- Raymond LeBlanc: Post 4
London School of Economics and Political Science
I agreed to take an eleven-day trip with two complete strangers. Well, most people would consider two people, one from Massachusetts and one from Jaipur, both of whom you had met the month before complete strangers. However, in the short time that I knew these two guys we became pretty good friends. We all shared a massive itch to get the most out of our time abroad. This shared characteristic was all we needed to say, “let’s take an eleven day road trip into a place none of us know that much about.” We had a couple of entertaining evenings arguing about what sites and routes to see and take before we decided to embark on the trip that would take us from lowlands to the midlands through the highlands and back. For the most part, our trip was a major success.
The day came to leave our tower in Kings Cross and travel from London to Oxford to Manchester all in the same day. I love Oxford, it has held a special place in my heart, ever since I spent the summer after my freshman year studying there, so I was excited to show my new friends some of my favorite spots. It was odd after we arrived, because many of my favorite spots were closed with no hope of reopening until Covid-19 restrictions passed. However, we enjoyed the Turf Tavern and many of the beautiful sites within the city and moved on to Manchester.
The City of Manchester is a unique place. The most notable aspects of the city seem, however, to be football and bars. Both of these things were heavily restricted due to the Covid-19 regulations that reign in the United Kingdom. So, we made the best of things by visiting a rooftop bar with a mutual friend, and then playing a friendly game of poker to cap the night.
Before we knew it, Manchester was behind us, and Edinburgh was in sight. The drive through the Midlands was incredible. The meandering roads that led us to the tops of hills and then roll us back down into valleys full of grazing sheep and resting horses. The scenic route inspired a sense that the United Kingdom is a naturally remarkable place. The most notable things to pass my eyes during this drive were the small country homes built of cut stone and thatched rooves. People live here normally, and it is shocking because that old way of living is normal all over the United Kingdom. Seemingly dated, the simplicity of the homes on the way made me feel like life could be a bit slower, if we allowed it.
This was my second time in the city of Edinburgh, and if I would characterize it in any way before Covid, it would be incredibly lively. When I was in Edinburgh last, the city was jam packed. All of the restaurants were full, every street had a musician playing live, and people were just happy to be taking in the mood. This was not the case in May 2021. Restaurants, all at bare minimum capacity, no alcohol served indoors under any circumstances, no one allowed inside of Edinburgh Castle, no internationals, no clubs, no festivities, nothing extraordinary about a city that is simply incredible under normal circumstances. However, I still enjoyed walking the quiet streets and meeting interesting Scottish folks, while shivering in the spring wind and rain. We did have the chance to visit the coast and see the North Sea and the sand at Leith which was a shockingly pleasant day trip. What seemed like a typical east coast (of the United States) beach town with a touch of ancient history, Leith was an incredible place to visit even in the blasting wind and sprinkle of rain. Little coastal ice cream shops receive a shocking amount of business considering the climate, and people seemed to be a bit less hardened to the hustle like most Londoners that the three of us were so used to.
Before long we had to depart to St. Andrews, my favorite city from the trip. Aside from the incredible weather and amazing golf to be played, St. Andrews is also a college town. Some Hampden-Sydney students even have the opportunity to study abroad there, and they should take it because it is such a fun and beautiful place to be. The city is perched on the coast with blue skies and folks who really love living life. This was a place that I really felt comfortable meeting new people who wanted to share the best experiences of the town. The coolest part of the trip was participating in a tradition that the students of St. Andrews have on the first of May; it is simply called May Dip. I can confirm nothing of this tradition other than the sea in St. Andrews is bitterly cold in May. Being welcomed to experience as if I were a student at University of Saint Andrews was a something to remember for a lifetime.
Next part of the itinerary was a drive from St. Andrews to Glasgow, with a stop at Fort Williams in the middle. Fort Williams is home to the highest peak in the United Kingdom called Glen Nevis. There you will find awe inspiring hiking trails and a massive waterfall. Along the trails, hikers pitched tents along streams and on hills overlooking the valley that rests below Glen Nevis. The short hike was my favorite walk during our trip. If I could redo this trip, I may have opted to camp here and skip the rest of the cities. It felt like a scene extracted from a panorama in Lord of the Rings or an image from a fantasy novel. Simply incredible.
