Tag Archives: London

Where Are You From?

Two days into 2017 and I found myself on a long journey to the United Kingdom. After spending the holidays at home with my family in Mexico, I packed my suitcase and drove north for four hours, just me and my mom. We crossed the border and arrived in Tucson, Arizona – spending a brief night in a place that I had also once called home. Ever since my parents relocated to Mexico, I rarely have the opportunity to visit. Perhaps it was just the nostalgia, but it felt right to be in the place where it all started before flying to my college home again.

The next morning, I took in the lingering smell of the desert rain and kissed my anxious mother goodbye. Seven hours later, I found myself lugging my heavy suitcase up three flights of stairs to a mostly empty college apartment in Philadelphia. After two years studying at the University of Pennsylvania, it also felt like home to walk around my college campus and have late night conversations over noodles at the local Ramen Bar. Less than 24 hours later, I packed up my second suitcase and stumbled back down the stairs before heading back to the airport for another day of traveling.

By the time I arrived in London, I had passed through 3 different countries over 3 days of travel. Disoriented and exhausted, it was difficult to find the charm in London when I first arrived. My heater didn’t work, my phone service went out, and there was no logic in the placement of crosswalks. During orientation, I sat in the back with one of my best friends from Penn and we rolled our eyes at every cheesy presentation while introducing ourselves to an overwhelming group of new people.

What school do you go to? What are you studying? Where are you from?

 

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First day out in the city in typical London weather!

 

Though the entire situation surrounding “Abroad Orientation” called for small talk and awkward introductions, my inconsistent response to every “Where are you from?” question made me uneasy. As I stumbled to simplify my complicated background and the different layers that compose my identity, I realized that home could take on different meanings. To other American students, I was mostly from Arizona, the place where I grew up. In awkward and somewhat incoherent sentences, I would also mention Philadelphia before quickly moving on. On the other hand, to my British classmates, I was clearly American. Yet, I would often find myself clarifying that I was Mexican too.

 

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Strolls right at dusk down on Oxford Street.

 

It has been a month since I first arrived in London and as the days pass, introductions and “where are you from?” questions have become less frequent. Still, these past few weeks have encouraged me to look back and pinpoint the places that I call home and people that have inadvertently impacted and influenced who I am. At a time when the value of diversity has been questioned and undermined, I find myself embracing my background and the framework that it has provided as I find my place in this expansive and multifaceted city. Sure there is no place like home and there is no place like London but I have a feeling that the two aren’t altogether mutually exclusive.

 

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A rare day of sunshine near Tower Bridge.

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by | February 17, 2017 · 4:21 pm

Meet Gilman Scholar Elizabeth

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Filed under Elizabeth in England, Western Europe

Staying Focused

At the beginning of the semester, I romanticized the idea of moving to a foreign country, getting a job, finding someone special, and beginning a whole new life (partially because my best friend just accomplished that very thing). However, London is (and never was meant to be) the place for me. It’s too cloudy, extremely expensive, and way too proper. Paradoxically, studying abroad in London has made me realize New York is the best place for me to be as a writer, student, and person.

I’m studying abroad relatively late in my academic career, during the first semester of my senior year. Most people go abroad their junior year, and at New York University, even their sophomore or freshman year. So my London thoughts have been centered around: WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WHEN I GRADUATE?!!!!!

Well, now I have one answer: not live in London.

This is how indecisive I am. In September, I was so convinced London was the place for me. I probed through my academic requirements to see if there was any way I could finesse staying the entire academic year. I came up with this delusional plan: flying back to New York for the winter term, paying out of pocket for a winter course, flying back to London for the spring semester, then flying back to New York at the end of May to complete my senior colloquium.

I was mad.

This decision was one hundred percent influenced by a certain person I had recently met. This is the part where I take the time to tell you: Be cautious about letting people in your life influence your academic and professional goals. Especially people you just met in a foreign country, or someone you think is “one of a kind” and just “gets you.” Trust me, almost every one of my friends here has their own version of this person. It can and will happen to you.

