Gilman Girl

The Life & Rhymes of Molly Y., English Major

Looking Ahead

After being in America for just four days and seeing that another year of ED Admissions has come and gone (WELCOME, Y’ALL), I’ve decided to take a moment to reflect on what it means to return to Hopkins in January — the first time in five months. A good 45% of my internal and external being still feels like it’s across the pond, but in spite of my withdrawal symptoms, I’m starting to remind myself just how much I have to look forward to and how much I’ve missed. Let’s start with the obvious:

This might be masochistic of me considering how positively frigid and semi-treacherous it can be, but Hopkins in wintertime is as visually delightful as it is potentially dangerous. Especially when seen from the “porch” of Gilman. The snow falls just so, and the trees and old brick buildings come together to make a wintry campus walk feel like something out of a movie. Before you slip and fall in the middle of the walkway, that is.

And then, of course, there is the ever-exciting spring course schedule. For some reason, my classes during second semester tend to be more interesting/enjoyable/rewardingly challenging than they do in the fall, but it could also just be that spring on campus is generally a happier time for one and all. I’m still back and forth on one or two choices, but after a semester away from the Hopkins English department, I see now more than ever how lucky I am to have the slew of quality course options (and equally distinguished professors) it consistently offers. Thus, my classes next semester are likely no different. In “Old World/New World Women”, for example, I’ll be reading transatlantic literature written by Anne Bradstreet, Aphra Behn, and Phillis Wheatley, whilst examining themes such as (ahem): “identity, spatiality, religion, commerce, enforced labor, sexuality, race, and gender, along with literary tradition, formal analysis and poetics.” To top it all off, it’s taught by my favorite English prof, Sharon Achinstein, whose Intro to Lit course last year basically re-taught me how to be a critical thinker. Next semester’s brain expansion should be one for the record books.

Finally, there’s Baltimore, a city and a home like no other, one that I’ve greatly missed venturing out into on the weekends for a soul dance party at The Crown or a refreshing walk around Mt. Vernon, where somehow just staring at the beautiful old brownstone walk-ups is a rejuvenating activity. I’m hoping that my time away will make the city feel new in different ways, alongside all of its comforting familiarity and friendly folk who are always down for a random adventure. However strongly my current jetlag pulls me in the other direction, I’m a lucky gal with an imminent return to a school/city/homie-filled-place that truly can’t be beat.

This woman powerwalks around the duck pond in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, feeding the birds, dressed in ballet pink head to toe. I will miss her.

When in London (for 10 more days)

Saying “I have 10 days left in London,” and believing it are two very different things. Thus is the dilemma my friends and I face in the coming week between now and our inevitable departure from the U.K., from each other, and from the sense of familiarity and comfort we’ve worked so hard to create for ourselves over the last three months. It probably won’t feel ‘over’ or even ‘approaching over’ until I get off the plane in Pittsburgh at 9:10 pm EST (2am U.K. time! I’ll be so fresh!) and see my dad for the first time in three months, after which I’ll either faint or go into a catatonic state. I’ll let you know which one transpires.

When I first got here, it took about two weeks for it to actually feel real. The earliest signs that I was in (or even approaching) a U.K. life were as follows: the constant rotation of 5 energetic British flight attendants on Virgin Airlines, when a cashier at the campus bookstore went “That’ll be eight pounds forty pence please,” in what I’ve come to know now as a posh accent, and standing on the Waterloo Bridge in the rain with my dad, eating a sausage roll and watching double-decker buses drive past Parliament over and over. Even then, these all felt like isolated events; Pittsburgh still seemed like a four hour Greyhound bus away, and my return to Hopkins was surely right around the corner.

NO JOKE THIS WAS MY FIRST PIC IN THE U.K.: ME, @ BAGGAGE CLAIM @ HEATHROW, AT 10AM. (I was gonna post it to JHU_Emily's Facebook, but then I came to my senses and realized it'd probably be obnoxious. You live and you learn.

NO JOKE THIS WAS MY FIRST PIC IN THE U.K.: ME, @ BAGGAGE CLAIM @ HEATHROW, AT 10AM. C/o Photobooth. (I was gonna post it to JHU_Emily’s Facebook, but then I came to my senses and realized it’d probably be obnoxious. You live and you learn.)

Half the battle in my adjustment process was getting a simple lay of the land. Where was the nearest grocery store to my apartment? How cheap or expensive was it in comparison with the other grocery stores nearby? Which bus line do I take to school? Do I even need to take the bus, or is the walk manageable with my course schedule? Is there a London version of Alloverstreet, or is it all just bougie galleries filled with designer-clad people named things like “Theodore” and “Cordelia”? Do I take the Victoria line southbound or northbound, or the Piccadilly line, or the Bakerloo or Jubilee?