If the trip would have ended after our day in Fort Williams, life would have been grand. All of the participants were a tad bothered by one another during the last four days of our trip, but this should be expected when a group of strangers spend every waking hour with one another for over a week. So, we carried on, saw art galleries in Glasgow, gasped at natural beauty in the Lake District, wondered the streets like the Beatles in Liverpool, and then returned to London, exhausted. Some of these photos are images that I will have in my mind forever, and knowing that we pulled off a trip of this fashion during a national lockdown, outside of government reminds me that being bold brings growth.
- Raymond LeBlanc: Post 3
London School of Economics and Political Science
Time is flying here in the UK. This is because I have started filling my free time with more and more interesting activities. This past week, I planned a road trip to Scotland with two of my friends who are also from the United States. I am amazed at how willing three strangers are to spend 11 days driving together from the midlands to the highlands. Even more amazing is the three of us met a friend from London who will let us put 1,500 miles on his car! Absolutely insane. Other than planning trips, I have also spent plenty of time wondering the city, enjoying the cold air and exploring the restaurant scene around the city. The most notable has been a Shisha bar called Elysée. I along with five other friends from the US and UK made a booking two weeks out from restaurants even opening. We arrived and it felt like we went into a different world. High profile clients from across the world were pulling up in Aston Martins and Mercedes Benz, and the six of us hopped out of our humble Ubers for which we had split the costs. Feeling a tad out of place, we sat at our table, and ordered drinks. After about thirty minutes into our dining experience, a group of London finance fellows sat at the table right next to us and ordered about 6 bottles of Champagne. They offered a great deal of advice and networking opportunities to us over a few beverages. The food was incredible. Greek delicacies were served along with fantastic cocktails. Can’t miss this spot if anyone is thinking about visiting London.
The second most exciting thing that opened in the UK has been the gyms. This was something that I was most excited for. Over the past three months, I have been working out with only a jump rope and two discount adjustable dumbbells that my friend purchased off of Amazon. We would work out five times a week in his kitchen while his flat mates would bustle in and out judging our routine, but now we are able to join a real fully functioning gym with free weights, barbells, and proper machines. The day that I returned, felt like a dream. The space is much smaller than Tiger Rec or any suburban gym in Virginia. However, they have really maximized the limited space by making it three stories with everything a guy like me could need.
The third most exciting thing that has finally opened has been “non-essential” stores. I have walked past a Nike store on the way to the train station about 50 times and have always wanted to go inside. Finally, the day came when I could enter. I was returning from King’s Cross station, and I looked to my left. The overbearing two-story outlet looked at me in the eyes and told me that I had not purchased anything other than food and drinks in four months. I went inside. After being pulled in by the stores gaze, I walked around and felt every little thing calling for my attention. It was odd, normally I do not like shopping or spending money at all, but I felt like splurging for the first time in a long time. I bought a single pair of sneakers for more than 50% discount and ran out of the store feeling like a champion. The “pent up demand” that people say will boost British GDP before the end of the year may have a bit of validity.
- Raymond LeBlanc: Post 1 & 2
Raymond’s first two posts are posted together. Global Ed apologies for the delay.
London School of Economics and Political Science
This year sucks. Everyone had high hopes for 2021 after the rather uneventful year that was 2020. Many of my plans were foiled as 2020 raged against humanity; among those interrupted plans was my intention to travel to London where I would spend a full ten months studying economics and management in the prestigious environment that is the London School of Economics and Political Science. This was removed from my decision set in August due to the escalation in Covid-19 restriction and regulation; I was rather upset to say the least.
