Learning in London

Thomas Salamon
LSE 2019/20
London, England

Every city has a pattern. Some are organized into grids- some about a central expressway or an intersection of those. Some are oriented in a way to divert traffic to certain districts. London is all of these. It’s a constant reminder of its rich history as an evolving city from the time of the Roman Empire. It isn’t in a grid of streets or even circled about a central location like many European cities. The river Thames cuts it in two, so it’s an easy reference point.

Blackfriars Bridge over the river Thames

Every day, I get dressed in warm clothes, and I cross the Thames on my commute to class. My first consideration, of course is blending in. The style of people over here is much different. I’ve only worn black pants since I arrived. I bought a Barbour and Burberry coat, both for warmth and because I can’t afford something like a Canada Goose. Warm clothes are of paramount import, followed by the function you’re dressing for. Suits for days with meetings- expensive outfits for going out. The people dressing for work generally prefer suits and overcoats, which reminds me of the way Peaky Blinders dress. Mostly dark colors. Other international students are usually the only ones wearing outfits out of the norm- Americans prefer Patagonia, LL Bean Boots, Sperrys or Vineyard Vines. Chinese students prefer outfits worth more than a year of my tuition cobbled together from luxury brands like Off-White, Gucci and Supreme. London is a fashion capital- you simply must consider the image you project.

Financial district downtown, St. Paul’s roof in the foreground.

My commute is an easy one mile walk (don’t ask me for the kilometer conversion). I start across Blackfriars Bridge and I look to my right, at the financial district in the background and the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in the foreground. I’d make a comment about religions of man changing over time, if I were wittier. I take a left after the bridge- joining the throng of commuters, all looking at the ground, none talking to any other, all bound for their work, school, or play. I walk along the Thames opposite the London Eye, in the direction of Parliament and Big Ben. Every morning, I’m greeted with the sun coming over the river to my left over the House of Parliament. There’s a bronze statue, titled ‘City Worker Hailing a Cab’, to my right, past the J.P. Morgan Building. Some days, his expression seems hopeful. Other days, panicked. Still others it reflects the melancholy of a midweek commute. Perhaps that’s the art in it. I’m a math major- don’t ask me.
You can’t see the Thames, the central reference point of London, from inside the city. The distinctive skyscrapers of London offer a secondary reference for lost folks- the Shard, the Gherkin, Canary Wharf, all offer waypoints to orient yourself. But it’s often the case on the narrow streets that you can’t see anything but the buildings immediately in front of you. If your phone is dead (as mine consistently is), you resort to following the maps on bus stops and referencing signs pointing you at landmarks. I have a disposition to wanting to learn the city by heart instead of using my phone, so I’m perfectly ok with getting lost a little on the way. You get the best experiences like that, in my humble opinion. Finding little shops serving any kind of food you like. Doner, Fish and Chips, hole-in-the-wall pubs you file in your memory for later but never visit again because you can’t find them. Vintage markets selling Barbour jackets from 1980 alongside classic records. Tailors offering insane discounts due to competition from international brands.

Sunset view from Blackfriars Bridge.

View from my room

I retrace my steps back after class along the same route. The statue seems more hopeful after I’ve been in class and have the day under my belt. There’s graffiti opposite Blackfriars station reading ‘Things go right if you do all the little things right’. Someone has scratched out ‘all the little things’. Returning to my dorm, I cross in front of the Tate Modern and take the lift to the fourth floor. It’s a double, and my roommate is usually watching political videos or typing his essays. I feel bad for him because all I have are problem sets for quantitative courses- he feels bad for me for the same reason.

