Claire in London

Claire is a junior majoring in history and anthropology, with a minor in political science, in Dedman College. In fall 2011 she is studying at King’s College London with IFSA-Butler, in partnership with SMU Abroad.

Read My Mind

Hello!

Today was quite an eventful day. I was up at 8 to get to my 10 o’clock Greek History class, but when I got there I found out it had been cancelled! Too bad I had already had an espresso, so going back to sleep really wasn’t an option at that point!

I went down the street and had coffee and a long conversation with a new friend from class. From there, I went to the Victoria Embankment to find a spot to sit overlooking the river, do some reading and watch the world go by.

Instead of finding quiet solitude, I got harassed for a good ten minutes by a man claiming to be psychic. He was chatting me up and told me I reminded him of his sister. And trust me on this one, I am 100% sure I look nothing like his sister. He read my tongue (I’m going to live to 89, apparently — Lord help us all), called me poor and simple (channeling Bonquiqui at this point in the conversation — RUDE!) and then asked me for money. I reminded him that he had just told me I was poor and he said, “Ah, but you are also wise.” And I replied, “Well then, you should know that I am not giving you any money.” Then I pretty much skipped off to the tube station.

(By the way, the tongue is a part of your body that you never think twice of being self conscious about, until someone asks to look at it.  I almost cried.)

I caught the tube to St. James’ Park, sat underneath a giant tree and finally got some reading done! Today’s excursion has forever solidified my love of squirrels and geese, but also my hatred for people who chase after said animals like fools, clapping their hands and waving peanut shells.

I’m not just talking children, either! Grown up adults in business-casual attire, running across the grass, grabbing at squirrels, kicking at geese!  All the while, I kept secretly hoping someone would get bitten.  I mean, that’s what I would do if someone chased me around, waving peanut shells in the air and yelling things like, “Come here, duck! Here duck!”, when I am clearly a goose.  Such blatant genus ignorance alone is worthy of a mild case of rabies or at the very least, a good pecking.

Friday evening I am taking a train out to the Lake District/Keswick for the weekend, so hopefully I will have some pictures to upload when I return!

Cheers,
Claire

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Inside the Mind of a Procrastinator

I am in the second week of class and finally starting to feel like I have a better handle on things. I have made it to every class on time so far (a MIRACLE for me!) and am no longer scrambling around the halls like a rat in a maze, looking for a hidden classroom.

Now when I refer to the Strand Campus as being like a maze, I am not joking. Rather than a distinct set of different buildings like my home campus, all the buildings are jammed in next to each other with little to no congruity. Which means sometimes you look out a window and you are looking at just a small square space where the corners/sides of different buildings have met, but weren’t even, so they just left a  gap in between. (Beats me why they would put windows all around looking into these spaces, no more than a foot or so wide. But the pigeons do love them).  You can walk from building to building without ever going outside, but the floors don’t match up and the classroom numberings are confusing. There are about 10 different buildings and SO. MANY. DOORS.  You would not believe.

Currently, I am in the library working on transferring quotations and notes from my readings onto my computer. My desk looks like a post-it note graveyard. I annotate with post-its while I’m reading, but since I have to return the books to the library each week, I have to transfer the notes and the quotations they refer to onto my computer, in case I decide I would like to use them later in a paper. It is a little frustrating, and very time consuming, but it is much easier to work in the library than in my tiny room, surprisingly filled with a large number of distractions.

Claire’s Internal Monologue While Reading in Her Room:
5:30 – “Okay, reading time. Let’s do this! “
5:32 – “How many pages again? Okay, 52 pages. I can do this. Here we go.”
5:34 – “Okay, maybe first I should plan out my breaks? Every twenty-five pages? Okay, yes. Now let’s really get cracking.”
5:38 – “I’ve read a TON! It’s probably almost break time. Wait – only four pages?! What?! That can’t be right. I’ll just re-count the pages real quick.”
5:39 – “Okay so 21 pages until my break… My nail polish is cracked. Dangit! I should repaint them real quick. They can air dry while I read! Good idea, Claire. You are such a wonderful multi-tasker. I really admire that about you. Why, thank you, Claire! It is one of my many great qualities.”

