A Staggering World of Heartbreaking Genius

Right now I am 7 hours into a 9 hour plane ride back to the States. While I’m sure this post will go up much later (since I’m a bit behind on posting) I wanted to write it now when the semester is really coming to an end. I don’t want this to be a long final post, as I have really expressed a lot of my feelings about this program in previous posts, but I did want to have one final look back over this semester.

I can safely say that this has been the best semester I’ve ever had. The program was amazing and every experience I had, every trip I took, every person I met had an impact on me and played an important role in making this experience as amazing as it was. Before going abroad, I was terrified by the idea. I’ve never been away from home for 4 months straight, and I’ve never lived in a city even close to the size of London. I didn’t know anyone on my trip and I didn’t know what to expect. Even after I boarded my American Airlines flight to Heathrow back in August, I was trembling. I couldn’t sleep the entire red eye flight except for one thirty-minute nap that I took near the end. When I woke up from this nap as the flight attendants were serving breakfast, I opened my window and looked out.

My mom always says that she takes memories like taking snapshots. There are certain images, certain moments, that she freezes in her mind and thinks back to. That moment when I lifted the blind and saw the sun rising over London and into the clouds was a snapshot moment for me. In just a second I wasn’t so worried anymore; certainly I was still scared, but I knew that what I was about to do would change the way I thought, the way I saw the world, and even the way I saw myself, and I was excited. Throughout this program I look back to that moment as the beginning.

Which begs the question now, on the end of my flight back to the States, of if this is the end to that beginning. It may be the end of my semester, but I don’t want to think of it as an end point to that moment on my first morning in London. If anything, this program has just made me want to travel more than ever, and even less afraid or worried about doing so. When I arrived back in London last night after being in Ireland, I had the feeling of being home. I knew every neighborhood we passed, I knew what bus to take and how long it would take to get there, I knew how many stops until home, I knew where to stand on the underground platform to be right in front of the door when they open, I knew which lines go where and what zone they are in. These all may seem like small details, but I really appreciated this program for how it didn’t just show me another country, but made that country my home.

Now, I will be less hesitant when I want to travel, and more sure of what I like and how I want to spend my time. Before this program, I wanted to go immediately to grad school after undergrad, probably to get my MFA in creative writing. While I still want to do this, this program has made me want to take a year or two off before grad school and teach abroad. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but I’m interested in returning to Spain to teach, or trying somewhere entirely new, like Thailand. And even before this program was over, I started encouraging other friends to travel with me. I’ve started planning trips to the South of France with my best friend Gloria for her 21st birthday, and a road trip across the US to California with Dylan and our friend Sam. I’ve also begun to plan a backpacking trip after graduation starting in Amsterdam, moving through Austria and Germany, and ending in the North of Italy. While not all of these trips will happen (I don’t have the money to make these things all happen right away) I know that I will make it to all of these places and more eventually. And I can’t wait for that to happen.

Yes, that morning on the plane was certainly a beginning for me. But I refuse to think of this as an endpoint. Instead, I will remember that moment as a beginning that has no end, a beginning that keeps happening over and over again. And don’t worry. Next time I do one of these trips, I’ll be right back here, talking (probably too much) about them all. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time!

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The Importance of Being Irish

My program ended on December 4 in London. It was really hard to say goodbye to everyone. We all went to the ULU (University of London Union) for a last hurrah that Wednesday night with our two lovely program coordinators and surrogate mothers, Erin and Stephanie. We all had a really good time, but it was very bittersweet. On Thursday, Natalie, Soxy, and I left London for Dublin and I returned Monday at midnight, only to fly back to the States early Tuesday morning, so that Wednesday night was not only a goodbye to everyone in my program (most of whom left London either for home or other countries on December 7), but also a goodbye to London itself, which has really become a home for me.

That aside, going to Ireland was a terrific experience, and one of the smoothest trips I’ve had. It was relief to not have any school work to slow me down while I was there, and I’d already dropped all of my luggage off at Soxy’s dorm (her program lasts longer than Natalie and mine) so the only stuff I had to worry about in Ireland was in one backpack. Natalie and I arrived in Dublin a few hours before Soxy, but it was pretty late at night. We checked into our hostel (which was pretty nice for the price. They made us free pancake breakfasts!) and had dinner at a fantastic Asian food place. To our credit, we tried to go to a place with authentic Irish food that night, but the one nearby was booked up for the night and we were starving! After Soxy arrived we went to sleep.

The next morning we started to explore the city. We’d heard from other people that Dublin was small and there wasn’t a ton to do, but this is ridiculous. It is small compared to London, but what isn’t? And we all loved Dublin! The river Laffey which runs straight through the city is really beautiful with arched bridges and cute store fronts. We enjoyed walking along that area on the first day and had lunch at a pub boasting quotes from Irish authors on the wall. For the record, Ireland has a HUGE literary history, and the entire trip felt a bit like a literary pilgrimage to me. This city was my Mecca. Just for reference, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wild, and Yeats were all from Dublin (which means the city produced 4 Nobel Prize winners in literature!). There are little reminders of them all over the city, from plaques with quotations from their novels, literary walks and pub crawls, visitors centers, and statues, they are all well remembered.

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(Dublin by the River Laffey that runs through it.)

The first day we also visited Trinity College in Dublin, which I fell in love with! Despite being right at the heart of the city, it is tucked away behind beautiful Victorian buildings, another world of great green space, historic buildings, and wonderful architecture. We went to the Old Library at Trinity College which was the main stop I wanted to make in Dublin. Here, they have many of the oldest manuscripts and the first printed and bound books in the world, as well as the most beautiful illuminated manuscripts still in existence. We saw many of these and looked at exhibits about the art of book making, ink making, manuscript illumination, and book bindings, as well as the Book of Kells itself. My favorite part, however, was the Long Room, the iconic part of the Old Library that houses many of these wonderful books and is really just stunning. I was in heaven. Later, I told Natalie and Soxy that being in the library really felt spiritual, like being a church for books.