Learning in London

Thomas Salamon
LSE 2019/20
London, England

I only applied to one abroad program because I wanted it to improve upon the studies I was doing at Hampden-Sydney. I had already taken a May Term Abroad in order to study German with some fellow students of mine but when I chose to apply to the LSE, I knew it would be a different experience- for one, I was applying alone and wasn’t going to be abroad with a fellow Hampden-Sydney student. What I knew about the London School of Economics (and indeed, London at all) was relatively limited. I had spoken to some students who went in previous years, and they told me it was a full year at one of the most prestigious social science universities in the world. The courses were hard, and mostly quantitative. I was sold! I applied because I’m a math-econ/applied math major, and I was trying to get a career in Finance. A good half of the students here have similar goals, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Small aside- my professor would be proud of me using statistics, let’s calculate the probability a student you randomly speak to on the street is a member of the general course & and has the aforementioned goals… go!
The other difference from my previous time abroad; and in my opinion, advantage, is that we speak English over here. That comes with a few notable exceptions, like how lifts are elevators, asking for pants at the store directs you to the underwear aisle, or when you say the name of basically anywhere out loud and find people staring at you with the full knowledge you aren’t from here. Fun exercise- try saying Thames, Southwark, Leicester, Greenwich, Gloucester or Marylebone, and I guarantee you aren’t saying them right. The flip side of this is that you’re always in a sea of people who are from farther off destinations than you. I’ve met people from all across Europe, Russia China, the Middle East and South America who all had unique experiences and all came to the LSE to improve their education. That brings me to the meaning of the full name of the LSE- The London School of Economics and Political Science. Many people here come to study (and by virtue of that, are incredibly knowledgeable about) international relations and political science. The dialogues I’ve had with people about any subject is invariably incredibly interesting, and it seems to mirror Hampden-Sydney in that there is at least respect regardless of opinion, and that nobody will attack you for who you are or what you believe. They WILL attack your arguments however, which has the result that everyone is good at defending themselves.
The discourse is so incredibly varied here that you can find any political or social ideology you wish to. The Marxist society had a booth next to the Hayek society during the fresher’s fair, and you’ll not be surprised to hear which of the two groups were wearing suits.

A year in London

Christian Blankenship
LSE
London, England 2018/19

I decided to spend my Christmas break in London so that I could experience the city without the responsibility of school, and also to travel a little through Europe. Admittedly, it felt extremely odd being away from home for Christmas, but my brother came to visit for a week at Christmas which helped. He spent a total of four days in London, and we also visited Paris for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then we traveled to Brussels for two more days. While in London, we attended an Arsenal match which was extremely fun and also the first match I attended while in London. I also tried my best to show him as many famous London sights as possible in only four days while also doing less touristy things.
We only had two days to experience Paris and two days for Brussels, so we were crunched for time to see everything worth seeing. We also did not plan our visit to Paris very well which resulted in some complications for us. Our biggest problem was finding restaurants that were actually open without a reservation made in advance. We had so much trouble that we ended up searching for almost two hours trying to find a restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve. Luckily, we did end up finding an open restaurant for dinner and we did not have a problem finding places to eat for the rest of our trip. In Brussels, we did not have any problems finding open restaurants or stores since we went on the 26th. Our Hostel was also in the center of the city, so we had easy access to a huge amount of restaurants, museums, and shops.

The Atomium

While in Brussels, we visited the Atomium which was an interesting monument to say the least. It was constructed for the World’s Fair back in the 1950s and depicts nine iron atoms together. The coolest part of the Atomium is that each sphere is a room with specific information about the Atomium’s construction and the World’s Fair it was built for.
We arrived back in London on the 28th and spent my brother’s last two days experiencing the insanity that is the Boxing Day sales. After he left on the 30th, I figured it was time to get back to work for school. I needed to finish a marketing project, do research for a fashion show being organized by the Fashion Society, and start studying for my Macro exam that’s on January 11th. Staying here for Christmas has been a new and odd experience, but it has also been nice to have some time to chill by myself and relax before becoming swamped with work again.