However, 2021 was my bastion of hope. Once I made it through the droll and monotonous time of the cooler months in Farmville, I would finally be able to hit the droll, wet, cold streets of London. As the date approached my excitement grew. I bought a new coat, planned my route from the airport to my apartment in King’s Cross, and even began to reach out to other students who shared my situation. However, the city shut down completely just ten days before my flight intended to depart. My plan to go to pubs, spend time in city parks, and meet people from across the globe would again be delayed.
Since I received that email instructing me to not to travel to London until at least February, I have made great use of my time. For example, these days I wake up before 6am in order to attend my courses that are scheduled in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This may seem rough, but it is much better than the folks in China having to be in class at 2:30am. After my classes are finished by noon, I spend at least thirty minutes envisioning myself being rained on while walking down a relatively clean street. Then I go to the local gym that I have been a member of since I was in high school and finish my day with a light load of about 150 pages of reading.
With time, things often get better. This is the case with my current situation in London. Although the entire population has seemed to be slumbering since December, we are finally leaving our caves more and more. Time has been moving rather slowly and studying seems to be what makes it so. My days since the end of my Spring Term have been filled with going from my one-bedroom accommodation located on the second floor of my building to the thirteenth floor of my building. It is on the thirteenth floor where the “Common Room” is located. This is where those who are dedicated to studying go to escape their bedrooms and complete work. I like the thirteenth floor because I am able to look out over the beautiful London skyline.
Visiting Buckingham Palace
The second floor is rough living. My window stares into the construction site of a new skyscraper apartment building that is unnervingly noisy. The unpredictable racket of the machines and methodical placement of material can be satisfying to watch sometimes, but my goodness it is loud.
Sometimes I visit the LSE campus, and the trip is always lovely. I’ll walk from my large accommodation in the middle of King’s Cross to the St. Pancras train station. On the way I’ll pass through the Coal Drops yard, a newly gentrified area that boasts quaint shops and boutique restaurants that recently opened for outdoor seating. Once to the busy station, I hop on the Piccadilly line train to Hoblorn Station and walk about three blocks to the campus. LSE’s campus contains a lovely student center and a life sucking library that according to rumor occasionally has mice sightings on the bottom floor, but that is hearsay… I think. Sometimes I meet interesting people in the student center and go for a cold drink in a park after a day of studying, but my best friends all live in my accommodation in Urbanest. About once a week we throw a bit of a dinner party where a legal sized support bubble group comes together to cook a meal and share some wine and conversation. Now that restaurants are open, we have shifted to going out to eat instead. Although people seem to love the restaurants here, I always have the thought that I can cook better than most of the meals I have been served (excluding most of the Indian food I have had so far – it’s amazing).
The more time I spend working on my final papers and preparing for my final exams that run through the second week of June, the more I miss the atmosphere at Hampden-Sydney and my lifelong friends there. Living in the city makes me miss the joy of driving my pickup truck down backroads and sitting around a bonfire with the boys. I have replaced long drives with long walks through the concrete city and bonfires with the blue light of a computer screen. Anyone who has taken econ101 at Hampden-Sydney knows that there are substitutes for everything, but some things are just not the same.
- Franz Gilbert: Post 4
Washington, D.C. USA
It feels like time is flying, or maybe it is because it feels like my life is more eventful. Not only do I get the opportunity to keep up with what is going on at H-SC, but I have also established a new circle of friends and activities while up here in D.C. It feels like every day is jam-packed with activities.
Work and Classes
Since my last blog, things have pretty much stayed the same course. I am still impressed every day with the level of guest speakers that I have been able to listen to and talk with. In the last weeks, two of my classes have given me the opportunity to sit and talk with former Ambassadors and hear their stories and thoughts on critical international events that are happening. I am learning and growing every day in my professional skills at work and have enjoyed doing research the past few weeks. It has been nice to study topics that I would never otherwise research on my own and gain invaluable knowledge of the consulting world.
I know everyone knows that internships are important from a resume standpoint, but at least for my internship, I have learned a lot of important lessons and broadened my perspective. There is one thing to do schoolwork in College (e.g., control your own schedule, maximize the learning from each activity, etc.) to working in an Internship – where the activities and timelines are scheduled around the business needs and timelines of your employer. This requires a new set of time management skills. I encourage everyone to try and get an Internship like this.
