Welcome to JHU Around the World, a collection of my thoughts and musings as I travel the world representing Hopkins! I’m Dana M., and this is my fourth year back at JHU working in admissions (I’m also an alum – I graduated in 2001 as a Political Science major). I have traveled abroad on my own and for Hopkins before, but this year, I am literally spanning the globe! By the middle of November, I will have traveled to 8 countries on 3 continents, with 5 languages and 8 currencies. Just don’t quiz me on what day or time it is, and I should be fine!
This is the second of several travel blogs I will be writing. You can read about my experiences in China here, and stay tuned for entires from Turkey, France and the Caribbean. Also, if you are from Paris, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago or Jamaica, you can come hear me talk about Hopkins!
My flight from Hong Kong to London was incredibly long (15 hours plus a layover!) and the 7 hour time difference hit me rather hard. Still, it was lovely to wake up in England on Friday morning.
I haven’t been to London since college. My good friend, Melissa, studied abroad in Oxford our junior year, and I was very curious to see what had changed since I was last here. One of the interesting things about London is that while the stores are very modern (there’s a Starbucks on almost every corner!), the architecture and landmarks harken back to the past. Even the cabs (PT Cruisers) remind you of another era. And of course, they still have those iconic telephone booths throughout the city (which I can’t imagine are used all that frequently, except for photos by tourist like myself).
My hotel was located near Green Park, St. James Park and Hyde Park, so it was great to start my Friday morning by stretching my legs with a run.
I spent my first two days in London attending the Fulbright/CIS college fair. I began at a pre-fair session on educational system in the UK and was interested to hear about some of the changes coming to the A-Levels (like opportunities for independent study and an increased emphasis on debate and persuasive writing). I also learned that, while the UK has always had a very strong university system, more students are looking to the US for a broad-based liberal arts education (our distribution requirements, freedom to be undecided, and opportunity to double major in vastly different subjects was a big draw) and a closer relationship with professors (or contact hours as they call them).
I met some great students at the fair and was pleasantly surprised that word had gotten out in the UK about the strength of our humanities programs. It’s not often I get to brag about our archeological museum and Classics courses or the research our Writing Sems and English majors can do at an event attend by 3,600 students. Even students interested in Engineering, International Studies, Business and Medicine wanted to hear what other kinds of classes they could take at JHU.
Sunday was my first day off since I arrived in Beijing (which seems like ages ago!). I was still feeling a bit jet lagged, so I slept in, went for a run, and then met up with Jillian from Wesleyan for a bit of sight seeing. Sunday was one of those dreary London days (or at least from 12 to 3 it was), so we scrapped our initial plan of taking a boat ride down the Thames and instead wandered around Big Ben and Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and headed to Harrods for a late lunch and a spin around the world famous department store.
I am a big history buff, so had this been a vacation and not a work trip, I would have packed my days with tours of the London Tower, Buckingham Palace (which I saw from the outside), the Globe, etc., but I did manage to sneak in a little additional sight seeing.
On Monday, I had about an hour or so of free time between my visit at the City of London (great students and a fun opportunity to talk in depth about my JHU major – Political Science!) and an evening visit at Highgate to talk about JHU (of course) and the U.S. education system in general. The City of London school is right by the Millennium Bridge, which is a great vantage point from which to see the Thames and London skyline. Across from the school is both the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe theater. The Tate is a free museum (woo hoo!), and with not enough time to do either properly, I chose the Tate over the Globe. The Tate has both traditional “modern” art by artists like Picasso, Dali, and Calder, as well as more contemporary modern art. The Tate Modern is in a converted power station, and the Tanks at the Tate are currently home to some very modern video installations. My mom is a curator at the Met (in the Modern Art department), so I confess that I feel more at home in the traditional modern art world, but the Tanks were an experience. You enter each room through a small but pitched black corridor. Many of the exhibits were interactive in that your presence in the room alters your viewing of the video. For me, these rooms were as much about your own sensory experience and watching the other visitors as it was about seeing the video.
Tuesday was probably one of my favorite days on the thus far. My first school visit wasn’t until lunch, so I began the day with a tour of Kensington Palace. I had expected the museum to be a stayed interpretation of the past, exhibiting the clothes and photographs of Queen Victoria, as well as some furniture and art work. And while all of that was present (love the clothes!), they have actually curated a very whimsical and modern museum, taking you through the last of the Stuart dynasty, the rumors and gossip of the Kings court, and what it was like for Queen Victoria to come to power in the palace. The staff were all prepared and eager to inform you about the English history (apparently, I had mixed up my Tudors and Stuarts!), which made it all the more enjoyable.
After a visit at Latymer, I headed over to the American School of London for my Explore Hopkins. Rena Barch (’09) joined me to help check guests in, answer questions, and chime in with her own experiences as an International Studies major at JHU. Rena was an intern in the Admissions office, and is whom I did my first tag team information session with when I re-joined JHU more than 3 years ago. In fact, I still use Rena’s research into illegal markets and music pirating as an example of independent studies at JHU! The students and parents at the Explore were really engaged and asked a lot of great questions. I often forget that there are cultural differences between the US and the UK and that students aren’t as familiar with terms like “Greek life” abroad. Interestingly, essays for UK applications are exclusively focussed on academics (U.S. schools want you to be PERSONAL), so one student asked if that was why all of our Essays that Worked were so anecdotal.
After the presentation, Rena and I went for curry on Bricklane – a must during any visit to London. Despite being 8 years apart, Rena and I had many of the same professors at JHU. What started as a dinner conversation about some of our favorite classes and teachers, quickly turned into a discussion of U.S. politics and current events. I’ve felt a bit starved for political debate being away from the U.S. this September and October (4 years ago I was campaigning myself!), and our dinner discussion was reminiscent of many of the debates I used to have in college with my fellow Poli Sci and I.S. majors. The love of learning and passion our students display for what they discover in an out of the classroom and an interest in debating current events, was one of the things I cherish most about my undergrad experience, and dinner with Rena took me right back to that place. I believe I even made reference to Hobbs, when discussing the quality of life people who built the Great Wall must have had (nerd alert!).
Other Things I Learned in London:
– Always pack an umbrella! True to form, London weather would go from sunny, to rainy, to cloudy and back to sunny again on any given day, but I lucked out for the most part and got to take advantage of my proximity to the parks.
– I found the differences in verbiage rather charming. The doors to enter the Sevenoaks school are huge, and the brass doorknob is about the size of my open hand and nose level. When I commented to my greeter that it made me feel small, she replied, “Yes, they are quite massive.” Love it!
– London is an immensely walkable city (something I appreciate as a native New Yorker). Not that you could walk from one end to the other, of course, but there are so many great things clustered together, that you could easily spend your days doing walking tours of the major sights. Even the homes and shops along the way are delightful, given the distinct architecture of the city. Had I had more time, I would have wandered around aimlessly for hours (or at least with a map stuffed in my bag).
– I remember the tube in London being almost space aged in college (mind the gap!), but it doesn’t seem to have been updated much since my last return. It certainly makes traveling around London affordable, but it’s probably the one part of the visit that didn’t live up to my expectations.
– All of the London Olympic gear has already gone on sale and been sold! I had expected to come back with some absurd amount of track suits, hats, wind breakers, and t-shirts but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
– British food has gotten much tastier. Better known for it’s global cuisine (including Indian food), London has really stepped up it’s own dining experience. I did sit down to a meat pie at a traditional British pub, and was pleasantly surprised.