Monthly Archives: November 2014

A London Thanksgiving

Studying abroad is an emotional experience. I feel like a million people have said this before. In fact, I’ve probably said this before. But it is worth repeating. When you first arrive, you are exhausted and exhilarated. But at some points during the semester it is inevitable you get homesick (even if it is just for a short period of time). I have actually been doing really well, which I think is partly thanks to my going so far away for college in the first place. For most of this semester, I have been very happy in London. However, it is hard not to miss family over Thanksgiving, especially when they are all gathering together like my family does.

I feel that I must add that feeling homesick does not mean you should do something different. It is all part of the experience. It does not mean you do not value where you are.

Luckily, IES is helping us. They bought us the ingredient and we are cooking ourselves a Thanksgiving meal. My roommate and I made six pies – three apple pies and three pumpkin. Plus, with the leftover dough and ingredients, we are also making individual pies in a cupcake pan. Tonight, we (35 of us) will get together and eat.

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There are other ways of making this time easier. I have already Skyped with my family. I also ate a bagel for breakfast. This information might seem out of nowhere, but it is part of my tradition. Every year at my grandparents’ house in Philadelphia we eat a large breakfast, including bagels, and then do not eat again until 6pm. It works well for us.

The funny this is, I keep expecting it to be Christmas here. In London, some Christmas decorations came out before Halloween (they do not really celebrate that holiday here). So I’m more surprised it is Thanksgiving than that Christmas is soon.

For instance, I went to the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland festival last weekend. This was fantastic. It was a strange combination of an amusement park and a classy Christmas market. It also had strange food for sale – and alcohol. There were so many stands for hot chocolate that listed another price if you wanted brandy in it. There were stands that solely sold corn on the cob. I ended up getting a huge slice of garlic bread and walking around the park. It was great – like nothing you would get in the US.


So even if I cannot have my family here for Thanksgiving, there are tons of other great things to do. And I will see them soon.

Sick in London

November 19, 2014

Being sick is never pleasant. But being sick away from home is worse. And even worse than that is being sick in a foreign country. This is especially bad when you want to go exploring. Unfortunately, even if I was feeling well, I do not think I would be out and about. I, along with my fellow classmates, am starting to get very stressed out. I have a research paper, two presentations and five finals to work on.

But I guess I should have seen this coming. I mean this is a study abroad semester, not a travel to your heart’s content semester. I have to admit, I wish it was the latter. (Though I have been enjoying most of my classes here.)

Having strep throat in London has started me thinking about some more differences between the US and England. These differences are less obvious. I mean it is easy to hear unusual words walking down the street or to order distinctive food. It’s not quite as easy to contrast the health care system and attitudes unless you are truly experiencing them.

For one, the British tend to use the appropriate, official names of medication. They do not call medicine “Advil,” but something else entirely that I cannot remember. When I went to the doctor, she asked me if I had taken certain medications. I stared at her blankly until she translated them into their brand names.

The British also have a different word for strep throat. They call it tonsillitis, which sounds much more intense to me. In fact, some people have not been as lucky to come across people who will translate for them. I heard, second hand, one American went to the chemist (not called pharmacists here) for strep throat antibiotics. When he asked for it, the chemist had no idea what he was talking about. I’m glad I didn’t have to go through that. I’m also glad to be in a country that, though different, is probably a lot more similar to the US. I don’t think it would be fun to have to navigate a completely different system.

During my playwriting class a few weeks ago, we discussed doctor visits. Our British professor was horrified to learn that doctors (actually nurses) always weigh you in the US, no matter what you are coming in for. They do not do that in the UK unless you wish to discuss a weight issue. I can confirm this. They did not weigh me or even take my blood pressure at the doctor’s office in London.

The last huge difference that I’ve noticed has been the British attitude toward health care. The British have the NHS (National Health Service). I have heard at least three different people raving about the NHS. One guy said it is what makes him proudest about being British. One woman said that she considers the NHS to be the jewel in the British crown. These are wonderful sentiments, especially when compared to the very negative press coverage ObamaCare frequently gets in the US. Of course, I know not everyone in the UK agrees with the people I’ve talked to, but it still pleases me to hear support for the NHS.

On a completely different note, I would like to share pictures of London because I’m sure people don’t want to only think about being sick while abroad. Below is a picture from the completed poppy memorial for Remembrance Day (November 11) at the Tower of London. And beneath that is a picture of one of the amazing fruit and vegetable displays in Borough Market.




Close By

November 7, 2014

It’s amazing what you don’t realize is so near to you. I mean, I have thought a lot, over this semester, about balancing travel with adventures in London. But I don’t think it fully registered that those cultural London adventures could happen about a five or ten minute walk away from me. (I already knew that the social ones could happen within that distance.)

On Thursday, I set out to do one thing on my list. I went to the Sir John Soane Museum. This museum had been separately recommended to me by at least four people, one of whom is a professor at Whitman. I was really impressed by the museum even though I heard so much about it before going. It is the house of the architect of the British Museum and it is packed with artifacts. The museum was also surprisingly close to the IES center where I take my classes. It’s in a lovely area facing a quiet little park. I had no real concept that this great place was so close to me. (Maybe I should’ve guessed considering how close the British Museum is.)

Walking through the Soane Museum, you pass through a 1800s drawing room into a room full of marble busts into one with original William Hogarth paintings behind a false wall. And since it’s free, you can pop in just to see a few things or spend hours there investigating. I particularly liked looking at all the old, original books just to see if there were any I recognized.

As I was walking home, I decided to stop by the British Library (again, less then ten minutes away from home). I’ve gone past it so many times without realizing how nice and big its courtyard is. And there’s a great view of the top of St Pancras. I loved seeing the old building peaking over the top of this newer one.


I went to see the British Library Treasures expecting to just stop by. I was shocked by what was there – and how long I took looking at everything. There are documents from the 1100s. There are pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s journals. They have Jane Austen’s writing desk. And they even have a copy of the Magna Carta with an official wax seal. I’m a little embarrassed by how ignorant I was of all that was there. But now that I know, I cannot wait to show other people. I may even go back by myself to see more – or just to stare at Jane Austen’s desk for inspiration.

I guess that I was too caught up in seeing the big London places that I neglected the little ones close by. But, from now on, I will try to be more balanced in my explorations.

And on a side note, I experienced fireworks for Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) and the lighting of the Christmas lights on Oxford St (November 6th). I was caught off guard by how giant a celebration the latter was. Christmas (and the burning of a Catholic) are big deals here.