[Yes, I talk to myself while I’m talking to myself. It’s like that Inception movie, but with better actors].

Basically, it continues on like that until I have color-coded the (ten) tops I have hanging in my closet and refolded all of my sweaters and emptied my trash can and washed my hands and highlighted some important stuff in my notes and… I’ll look up and it will be 10PM! Well, now it’s definitely too late to start my reading!! What a shame! Guess I should just watch some Dexter before I drift off to sleep…

How convenient for me.

And now you know why I’m in the library.

Cheers,
Claire

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Sweet, Sweet Victory

Pieps with the Iron Skillet

 

Peep this pic of the Pieps posing with the Iron Skillet. Class of ’13 and ’15 celebrating our victory over TCU this past weekend.

My youngest brother took a picture of me along when he went to get his photo taken so that I could be a part of the magic, even though I’m in London. So proud of this picture, and it is definitely getting blown up and hung on my wall.

Love, love, love it. Thanks, Andrew!

I know I haven’t updated in awhile. I have been very overwhelmed now that classes have started. Adjusting to a different system has been a challenge – but I feel like I am starting to understand more about what is expected of me. I met with a professor today who is teaching two of my four courses, and she was very kind and patient with me and all of my clueless questions. The first day, when I was handed a syllabus that just consisted of a list of books I’d never heard of, I had a bit of a freak out moment. But, as is usually the case in times of trouble, a quick chat with Mom (via Skype), helped me to get back on track.

I am really good at procrastination. Good enough so that it could actually be a marketable skill. I should go on X Factor or some sort of equally reputable talent show to display how truly gifted I am when it comes to finding obscure and unhelpful ways to avoid doing any work whatsoever. I think people would really be impressed.

That being said, my biggest struggle will be keeping up with the readings, since there is no system for accountability. The only grades I will have are the papers due at the end of the term! Seems great when you don’t have homework everyday and you’re not in class as often, but when you look at the big picture, you realize you still have plenty of work to do and it’s not just free time!

I just found out that one of my best friends’ mother will be in London for a few days and hopefully I will get to see her! It will be nice to see a familiar face from back home!

Cheers,

Claire

 

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Paris, Part 2

Let me start off this post by saying Go Ponies! I am so proud of my team, and anyone who knows me knows how badly I would’ve loved to have been there last night. As a long-time diehard SMU fan, one of the things I knew I would miss the most while I was away was football season! Last night was just more proof that good always triumphs over evil!

We started off the morning by heading straight to the Musée du Louvre. I was so excited to get there, and as we walked into the courtyard, my mouth dropped. The queue snaked all around the courtyard and doubled back on itself several times. I immediately thought I would be standing in the hot sun all day waiting to get in to the museum; Tenley, on the other hand, had the foresight to purchase a museum pass so she breezed right in!

I trudged over to the back of the line and quickly made friends with the people in front of me – an American couple and their friend. The couple was from Kansas City, and the friend was originally from the south of France but had recently moved to DALLAS!! Now what are the odds of that?! We talked for a while and before I knew it, I was at the front of the line! I was surprised how quickly it moved, but mostly just thankful to get into the air conditioning. (Can you tell I’m from Texas?)

The museum itself is quite impressive, from the iconic glass pyramids in the courtyard to the huge stone halls and the big shops underneath (including an Apple store??).  I really enjoyed the beautiful sculptures and touring through the Napoleon Apartments – in which, I learned, Napoleon never actually lived. The Mona Lisa was more than a bit disappointing. The whole scene was a little repulsive, with people shouting and shoving and holding up their camera phones just to snap a photo. No one was interested in actually looking at the portrait, just getting a picture to show that they had been there.

I gave up trying to make my way to the front after I got whacked, hard, by several people (unintentionally… I think). In my mind, the Mona Lisa is a bit like Paris Hilton – only famous for being famous. The Louvre had much more interesting and beautiful works of art to admire, without having a sweaty German man elbow you in the face!