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(Trinity College campus, hidden away in the middle of Dublin.)

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(My favorite place in Dublin, a chapel of books, the Long Room at the Old Library at Trinity.)

We switched gears after exploring the river and shops at lunch and went to a tour of the Guinness factory afterward, Soxy’s must-do activity. In all honesty, I don’t like Guinness. In fact, I’m not much of a beer person at all (which is why I’m going to miss Cider so much in the States!), but I still really enjoyed touring the Guinness factory. We got to have taste testings with professionals and see hands-on exhibits about how beer and Guinness in particular is made. The building itself was in a really historic part of Dublin and is also a giant pint glass, which is really actually very pretty. We finished with free drinks at the Gravity Bar, a bar at the very top of the pint glass and one of the highest points in Dublin. It was all glass windows and provided an amazing view of Dublin at night. Plus, at the factory we learned a lot of history about Dublin in general because Guinness is so intertwined with the city. They have always been one of the largest employers and supported their employees well in hard times, and have also used their money for many important renovations around the city, like renovating St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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(Me having a Guinness at the Gravity Bar overlooking the city.)

That night we had a really wonderful dinner at a traditional Irish pub called O’Neill’s, which was right off of a beautifully decorated shopping area called Grafton Street, which is worth a visit just on its own. I got lamb stew, which is about as classic as Irish dishes get. Afterward, we went to the Temple Bar neighborhood, a really wonderful cobble-stone streeted cluster of roads and back alleys that really come alive at night. The neighborhood has great pubs, bars, restaurants, and shopping. We went to Temple Bar itself, the most famous of the bars on the street, for a pint. Dublin boasts a lot of great live music in their bars and pubs and Temple Bar didn’t disappoint. It was packed, but we managed to get a space in the main room to listen to live music with our drinks and talk to some local Irish people. It was a really great night.

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(Temple Bar, where we heard some live music and met some nice people.)

The next day we decided to take a day trip to Cork and Blarney, two places outside of Dublin. Cork is about three hours away and Blarney is only a 20 minute bus ride from there. All and all it was pretty cheap. We went through Cork to Blarney. Blarney is a small village but it houses Blarney Castle, a really beautiful castle situated on an even more beautiful estate. The grounds were worth going to see on their own. They had lots of beautiful walking trails as well as gardens, bridges, woods, and babbling brooks. It was very picturesque. They really played on the tales, legends, and fables that surround Blarney as well, telling stories on plaques around the grounds about witches, fairies, and druids that were said to have resided there.

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(The magical Blarney Castle and Grounds.)

The castle itself is a ruins, but you can still walk inside and up into the castle, where there is lots of information about what each room would have been. Then, at the top you get a beautiful view of the countryside, grounds, and Blarney. The top is also home to Blarney Stone, the reason why many people come at all and yet another stop on my literary pilgrimage. Legend goes that if you kiss the Blarney Stone you will be gifted with eloquence in your speech and writing for the rest of your life. Given my career path, I think this would come in handy. The tricky part is the stone is on the side of the castle, meaning you have to be hung down the side off the top in order to kiss it. People attempting it in the Victorian era often fell to their deaths. But no worries – now they have bars to hold onto while you are held upside down and a man who holds tight onto your ankles to make sure you don’t plummet. It was a little tough to let myself hang down the side of the castle, feeling so much like I was about the fall, but I found the stone and gave it a big, smacking kiss. My kiss was so loud that other people in the castle could hear it and laughed. The ankle-holder man told me that was the best kiss the Blarney Stone had seen in a while. I had to make it count, didn’t I?

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(A view from a window in Blarney Castle.)

After seeing the castle and the grounds, we went back to Cork where we had a wonderful lunch and looked around the city a bit. We went to an antique marking, which was fun, and took a walk along the river. Cork is also situated on water and is a port city so we were accompanied by the sound of seagulls the whole way. It also had lots of very quanit buildings and houses with bright colored faces that make it all very cheery. Afterward, we went into the city center were they were having a Christmas fair, not unlike the one in Hyde Park. We looked at the vendors, saw the Ferris Wheel, and walked through a Santa Village they had set up, which was all a lot of fun. After, we took our coach bus back to Dublin.

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(Cork by the river.)

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(Me making a wish by blowing “fairy dust” on the wishing tree at Cork’s Christmas Village.)

Since that was the last night Soxy was with us, we treated ourselves to a nicer dinner at a great Italian restaurant and called it a night pretty early. The next day, Soxy’s flight back to London wasn’t until the afternoon, so we spent the morning doing a self-guided tour of Medieval and Viking Dublin. The city has a really rich history so it’s impossible to see everything but we did go through some great, old cobblestoned streets to see Dublin Caste, ChristChurch Cathedral, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as a series of other old government buildings and the old Dublin wall, the one originally built by the Vikings when they settled the city for the first time. We got to go into a few other cathedrals (there are a TON of them in Dublin) but we really wanted to go into St. Patricks, which is said to be built on the site where St. Patrick first baptized pagans into Christianity.

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(In the Dublin Castle courtyard.)

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(Christ Church Cathedral.)

We got a great lunch a family-owned café nearby and then went to the park beside the cathedral which is lovely and has a nice memorial to each individual Dublin author, poet, and playwright to achieve acclaim. Then we went into the cathedral itself which is magnificent. It is home to Ireland’s largest organ, as well as the final resting place of satirical writers and dean of the church, Jonathan Swift. Swift was head of St. Patrick’s right before it fell into disrepair and tried to pump life back into it, to no avail, but he is still celebrated there (I’m a big fan of his writing). It was great to see a church with so much history, but also one so active still in the community. The floors, also, were the prettiest I’ve seen in any cathedral. Many focus on the ceiling in cathedrals, but in St. Patrick’s, it’s worth looking at the floor.

