A Seasoned Traveler Afraid to Fly
I’ve made rounds to Central America and Europe before, but only for at most a few weeks at a time. Although saying yes to the wild and exhilarating ride of Jesus Christ Superstar, this summer also included two horrific events that I will choose not to speak about right now. Regardless if you are within my inner circle and are aware of what I faced this summer or not, know that I had something done to me that will change my life forever. With that said, departing from my support system at a time I needed it most felt terrifying and isolating. I extended my stay in Oregon by over two weeks and heavily debated at the last minute taking a quarter off and not studying abroad in London. All of which stemmed out of complete fear of experiencing and attempting to survive more vulnerability than I could handle. With my most humble thanks, this summer I was surrounded by more love and support than I ever imagined I could receive, and the seed was planted in me that London is going to serve me a season of healing. I charged my way to California and lugged all my things to the basement so it would stay safe, and had a 48 hour reunion with my two closest friends. The following morning I walked to City Lights Cafe to get my last London Fog, sat on my porch, and waited for my ride to the airport. Shaking in my boots, two suitcases in hand, and alone, I navigated the airport and boarded that plane. A window seat. A 13 hour flight. An 8 hour time change. Tears flooded my eyes, and I let them fall as I thought about how desperately I needed a hug. How desperately I needed someone to know that I wasn’t alright. My tears fell as I thought about how relieved I was to remove myself from the west coast, from the United States. Tears sat in my eyes not ready to slide down my cheeks as I thought about starting anew. “Baby girl, have hope,” a dear friend told me. “Praus,” a wise friend told me. “Heal,” a tender friend told me. I arrived in London. Exhausted, but full of hope, praus, and ready to heal.
Can I Unpack Yet?
Maybe I just didn’t read the itinerary, but when I arrived to London, I was pleasantly surprised to be told I wouldn’t start classes for two weeks. This first week I was in London was mostly run by Arcadia University, the abroad program I am with. We stayed in a hotel in the heart of Central London just around the corner from West End theaters and the Tottenham tube station. Arcadia University recommended we do everything we can to stay up instead of nap our first day in the UK to combat our jet lag. Taking their advice, a group of us walked around Soho and found a pub. Realizing we are all legal in the UK, we all got a drink and ate together. This week was also the week I discovered the magic that is Primark. For those that don’t know, Primark is a clothing and home goods store that is outrageously inexpensive. I suppose you could say it’s an off brand Forever21 with Walmart prices. I bought some awesome pink loafers with a beautiful design on them for only £9!
As a part of the Arcadia orientation, other than going to a few mandatory seminars on UK history, the UK education system, and London culture and society, they made sure we experienced what London is known for. Arcadia University bought us all tickets to the award winning West End show, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. A new musical about a boy in school who embraces his queerness by becoming a drag Queen, Jamie is a musical that shows how eye opening, relevant, and honest theatre can be. Going to see Jamie was a unique, inspiring, and encouraging way to be introduced to my new home away from home. And as a side note, I accidentally ran into the actor who plays the title roll, Jamie, after the show! A quiet and sweet hipster, John McCrea was gracious enough to let me take a picture with him after I commended his raw and thrilling work on the stage that night.
After a week of being in a hotel, we were exhausted of living out of a few bags that we were conflicted about completely unpacking. Luckily, Arcadia kept us entertained enough with a huge self guided tour around the city to get us acquainted with the sites of London, and the different types of public transportation. Me and a friend jumped on a bus as the guide said to do, missed our stop, and ended up at St. Paul’s Cathedral! A magnificent site with rich history, we were already off course and decided it was a good sign that we should continue on our own. We walked over a bridge and stopped in the center to take a picture when I suddenly squealed to high heavens, jumped straight up into the air, and hugged my new friend as if I’d just seen a ghost. I had spotted the Globe Theatre. I yelled, “Look! It’s the Globe!” I had no idea The Globe was so close to the City of London, and was under the impression it was out in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, I sprinted over to the Globe and walked in to hear that a tour was to start in 20 minutes. We jumped on the opportunity and were able to spend time in the Shakespeare Museum, take a tour of the Globe, sit in on an equity rehearsal in the Globe Theatre itself, and run through the gift shop in search for something to prove we were there. It was surprisingly, slightly anti climactic. But I appreciated that. The Globe even in Shakespeare’s time wasn’t an impressive theatre to attend, which grounded me in an odd way. It somehow humanized Shakespeare a bit and humbled him as well. In that way, suddenly Shakespeare became much more accessible. Funny how simply understanding the truth and the reality of a life makes the legend and their work more relatable and meaningful.