I am working hard, but also working hard to maximize my experience. So last Saturday night, a couple of us went to a restaurant that served dinner in greenhouses that housed blossoming Cherry Trees. The history of Cherry Trees in D.C. is often told incorrectly. It actually started in 1885 by a single individual – Mrs. Eliza Scidmore. She had been a diplomat in Japan and loved how the Japanese have festivals celebrating the blossoming of Cherry Trees. The beauty of the trees and the potential for a celebration inspired her to try and get Cherry Trees to Washington D.C. She spent 24 years campaigning to get trees to Washington, D.C. Her action resulted in Dr. Fairchild in 1906, importing 100 trees and testing them on his property to make sure they thrive (which they did). The Fairchild’s were so pleased with the results, that they imported 300 more trees and then also gave 1 tree to each school in the district to plant in their schoolyard for Arbor Day. It turns out, there was a Japanese Scientist in D.C. who heard about this and got the Mayor of Tokyo to donate 2,000 trees. However, after the trees were planted in 1909, it was discovered that the trees were infested with bugs – so all of the trees had to be burned. To remedy this, Japan sent 3,020 trees, which were planted from 1912 to 1915. Mrs. Scidmore’s original dream came true in 1935, when Washington held the first Cherry Blossom Festival.
Ironically, the orchard in Japan fell into disarray during World War II, and the US ended up sending back cuttings from the Cherry Trees they had sent the United States. It allowed them to repopulate the orchard with the original genetic line.
Touring the City
I was able to rent a scooter a few weekends ago, and that completely changed my view of the city. Before my scooter adventure, I must admit, sometimes I laughed at the tourists that would hoot and holler on the scooters as they were weaving in and out of pedestrians. I became one of those people hooting and hollering down the streets of D.C.
I continue to take in the city at night. I am extremely grateful for my time in this city and also realize that my semester in D.C. was extremely unique. It will never be this quiet again. As my program is ending, I notice myself wanting to sit back and take in everything I can before the program ends. I hope to spend a couple of days here after my finals just relishing my last moments. Thank you to all the people that made this possible – my parents, Dr. Widdows, many awesome professors and mentors, and my brothers on the hill. I won’t forget it!
- Franz Gilbert: Post 3
Washington, D.C. , USA
From the Hill to the Hill!
There is a month and a half left in the program, and it seems like time is flying by. Every day seems to be a new learning experience.
It is interesting to learn yet one more way colleges have had to adapt due to COVID-19. American University lengthened the winter break, but was concerned about spring break – and the potential for bringing COVID-19 back to campus. As a result, they implemented Wellness Week. We still have classes during Wellness Week – but no homework is assigned. This allows us to continue classes, still take some downtime to recharge, but also help mitigate the risk of bringing back COVID-19 due to spring break travel. So, points for innovation, but still probably would have enjoyed the spring break!
In looking forward to a time after the Pandemic, I have made sure my passport is 100% up to date. I also enrolled in the Global Entry program – which does a background screening, and then allows you to skip past long passport lines when flying back into the United States. Normally, I would have had to find an airport with a Global Entry Office, but since I am in D.C., the office was literally a few blocks away. The entire process from application to card received and registered was 16 days! For those of you wanting Global Entry, there has never been a better time to apply.
Classes are going well, and I have had the opportunity to listen to several guest lecturers. When at Sydney, I always appreciate listening to our guest speakers. So, having them in class has been entertaining and intriguing. This has allowed me to hear so many different perspectives from world experts. I love the professors at Sydney, and I have thoroughly enjoyed listening and learning from a non-liberal arts point of view.
My internship is continuing to go well, and I am constantly learning. It has been amusing to build a sense of camaraderie with my roommates and the other people in the program. Since most of us work remotely, we have built our sense of an office community.