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(The exterior of St. Patricks viewed from the park outside.)

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(St. Patricks interior.)

Soxy left soon after this but Natalie and I weren’t leaving until 10pm the next day. After Soxy left we visited some iconic parks and squares in Dublin which hold the National Library, the National Museum, and the National Gallery, all of which are free! We really enjoyed looking at Irish history, particularly prehistoric artifacts in the National Museum, and reading the stories behind lots of Irish masterpieces in the National Gallery. The National Gallery in particular had a wonderful collection of really great paintings, all of them diverse, but we really liked seeing the Irish collection in particular to see some of the area’s great masters. Also nearby in the St. Stephen’s Green park area, they were having a local artist market, so we saw a huge amount of paintings from local artists today, which was really fun. Afterward we got dinner at a tiny burrito place, the first burrito I’ve had in four months! It was amazing.

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(The outside of the National Museum.)

That night we went to Whelan’s another popular bar with live music, and we heard some great blues music there while we had a pint, and then took a walk down by the river since it was our last night in Dublin. We saw the James Joyce statue, the Post Office (a beautiful building that has become a symbol for the Irish fight for independence after the role in played in uprisings), and other landmarks. It was a nice way to wrap up our time in Dublin.

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(During our walk on our last night we saw this hulahooper performer in front of some of the lovely holiday lights.)

The next day we weren’t leaving until 10pm so we booked a day tour that would take us out into the countryside again, since the countryside of Ireland is so gorgeous. It was a great tour, and really cheap! It took us on hikes through the Glendalough National Park, an amazing place. The air was so fresh there and we saw tons of mountains, moss, old trees, and lakes. It was beautiful. We also got a tour of old monastic ruins there which were picturesque and historic. Afterward we drove through the Wicklow Mountains, which are so picturesque that they have been the site of many movies, like Braveheart. Finally, we got to explore the village of Killkenny, which dates from medieval times and therefore is host to tons of history as well as curious little cobblestoned streets and alleys. It was really quaint and lovely. We explored the Killkenny Castle there, as well as the Black Abbey Church and the little shops in the streets and alleys. It was a really lovely final day with so much packed into it, and all the while we had a fantastic tour guide from the area, telling us about growing up in rural Ireland. She was a great storyteller and guide. While I could go on about this day trip alone forever, I think pictures of it say more, so here are just a few.

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(Me at the upper lake at Glendalough National Park.)

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(The round tower at the monastic settlement we visited. It looks like a Rapunzel tower to me.)

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(Another view from the monastic settlement.)

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(And another…)

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(The view where we stopped in the Warwick Gap.)

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(The cute town of Kilkenny.)

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(Kilkenny Castle)

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(An alley called Butter Slip in Kilkenny. These little curious streets were why I loved Kilkenny.)

I really loved Ireland as a place, but what I loved most about Ireland were the people! Ireland by far had the nicest people I’ve met so far on this trip. They aren’t afraid of coming up to you and starting a conversation, and they remember who you are when they see you later. They are talkative and golly, and always wanting to help. It is so easy to make friends there. I met more people there in four days that I did anywhere else in four months! I cannot say enough nice things about the people of Ireland and how welcome they made us all feel. They are truly what makes Ireland great, but this is true for most places. For me, no matter how amazing a place may be, it’s the people that make is special, which was why it was so important for Ireland to be my last trip. This is true for my time in Santander, where I met and become close with Dylan’s amazing host family, and it’s true for London where I had such an amazing group of people to work with a learn from, but the Irish as a whole were the friendliest, and most joyous people. I could not be more pleased and grateful for the people I have met on this journey, no matter where I met them, and the important difference they have made for me on this trip, and in my life.           

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Quick Pics #7

Image (Thanks to free tickets that one of my friends, Risi, got from her internship, we all got to go to Christ at Kew Gardens. There are quite a few of these Christmas lights events going on in London at the moment. Kew Gardens is a relatively new one. The gardens themselves are really beautiful, but they are pretty far outside of London. Plus, the tubes that night were having massive problems, so it took us two hours to get there and two hours to get back. Still, the lights at Kew were really pretty. We arrived too late to see much of the Christmas aspect, but there were actors performing around us and lots of lanterns and pretty lights. Plus, I got to try mulled wine for the first time, a Christmas treat in London. I really enjoyed it and the area was beautiful.)

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(Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park is another one of the massive Christmas celebrations being put up in London right now, and probably the most popular. I loved it! It’s a huge Christmas village/fairground in the middle of Hyde Park that’s free to get in to. The events inside, however, require tickets. A few friends and I got tickets to go ice skating there! It was the first time many of them had been ice skating, and the first time I’d been ice skating on an outside rink. There was live music being performed while we skated and a huge tree with lots of lights decorating the rink. It really was magical. Afterward, I got hot chocolate as we all walked around the Christmas village together, looking at all of the food, lights, rides, and gifts. I definitely want to go back.)

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(My friend Ryan and I visited St. Paul’s after class on Wednesday. The interior and the dome are really pretty, but the main attraction was climbing a whopping 590 stairs to the top of the outside dome. This gave a breathtaking view of London, the best I’ve seen so far! Of course, our breath was already pretty taken from all of the stairs, but it was definitely worth it.)

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(As I described in a previous post, we had Thanksgiving at Winston House with our coordinators, professors, and friends. There were a ton of people and a ton of food! This included appetizers, wine, 3 turkeys, tons of side dishes like my corn casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, etc. plus slightly more unusual dishes. A friend of mine, Loretta, made Coca Cola chicken wings, and they were delicious! And of course, there were multitudes of desserts (or puddings, as they are called here in England!). Finally, we ended the night with a movie, and exchanged Secret Santa gifts. A few weeks ago I decided to organize the gift exchange because I thought I would be a nice gesture, and everyone seemed to really enjoy giving each other London souvenirs at the end of the program. This is me and my favorite professor, my English professor Laurence Scott.)