Lastly, the week and the self guided tour ended with an accidental trip to the Borough Market which was only a few blocks away from the Globe. The fish and chips here were to die for, immediately melting in your mouth. The Borough Market is a beautiful representation of how London has stayed true to their rich cultural roots despite modern overground train routes and highways beginning to take over. Finally, the week was tied up with an eye opening and critical tour of the British Museum.
After my first week in London, those of us attending Queen Mary University of London loaded up on a bus and made the trek to what soon would become our local neighborhood. The main QMUL campus where I am living and attending modules at is in Mile End in the borough of Tower Hamlets. Across the street from the panhandle of Victoria park and just a 15 minute bike ride from the London Olympic Stadium, Mile End got its name because it is exactly one mile east of the original City of London. Mile End is know for its rich culture and is celebrated as being one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in London, and in England. At QMUL, residence halls are all single rooms with a shared common area. I am on the second floor (floor one for Brits) of an apartment building right in the middle of campus. With a single room, I have my own bathroom and fridge, and share a huge kitchen with ten other flat mates. I have a wonderfully eclectic group of flat mates coming from all over the world including the United States, Denmark, Lithuania, Bristol, England, and more. Co-ed, we have become quite a tight nit group that I am so lucky to be a part of. The QMUL campus is exceptionally safe and vibrant, full of creative little nooks and crannies creating a funky study atmosphere that is wonderfully encouraging.
My first week in my new home was spent attending exceptionally repetitive and strenuously long mandatory “orientation” meetings. Not learning much from them, most of the information went through one ear and out the other as we all sat slightly confused about their use of our time. Despite slightly being left to our own devices, I managed everything really well and was proactive about my disability which impressed Queen Mary and the QMUL School of Drama.
Campus culture was fairly similar to Santa Clara University the first week or so of the semester. The pub life thrives, and I was surprised to see that QMUL has its own bar on campus, Drapers, on the other side of campus. This week was when I discovered the pub chain Wetherspoons in the UK. There are dozens of different types of Wetherspoons all around London and the greater UK, and it’s a cheap place to hang out and socialize with friends.
My first week at QMUL I used as an opportunity to fit in some sight seeing before classes started up. On Tuesday I actually met up with a dear friend of mine from Oregon who just happens to be studying in London at the same time I am! She lives just northeast of me in Hackney which is a really funky and up and coming neighborhood on the river Thames that reminds me a lot of Oakland, CA. We went out to dinner before I went off to Central London to see Lion King! A show I’ve always wanted to see, it’s exactly as I expected it to be. A spectacle of theatrical technology and design, it truly showcased the limitless nature and magic of theatre. On the ground floor in the orchestra seats that night was a royal family from an African country I wish I knew the name of. In a way, they were a spectacle themselves, especially during intermission as random tourists and theatre patrons attempted to take discrete pictures of the family. Respectfully, I didn’t take my phone out to take a pic, but I will say it was highly entertaining to watch others trying to be sly with their photos.
That Friday I went with the Arcadia group to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. I had no idea how magical this would be. I know this is a tourist trap, and it’s one of those “everyone has to do it” things when they come to London, but when you know that the site was the home of your ancestors, things change. My family tree starts with the Plantagenets, one of the first royal families to rule Britain. Holding on to that part of my family, it was stunning to walk through the Tower of London, the building that the Plantagenets called home. I walked through their bedrooms, their bathrooms, their common areas, realizing that I’m experiencing the foundation of my family, living and breathing the home that I come from. I was stunned and overwhelmed to see real Lion Heart shields everywhere. Previously, I had only seen the Lion Heart shield in history books and officially stamped and sealed on our official family tree that’s proudly hung up in my mom’s house. For the first time, I realized I was an immigrant. An immigrant to the United States. Where did I come from? For the first time, I realized I was home. Home in England. Home in London. Home at the tower. Home with my family I’ve never met but feel so intensely. Home where the first fathers and mothers of my family tree were killed in the field I could see out the window from the top floor of the tower. Home where members of my family were murdered. Home where my family’s blood was shed. Home where my family was born. Home where my family was celebrated. There were photos of the kings and queens that spent time in the Tower, generation after generation. Looking up at them, I saw the luscious locks of red curly hair that is now my wavy auburn. Looking up at them, I saw the ruthless warriors within themselves that my family still identifies with hundreds of years later. Looking up at them, I saw my mom. I saw my grandma. I saw me. I found my way home, and my home is still here. And it’s still alive.