A year in London

Christian Blankenship
LSE
London, England 2018/19

After living in London for three months, I can now claim, rather confidently, that I have effectively adjusted to living here. Aside from developing a brisk walking pace to replace the traditional slow saunter that I have known my whole life, I have also found myself walking to practically every destination. I rarely use public transport, such as buses, taxis, or the underground, even though there are numerous stations surrounding my residence. The ease of navigating the London streets and the experience associated with it is much more valuable to me, and worth the longer travel time. Before becoming severely bogged down with schoolwork, I would walk the streets of London any free moment I had. I was averaging over 10 miles walked daily, and this was primarily without any purpose other than learning about the city. Even though I am much busier now, I still try my best to explore different parts of London I haven’t seen yet whenever I’m free.
Exploring the city and walking everywhere is very different from what I’m accustomed to in the US. Back home, I tend to drive to all of my destinations, though this is primarily due to living in a smaller town where everything is more spread out and there is little to no traffic. Back home, my free time was primarily spent either playing holes on a golf course or hitting balls on a driving range, but I have not been able to do that as frequently here. I have played golf three times since I arrived, at a golf course named Worplesdon Golf Club. This is a private course, but I am allowed to play there because one of the golf pros working there attended university in my hometown. He became close with my family because we played at the same golf course together, and he even attended Thanksgiving at our house while he was in the US. Even though I have only played 18 holes a few times, I still try my best to practice by visiting a driving range on the weekends. This can be difficult because I live in “Inner London” and the closest range is an hour train ride from where I live. However, I still have found the time to go at least every two weeks, and Winter Break is beginning soon so I’ll have plenty of time to play golf and hopefully travel before next term.

A year in London

Christian Blankenship
LSE
London, England 2018/19

It has now been nearly two months since I arrived in London and began my studies at LSE. It has been difficult adjusting to the different class format here at the school, but it’s been a refreshing change. I’ve had to improve my studying habits and time management skills in order to properly take advantage of the many activities present in London, and to also keep up with the rigorous schedule here. Aside from the different class structure, I do slightly miss the short 5-10 minute walk to class from the ABC’s that I had last year. It currently takes me 25 minutes of brisk walking from my dorm in order to reach the closest lecture hall. However, I very much enjoy the walk to class every day. It’s a pleasant experience to prepare for class and the coming day. During that walk, I cross the Blackfriars Bridge, which provides me with a view of the River Thames along with the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral. This view has become especially nice the past few weeks when the sun is setting.
Adjusting to the different pace that people move and act here in London is much faster than back home. Aside from lunch and dinner, where people seem like they have all the time in the world, everyone seems to be in a huge rush to get wherever they’re going. It’s like everyone is running five minutes late to work at all times and cannot afford to be late anymore. This rushed attitude is extremely different from the sauntering that’s commonplace at Hampden-Sydney and back home in Danville. It’s taken quite a while in order for me to speed up my walking pace so that I can keep up with the people I’m with. Another thing about London that has surprised me is the food. Before I arrived, I was warned by many people who had previously visited London that the food was not very good. I came into the city extremely worried because we are not provided catered meals in a cafeteria and I’m a rather picky person. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the food options. I have not yet had a meal I didn’t enjoy, and I’ve only resorted to eating McDonalds three or four times. Unfortunately, there is no Chick fil-A in England and that has been a huge struggle to deal with. Overall, the food has been delicious and the huge variety of cuisines has me excited to try new things every meal.

The view from Blackfriars Bridge at sunset

A year in London

Christian Blankenship
LSE
London, England 2018/19

For the next 10 months, I will be studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Studying here for the entire year was one of the factors interesting me the most because most programs do not last for the entire year. One of the things about studying at LSE that excites me the most is the different method of instruction practiced here compared to back at Hampden-Sydney. However, this new instruction style is also one of the things worrying me the most. Unlike in the US where there are typically two to three sessions per week, LSE has one lecture session and one class session per week. This type of instruction places much more responsibility on the student to learn the material outside of class. However, I have much more free time to explore the city, which I intend to take advantage of as best as possible. Most of my exploring so far has revolved around getting lost 1-2 miles away from my dorm and trying to find my way home, which has really helped me acclimate to the lifestyle of living in a major city.
Aside from studying at a prestigious university and living in the heart of London, London is also a travel hub, which makes traveling throughout Europe easy and cheap. The ease of traveling around Europe, also the rest of the United Kingdom, is one factor that I plan to take advantage of as much as possible. I also am an avid golfer, and many of the most historic golf courses are located in the United Kingdom. Courses like the Old Course at St Andrews, which is considered the home of modern golf, Carnoustie Golf Links, Kingsbarns Golf Links, and many other historic courses call Scotland their home. I also will have easy access to travel anywhere else in Europe for short weekend trips or during vacation after terms have ended. Overall, there are so many new things I’ve needed to adjust to coming from a small area like Hampden-Sydney because London is so different, but it’s a tremendous opportunity being able to study here that I intend to take advantage of.