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(Ryan and I went to Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill. Hampstead Heath is a neighborhood that is really well off in London. It’s close enough to just be a short tube ride away from the center of the city, but far enough away that it has a suburban, small town feeling. It also has lots of beautiful parks and large houses, making it popular with celebrities. Benedict Cumberbatch is known to go running in the park here, which may or may not have been why I went. Unfortunately I didn’t see him, but it was worth a trip regardless. Hampstead Heath park was beautiful and huge, as well as less manicured than the royal parks like Hyde and St. James’s in the city. Also Parliament Hill is at the center, which is a grassy hilltop that offers a terrific view of the city of London and Westminster from a distance. It was a really nice thing to do near the end of the program and I loved the view!)

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(I went to Abbey Road, where some friends and I recreated the famous Beatles album cover as best we could. It’s actually a very busy street so proved pretty difficult but we did it! Also we saw the Abbey Road recording studio, where people have signed their names on the wall out front in memory of the Beatles.)

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(I finally made it to Westminster Abbey. With a really beautiful gothic exterior, this is the coronation place of all of England’s kings and queens. It was really lovely.)

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(I made a daytrip to Hampton Court Palace. This was the favorite palace of Henry VIII and really cool to see! Plus it had a beautiful view of the Thames.)

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(I went to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It was a little like a military parade with a band and lots of marching, but it was fun to see and free! If you ever go, get there early; it gets very crowded! Afterward, the military band played the James Bond theme and one of the policeman’s horses started to march in step the music. It was pretty cute.)

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(It was really hard to say goodbye to London when I left for Dublin. I will be back for one short night on the 9th before leaving from Heathrow on the 10th, but this was really my goodbye, not only to the city but also to my program. It was hard to say goodbye to my professors, particularly the British ones like Kathy (Art) and Laurence (English) who I probably won’t see again. It was also hard to say good bye to Erin and Stephanie, the two coordinators at the Winston House who were like surrogate moths for all of us while we were here. It was hard to say good bye to my internship, and all of the people who worked there. Finally it was really hard to say goodbye to all of the great friends I made on this trip. The good news is most of them will be back at UNC with me (I’m even taking a class with my friend Walker), but some of them are seniors and graduating this semester, meaning I probably won’t see them again. One of them is studying abroad again next semester, and another doesn’t even go to UNC. Saying goodbye to all of these people and this place that I’ve grown so used to was really hard, but it was a fantastic program, and hopefully I can focus on the great memories we made as opposed to the fact that this is an ending.)

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The Routines of the Day

Before I left for London, a good friend of mine from UNC, Kaitlin Floyd, gave me a great gift. She gave me a series of sealed envelopes. On the outside were messages like “To open on the plane” or “To open on your birthday”. It was really nice to get little messages for her along the way on special days. One envelope I have not opened, however, is the one labelled “To open when something amazing happens.”

This is a bit ironic, given that this entire adventure is something amazing that happened. But the point was, there wasn’t a single event that blew every thing else away. The entire trip was amazing, every day, every night, every morning. I kept saving this envelope because these amazing moments just kept happening and they became almost commonplace. When my friend Ryan asked me the other day in the tube what my favorite moment from London was, I couldn’t answer him. Luckily, he had the answer for me.

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(Baker Street Tube Station, one of the oldest in the city!)

Ryan told me that his favorite moments were moments like these, just riding the tube, or walking to work, or making dinner, to getting groceries. I’ve written about a lot of the fantastic things I did while on this trip, the tour book highlights, but I’ve spent very little time writing about the every day, the commonplace, the things that were really amazing and unique about this experience. Because it wasn’t just the crazy weekend trips or the amazing shows I saw that made this a great program. Really, it was the everyday life, feeling as if I actually lived and worked in London (which, for the last four months, I have).

So I thought I’d dedicated this post, one of my last, to my everyday routine, with some pictures that show you, and will remind me, what everyday life was like here. I’m sure years from now this won’t seem so commonplace. Maybe even a few months from now I’ll have a hard time believing that this was my schedule every day. So I want to be able to remember these moments, these sites that I pass through regularly, hardly without even thinking about them.

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(My flat in Bloomsbury, right around the corner from Bedford Square. Just a short walk from grocery stores, shops, and pubs on Tottenham Court Road.)

On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I have my internship. I wake up at 7:30 am to tiptoe around the room (avoid waking Natalie). I take a shower, get dressed for work, and leave at about 8:20. I walk from my flat to Euston Station, most of the time listening to music, and take the Victoria line tube toward Brixton, getting off at Vauxhall. This ride takes about 20 minutes, but in the mornings at rush hour, I can count on at least a 30 minute tube experience. Victoria line, like many other lines, is packed in the mornings. The platforms are clustered with people trying to predict where the next tube’s doors will open. Sometimes I have to let as many as three tubes go by before I can shove my way into a car, my cheek smooshed again the window and my hand grasping for railing before the train lurches forward.

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(This is the walk I make from my flat to Euston Tube Station every day to get to work.)

I’m at work from 9am until 5pm, with an hour lunch break. Most of the time I’m communicating with authors, schools, or publishers through e-mail, trying to negotiate permissions requests, venues for training events, or blocking off availability for our authors. I’m the point person for a few projects that keep me pretty busy and it already feels weird to have to hand off projects that I’ve been in control of for months to someone else. I won’t get to see them finished, but I’m glad I could help with them at all.

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(This is the street right beside my office in Vauxhall where I walk to and from every week.)

I normally get lunch with the other intern here, a girl from New York named Kristin. We often go to a little Italian café across the street in Vauxhall Park. Vauxhall isn’t the nicest area of London, despite occasionally being called an up-and-coming area, but we love our café, the Italians who run it, and the park. After work, we walk to the tube together, and I head back toward Euston on the Victoria line.

