- Thomas Salamon: Post 4
London School of Economics & Political Science
I started writing this essay on the plane ride back from London. Here I sit, 2 months later, editing it and not knowing exactly where to take it. I remember sitting on the plane and watching the city disappear below me, thinking how I had just begun to hit my stride.
The front entrance of my dorm was across a walking-only street from a converted industrial revolution era factory, with towering windowless brick walls. The Tate Modern, situated on the bank of the Thames river, provided a commanding view of central London.
The Tate had an amazing quality of drawing you in while not needing to lure you inside. There was a massive screen suspended from the roof and facing the bank. It would play a vibrantly colorful but silent recording visible from across the river. It played until 10 at night, every night. The recording was of someplace ‘simpler’, where they were burning something on a beach.
There were waves, and beautiful blue waters, the type you never saw in London. Palm trees, and boats. Boys fishing out of some kind of dinghy with nets, and a dog running on the beach. I never watched the whole thing, or at least comprehended it. Always in snippets.
It played until 10 pm every night, at which point it would switch off. It was so sudden that it would without fail appear to suck some of the light in from the surroundings as it shut off.
I always tried to get a video, but without fail my phone would die when I wanted to. I never got a video of it.
I often found myself threatening this (purportedly) inanimate object. It frustrated me to no end when it would die precisely when I would hold it up to take a picture, or google something, or worst of all, when someone texted or called and it would die as soon as it buzzed in a place I would NEVER be able to find a charger.
Perhaps this lump of metal and glass knew better than me when I truly didn’t need it. I would want to take a picture of something, like the moon behind a building; fireworks; a beautiful light show; a cathedral at night or a sunset across the river.
Invariably, at these pristine moments, the phone was fully dead despite whatever level of charge it held while performing menial tasks mere moments before.
Only in my last few days did I realize how much of a blessing this was. How many sunsets had I tried to take a picture of, and then taken a seat. Watched. Seen the sun dance across the glass of the buildings. Watched the water reflect the hues of the sky as the sun kissed the horizon behind the skyline
It was frustratingly late that I realized this. But on the last night, I finally went out for the express purpose of getting pictures, and I got some that I enjoyed taking.
In the end, my program being forced to end early left me with a lot of feelings of discontent, but the manner in which it ended gives me hope that we’ll all be more grateful of what we have. The prospect of the world grinding to a halt frightened a lot of people, and I hope it will encourage a global consciousness of what matters and how we can all be better. Our actions have global impact whether we recognize or care about them or not.
In the end, I’m still confused and quarantined. I can never exactly communicate what I learned while I was abroad, but I can tell you what made my experience meaningful.
Appreciating the fleeting moments.
Not being absorbed in the past or the future.
Being willing to talk no matter how stupid you sound.
Exploring the world with the eagerness of a fresh child.
Being willing to be wrong, and learn, and make mistakes.
Being a globally conscious citizen.
- Will Driskill: Post 4
Semester at Sea
My Study Abroad Experience
It is hard to believe that four short months ago I started my study abroad experience in Amsterdam and now I am about to end it in San Diego, California. Thinking back on the past few months, I am just starting to realize how much of an impact my study abroad program has had on me. It’s not just the unique countries I have been to and the amazing food I have tried, but also the friendships and connections I have made along the way. Having the opportunity to travel to three continents and eleven different countries has really opened my eyes to all the unique cultures and places around the world.
When I first started my study abroad experience, I had no idea what to expect. I was nervous, excited, and even a little emotional about leaving home. I was very nervous from the start because, I was stepping completely outside my comfort zone and I knew absolutely nobody that was going to be participating in Semester at Sea. The unknown is also what spurred me to go on this journey. I have always wanted to travel the world and I figured why not travel the world and get an education along the way. Looking back on the experience and the places I have been, I can now see that this decision to step outside my comfort zone was the best decision that I ever made. Living on a ship has been one of the most challenging aspects of the journey, thus far. From getting seasick to having a little cabin fever, life on a ship is different, but definitely an experience that I will never forget. Some of the most memorable moments from ship life have been catching the morning sunrises and connecting with people on a much more personable level. I now consider some of my friends almost like family and I will continue to share experiences with them for the rest of my life. These bonds are not just formed on the ship, but also while traveling in port. From trekking seven miles through the amazon to whitewater rafting in the Costa Rica jungle, you really have an opportunity to test both your limits and that of your friends.
Although I don’t want this adventure to end, I am very excited to get home and be back with family and my really close friends. One thing you realize while being away from home is just how truly lucky we are. I traveled to several third world countries and although these people don’t have much, what they do have they offer you. It really humbles you as a person and makes you realize just how important friends and family truly are. I believe one of the hardest things for me about coming home and going back to H-SC will be getting back into a routine again. Although you develop a small routine on the ship, when you travel through countries, you don’t have any routine at all. These past few months have been a mixture of crazy experiences, some good and some bad and all of them get you outside your comfort zone. That is probably one of the best parts about traveling, you can’t really predict anything, sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Although I don’t want it to end, I am ready to be back in a routine both at school and at home and share my experiences with close friends and family.