Studying, “Across the Pond” 2017/18

Jamie Agnew
LSE 2017/18

This semester has been going great! It has also been flying by. We are on spring break right now, which is much different than spring break in the United States. We have an entire month off for the break, which means we have manage our time efficiently because we have exams when we return from break. I have four exams, which are all going to be tough. There are no tests or quizzes over here, so the exam is your entire grade, which adds even more pressure. I plan on traveling a couple times during the break, but when I am not traveling, I’ll be studying for exams.

I have been traveling a lot over the past couple months. My first trip was to Budapest, Hungary. It was very Eastern European: cloudy, cold, and stark. But, it had a lot to offer including thermal baths and an elaborate parliament building. I prefer Prague to Budapest, but it was still a very enjoyable trip. The following weekend I went to Rome, which was fantastic. We were only there for 2.5 days, but we saw so much in that short time. There is so much to see in the city as it has such rich history. On top of all of this, the food was to die for. I couldn’t get enough of Italy, so I went back to Naples the following weekend. Naples itself was a huge letdown. The city was rundown, dirty, and old, but the surrounding areas are beautiful. The Amalfi Coast was one of the most picturesque places I’ve been. We spent a day on the coast. The first half of the day we were in Sorrento and then we took a boat out to Capri, which was unbelievable. The next day we went to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, which were both very cool to see. One thing I noticed about Naples was the language barrier that existed. Of all the places I have travelled to, Naples was hardest to communicate with English in. Nonetheless, we made it work.

The following weekend, I went to Krakow, Poland. We were only there for a couple days, but we were very impressed with the city. It was quite clean and the city center was packed. We took a day trip to Auschwitz, which was extremely eye opening. It was a very moving experience and it put the Holocaust in a brand new perspective.

Last weekend, I went to Dublin for St. Patty’s Day. This was a blast to say the least. Everyone was dressed in green and drinking Guinness. I had a blast that weekend. I also met alot of great people as everyone was American. I was planning on coming home for a couple weeks during spring break, but my exams end fairly early compared to others, so I decided to stay.

The time is winding down here, which is tough to think about because it is so much fun over here. London has been a great city to spend the year in, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. With less than two months left, I am trying to make the most of my time here. While I am going to be sad when I leave, I am excited to return to the United States.

Studying, “Across the Pond” 2017/18

Jamie Agnew
LSE 2017/18

I returned to London on January 2nd, 2018. The London School of Economics’s calendar is quite different from Hampden-Sydney’s as well as other colleges in the United States. You take four classes for the entire year all of which have a final exam in April or May. The only exception to this rule is if you take any Economics classes: they also have a midterm exam in the first week of January. I am not very fond of this setup because, unlike Hampden-Sydney, you enter winter break knowing that you have an exam at the end of break. Nonetheless, my midterm exam was on January 4th, so I returned to London on the 2nd. The exam was quite tough, but I believe I did alright.
Since my exam, I have really tried to focus on school as much as possible. Last semester I traveled around Europe a lot, and it became hard to stay on top of school work. I told myself that I was going to spend the first month or so in London to make sure I get all my ducks in a row for the second semester. I am currently planning several weekend trips in later February, March, and spring break. We have a month off for spring break, which is unheard of in the United States, and I am trying to figure out my plans for that month. I might come home for a week or so, but I am definitely planning on playing golf in Scotland and traveling with a bunch of friends to Greece. Some of my other trips this semester will include Amsterdam, Rome, Barcelona, and Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day.
The study abroad program through the London School of Economics is quite unique because it is a year-long program. Most study abroad programs are a semester, which is great, but I am very happy that mine is a year-long. Not only does it allow me to find a good balance between staying in London versus traveling around Europe so that I am not constantly traveling every weekend, but it also has allowed me to meet so many different people. In the first semester, I traveled around Europe with my buddies and their friends, but they were only here for a semester. This semester, I will travel around with a new set of buddies and friends, which I am really looking forward to. Even in London I have met so many new friends just in the first three weeks because UCL and Kings College have one-semester study abroad programs. Nonetheless, I am having a blast over here, and I can’t wait to see what this semester entails.

