is not to say that the cars have very good drivers and indeed the taxis drivers seem to speed up as to intimidate you as you walk across the street.  Luckily, I have avoided any collisions thus far!

Unfortunately, I am not abroad for the sole purpose of walking around a beautiful town (although maybe someday!).  I am here to learn and take classes.  The London School of Economics in internationally renowned for its work in the fields that interest me the most: economics, international relations, and political science.  They were the first university to create an International Relations department, and they will let you know about it. Their Economics and IR departments are also rated in the top 5 worldwide by US News and World Report.  Obviously the academics were designed to be difficult, and I had expected that.  I did not quite expect just how intelligent every student here is.  They are all astonishingly brilliant (a British term that I picked up!).  Hopefully being around such smart people is going to push me to be a better student.  The British students here are much better prepared for class than Americans are typically.  That is saying something as the readings are generally several hundred pages of reading per week per class.  The reading has been impossible for me to keep up on but hopefully I’ll figure out how to adjust so that I can at least pretend to be prepared for class!

That’s all for now! I’ll check in next time when my transition to a full London local will be complete!

Entry One: A Proper Introduction

Seeing as this blog will be heavily influenced by my personal experiences, I feel that a proper introduction is in order.  My name is Patrick Curley and I am a student at Saint Joseph’s University in beautiful Philadelphia.  For my junior year I will be studying abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science taking the General Course, and to be quite blunt, I couldn’t be more excited.  The London School of Economics presents a fantastic opportunity to not only study at one of the top three schools in the world for political science and international relations, but also to travel abroad for a full year in a city and country that is known for its beauty, history, architecture, and diversity.

I am living in a dorm room with LSE students of all ages, ranging from freshers to other General Course students to Masters and Doctorate students.  The dorm I live in is called Northumberland House.  The first thing I did when I found out that was where I’d be living for the next year was to Google it and find out about the area I’d be living in.  What I discovered is that my dorm is situated in the very center of London, which caused me to let out a truly unfortunate squeal of delight. I then delved a little deeper into the map to find out more about the area.  I discovered that I am within a stone’s throw of the river Thames, the Hungerford footbridge, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye, and most shockingly – the original Scotland Yard. (Although Scotland Yard has since moved twice, but no one at the shamelessly tourist pub called the Sherlock Holmes seems to mind.)

Once I scouted my future living situation, I turned my mind towards the academic aspects of my year abroad.  The classes that I am going to take are all Government and International Relations classes.  I am incredibly interested in all things political so coming to a school that is the premiere social sciences school in the world obviously opens dozens of doors for me.  The sheer number of courses and the diversity of the subjects is enough to pique the interest of even the most uninterested students.  I have my courses tentatively set now but they allow you to audit courses to see if you like those better. Only time will tell if this will end up being the set of courses that I take this year.

This is a fantastic opportunity for me to not only study at a very prestigious school but expand my comfort zone to a new city, country, continent, and culture.  I am enormously excited to start on this journey that will undoubtedly test my character completely and possibly shape me into a better person.  This is the start of what will certainly be a challenging time for me but I am up for the challenge certainly.

When I got my acceptance letter from LSE, my dad gave me the book Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson.  There I read a line that somehow perfectly surmises my emotions as I prepare for my trip: “It was my first time away from home, my first experience of being truly alone, and I was still in that strangely exhilarating state in which wonderment, confusion, and trepidation all fight for primacy.”  While I enjoy this feeling that I’ve never experienced before, I am just looking forward to getting settled in at LSE.