Author Archives: Seth in the UK

About Seth in the UK

Native Minnesotan. Engineering student, outdoor adventurer, cross-country skier. A dog person.

“So! How was London?”

After four months of British accents and unique words (“rubbish” seemed to be an everyday favorite, often in reference to the local football team), I was overjoyed when I walked through the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and heard the PA system announcing the baggage carousel for London-Heathrow with a familiar Minnesotan accent: “bay-gage claim.” Smiling, I waited for my bag and met my family for the first time since January.

My last morning in London watching the sunrise over the Thames from Waterloo Bridge

Since then, I have spent a few days at home and a few days back on campus – it was finals week back at Notre Dame, so although I did get to see plenty of friends again, many of them were stressed about upcoming exams. I went through countless stories about my semester abroad, and in the process, I realized it is easy to get a bit frustrated coming home and not being fully able to explain the value of living abroad. The first question I have gotten from friends and family this past week – “how was London??” – isn’t easy to answer, because there isn’t an answer. Explaining what it was like to take a class in natural language processing with a British researcher requires four months of stories just to scratch the surface. There were awkward moments when our entire class didn’t understand a question because of a phrase or term we had never heard before, but there were also moments I realized how valuable these disparities could be – natural language includes far more than American English, and we would be at a disadvantage not being able to apply what we learned to British English, at the very least.

Outside of the academic realm, there are far more examples. I can’t fully explain the enormous social value of football to a Londoner; I didn’t understand it myself until I spent Wednesday evenings playing in a 6v6 league in London and meeting the two 60-year-old men who started the league over 20 years ago. With only the occasional substitution, they have played on the same pitch with the same core group this entire time, and if there happens to be a Tottenham game later that evening, they all go to the same pub in Islington to watch the match together. The sport is a social institution in London, more so than any activity I can think of back home.

In the same vein, when I say I will miss London – I will, but again there is far too much detail to explain exactly why. I’ll miss the small-sided football matches on Wednesday evenings, where the locals graciously welcomed me to their game; I’ll miss the casual pub culture where I could get surprisingly good food and talk with strangers about sports, politics, and everything else over a pint; mostly, though, I’ll miss the opportunities and excitement associated with living in a big city. There was far too much to see in four months, and I would be eager to go back. But first, I get to take what I’ve seen, take what I’ve learned, and try to explain it to friends back on campus and elsewhere (as long as I don’t start saying “rubbish,” I think they will welcome me back). Until next time, London.

One of Minnesota’s many lakes viewed from above – it’s good to be home!

Cheers from Minnesota,

~ Seth

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Home-Cooked Meals and Further Opportunities Abroad

In some ways, the last 14-weeks abroad (!) have flown by far too quickly to notice any significant changes. With finals approaching, I am fully expecting these last two weeks to pass in a heartbeat, leaving me to reflect on my semester in detail only when the dust settles. But even in the midst of such a busy week, several changes stick out from when I first left for London.

One of the more superficial changes – I can cook now! I won’t claim to be an expert, but I can survive on my own for an entire semester, at the very least. I live in a flat with five other college students – most of the flats in our building are filled with college kids as well – so a cooking endeavor gone wrong has been a common cause for the fire alarm to evacuate our building. This past Sunday, one of my flatmates and I made a traditional Easter lunch of roast chicken, green been casserole, fruit, and potatoes (traditional in the Midwest, at least!) and I had to laugh at the significant improvement over our first several home-cooked meals in London. To be fair, we didn’t have many other options; food in London is expensive, and we tried not to eat out for too many meals.