When I finally accepted there was no realistic way of staying in London the entire year, I set my eyes on graduate school. Since freshman year I’ve known I want to complete a Masters of Fine Arts in fiction writing. So I just readjusted that goal to completing a MFA in Britain. That was in September. Since then, people and situations have changed, time has passed, and my mom’s fried chicken has become greatly missed. A week ago, I went through my list of dream graduate schools and started my applications. Then, last night, it dawned on me: what happened to all of my British schools? None had even passed through my mind when I picked my final schools. Although my study abroad experience has been great, this was proof to me that I am not meant to stay here beyond this semester.

I have gained a lot from my fashion business courses. I have learned to look at pop culture, fashion, and advertising with a more critical eye, taking into account gendered advertising, cultural appropriation, and subcultures. My biggest lesson has been learning about the amount of attractive coercion that occurs in fashion advertising, promising huge things such as happiness, love, or attraction. The same thing occurs in other formats, like TV, pop videos, and movies. We all participate in the fashion system whether we like it or not. Rejecting fashion is as much of a statement as is participating in it. I’ve had to rethink my relationship with pop culture and how I want to work within it. I’ve come to acknowledge that some of my pop culture loves play upon the same concepts I criticize in my essays (such as performing for the male gaze and cultural appropriation) and I’ve had to ask if these moves are conscious or just my favorite artists unconsciously embodying what society has drilled into them?

This study abroad experience has affirmed my dream to pursue a career in fashion journalism. I still see a lot of power and positivity in it. It’s a great space for artistic expression, identity creation, and fantasy. If I am so lucky to land a job in the fashion world, I want to work in the creative department, more than the business/public relations side, though I am glad to have learned about that aspect through my classes here. Through a creative position, I can influence the design, visuals, and advertising to be more thoughtful about how they operate within our culture.

And no one can change my plans.

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Studying Abroad as a Double Minority

As a member of the LGBTQ community, I remember feeling limited in the places I could study abroad. New York University (NYU) has a lavish second campus in Abu Dhabi, located on a trendy island and filled to the brim with oil-financed amenities. Yet, the campus feels absolutely off limits to me. United Arab Emirates has tough discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ community. London was a safe pick. I wonder sometimes though, if places like Abu Dhabi and Accra, Ghana were less discriminatory and actually wanted people like me there, would I have still chose London?

Britain (not including Ireland) legalized same-sex marriage in 2014. As a gay male, I feel the same in London as I do in New York City: safe. London also has a visible gay pride scene. The most popular area is SoHo, which is packed with LGBTQ-themed clubs and shops. Before coming here, every gay guy I talked to would look at me with quarter-sized eyes and squeal, “YOU HAVE TO GO TO HEAVEN!” Heaven is a gay club in SoHo that’s been around since the eighties- back when there wasn’t social media to link LGBT members up with each other, just clubs. It was nice to visit a place with so much proud cultural history to it.

It’s been interesting to explore the Black experience in Britain. A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture at The School of Oriental and Africana Studies on Black Feminism. The student lounge was packed with around one hundred students (mostly Black) coming together to talk about Black issues like culture appropriation, visibility, and how Black feminism differs from mainstream feminism.

During the question and answer session, a Black American woman stood up and expressed her amazement at learning how much Black Americans and Black Britons share in common. She pointed out the amazing and guilt-inducing fact that everyone in the room was expertly well-versed in American Black issues. Yet, most Black Americans know little to nothing about Black Britons and their struggles.

Because they are fewer in number, Black Brits don’t receive as much visibility as Black Americans. Blacks compose only 3% of Great Britain, whereas Blacks compose 13% of America. It’s almost as if they’re living in the Black American shadow, their experiences and struggles not given the proper international stage they deserve. The same is true with the Black French experience.

Being inside that student lounge was like meeting an extended part of my family for the first time.

Here’s another interesting thing: the term “Black” can be used to refer to any non-white British person. This practice was more frequent in the past, especially in the seventies. Asians, Indians, Afro-Caribbeans, and even the Irish joined together in solidarity and adopted a “politically Black” identity.  At the time, they were fine self-identifying as this, as they were all working together to eliminate discrimination. Over time however, agendas and needs changed and the use of “Black” as an umbrella term decreased. One person at the lecture stood up and asked the speakers if they thought the “politically Black” identity could be resurrected. One of them quickly responded, “Well, first, some groups would have to be okay with being called Black again. Because to some that’s seen as going backwards, not forwards.”