In fact, the only place I encountered any rudeness in France was at the Louvre. When I asked about the student rate at the ticket counter (after saying hello and politely asking if she spoke English, in French), she said you had to be a European citizen to get the student rate. I pulled out my money to pay for the full-price ticket and she asked me what school I went to. When I told her “King’s College in London,” she rolled her eyes and spat, “England is in Europe.” I smiled sweetly and apologized while she checked my student ID, all while resisting the urge to explain to her that enrollment and citizenship are two very different things.

I also purchased an audio guide – which I would not recommend. It cost me 6 euros and I found the reference numbers for only three commentaries. I asked other people who had them and they were just as frustrated. If you could find some sort of Louvre guidebook, that would be a much better purchase and much more helpful!

From the Louvre, we walked down through the garden and had lunch in the park. Sandwiches on baguettes, of course, what else!? We crossed the river via the Pont des Arts and got to see all the thousands of padlocks that lovers have written their names on and attached to the railings, before tossing the key into the river below.

Then we made our way down the road to the Musée d’Orsay, which I loved! I am so glad we decided to stop in! It was less crowded, well-organized, quiet, calmer and people were really enjoying the art rather than rushing through. I got to see some amazing and iconic pieces by Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as a few smaller sculptures by Rodin and so many other beautiful impressionist paintings. It is definitely worth a visit!

After d’Orsay, we jumped on the Metro (since we are basically underground professionals now) and rode to the Arc de Triomphe. From the monument, we walked down the Avenue des Champs Élysées and I had my eyes peeled for the black and white doors of Sephora!! Inside, I showed incredible self-restraint and purchased only ONE bottle of nail polish, “Lotus Rouge.”

We made our way back to Monmarte and up to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur – the highest point in the city. Inside, we got to hear a nun singing and watch part of a service. A woman in front of me pretended as if she couldn’t read the big signs (along with descriptive pictures) saying “NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED!” Yet she immediately understood when a man came over to her and said, also in English, “No pictures. Delete those photos, please.” And he stood over her and waited for her to delete them off her camera! I wanted to high-five him! It was awesome. The basilica is gorgeous but it is the view from its front steps that is absolutely stunning.

We finished off the night by watching the sun set over the city and then finding an outdoor cafe. It was the perfect way to finish off such a wonderful adventure! I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go and that I was lucky enough to have such a great guide/navigator with me! Thanks again, Tenley!

I start school tomorrow for the first time since early May and I am both excited and terrified! Wish me luck!

Cheers,

Claire

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Paris, Part One

Hello!

I just returned from Paris yesterday afternoon. and I have to say, it was quite a whirlwind adventure! Tenley and I accomplished everything on our list and more!

Our first day, we arrived in Paris at 8:30 in the morning and we went nonstop until after 10 that night! First, we got breakfast at the boulangerie that was voted ‘Best Baguette in Paris 2011,′ and afterward we agreed the award was well deserved! From there, we took the Metro (like experts, I might add) to Notre Dame.

The cathedral is nothing short of beautiful, inside and out. The stained glass is incredible, and all the small chapels that line the walls are so interesting. It was different from what I expected, though. They required silence and proper clothing for entrance, out of reverence. But they also had several large and bright ‘penny stamper’ machines, where you could get your coins pressed with the image of the cathedral. It just struck me as being a bit out of place inside the church right next to prayerful statues and rows of pews.

People watching is always fun in such touristy places, and the Notre Dame was no exception. One young woman was walking around taking pictures with her iPad — just holding it up to statues and windows. And one man and his son stopped at every single little chapel and alcove to take photos. The man would stand at a strange angle to the camera.. either 3/4ths or halfway turned instead of full on. Then he would pose in a position he must have assumed was appropriate given the context — he would clasp his hands in front of his face and look heavenwards with a contrite expression while his son snapped a photo. And they did this – literally – every few feet.