Studying “Across the Pond” 2017/18

Jamie Agnew
LSE 2017/18

My study abroad experience was unbelievable. Between the things I saw, the friends I met, and the memories I made, the entire semester was all I could have asked for and then some. I had a rough idea of what the experience was going to be like because I talked to kids that had done the program already. But words can’t describe how much fun I had. London was a fantastic city to live in, and the easy ability to fly to other countries is something unheard of here in the United States. I knew going into it that I wanted to balance school in London with travel to other countries, and I think I did that pretty darn well. I split my time 50/50 between London and traveling, which was the perfect amount.

snapshot 2I can’t speak highly enough about London. It was a huge relief not needing to learn a new language for my time abroad. Londoners loved talking politics with my friends and me. They all assumed that because we were from America that therefor we were Trump supporters, which was an interesting assumption for them to make. The stereotypes I had going into it were that the British had good beer, bad food besides fish and chips, and that it rained a lot. The first two were spot on, but the bad weather wasn’t as much of a problem as I thought. Unlike the mid-Atlantic, the rain over in London was often a light, spitting rain, which isn’t unbearable like the downpours we get here. And on top of that, it didn’t rain all that much; rather it was cloudy most of the time, but there were plenty of nice sunsets to compliment the bad weather.

snapshotThroughout the semester, I traveled to 5 different countries. I began my travels in Amsterdam with friends to experience the city as well as go to the music festival occurring that weekend. Amsterdam is like no place else in the world for many reasons. It was an expensive trip but a memorable one at that.

I then traveled to Prague the following weekend. Prague is a fantastic city, arguably one of my favorites in Europe. It is so cheap and so medieval. The architecture there is quite neat and there are major landmarks like the Prague Castle and the Lennon Wall, which are very enjoyable to visit. Coming from the expensive city of London, Prague was a huge relief because the dollar goes so far there.

Next, I went to Berlin to visit a couple friends from Washington DC that were studying there. While the company was great, the city wasn’t my favorite. It was very dark, cold, and wet. On top of this, the city is very spread out, which makes it unfriendly for tourists. Nonetheless, we saw major landmarks like the Reichstag and the Berlin Wall, so I am definitely glad I went but not sure I am going to go back.snapshotv2

Next, I met up with kids who I went to Amsterdam and Prague with in Florence. A good friend of mine from high school was studying in Florence so we went out with her every night, which was super fun. Florence was a very nice city. Great architecture and even better food. Italian pasta is substantially better than any pasta in the United States. We had a really good time touring the city during the day and going out to the clubs at night. All around a great weekend.

mountainsDuring my last weekend abroad, I went skiing with friends from Washington DC in Chamonix, France, which is in the southeast portion of France (30 minutes from Switzerland and Italy). The French Alps were absolutely gorgeous. The first day we were there, we took an old cable car up the mountain and had lunch up there with an unparalleled view and went to a hockey game in downtown Chamonix that night. The next day was the first day of the season for the mountain, so we rented skis and skied all day long. The mountain blew away the mountains out west even though the conditions weren’t as good as they are in the depth of the winter. It was an amazing trip all together, and I’m so glad I decided to go on it.

As you can see, I had a blast this semester. I feel confident that I could navigate myself around any airport to get to any destination after all the traveling I did this semester. Now that I am back at home, I miss the drinking age being 18 over there since I am still 20 for a couple more months. It was so nice to never worry about being underage and now it’s a rude awakening that I am back in the states.

My best piece of advice for kids studying abroad is to save up a lot of money and don’t ever hesitate to take a weekend trip anywhere. There were a couple trips that I was on the fence about, and ended up going, and it was the best decision. There will be no other time in your life with no obligations besides school where you have the freedom to travel around Europe with your friends, so take advantage of it. But, also save a lot of money because the unforgettable memories cost a lot sometimes.