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(This is my favorite cafe in Vauxhall Park where I get lunch most days. A great Italian place, I normally get a mozzarella, tomato, and basil panini.)

Oftentimes after work, I like to try to go do something different. Work can put me into a bit of a routine, so I like to remind myself of where I am by going to see something new. I’ve heard that a lot of people in London like their routines, and get into such a strict schedule that they only ever see the same few places. In a city as large, diverse, and interesting as London, I think that’s a shame, and I knew I wanted to use every minute. Sometimes I would take the tube to Regents’ Park for a sunset walk, or go to the Tate Modern to look at some artwork. Sometimes I’d take a trip to the British Library just to be around books. I always took these evening trips alone because it was nice to go see something I knew I would be interested in. I didn’t have to worry about if someone else was going to want to see that Children’s Book Illustration Exhibit. It wanted to see it, so I saw it. And I saw and experienced a lot this way.

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(Me and the other intern that works with me, Kristin. She is on another study abroad program from New York. I’m really glad I got to work with her, she was so nice!)

After an hour or two I’ll head back to the flat. Natalie doesn’t like to cook, so I’ll make us dinner and she’ll do the dishes. Normally pasta or gnocchi, because they are cheap and we want to save all of our money for events, shows, sightseeing, etc. Afterward, we might do some homework, but more likely we will go up and visit some of our friends in the flat upstairs, or have them visit us. We talk about our days, watch movies, relax. Some Fridays we do family dinners, where one or two of us will cook for everyone and we will go to Jorge’s flat (really, it’s home to 6 guys, but for some reason we all call it Jorge’s flat) and eat while someone plays music. Some nights we will go get a drink at a pub, or at the Student Union (ULU), where there are lots of kids our age and drinks are cheap. They have karaoke on Thursdays and we’ve always had a good time doing that.

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(One night at the ULU with friends, at the bar inside called The Library. The place is covered in great quotes like this one from Hermione Granger.)

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays I have class, so I don’t have to wake up until 9am, which is sleeping in for me here. One thing I’ve noticed in London is that everyone goes to bed pretty early (most pubs close at 11pm) and get up pretty early, which is really more my natural schedule anyway. On Tuesdays I have history with Pennybacker for two and a half hours in the morning. This is nice because everyone but one person in the program is in this class so we can all be together and catch up. We make announcements and find out what people are planning on doing during the week. Afterward I have a few hours for lunch. Sometimes I go to Covent Garden which is really close to eat, and other times I go back to the flat. Natalie, Brent, Ryan and I like to have grilled cheese lunch parties, where we all make lots of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches because it’s cheap and easy. I’ve become quite the grilled cheese chef since I’ve been here. Brent even taught me a super-secret trick to melt the cheese just right.

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(My walk from my flat to Bedford Square, where the Winston House is.)

After lunch, I’ll do some work or hang out with people in the flats until English class at 3. This is my favorite class and my favorite professor, so the two and a half hours fly by. Everyone in the class like Laurence a lot so we always have a good time. Afterward, I’ll go back to the flat to make dinner and often go to a coffee shop or bookstore with Ryan to do work.

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(The outside doorstep of the beautiful Winston House, where I had my classes!)

On Wednesdays, I have Art History in the mornings. This class has been amazing because we never have class in a classroom. Every day we go see some new part of London. We’ve seen tons of museums and taken tours of lots of different neighborhoods. We’ve done everything from the National Gallery to Tate Modern to the Freud Museum to sitting in on an antique book auction at Sotheby’s. It’s really amazing. This is my short day so after art class, Ryan and I normally get lunch and then go do some sightseeing together. We will visit one of our favorite markets, like Borough, or go see something new, like when we went to visit St. Pauls or saw Kensington Gardens. We always do something new and I look forward to it every week.

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(The interior of the Winston House, where we went not only for class but for Alumni Events, parties, and just to study and hang out. Our UNC campus away from UNC.)

On weekends, everything is new. I’ve talked a lot about my trips, but I’ve also loved the weekends when I’m in London. I can sleep in and then go do sightseeing with friends. Sometimes, if Natalie and I are up late, we make second dinner, which is almost always pasta, but sometimes tea and biscuits, and we eat it in bed to relax after a long day. I’ve never walked so much as I do in this city.

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(The view from my desk window at work.)

When I leave here, I know I’m going to miss these little moments and I am so grateful to have had these traditions and routines. When Ryan asked me my favorite moment in London, I thought of so many wonderful moments. Like that one time it rained during art class and we all went to Borough Market afterward to eat a hot curry lunch under the train tracks. Or the first time we got up so early on a Saturday to go to Portabello Road and stayed there for six hours, just trying to see every vendor. Or the time on my birthday when Ryan, Jorge, and I just sat on the steps outside our flat and talked for hours. Or the time Natalie and Soxy and I had to run to catch a plane in Barcelona to get back into London the night of the hurricane. Or the time Dylan and I rode the carousel by the Thames and then walked along the banks where there was a Christmas Market playing O Holy Night. There have been so many wonderful memories.

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(A few of us hanging out in the lovely little courtyard included with our flats.)

I’m not sure if I’ll ever open my final envelope from Kaitlin. I hope that I never feel like that one best moment has happened. I hope that I continue to think that, instead, there are a multitude of best moments, and that the possibility of a best moment is still to come.

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Quick “Picks”

I am back in the US! While my program is now technically over, I have a few more blog posts that I wrote while in London and during my semester abroad that I never got to post. The last few weeks of my trip were very busy with finals, last minute trips, and trying to say goodbye to London and the people in my program. Because of this, I didn’t have time to post everything I’d written. Here area few last thoughts I had while in London:

With my time in London winding down, I wanted to award a few superlatives to some of my favorite places in London that really became a part of every day life for me. I think it’s important for me to record this both for myself when (not if) I ever come back, but also for anyone reading that might be visiting anytime soon. This list is obviously just personal preference, and there were a lot of places that didn’t get on that should be recognized, but this is just a few places that gave me a lot of great memroies.

