- Learning in LondonThomas 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. 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.
- “Bon Voyage” 2019
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.