When I decided I wanted to study abroad, there was only one choice: London. And no, not (just) because I was hoping to run into Prince Harry. A previous trip when I was 11 years old sparked my love for the city, eventually morphing into serious obsession with “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock” and “Primeval,” copious buckets of tea and multiple declarations that told me I was born in the wrong country. And like any dedicated obsessive I was determined to return to the motherland. Therefore when I skimmed the list of classes offered by the UC Summer Study Abroad program, I already expected to be putting my money on the UK. What I did not expect was how interesting, fun and exciting the class itself sounded at the information session. Add in three class trips to the Globe Theater and come August the assembled hordes of Genghis Khan could not stand between me and that plane ride to London.
I arrived a few days early and stayed with family near Balham, thankfully knocking out the jet lag before class began. They helped me settle in at Astor College at the University of London, right in the center of the city. When I told my family I was staying on Charlotte Street they immediately declared that they were enrolling at UCR to take the History of Britain class as well. Definitely a sign that this was a good place to be. Astor College was perfectly situated with a grocery store right around the corner, pizza down the street and all the shopping a girl could hope for within walking distance.
Classes consisted of walking, or taking the bus, to different historical locations all over the city. My personal favorites included the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Knole Park. Side note: If you visit Knole, remember to bring plenty of apples. The deer will eat them right out of your hand! Just don’t get caught — you didn’t hear it from me. On a more scholarly note, however, the Tower of London cannot be missed. I got true chills walking in the apartments where my favorite historical figure, Queen Elizabeth I, was imprisoned along with Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. I stood inches away from graffiti supposedly carved by Sir Robert Dudley during his imprisonment and stood in the room where Sir Walter Raleigh wrote “The History of the World” while praying for forgiveness from his king. For lovers of history, there is no feeling in the world like walking in the footsteps of your idols. As for Westminster Abbey, full disclosure: I may have come disturbingly close to tears standing in the Poet’s Corner surrounded by monuments to Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Alfred Lord Tennyson and all my favorite authors. You try not to. I dare you.
Fans of theatre, if the Globe Theatre is not on your bucket list it should be. As groundlings we stood right in front of the stage, close enough to lean on. Close enough for Cleopatra to flirt with the boys and touch the girls’ hair, in fact. In fair warning however, we quickly dubbed our seats the Splash Zone. Trust me, we learned to look down very quickly when an actor came anywhere near us. No one wanted spit in their eye. Not even from a King Lear played by Joseph Marcell, also known as Geoffrey from the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The Globe Theatre offers an understandable, interactive and period-accurate experience of the Bard’s greatest works.
Of course I also love Britain’s more current cultural successes and I was not disappointed in what England had to offer on my free afternoons and weekends. Groups took pictures at King’s Cross Station at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters in full wizarding regalia, got photographed in iconic poses on Abbey Road, wandered the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and even managed a daytrip to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.
For me, my experience abroad offered a new adventure every day. Sharing this class with a group of unfamiliar people, cut off from anyone who knew me, I had the unique opportunity to reinvent myself and discover a confident, energetic person. I found out that I could get lost alone in a strange city and find my way back with ease. I found out that liver and rabbit are surprisingly tasty. I found out that I could make friends just by tripping over the bathroom doorstep at midnight in front of a complete stranger. At the end of the month I boarded my plane feeling like an entirely different person than the one who had arrived. The study abroad program helped me discover a stronger me.