 

Best Pub Food: The George (in Southwark)

 

There are tons of great places to get pub food in London, and tons of great pubs at that, so this one was tough. The George, in my opinion, had the best variety and authenticity. There are a number of pubs called the George, but I can only vouch for the one in Southwark by Borough Market. This place was tucked away in a street corner and was really nice and old with cool wood balconies and interior. It felt cozy and had all the British favorites: bangers and mash, fish and chips, beef and ale pie, Sunday Roast, fish pie, and shepards pie. Really, you can’t go wrong. I got the fish and chips, which were ale-battered. This is the best way to make them. If a place has fried fish and chips, don’t do it. Ale battered is the way to go.

Price range: 10-20 pounds

Runner-Up: The Vauxhall Griffin

 

Best Indian Food: Malabar Junction

 

If there is one kind of food that is really popular here besides pub food, it’s Indian food. There are Indian food places on every corner and the definition of a TV dinner here are the microwavable tikka masalas and nan you can get from every grocery store. It’s huge. I really liked Malabar Junction, although most were great. It has a really pretty greenhouse eating area that makes it feel a little upscale, even though it was one of the cheaper Indian places I found. Plus, the garlic nan was the best I’d ever had.

Price range: 9-13 pounds

 

Best Place for a Pint: Euston Tap

 

Once again, most pubs are great, but it really depends on what atmosphere you are looking for. While I love the cozy, warm pub atmosphere, the place where I found the best pints was Euston Tap. This is a little place right by Euston Station, put into old refurbished guard buildings. There are two facing each other, the first one is the Euston Tap with beer and ale, and the other is the Cider Tap with…well…cider. READ: All cider in England is alcoholic. This has the best variety of beer and cider I found in London, with a constantly shifting menu and at least 12 different varieties at each of local and artisan drinks. They have upstairs seating with music and places to hang out outside.

Price range: 2.50-5.50 pounds

Runner Up: The Court on Tottenham Court Road

 

Best Grocery Store: Sainsbury’s

 

When in London, you must pick a team. The options? Mainly Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, or Waitrose, although there are smaller varieties as well. Personally,  like Sainsbury’s. There are a ton of them so you never have to walk too far. Plus, they have a program called Sainsbury’s basics, where they have huge mark-downs on basic foods like canned vegetables, rice, pasta, cheese, etc. You can normally get most things for a pound or under. As long as you know how to cook, Sainsbury’s is good. Tesco’s specializes more in pre-made meals so while it is a tad more expensive, you don’t need to get basics to cook with. Meanwhile, Waitrose might have more variety but they are expensive.

 

Best (Cheap) Tea: Patisserie Valerie

 

This is a chain place so it should be easy to find one no matter where in the city you go. Really, this came down to price for me. You can’t beat it. Afternoon tea for two for 9 pounds. By the way, afternoon tea isn’t just tea. It’s a meal with scones and jams and sandwiches, and tea. Of course, there are really nice places to have afternoon tea like the Waldorf or the Ritz, but if you just want to get the experience, have a warm coze room, a good cup of tea, and save money, this is the place to be.

Price range: 9 pounds

 

Best Music Venue: Brixton Academy

 

This is where I saw Crystal Fighters in concert and not only was it the best music venue I saw in London, it’s the best music venue I’ve ever been to. Brixton as an area is really cool, upcoming and hip. Plus the venue is huge so you don’t feel sweaty and squashed the whole time and you can still be around a lot of people. They have a great variety of terrific music that comes through and it was set up so that despite being inside, the interior actually felt a little like you were at an outdoor concert. Really great.

Runner-up: the O2

 

Best Place for a Sweet Tooth: The Hummingbird Bakery

 

This cupcake shop is amazing. There are quite a few, but the one I went to most often was in Soho. Great cupcakes, okay prices, and a really nice treat. There are a lot of great flavors but my personal favorite was the Black Bottom Cupcake.

Runner Up: Ben’s Cookies

Price Range: about 2 pounds

 

Best Musical: Lion King

 

I saw quite a few musicals while I was here. Granted, Lion King isn’t the most London-y of the musicals (if you’re looking for something quintessential, you may want to consider Billy Elliott or Spamalot), but I did think it was phenomenally well-done and it was my favorite of the ones I saw. Plus, the theatre was beautiful and big enough to make all seats (even my cheap ones) great views.

Price Range: 45-250 pounds (depending on the seat)

Runner-Up: Spamalot

 

Best Play: Shakespeare at the Globe

I got to see a ton of plays while in London, partly because I just went and partly because I got all of the extra tickets the theatre class might have had for some of the shows they went to see. I believe in total I saw 8. I really loved the Globe. The price wasn’t bad, especially if you do standing and the acting was amazing. I saw Henry VI there but I really think any Shakespeare play would do the trick. I had friends that saw Macbeth there and loved it as well. Two notes of wisdom though: you can only go in the summer and early autumn. They close it otherwise due to weather. Also, if you choose to sit, bring your own pillow to sit on. The stalls are really hard wood and they will charge you for a cushion there but they don’t mind you bringing your own. In summary the acting was great and the theater was awesome. Plus, the view of the Thames outside is beautiful!

Price Range: 10-50 pounds (depending on seat)

 

Best Study Place: Waterstone’s

 

This is my favorite bookstore in London. It’s a chain, but there was one in a beautiful old building right across the street from my flat so it was very convenient. Plus, they won me over the first day with a signed Margaret Atwood book. They have great author events all the time, and they are HUGE (the one near me is 5 stories). I could spend all day there. They have books for reading and research, plus a Costa Coffee for cheap snacks to keep you motivated during study time.