I have experienced some subtle forms of racism since coming to London to study abroad. My flatmate and I were on the bus when a group of white kids sat behind us. They were singing along to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” I braced myself and sure enough, they all rapped the n-word. I didn’t take offense to it. But it was when one of our tour guides joked to me and my fellow classmates, “Always stand on the right side of the escalator when you’re in the tube station! Otherwise, you’ll piss everyone off and get lynched!” Such an interesting word choice.

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Filed under Andre in United Kingdom, Western Europe

Homesick

            Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it. – Cesare Pavese

Lately, I’ve found myself in a frequent state of “Should I go to McDonald’s?”

Or coming back home, damp from the rain, and jumping in bed to watch my favorite American shows.

Why?

Because I miss America.

Cesare Pavese is speaking the truth in his quote. Traveling is brutal on the heart. It’s as much fun as it is fear-induced character building. I hoped my London relationship would be like my New York City one: starting to feel as familiar and comfortable as chicken Mcnuggets right around now. But it hasn’t been. I still feel like I’m walking around inside someone else’s home, forever a guest.

But I’m not walking around alone. Being in such a new, disorienting environment has motivated me to jump out of my comfort zone and create new friendships. I think that’s what’s easy to forget: you don’t have to go through this alone. Find fellow visiting students to connect with and ask them about their home (there is a ninety-nine percent chance they are also homesick and want chicken Mcnuggets), and go out and explore the city together.

Life has a weird feeling to it while you’re studying abroad. You feel like you’re on the airy, free-flowing escape Cesare Pevese writes about, but then you have an essay due and you’re forced to be a responsible adult again. So you’re constantly ping-ponging back and forth between retreat and real life.

Being off balance is stressful and tiring (sometimes), but we complain when life is too cookie-cutter also. I think the knowledge that this is only a temporary state of being allows me to push on through it. Because as soon as I get home, I’m gonna miss it.

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Cheeky Cuisine in London

I must start off this blog with this: BRITISH PEOPLE TOAST THEIR CREAM CHEESE AND BAGELS AT THE SAME TIME. Also, they spell bagel “beigel”. I’m not joking. I wish I was, but I’m not. The cashier handed my friend her beigel with cream cheese and directed her to the back of the store to have it toasted.

Jade: “Wait…but… isn’t the cream cheese already on it?”
Man: “Yeah…”

Jade: “But… if you put it in the oven… isn’t the cream cheese gonna get hot too?”

Man: “Yes. That’s usually what happens when you toast something. We don’t do it how YOU GUYS do it.”

Trifling.

English cuisine is pretty bland. Compared to America, there is a lack of culturally diverse options. The grocery stores are teeny-tiny. Yesterday, the only fruit my Tesco had was pineapples, apples, and blackberries. In America, the stores can be as big as a football field and stocked with twenty different flavors of pop-tarts. I miss it.

Pret, an organic sandwich chain, is London’s McDonalds. They’re absolutely everywhere. The fact that a small-portioned, healthy, all-fresh chain reigns king here is pretty representative of how Londoners approach food. There are no artificial flavors or weird scientific sounding ingredients in any of the products you buy. Here, Coca-Cola is made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. It makes you feel a little bit better when you’re chugging one back.

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My favorite restaurant/haven is Nandos, which is popular for its Afro-Portuguese peri-peri chicken. Nandos isn’t some trendy, underground place. It’s like Britain’s Applebee’s or TGI Fridays. But I don’t care. Their spicy grilled chicken quarters are to die for. By the way, look up “cheeky nandos”. It’s a popular phrase here and you’ll get British street cred if you know what it means. My Resident Assistant mentioned it during his neighborhood tour. “Buzzfeed had to write a whole article on it because you guys just didn’t get it,” he laughed. Immediately after the tour, my flatmates and I went to Nandos hoping an epiphany of understanding would occur while chomping some peri-peri chicken down. It didn’t happen. But when we passed our RA the next day, we nodded our heads and shouted, “Cheeky Nandos, eh?!” He smiled in pride. After a month of trying to wrap my head around it, I’ve finally got it. It’s like when you take an extra long lunch break with your mates to go to Nando’s even though you know you should be back at work. You know… like you’re doing something a little naughty. You’re pulling a cheeky Nandos, mate! (I hope you’re not cringing too hard at my faux-Britishness.)