This was an everyday string of questions for about two or three weeks, after which we finally started classes, and my brain switched on after a five month hiatus to the tune of a different education system and an equally important expectation that I balance school with exploring London as much as possible. Luckily for me, managing both aspects of my experience here was greatly enhanced by the — I’ll say it again — lucky group of friends I made from schools all over the U.S., whose study abroad vibes were similar to mine. You need people who are down to make the most of an entire day with: class, homeworking, exploring, more homeworking, eating, and exploring again, without petering out or second-guessing or being opposed to simply wandering around. By the grace of Queen Elizabeth II herself, I found my people early on, and again in the middle.

Linnea, Duranya & Steph, respectively, in Bath. My first friends here & my good ones!

Linnea, Duranya & Steph, respectively, in Bath. My first friends here & my good ones!

April & Haley, who I met halfway through the semester during a trip to the Lake District (and Duranya troll in the corner). They go to Connecticut College but if they transferred to Hopkins, that'd be cool also. #subliminalmessaging

April & Haley, who I met halfway through the semester during a trip to the Lake District (and Duranya troll in the corner). They go to Connecticut College but if they transferred to Hopkins, that’d be cool also. #subliminalmessaging

In conjunction with the interesting docket of classes I’ve been taking at UCL and the blessed assortment of good pals I’ve made, there’s just London in itself: London doin’ London. It’s funny to reflect on the things that once felt so alien to me — people scowling down at their phones or feet or upwards at the line maps on the tube, the word ‘queue’ in lieu of ‘line’, the general lack of filter coffee (let alone good filter coffee), hearing at least 3 different languages being spoken when I walk down the street (or sit/stand/eat/breathe pretty much anywhere in the city), and, of course, the extreme hustle & bustle of pedestrian traffic that I used to suck at navigating each day on my walk to school. The other day, a group of musicians started playing jazzed up Christmas songs on a very packed Victoria line train to Warren Street Station. While in America, the entire car might clap or sing along, my fellow Londoners seemed to bore holes into the tube floor or their newspapers and phones, desperate for the spectacle to end. Maybe three people clapped; a few of us (myself included) awkwardly smiled at each other to at least acknowledge what was happening. When the music stopped and the performers moved onto the next car, you could literally feel the tension lift — everyone might as well have collectively sighed in relief. It might technically be what’s stereotyped as ‘standoffish’ British culture, but at this point, it feels like home.

The ease with which my friends and I move through the city now only feels like an accomplishment when I really stop to think about it. To us, we’re just living — we’ve gotten much better at it through consistent exploration and willingness to see what’s out there, even if in the end, the neighborhood we stumble upon isn’t the most interesting, or the cheapest. I didn’t realize how deeply a map of London has been ingrained on my brain until my best friend (who is studying in Berlin right now) came to visit me, and I took her around town like some off-brand tour guide. We didn’t do the London Eye, but we did do scones with jam & clotted cream at the V&A, a pub night with the aforementioned UCL pals, a Portobello Market/Notting Hill walk through, and a bunch of other little things that feel more local to me now than my old high school does in Pittsburgh or Hampden in Baltimore. Which is DRAMATIC, I know. But my brain and heart are rooted here in a way I definitely didn’t expect, especially considering that my friends and I all thought we’d be exhausted and ready to come home by finals week. In fact, it’s just the opposite: we’re all loath to leave.

But that’s a good thing, right? If we weren’t loath to leave, then maybe that says something about how much we got out of the experience. Or maybe it doesn’t, and I’m just trying to rationalize my borderline menopausal emotions about getting on the plane next Saturday. All I can say is, London has left its mark on me and helped me grow in ways I didn’t expect. (Double cliche infraction!!!) But really. I never thought I’d want to come back here for an internship (which I do — Summer 2017 prospects are in development), let alone to live after graduating from Hopkins (which I might — graduation is so close, but so far away! But still so close!). With the daily busyness and stress and weirdness and newness and funkiness and backpack-filled-with-everything-I-own-at-all-times-ness of being here, I rarely get a moment to stop and look back, so I guess this blog turned into a very cheesy blob of retrospection. I’ll stop here & post some small nice moments that I’ve recently had, chocked full of cliche & London goodness. But make no mistake: I will be back *said hopefully, not ominously*.

SHAMELESS solo pic taken by Best Friend Erin (Trademark) in the Enlightenment Room of the British Museum, which is my favorite room in the whole darn thing. She caught me unawares, looking at old specimens of somethingorother.

SHAMELESS solo pic taken by Best Friend Erin (Trademark) in the Enlightenment Room of the British Museum, which is my favorite room in the whole darn thing. She caught me unawares, looking at old specimens of somethingorother.

This woman powerwalks around the duck pond in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, feeding the birds, dressed in ballet pink head to toe. I will miss her.

This woman powerwalks around the duck pond in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, feeding the birds, dressed in ballet pink head to toe. I will miss her. On days when life feels gray, I want to be her. It’s all good.

Lorna Simpson at Tate Modern, with 'Five Day Forecast'. Yes.