Runner-Up: Senate House Library (Fun fact: This is the library that George Orwell based his ministries in 1984 on. It looks very dystopian and Big Brother-esque. Plus, he wrote parts of the book in there!)

 

Best Shopping: Primark

 

I’m going to miss this place when I go back to the US. It’s like a mix between Forever 21, Target, and Walmart. It’s huge (four stories) and has anything you might need, from accessories, to shoes, to bags, to clothes, to housewares, to decorations, etc. Also, and here’s the good part, it’s super cheap. Really cheap. Like five pounds for jeans cheap. My boots fell apart part way through my trip and I replaced them with boots for only 20 pounds. It’s shopping heaven. But it’s also always very crowded, so beware.

Price range: CHEAP

 

Best Place for a Snack: Cornwall Pasty Shop

 

There are ones of these in every train station, so you are never far from a snack. They are pretty traditional, so a good London experience, and delicious. Pasties are like little puff-up pastries, filled with gooey delicious-ness, kind of like a to-go pot pie. You can get lots of different types, but my favorite is mushroom and chicken. Plus, they are really cheap!

Price Range: 3.50 pounds

Runner-Up: Pret A Manger

 

Best Park: St James’s

 

This park is really under appreciated. There are lots of great public parks in London, but St James’s is my favorite because it’s not overwhelming large, it has some of the best views of the city, and its not as packed as the others. They have yummy food stands for lunch, beautiful gardens, a lake, and nice bridges. Great for bike riding. Bottom-line really though is just go to a park. Any park. They are all great.

Runner-Up: Hyde Park (Really popular, but with good reason. Lots of great events, including Winter Wonderland in November/December and Speakers Corner every Sunday).

 

Best London Walking Tour: The Thames Pub Crawl with London Walks

 

London Walks offers a ton of great walking tours (only 7 for students and 9 for others). You don’t need an appointment or ticket, you just show up! While lots of them are good, I liked the Thames Pub Crawl because you get to see lots of historic pubs, and the Thames walk is beautiful. It has a ton of history and great views. Also, all of the tour guides are great (8 of them are named Richard, strangely) but my favorite was Richard Walker.

Price Range: 7-9 pounds

Runner-Up: Harry Potter in London with London Walks

 

Best Market: Portabello Road

 

This is tough because it really depends on what you are looking for. There are tons of street markets. I went to 6 but that’s not even close to all of them. Portabello is my favorite because it’s huge and has a great variety of things. Really wonderful foods, cheap clothes, great gifts, etc. Plus, Notting Hill is a really cool area. If you go, make sure you go early Saturday morning. It gets too crowded later, but any other day doesn’t have all the vendors. But like I said, it depends on what you want. If you just want clothes, go to Spitalfields Market, but if you want good food selection and groceries, go to Borough Market, etc.

Runner-Up: Borough Market (Fun fact: it’s the oldest market in London!)

 

Best Day Trip: Bath

 

Once again, it depends on what you are looking for. But I loved Bath because it was relaxing and if you are looking for a trip outside of London, my guess is you want something relaxing. Super historic, this city used to be home to the Roman baths when the Romans controlled London. You can still tour the old baths, which is really cool, and the tradition has continued in the form of lots of great spas and Inns. There are tons of wonderful shops and restaurants, and the Jane Austen Center, which I personally think is coo. Even just the Georgian architecture in the whole city is lovely. Perfect especially for a romantic getaway.

Runner-Up: York

 

Best Take Away (Take Out): Wagamama

 

This is a Thai place that is pretty tasty and gives you a lot of food for your money. The interior isn’t super nice, but they are really fast, so take-away is the direction I’d take. If you want suggestions, I’m a fan of the firecracker chicken, but you have to be able to handle spicy.

Price Range: 7-10 pounds

Runner-Up: Japanese Canteen

 

These are just a few of my favorites, but I’m curious what stuck out to other people. What places became their favorite stomping grounds? What other places did I not even get to discover? I’ll have to come back with other people’s suggestions and find out!

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The Illuminated Lightness of Being

Since Thanksgiving isn’t really a thing in London, the Christmas decorations here went up early. Early, like right after (or, in some cases, before) Halloween. One wonderful thing about London in the winter is that they take their Christmas decorations very seriously and I have to say that there is something magical about a whole city, especially one as huge as London, all decorated with lights and trees and whatnot. Coming up from a tube station or stepping down from a bus, you are smacked in the face with Christmas spirit and beauty.

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London has always seemed like a kind of magical place to me, so it is fun to see it transformed in this way. It’s magical for a lot of reasons, not just because of the lights, although the lights and Christmas celebrations going up all over London are certainly lovely. In my English class, which has been a terrific asset when it comes to viewing London in different ways and discussing it as an urban center, we talked about how London exists both in and out of time, in the past and in the present. London, more than any other city I know is a place where time and space seems transcendent and everything (as well as everywhere) meet.

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Back before we wrote on paper, back when papyrus was our parchment of choice, there was something called a palimpsest. This was when people would write on papyrus, which is thin and a bit see-though, then write on another piece of papyrus, and another, and another, and then stack these pieces of papyrus on top of each other. When held up to the light, you could see all the writing, a jumbled mess, laid on top of each other, and see all that was written and what came before at the same moment that you were looking at what you’d just written. To me, London is just like this.

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Buildings built on top of the ruins of buildings, new skyscrapers built on top of ancient docklands, this city is constantly trying to reinvent itself while still maintaining scars from years past. This city values its heritage, its traditions, and that makes it feel both timeless and extremely weathered. Its ability to be so many seemingly opposing things at once, that seems magical.