Seeing the City
As I mentioned in the last blog, there is a group of us that walk around the city in the evenings – and it is still amazing, especially since it is starting to warm up. Just as a side note, all of the national museums are still closed due to the pandemic. The walks are really fun. In fact, just the other night, we were hanging out at the Lincoln Memorial, and Lester Holt was shooting some live spots for the news. Check out the picture of him filming and also one where I asked him for a photo. I think it looks like he is photo bombing me…
Till next time!
- Franz Gilbert: Post 2
Washington, D.C. , USA
Work and Classes
The internship I landed has turned out to be an amazing learning experience. The consulting firm works on Regulatory Reform around the world. They work closely with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, The United Nations, and many other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). My work involves looking at Tenders (essentially requests for consulting) and determining if the consulting firm should bid. I have looked at everything ranging from the implementation of 5G regulations in Ireland, Electric Car incentive programs in Vietnam, to Solar Power programs in Brazil. The work is three days a week and is a true and full, nine to five experience. I definitely will look at a 10 a.m. class at Morton in a vastly different way for next year.
The classes are all virtual, but similar to Hampden-Sydney, in that the professors are very focused on connecting with each student and making it an interactive experience. One of my classes is Cybersecurity, which is being taught by the current Assistant Director of the F.B.I., who runs their Cybersecurity program. I cannot say much more about that (….confidential…smile). Another one of my classes is on the Pandemic. The professor has definitely taken an interesting route on this topic – instead of covering Dr. Fauci and the herd effect – we are exploring the impact the Pandemic has had on the Russian Mob in the US.
It has been great getting to know the other students who are in the American University intern program; many of which are living in the same apartment complex. There are some who have internships that are in person, but most of us are attending classes and our internships virtually due to the pandemic. We are all hoping that we will be able to attend our internships in person prior to the end of the semester. Since we are all virtual, but living here in D.C., we are making the most of it. Every night, a group of us have made it a tradition to walk around D.C. to visit the monuments. Even though we are virtual, we are learning the magnitude and achievement that our country has gone through as memorialized in Washington, DC. To try and help you understand, I have included some photos I have taken. One cannot be in the Lincoln Memorial and not come away more somber about our citizenship and proud of our nation’s values.
One of the benefits of attending Hampden-Sydney is the alumni network. I thought I would have to wait to understand the power of the network until after I graduated. However, while in Washington, I have already met and had dinner with several Alumni and it is clear that they are ready and willing to help. They are still engaged and knowledgeable about the Hill.
They certainly have the Hampden-Sydney Spirit!Until next time!
- Franz Gilbert: Post 1
Washington, D.C. , USA
I arrived in Washington, DC on Tuesday January 12th. Since then, I have moved into my apartment, met my three roommates, and sat through many hours of orientation meetings before the weekend. The number one take away I have gotten from my short time in DC is that this city is in unprecedented times. I have talked to several natives of the city and even they are in awe over the almost Martial Law-like qualities of this city. My apartment building got new doormen last night. Their uniform is not what you would expect. They are wearing military fatigues and carrying an assault rifle and sleep in their cargo truck at the front of the building. I am used to having an RA at Sydney, but I feel this is next level. My roommates are really nice guys from more northern liberal arts schools. It has been very entertaining to compare the liberal arts culture of Sydney to other small private liberal arts colleges. I do not start classes until next Tuesday and have been preparing for them. One class instructor sent a 38-page syllabus and I have to take a quiz on the syllabus. Looking at all the course previews, I am excited to start the classes and get to know my professors.
Overall, I am extremely excited to be in the city and take advantage of this amazing program. I was able to walk the city yesterday and truly experience this metropolitan environment. Since my last visit to Washington, the city seems somewhat foreign to me. There are 16 other students experiencing living in DC and attending American University with me. My classmates now seem to have their own respective internships and it has been awesome to talk at night and compare our companies. Even though I am only a sophomore, it has been an amazing and surreal experience already! I look forward to the next few weeks and writing these introspective papers to track my experience in DC.
- Studying Away in 2021