A Minnesotan and an Iowan cook a traditional Midwestern Easter lunch

The more substantial changes – I have become a lot more independent, both as a traveler and as a student. Back on campus, it is easy to become dependent on friends and the campus community. The dining hall provides meals, different groups organize a time to work on group projects, and day-to-day life is very structured. Living abroad is much different as everyone has their own schedule and generally their own agenda. When it comes time to travel, there’s a very similar feel: whether you’re traveling alone or with a group, you have to know exactly which bus to catch to get to the correct airport and terminal with enough time to catch a flight. If you sleep in and miss a connection? You’re likely out of luck – and I heard about plenty of horror stories these past several months. Learning to plan across different time zones, countries, cultures and languages is a valuable skill, one that is difficult to replicate back on campus.

Catching five different trains to get to the coast was a pain, but it was worth it to see the ocean for the first time!

I have also had a chance to consider my academic and career goals to a much greater extent. A recent trip to Seville, Spain gave me the opportunity to speak Spanish again – for the first time since high school! This reminded me of the value of studying a language. Realistically, it would be tough to continue Spanish classes during my senior year, but I hope to pick up the language at some point in the near future; it was a huge advantage to have some familiarity with the language while I was traveling, and I know it would be even more advantageous in a professional setting. I also had a chance to meet several international students who attend graduate school in London – London School of Economics, London Business School, and King’s College, to name a few – and they have offered several pros and cons of attending an international graduate school. London would be one of the few places I would seriously consider studying outside of the U.S. on a permanent basis, mostly due to the lack of a language barrier, and hearing their perspectives has sparked my interest in further international study.

Recent trip to Seville, Spain where I tried to use what little Spanish I could still remember from high school!

Here’s to hoping for a memorable end to a wonderful semester abroad thanks to the Gilman Scholarship!

Cheers from London,

~ Seth

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Brexit and the Value of Experiential Learning

It’s easy to take London for granted. On either bank of the Thames, only minutes from my flat, there are wide paths for pedestrians, bikers, and runners alike; these paths, free from vehicles and road crossings, also offer some of the best views in the city. There’s the London Eye and the Southbank Centre along one bank, and directly across the Thames you’ll find the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben (though currently under scaffolding, the tower still dominates the London skyline), Westminster Abbey, and of course, the Houses of Parliament.

While it is easy to take these sights for granted after several months abroad, it is considerably more difficult to escape the significant events taking place right in my backyard. If you’ve been following British politics in recent months, you will have heard plenty about Brexit, Theresa May, and the European Union. In fact, I can’t even walk home from class without being offered a copy of The Evening Standard – London’s free evening newspaper – at no fewer than four intersections along my route (and since my arrival in January, I have yet to see a single copy of the Evening Standard that fails to feature an article about Brexit on its front page). In recent weeks, especially leading up to the (eventually postponed) March 29 “hard Brexit” deadline, it wasn’t uncommon for the paper to devote over half its space to Brexit.

The Evening Standard featuring yet another front-page Brexit headline

I should clarify that I am not a super political person. I always want to know what’s going on – whether that is back home in the United States or here in London – but I typically do not seek out political debates with friends or family. Here in London, though, it is not just the politically-focused individuals involved in the Brexit debate – it is everyone. And as a resident Londoner (albeit a short-term resident), I find myself learning about Brexit and the British government more and more on a daily basis. Take last Saturday, for example; an anti-Brexit march, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, paraded along Trafalgar Square, through Westminster, finally congregating in Parliament Square. There were young children on the shoulders of their parents, holding cleverly-worded signs referencing Theresa May and the European Union (some of which were decidedly less flattering than others!). Though I was only a spectator, my walk home through Trafalgar Square gave me an idea of how polarizing this issue has been for Londoners and for UK citizens.

The Brexit opposition march on March 23rd, one of the largest in the UK history!

This has been one of the truly unique and valuable aspects of study abroad – not Brexit itself, per se, but the opportunity to learn about a major political event in the same way as a resident Londoner. We still take notes on the British government in class, but these lectures are supplemented with a Brexit panel debate hosted at a local university and a tour of Parliament itself. Rather than reading about the latest Brexit vote online, we can wait in Parliament Square and listen to a live feed of John Bercow announcing the vote tallies in the House of Commons (Bercow yelling “order!” on the House floor is almost comedic, at times).