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Now with the entire city illuminated and sentimental as it approaches Christmas and as it approaches the end of my time here in London, I keep thinking about an inscription I read. There is a mosque in the East End of London that my roommate is doing a report on. The East End, a huge home for immigrants over the years, has seen a lot of people come and go during the last few centuries. This particular mosque has been through a series of renovations, changing from church, to synagogue, to church, to mosque. On a sundial on the side of the building there is an inscription which reads Umbra Surnus, or We are the Shadows. This inscription refers to the East End in particular, paying tribute to its rich history. But to me, this inscription speaks to all of London. We, the people in the city, and the city itself are the shadows of the people that once lived here, the events that once occurred here, the buildings that once stood here.

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During a season of so much illumination in the city, I think about these shadows, this particular magic of temporality that London embodies. I wonder if, even in my short time here, I have become part of these shadows, too. Because London, particularly London at Christmas, is something you want to feel you can be a part of.

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I Was Told There’d be Turkey

 Happy Thanksgiving! This is kind of a strange day for me. First, and most importantly, this is the first holiday I’ve ever missed spending with my family. I woke up this morning to some photos from my mom, texted over Viber (if you don’t know what Viber is, it’s fantastic if you’re going abroad. It lets you text, send pictures, and make free phone calls to anyone with an iPad or iPhone). She sent pictures of the house decorated and all of our pets looking extremely peaceful, and I immediately felt pretty homesick. Things get so busy and amazing here that it’s hard to find time to stop and think about things I miss going on at home, but those pictures stopped me in my tracks.

The second reason today is a little dream-like is that no one here knows about Thanksgiving. Today is just another day in London. I got up at 7:30 am and took the packed tube to work, as always. There are no festive Thanksgiving decorations or discussions of post-turkey napping. It’s a little surreal, feeling like there is something major that everyone else is just ignoring.

My program has been really great about this. Anticipating the anti-climax of Thanksgiving, the instructors and coordinators at Winston House, where I take classes, have planned a huge Thanksgiving dinner tonight. There are going to be a little over 30 guests and we are all bringing a plate. I chose to make corn bread casserole, a recipe I’ve made for Thanksgiving for my family every year since we tried it at my Aunt Barbie’s Thanksgiving dinner. My mom was great enough to send cornbread mix (along with other Thanksgiving themed snacks and decorations) in the mail so I could make it. Unsurprisingly, cornbread isn’t a big thing here. I ran into a slight problem when I went to the store to buy creamed corn and discovered that they also don’t do this in London. Instead I bought just corn and cream, and luckily it worked fine. Other people have been trekking all around the city, looking for American food stores to find bits and pieces, like onion straws for green bean casserole and pumpkin paste for muffins.

I’m looking forward to the dinner tonight because food always makes Thanksgiving feel more like Thanksgiving, but I have to say that despite how sad it is to not be with my family today, how weird it is to have no one around me understand the meaning to today, how hard it was to acquire foods that seems commonplace in the US, today might be the most important Thanksgiving for me yet.

Today for Thanksgiving, being in such a wonderful place and with a lack of many of the extra things like paper turkey decorations and pumpkin pie candles, I feel more aware of the concept of being thankful. It is the absence of these things, the regular food, the spiced smells, the pets, the family, that makes me even more grateful for them. And what’s more, it can make me think of what else I am grateful for this year, which is quite a bit.

Of course everyone always is told to think of what they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but I often feel like this is a footnote thrown in at the corner of dinner between a second helping of mashed potatoes, something I remember but don’t actual consider. This year I am being given an opportunity to really think about what I am thankful for. So, here is a quick list.

(1)  My family. My immediate, and my extended, my actual family and to the people I consider family anyway, I miss them today more than any other day so far and I know that tonight at dinner it will be even harder. I can’t wait to see them in just a few weeks.

(2)  My friends. I miss the ones at home, ones that are posting pictures on social media of Winston-Salem, or their pets, or saying that they miss me. It’s hard to be away from the people I love. But I am also grateful for the friends I have made here, that spent my 21st birthday with me, that have shared this terrific experience with me, and that get to spend this first holiday away from home with me. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer, funnier, more intelligent, more terrific group of people to travel with. Tonight after dinner we will be celebrating the season by watching a holiday movie and exchanging Secret Santa presents. In the absence of my real family, I know these friends, teachers, and coordinators will make me feel at home.

(3)  My pets. Every time I see a dog on the Tube, or a cat on the flat doorstep, I have to stop and coo at it. It’s been too long since I was in the presence of the unconditional love of an animal.

(4)  My health. Right now is a bad example, because I actually am a little sick. But as a general rule, I am extremely healthy. Yesterday, a friend of mine and I climbed 590 steps to the top of St. Paul’s to look at the view of London and then went ice skating outside to the sound of live music in the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, set up for Christmas. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but it made me so grateful for my physical wellness, my ability to do these kinds of things, and the experience I don’t miss out on thanks to my health.

(5)  My education. Everyday here, and at home, I know I am gaining something intangible, but something that enriches my life. I’ve always loved academics and learning, and there isn’t a better place to stress the importance of an education than being here, in London. This is an experience I wouldn’t be given without my education, and it is a place where there is so much to experience and learn that I feel I am getting a whole new kind of education every day.

(6)  This program. It’s hard to stress how grateful I am for this experience. It has been the single best experience of my life. From the people I’ve met to the places I have been, the people who have visited to the things I have experience, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ve gotten to take amazing classes, been with amazing people, completed a fantastic internship, and lived in one of the most exciting cities in the world. It’s impossible to be thankful enough for this experience, and particularly to all of the people that made this experience possible. To family, teachers, professors, mentors, friends, supporters, anyone and everyone that played a part in making this program possible for me, thank you. And particularly to my parents, who always encouraged me to do this, especially in the week before when I was terrified of it, thank you.

While this is just a short list, I wanted to reflect on it today when I know that despite where I am, it will always be Thanksgiving to me.   

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