In spite of a few funny moments, it was one of the most incredible places of worship I have ever been to.

Next, we walked to the Latin Quarter to see the Panthéon. It was constructed on a religious site dedicated to St. Geneviere, built by Clovis, and Louis XIV had the Pantheon constructed on the same site, after attributing his recovery from an illness to the saint. Later, its use expanded to include secular events. It had an artful domed roof, plenty of sunlight streaming through, and several impressive sculptures of memorable Frenchmen and mythical figures.

From there, it was a straight shot down the hill to the Luxembourg Gardens – definitely a highlight of the trip! These huge grounds are perfectly manicured and shaded. Flowers, trees, fountains and sculptures everywhere. It was full of people walking, sleeping, playing and reading. Tenley and I enjoyed our lunch and took a short nap in the thick grass, before walking almost the entire park. They even had a beekeeping hutch, a vineyard, a fruit and vegetable garden, a humongous playground area, an indoor children’s theater for puppet performances, several cafes and tennis and bocce ball courts.

We journeyed to the Musée Rodin and spent some time in the amazing rose gardens there. We got to see his famous work, “The Thinker,” and I took another nap in the cool grass and warm sunshine! While we were there, part of the jardin was closed and they were constructing a large tent. I guessed it might be for some sort of wedding reception but I found out today that it was for the Dior show at Paris Fashion Week! Wow!

Our last trip that day was to the Eiffel Tower. We spotted it a few times in the distance earlier, but when we actually got to it and could see it down the park, it was awesome. It is such an iconic image, and to finally see it in person is a very cool feeling. It is stunning! We walked around for a bit, then took a nighttime cruise down the Seine.

We got back to our hostel late that night to discover that our 3-female room was actually two females and a male! The guy was from Chile, spoke very little English, and was way more terrified of us then we were of him. Nonetheless, Tenley and I were more than a little taken aback and I slept with my hand through the strap of my camera bag, which was also tied to the bed, just to be on the safe side!

As you can imagine, we both slept soundly that night. Our hostel was great and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for an inexpensive place to stay in Paris. (Just be adamant about wanting a single sex room if that is what you booked!) It was clean, well organized and everyone was very friendly.

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Sunday Funny

Yesterday I went to a Church Finder’s picnic with my flatmate Lizzie. The event is put on by the KCL Christian Union to help King’s students find  church homes while they are studying here in London. We all met in St. James’ Park, a massive park sandwiched between Buckingham Palace and the Thames. Students from different churches in the area stood up to give a brief description of their church and the service times.

From the park, we walked up Oxford Street to All Souls Church. We met up with a few of Lizzie’s friends, including two girls who live just one floor below me at Great Dover! It was a wonderful service, and I really enjoyed the worship portion as well. It was fairly contemporary but we sang a few hymns, too. After the sermon they had a student coffee bar downstairs with snacks and drinks, so we got to meet some of the students and group leaders. They all encouraged us to attend the student group, Impact, which meets on Wednesday nights.

However, I won’t be able to attend the the first meeting because I will be in Paris! I have to be up and at ‘em at 3:30 a.m. tomorrow morning to catch my bus and make it to the train station by 5:00 a.m. From there, it’s a two hour ride through the Chunnel and into Paris Nord. Today, my friend Tenley and I spent lunch planning and mapping out our two-day journey. Here’s our tentative schedule for the trip:

Day 1:

-8:30 a.m. arrival at Nord
-Notre Dame
-The Latin Quarter (the Surbonne; the Pantheon)
-Luxembourg Gardens
-Basilique du Sacre-Coeur
-1 p.m. check-in at our hostel, also in Monmarte
-Arc de Triomphe
-Nighttime river cruise on the Seine

Day 2:

-Musee du Louvre
-Musee d’Orsay
-Jardin des Tuileries
-Jardin du Musee Rodin
-Eiffel Tower

I know that you could easily spend days in just the Louvre alone. But Tenley and I both agreed that we would like to at least try to squeeze everything in, even if we aren’t giving each place as much time as it might rightfully deserve. Lucky for me, Tenley has been to Paris twice before and she is mildly familiar with how to get around and in what areas each of these destinations are located. She also has a great guidebook and a plethora of maps to help us navigate!