For any students who want to go abroad, my advice is don’t think twice about it, just do it. Any program you do will be an experience you will have for the rest of your life. Semester at Sea has been unique in the regards that we visit so many countries but I believe any semester abroad program will be something worthwhile. The hardest thing for me was leaving home and everything I knew behind, but that has also made me grow the most. So, if you are already accepted into a program or are looking into one, my best advice would be to trust yourself and don’t worry about the unknown, because it is an opportunity that you will never regret.
- Thomas Salamon: Post 3
London School of Economics & Political Science
Thankfully, for me, the UK is an English-speaking country. That’s not to say that I would be uncomfortable had I studied somewhere I needed to learn the language; after all, I did fine in Germany two summers ago. I can say that learning advanced topics in mathematics and finance would be a lot more difficult if I had to learn a language as well. The classwork is pretty demanding, and mostly is taught in a way that you need to get the foundation yourself and use the teacher as a resource. Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time outside of class reading deeper into topics that interest me and learning about Mathematics applied to almost every discipline through the lenses of Statistics and Linear Algebra, since there is such a wealth of interesting applications.
However, British English is its own animal in a certain way, simply because they’ll absolutely make sure you know you haven’t said something correctly since you’re an American. I walked into an H&M and was asking where the pants section was, and they kept guiding me to the underwear section, until I realized of my own volition that pants, here, are in fact trousers, and underwear are referred to as pants. Seems elementary, but at least I haven’t dropped the only curse word that gets a reaction over here- ‘bloody’.
British cuisine seems to be universally panned, solely because in their long time as the worlds largest empire, they were able to take the best parts from other cultures foods while minimizing the traditional British foods to pretty much being mince pies, roasts, and fish & chips. Even Nando’s, a cheeky British staple to grab with the lads, is inspired by African cuisine and uses their chili peppers heavily. Because of this, I do have to make clear that proper Brit Fish & Chips is one of the best meals you’ll have over here if you’re not apt to expand your palate. However, there are so many options from around Europe (Döner Kebab being my favorite) and the world, like Vietnamese Pho, stir fry, proper Italian, and even more esoteric dishes depending how far off the beaten path you look and what you’re willing to try. Whatever mood you’re in, there will be somewhere to meet it.
Since there’s not another H-SC student anywhere in the country as of the time of this writing, I’ve spent most of my time with the people I met inside of Bankside House (my dorm) and other General Course students. Interestingly, I ran into a fellow who studied in Valencia, Spain, with my Fraternity brother, who knew yet another Brother of mine from Washington, DC. A lot of students are from around Washington, DC, so I have that in common with a lot of them- there’s even one of my friends who went to a High School 15 minutes away from mine. However, going out usually just means going to a bar or club, and I’m tight on money so I haven’t been spending much time out except for the weekends, often preferring to save money, eat in, and hang out in the Bankside basement bar. People here are very driven and studious, so striking the balance between studying and fun is important to many of them, and I don’t feel out of place at all. My proudest achievement has been just that- I’ve managed to secure an Internship for when I return, kept my grades up (on the assessments I’ve taken thus far), and made some good friends who I truly believe will be with me for life. It’s been an amazing opportunity and as the next semester begins, I am excited to keep building my relationships and knowledge of the city. Maybe I’ll even have enough money to fly somewhere cool, and you can hear about that.
- Thomas Salamon: Post 2
London School of Economics & Political Science
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Will Driskill: Post 3
Semester at Sea
As we enter our tenth day at sea, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and Africa, and head towards South America, I am very aware that Semester At Sea is quite a different and unique study abroad experience. Unlike any other study abroad program, it offers a college semester traveling by sea on a large cruise ship to eleven different countries, and three continents in the span of three plus months. While on the ship, more than four hundred students are taking classes, studying, exercising, eating and socializing while traversing the globe. When you arrive at each new port, you become immersed in a new culture through required field classes, optional travel programs, or free time to explore on your own or with a group.
This experience does not make classes any easier, or the experience any more beneficial than other study abroad programs; instead it offers a unique way to study and travel. There are amazing opportunities while at sea, however, the biggest challenge has been adjusting to life on a ship. The living spaces are small, and focusing on a teacher’s lecture can be extremely difficult when the seas are rough and you are seasick! Even on a large ship, the best traveler can become nauseous once or twice, which makes focusing, let alone getting out of bed, almost impossible. Another challenge is the limited WIFI on the ship. We are only allotted seven minutes of WIFI a day, which makes it very difficult to keep up with friends and family while sailing.
However, the positives of this experience heavily outweigh the negatives. With a shipboard community of nearly four hundred and fifty students, you become very close with the people around you. I have made many new friends from all over the United States, and from around the world. Living in such close quarters with students and teachers from all walks of life has really helped me reach beyond and outside of my comfort zone, and enhanced my appreciation of others’ values, beliefs and personalities.
This close knit ship environment also encourages students to interact daily with our professors, who become not only our teachers, but also our friends. They, in essence, become our second parents, who teach, exercise, give advice, dine and occasionally share an evening cocktail with us! This is an amazing community environment, and a very different way of education. The classes are not just taught by the subject you are taking, but also enhanced with a global discussion of the culture, politics, history, geography and general information of each country we are visiting.