Nandos

I’ve had fish and chips, of course. I ordered my inaugural fish and chips from Poppies, which won a National Fish and Chip Award. Yes…there’s a National Fish and Chip Award. It tasted WICKED!

There’s a great sparkling drink here called Elderflower. It’s really sweet, as if you’re drinking pure sugar, but much healthier and natural tasting. Lastly, my favorite snack thus far is Digestives. No… they aren’t what they sound like… They’re a great soft and yummy biscuit covered with milk chocolate. My friend Rachel forced a pack of them on to me and I’ve been addicted ever since.

Overall, British food is pretty similar to American food. They just have nice quirky regional dishes and products. I hope I’ve made you hungry. You should book your ticket right now, skip work, and come on to London to have a cheeky Nandos, mate. You won’t regret it, I promise.

(By the way, totally munching on a Pret sandwhich while writing this. I’m addicted.)

Cheers,

André

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In the blink of an eye…

It was 5:15 am on the morning of June 4th, I stayed up all night long with the my study abroad family just to watch the sun come up over Big Ben and The London Eye one last time. And then, it was over. Before I knew it, I was in a taxi speeding towards Heathrow Airport too excited to get home, but fully gutted knowing that this was the end. It was Good-Bye to London, Hello Pennsylvania! Time to close the chapter on my semester abroad. And then it was back home, back to my family and friends. There is a warm comfort about the familiarity of your home town, of the people who love you. During my semester abroad my support system at home was truly unbelievable. The constant encouragement to travel, experience and see as much as I could. They always had kind words to say and waited patiently for my return. There was such a sense of pride coming home to them, being able to share my stories and adventures to every person who supported me. It seems like a dream now that I’m home. Some days I find myself saying “Did those things really happen? Did I really do all that?”. Knowing that just a mere week or so ago, I was walking the streets of London, just 3 weeks ago I was jetting off to Dublin for a weekend adventure, and just a short 5 months ago I began this whole journey. Where did time go? These last 5 months seem to go by in the blink of an eye, but every single second was well spent. It was spent between traveling the world, creating a beautiful bond with strangers, seeing sights some people only dream of, being able to call London my home and all the memories made. I never slept, only took small naps between big adventures.

Now that I’ve settled back in and reality has taken over, there are so many things I miss about London. First and foremost, I miss having the ability to always do something new and exciting to do. There was never a dull moment in London, always something new to try, a new food to taste or a new event to go to. While the city drove me crazy at times, I think I secretly fell in love with it. And it’s the exact opposite of what I missed about home. The quiet of Gettysburg, the silent hum of the night and the chance to finally seem the stars in the dark sky. I missed the simple country. I long to have the best of both worlds, the perfect mix of city buzz and country quiet. For me, the reverse culture shock did hit home hard but only on a few key subjects. Mainly, the fact that there is no place to get a fresh made scone or clotted cream. I miss cream tea, the perfect ending to an amazing afternoon. I miss the London tea rooms and I’m currently searching every town within a 50 mile radius of Gettysburg to try and find an authentic one. The biggest problem I’ve faced coming home is trying to imagine how I fit into my town, into my life before study abroad. How did I function without knowing how good fish n’ chips tasted? How did I live every day without knowing the wonders of Ryan Air or Euro Star? How does Abi after London fit back into her old life? It’s the biggest struggle, trying to settle back in knowing that I’ve lived, traveled and seen the world. But it’s the greatest pleasure knowing that I’ve accomplished so much in my life thus far. It’s that balance factor, trying to fit the best of both worlds into my life.

While my study abroad experience is over and my days in London are behind me, I’m excited for my future. This one life changing opportunity has propelled and set the bar for the rest of my life. London taught me so much about my future. I’ve learned that my heart is in International Business and Marketing, that I want the opportunities to change the world, not just the United States. I’ve seen, that the business world is a cut throat field, but I feel so alive being in it. I’ve also learned that no matter where you go, your voice matters. I know now, that I’m destined for greatness and that my study abroad experience was just the first stepping stone.

Until Next Time, Cheers from Gettysburg…

 

 

 

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