London is a special place, and because it is the capital of the United Kingdom, it will always be an important city in global politics. But especially during the Brexit debate, London seems to be in the global spotlight on a regular basis – and there is no better time nor place to learn about foreign politics than in London this spring! Keep an eye out for what happens on April 12 – will the UK actually leave the European Union? Will Brexit get delayed, or cancelled altogether? I’m as clueless as everyone else, but I am certainly enjoying the adventure.

Cheers from London,


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Goals for a Life-Changing Semester Abroad

I have gotten a wide range of responses when I mention I am studying abroad to friends and classmates back home, among them the occasional flippant remark that goes something like this: “Oh, so you’re studying abroad. Is it truly life changing?” Sarcasm aside, why yes – it is. A study abroad program is what you make of it; I could wake up each day and go to class with the same students, eat at the same sandwich shop on Whitcomb Street and grab a drink at a local pub, and I’d technically be living like a Londoner. The problem is, I can get a similar experience back in the States – and I think that’s the reason behind these flippant remarks. It would be easy to fall into a narrow comfort zone and fail to learn what it’s really like to live in London and return convinced I had an authentic cultural experience. But would it truly be life changing?

I view my study abroad program as an opportunity to challenge myself, an opportunity to make mistakes, meet locals, get lost, and maybe even learn to cook (working on it, mom!). That’s why I value the experiences I have already had, that is why I am looking forward to the remainder of my time here, and that is why I am expecting my study abroad experience will indeed be ~life changing~.

Before I get any further, I suppose an introduction is in order – hello! My name is Seth, a junior computer engineering student at the University of Notre Dame. I am a native Minnesotan (you will often find me on cross-country skis come winter) and a proud member of St. Edward’s Hall back on campus. I have been studying in London, England since mid-January, at Notre Dame’s campus near Trafalgar Square. While I am here, I am taking a rather unique set of courses for an engineering student, including a history course (Roman Britain), a theology course (Christianity and Islam), and my favorite, a philosophy course on political and constitutional theory. I had to consider a lot of goals when choosing classes – I chose my two computer science courses to fulfill the goal of, you know, graduating college. But my other classes had a lot more flexibility, and I’d like to think that I have a unique goal for each class.

With that in mind, I’d like to present myself with two non-academic goals for the remainder of my time here:

  • Find three places in London where no one else in my program can say they’ve been. Every weekend, most of the students in my program hop on jets to Berlin, to Amsterdam, to Prague – our 150 or so students can be found in 20 or more cities across Europe on any given weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel – and I’m looking forward to a few international trips of my own – but it would be a wasted opportunity not to see as much of London as possible during these four short months. These three places can be anything, really, but I want them each to reflect something unique about London. So, if you know of a favorite restaurant on the outskirts of London or a hole-in-the-wall comedy club frequented by locals, let me know!
The London Eye
  • Learn about the British political system. Why? Short answer: Brexit. Longer answer: I knew embarrassingly little about British politics or government before arriving in London, and it’s been fascinating to witness such an unprecedented series of events happening in my new backyard. Amendments are proposed and shot down, British political leaders negotiate with European Union officials almost daily. There are protests in Trafalgar Square and rumors of elected leaders stepping down – no, wait, another Brexit referendum – no, wait, an entirely new election? Every day is a whirlwind of major headlines, and as I walk home from class, I’ll often grab a copy of The Evening Standard and try to understand what’s going on (it doesn’t seem like many Londoners know, either!) From an American’s perspective, though, this political uncertainty does have at least one benefit – a better exchange rate!

Parliament of the United Kingdom

I will continue to post through the end of the semester and once upon my return, but for the benefit of those who may feel obligated to read my posts (hello again, mom!), I will wrap up my thoughts for today. I had like to present a question for you to consider, though – what makes an experience truly life changing?

Cheers from London,

~ Seth

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