Oh, and we are on the hunt for the boulangerie that won the award of 2011 Best Baguette,  Au Levain d’Antan, as it is just a five minute walk from our hostel! Haha!

Hopefully, I will have tons of pictures from Paris to share with you all! Until then, here are some photos from St. James’.

Ducks in St. James' park

From the gardens at St. James' park

 

 

 

Texas flag of mysterious origin flying at Queen Anne's court

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Jerry Springer, or How the Rest of the World Sees Us

Going abroad as an American student is certainly a lesson in humility. Not everyone is as big of a fan of the good old U.S. of A. as we might like to think. And while I have not directly encountered any blatant anti-Americanism, it seems that our reputation precedes us.

During our first days here, the IFSA students stayed at a hotel before moving into the dorms. We would encounter people from countries all over the world in the elevators, and almost immediately after the doors would close, they would turn to us and say “Are you Americans?” Sometimes without even hearing us speak. Is it our clothes? Our look? Do we emit a subconscious American obnoxiousness — like a cultural dog whistle that only other nationalities can hear? I probably couldn’t have told you where they were from just by looking.  And I couldn’t have asked them in their native tongue whether they were German or Swedish or Norwegian, like they had just asked us in English.

I think the general European consensus about Americans is that we are overbearing, dismissive of other cultures, ignorant of world events and that we see things as being either our way or the highway. My flatmate even told me that she thought the show “Jerry Springer” was meant to be an accurate depiction of American life. And when I mentioned that Americans pretty much know that the French dislike us, another flatmate regretfully informed me that, “Most everyone dislikes Americans.”

My immediate thought in response to this was, “But where I’m from, everyone loves Americans!” Now, how American of a thought process is that?

The stereotypes of Texans are even more grandiose (although I’m sure we wouldn’t have it any other way!). Today, a guy asked me what state I was from. When I told him Texas, he said, “Oh God! Aren’t you allowed to shoot people in Texas?” And then he asked me if we were all inbred. Our gun control and self-defense laws are extremely horrifying to the British, most of whom have never even seen a gun before. Pepper spray is considered a firearm here, and you can serve a pretty hefty jail sentence just for possession.

Another huge adjustment is the differences between the collegiate systems. British students are on a different path than American students in their first year of college. For example, they don’t shop around the course catalogue, trying on different classes to see what fits best. At university in the U.K., if you are going to study dentistry, you only take courses in dentistry.  They find our little-bit-of-everything attitude towards coursework strange. Some U.K. students I’ve talked to even see it as almost non-committal and watered down.

They believe an educational foundation should be established in college (high school), and your focus is narrowed at the university (collegiate) level. Courses have a much stronger emphasis on self-teaching and individual learning; they assume that if you are a student, then you should have the motivation to come to class, complete readings and do research without being rewarded with completion grades, participation points or benchmark quizzes.

So far, the greatest lesson I’ve learned abroad is that in leaving behind your home, family and friends (and inevitably a large part of who you are), you discover so much about yourself and the place you are from. When you are taken out of your context, you are forced to define yourself in clearer terms. Your surroundings can no longer speak for you. Your friends cannot be used to reflect upon your character.  You must be able to articulate distinctly about who you are as an individual when all of the extra falls away.

Living in London, I am learning more about what it really means to be an American, on a personal and global scale. A lesson that is both challenging and enlightening!

 

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The Victoria and Albert Museum

Yesterday I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum and spent just over four hours browsing the massive collection. The experience was incredible and I can’t even begin to recite all the many things I saw. I was able to take several pictures because they allow flash photography in almost every part of the museum!

The museum building is beautiful, and I could spot it’s tower from quite a ways away.

Albert and Victoria Museum

 

 Two exhibits that were off limits to photography of any kind were the Raphaels and the Jewelry collection.