I have enjoyed taking Oceanography as a science class, which has provided me with the opportunity to study the ocean life, the mangroves, and the local marine environment for each area we travel to. I have learned that marine lives are vastly different in Africa than they are in Europe, and each new place we visit.
One of my favorite experiences of this voyage has been the opportunity to experience the food from different cultures all around the world. Even though the ship food is probably as institutionally awful as the food we have to eat at Hampden-Sydney’s, “Moans”, the foods we have experienced off the ship has been amazing! I have enjoyed Croatian pastries, “bureks” from street vendors and bakeries, filled with sweet fruit, rich cheese or savory meats; then shared tagine chicken and couscous under a tent after traveling through the Saharan Desert of Morocco by camel. I have been served a homemade meal of beans and fish, while staying in a seaside village hut in Ghana, but favor the local plantains they serve boiled, grilled or fried. My next stop is Brazil, and I am most excited for my next meal off this ship, and maybe at a Brazilian steak house!
Sailing across the Atlantic from Europe and Africa, it is hard to believe that I am almost half way through my journey. I am looking forward to the sights, sounds, people, art, culture and food of Brazil, Ecuador, Trinidad, Tobago and Costa Rica. I have been on this voyage for about two months now, and I have made new friends from all over the world, and formed connections and experiences that I will have for the rest of my life.
- Will Driskill: Post 2
Semester at Sea
It has been a little over a month now since I started my journey with Semester at Sea. It is hard to believe that I have already been to five countries in Europe and am now headed to the second continent with this voyage, Africa. Starting in Amsterdam a little over a month ago, I had no idea what to expect. I have never really done solo travel, let alone traveled to five completely different countries in such a short amount of time. Looking back now, it is amazing how much I have learned not only through school but also from visiting each place. Each country I have been too is completely different when it comes to food, culture, and experiences.
Croatia has by far been my favorite place, with Amsterdam coming in a close second, and Spain not far behind that. What makes Croatia so cool is not just the insane beaches but also all the amazing natural wonders you can find off the beaten path. One of the most memorable experiences I had in Croatia was when some friends and I did a day trip to a national park. What we thought would only be a big hike, turned into two nights of camping and exploring this amazing island. It was pretty tough because we did not have proper camping gear or clothes. But at the same time, we got to see some of the most beautiful waterfalls and hike some amazing trails that a lot of tourist miss out on. My favorite part of this adventure was jumping off a waterfall into a natural pool that then, if you kept swimming went down to a underwater cave where the natural spring was sourced from. Living off the grid for a few days was definitely tough, but it was an experience that I will never forget! Croatia also had some of the best Pastries I have ever tasted. They are most famous for one called a Burek, which is croissant filled with whatever you want from a savory cheese to a chocolate filling. I probably ate about three of these a day! I do have to say that I have tried a Mojito in about every country I have visited, and Spain definitely comes out on top. Spain also came out on top when it came to some of the coolest clubs I have ever been. My favorite was in Lagos Spain. This was a club that was built into a cave on the side of the ocean. You could go for drinks or food then if you go deeper into the cave you would eventually find a underwater pool where you could swim through and come out on the other side to another bar. Definitely an experience I will never forget.
I have made tons of friends on this journey and have had many experiences already that I would not trade for anything. I was honestly a little nervous starting this journey because I knew absolutely nobody. But that has also opened up many doors and made this such an amazing experience so far. Ship life is definitely hard to get used to as well and seasickness is real, no matter how big the ship is!! I know Morocco will bring a completely different view on traveling compared to Europe, but I am excited for next place.
- Will Driskill: Post 1
Semester at Sea
I started my Semester at Sea adventure about a month ago in Amsterdam, Netherlands and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Most of my travels before Semester at Sea have consisted of family vacations up and down the East coast. But, my travel bug really started several years back when I traveled to Pamplona, Spain to Run with the Bulls. For many, running with the bulls would be well outside their comfort zone, but I considered that to still be well within my comfort zone because, I traveled to Spain with family and close friends. Now, when I first heard about Semester at Sea, I was in disbelief. How was it possible to travel to eleven different countries and three continents all while getting an education for only half a semester? It was too good to be true and I believe that is what made me jump at this opportunity and not turn back. I was all in from the beginning and so far, it has been one of the best choices I have made.
So, about a month ago, I packed my bags, said bye to family and friends and headed off to start my journey in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Honestly, I was a little nervous at first because I have never done solo travel before and I knew absolutely nobody going on Semester at Sea. But, I think that is what made me want to go on this journey the most. Being able to meet people not only from the United States, but all over the world has been an eye-opening experience and something that challenges me to get outside my comfort zone.
I know that there will be many challenges that I will come across while traveling the world, but that is what I am looking forward to the most. It’s not just Europe that I am traveling to, but also Africa and South America. In both Africa and South America, I will be way outside of my comfort zone and that will be the biggest challenge for me. I have to be willing to not change, but become more open minded about the cultures and the areas that I will be visiting along the way.
- Thomas Salamon: Post 1
London School of Economics & Political Science
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.