A Better Kind of English
My first week of Junior year in London is in the books! So let’s get down to business, and get familiar with some British lingo.
US Classes = UK Modules and US Majors = UK Courses
The modules I am taking this semester are Making Contemporary Theatre, Contemporary World Cinemas, and London Performance Now. Making Contemporary Theatre is a module that is eight hours long! The first five hours is workshop based where we learn new ways to create contemporary theatre, and the last three hours is called Student Lead Practice (SLP) where it’s just us students leading our class through exercises and tasks we are asked to do on our own. Contemporary World Cinemas is a study of … Contemporary World Cinemas. I have a one hour lecture followed by watching a movie in class. Later in the week, I go to an hour long seminar with only a few other students, where we discuss the movie we watched and how it coincides with the lecture. London Performance Now is a module where we go out and see a different show each week, are asked to write about, and then come to a two hour seminar to discuss the show and the writing task. Overall, these modules are exceptionally immersive and stimulating, and I am beyond excited to see where they take me.
US Planner = UK Diary and US Cash Register = UK Till
I went shopping for a planner and spent way too long trying to figure out where the planners were. I eventually found my things, and walked to the till where the girl was surprised to hear my States accent. According to her, I look like I’m from Spain. I’ll take it.
US Fries and Chips = UK Chips and Crisps and US Grilled Cheese = UK Toastie
It was really late at night when a group of friends and I went walking around downtown for food and stumbled upon a “Toastie” shop. Not know what that was, we quickly realized from the menu that a toastie is a grilled cheese. I will say, something about the UK that I greatly appreciate is their wide range of sandwiches and toasties. There is so much to choose from, and they’re all delicious!
US Professors = UK Tutors, Lecturers, Seminar Leaders, Professors, and/or Convenors
I’m still confused on what to call my “professors” for lack of a better term. For Contemporary World Cinemas, I am taught by Ash, a passionate lecturer and seminar leader who is enthusiastic and excited about what he teaches. I can tell how much he enjoys what he does, and it makes me enjoy what I’m learning as well.
London Performance Now is a bit different. There are two Seminar Leaders for this module, Aoife (like sea-fuh without the “s”) and Martin, where I am taught by Martin. Martin, similarly to Ash, loves theatre and is currently working on his Masters while working as a professional sound designer in the West End. I’ve never had a dull moment in class with Martin. Both Aoife and Martin’s dedication to us as students is remarkable, as they’ve willingly met with me over coffee to work on my writing more than once! Making Contemporary Theatre is also taught by two Convenors, Martin (a different Martin) and Mojisola Adebayo. My group in class mostly spends time with Mojisola (we call her Moj), but we work with Martin a lot as well. Moj and Martin are very different and come from vastly different backgrounds as trained artists and performers. Because of Martin and Moj, Making Contemporary Theatre has been one of, if not, the most enriching, playful, and inventive class I have ever taken. And I humbly thank them for who they are, what they bring to the table, and the atmosphere they create for us.
As a part of London Performance Now, this week I saw Sketching at Wilton’s Music Hall, and as a part of Arcadia, I ventured over to tour Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was a picture perfect representation of what you would imagine a palace to be, adorned with gold leaf paint, royal red carpets, marble pillars, crown molding and all. This week I also went walking through the massive Club Festival that the QMUL Student Union put on to get students involved on campus. From that, I ended up finding Queen Mary Dance Team, QM Shakespeare Society, QM Musical Theatre, QM Theatre Company, and Unite, a Christian bible study that also focuses in Gospel choir, theatre, and creative writing.
Fun Facts of Week 1
My bathroom will never be dry. My bed is hard and I desperately want to stretch out on my foam roller that is currently in the States. UK light switches are upside down. Each light switch has its own circuit breaker next to it. The States does a lot better at constructing binders, but UK folders are far superior. Driving on the left side of the road makes a lot of sense. British coffee is better. The drink “London Fog” ironically doesn’t exist in London. British tea is heavenly. The Brits know how to make a mean fish and chips. London public transportation is brilliant. Londoners’ favorite adjective is “loads” as in “there are loads of them out there.” “Sorry” and “cheers” have way more than one definition. Stand on the right side of the escalator. An elevator is a lift. The first floor is actually the second floor. Celsius makes a lot more sense than Fahrenheit. Pasties are delicious. So are ciders. Drug dealers have business cards and delivery services via mopeds. London has dumpster diving city foxes. J-walking is the only way Londoners cross the streets. It rains a lot less than people says it does, and umbrellas are stupid. Autumn is beautiful.