In the Raphael room, the canvases were massive, lining the walls all around a large set of panels. The fabric panels were in three layers, with the two outside layers inverted slightly to the center row, so that you could recline and look up at the huge drawings from different angles. The area was called the “Textile Field” and was part of the V&A special exhibit called ‘The Power of Making’. Several people were taking naps and I even saw one couple taking photos of each other while one would pretend to ‘swim’ in the massive sea of panels.

As far as the Jewelry display, I have to say it is quite literally the ‘crowning jewel’ of the V&A, if you’ll pardon my horrific pun. (Really, that was both unnecessary and inexcusable.) This exhibit alone was worth the tube ride to South Kensington! It was incredible. The entire room was dark, except for the rows and rows of jewelry. I’ve never seen so many diamonds or oversized stones in my life. I’m talking pendants that were easily a foot long, with flowers and leaves all entirely made up of diamonds. An entire crown made of the most flawless, pure orange coral. Amethyst chunks the size of credit cards, set in solid diamond pavé. Tiaras, hair pins, rings, bracelets, pendants, all glittering. I almost had an aneurysm. Or a fainting spell. Whichever is classier.

Alas, the two exhibits I was most looking forward to just happened to be closed! Both the Photography exhibit (more than 500,000 photos!) and the Fashion exhibits were both closed for updating. Nonetheless, I had a quite a good time wandering around and staring, agog, at all the antiquities.

Here are some photos of all the wonderful things I did get to see!  (Please ignore my reflections in some of these shots, most everything was behind glass!)

St. Peter in full papal regalia, holding the keys to Heaven (Matthew). 1520

Bust of Lady Catherine Stepney, who wanted her likeness made as Cleopatra, 1836.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indian jewelry during the reign of the British Empire

I am planning a quick getaway to Paris for a few days this week since I don’t start class until October 3rd. My friend Drew has given me some tips on where to stay and what to say! I’m a little worried since I don’t speak any French whatsoever. I know the French just love clueless American tourists!! Maybe we can come to some sort of diplomatic agreement and just speak Spanish?

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Settling In

Well, we are finally a complete set! All of my flatmates have officially moved in. Our newest resident is an international student from Canada named Kirk. All the rest are U.K. students, and most are from about an hour and a half outside of London. While some felt sorry that Kirk had to live with all girls, I think he lucked out! After all, I have lived with boys and can tell you right now that girls are typically much cleaner, much quieter and much better cooks. (Except me, since I’m loud, messy and a rather unaccomplished chef). Last night we all went to Roebuck’s, our pub next door, for a drink. I am lucky to have gotten such a great group of flatmates.

I am getting a bit better at using the public transportation system since I’ve been practicing a lot with my daily trips to Strand Campus. The bus routes are more complicated than the tube, but often more direct. And while the walk to the bus stop is a bit farther than walk to the tube station, it is considerably cheaper. I feel very accomplished when I reach my destination, even more so when I get thoroughly lost and still manage to find my way!

Tomorrow I will have my departmental welcome meetings for History and Classics and then I have a 5 hour break before I have to be back at the Strand Campus for a ‘Living in London’ session.

Flatmates (left to right) Portia, Afsha, Lizzie, Kuljit and Kirk

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Can Feet Fall Off?

Because if they can, mine are definitely about to. You don’t realize how much you drive EVERYWHERE in Dallas until you walk around a city like London. My feet forgot what they were for, besides pressing a gas pedal.

Today was no different – I walked practically all day.

I am having some trouble with downloading photos from my camera into iPhoto, so today I shot all JPEGS. Here are a few pictures from today. Nothing special, but gives you a glimpse of what I saw on my walk.

Flatmates Afsha (left) and Kuljit with a handpainted gorilla. The gorillas are a fundraiser meant to draw attention to extinctions caused by deforestation.

Another gorilla, this one meant to look like an old etching. Love the top hat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dangling sculpture

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s all for right now. Hopefully I will have more up soon and I will also be able to rescue the hostage photos stuck on my camera.

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