Lorna Simpson at Tate Modern, with ‘Five Day Forecast’. Yes.

SIMPLE EVENING VIEWS THAT MAKE ME WEEPY NOW

SIMPLE EVENING VIEWS THAT MAKE ME WEEPY NOW

& finally: Good New(ish) Pals who feel like Old Pals, running down the stairs @ Tate Modern in pursuit of dinner & a pint. Haley is an extreme blur in the background & April's hand is menacing, but all is well.

& finally: Good New(ish) Pals who feel like Old Pals, running down the stairs @ Tate Modern in pursuit of dinner & a pint. Haley is an extreme blur in the background, April’s hand is menacing & I look deranged, but all is well.

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London Learning

While I miss the comforts of my home department at Hopkins and am greatly looking forward to my spring semester schedule (s/o to the Course Catalog Overlords for this year’s bountiful offerings), it has been beyond rewarding to continue my education in a city known for its illustrious literary history and vibrant cultural community (free museums! everywhere!). Two courses in particular have engaged me in ways that are rooted to the city itself, one through its London-based literature and the other through weekly class sessions held in different museums & galleries from Millbank to Soho.

Utopias & Dystopias in 20th Century Literature

Considering that I hadn’t read a truly dystopian novel since high school, I was really excited to take this module, especially considering how many of the works are set in the U.K. We’ve analyzed Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in relation to the broader historical context of London’s socioeconomic (and physical) landscape at the time it was published, versus Huxley’s futuristic version of the city: skyscrapers a hundred stories high, the infiltration of exaggerated American culture, and a complete lack of monarchical tradition. Right now, we’re reading a novel entitled The Drowned World, which is centered on a London that’s been submerged by melted ice caps and extreme climate change — even the Ritz Hotel is underwater. Ironically enough, Ballard’s novel was written before there was any real concept of global warming, and is simply a hyperbolized fantasy that uses London’s real life underground rivers as mechanisms to “drown” it and create a dystopian world. Walking around the city with all of this in mind has given me a newfound appreciation for the richness of its history, not to mention for the opportunity to study in a place that inspired such works.

19th and 20th Century Art in London Collections

I’m not an art history major, but LUCKILY for me, UCL has courses specifically for non-majors who still want to dip their toes into the serene waters of the London art world. Too vivid a metaphor?  The course is a survey of art from the mid-1800’s and onwards, with most of its focus on 20th century contemporary art. Each week, my classmates and I make our way to a different museum or gallery space in the city to meet with our lecturer, who then takes us to specific works for the group to discuss in more detail. Thus far, we’ve gone to the National Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and, on a particularly windy day, took a brief walking tour of several public art installations near Shoreditch. It’s one thing to read about the works in preparation for class, and an entirely new level of learning to experience them in person, in London. I’ve even seen works I learned about at Hopkins last year, which makes it all the more dope. In the coming weeks, we’ll be even attending a temporary exhibition that will only be up for the next few months or so — if I hadn’t studied abroad here, I never would have seen it, let alone had class in it! Anyways, here is me, having a millennial moment with a work by Donald Judd after our lecture on Minimalist art — forgive me for falling into the selfie trap just this once.

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From Over Here

Experiencing this week so far from home and from Hopkins has turned out to be more surreal & strange & personal than expected. Quite frankly, waxing poetic about a recent trip to the English countryside or my favorite London study spot would feel out of place. Instead, I’ll offer up some JHU and non-JHU related internet things that I’ve been returning to over the last 48 hours to keep me grounded in all of this.

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I’m sure this is happening in colleges across the U.S., but opening my Hopkins inbox on Wednesday to see these kinds of emails (there were several more from the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Film Society, etc) made me feel nostalgic for campus, for the Hopkins community & the supportive ways it can come together in times like this. The Dean provided us with a list of various quiet zones and safe spaces all over campus to go to at any point during the day if we needed a minute — or an hour — away from a packed class schedule. After texting several Hopkins friends all day yesterday who were finding it quite difficult to focus on any kind of studying or schoolwork, it comforted me to know that there were peaceful pockets of space for them and everyone else on campus. We’re not exactly getting the same sort of treatment from UCL, so ironically enough, yesterday made me miss America more than ever.

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Zoe Kazan’s twitter account is something I check every week for beautifully composed comments about everything from being a good person to the importance of political activism (and many things in between). Yesterday, she asked her followers to suggest “writers who combated the darkness of their time” for her to retweet & read herself. Even on a day when most social media made me yearn for my pre-social media mind, I loved this. A lot. I’m hoping my brain & heart will expand in good measure after I explore the very dope & very helpful reading list she and so many others worked together to compile (this screenshot is just the tip of the iceberg). I highly recommend scrolling through the thread in full.

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Over the last two days, most of the upbeat & random & hip hop & *sometimes* Top-40’s stuff I meander between felt weird (/wrong) to listen to. Luckily for me, JHU_Emily crafted a soothing soundscape of relatable goodness as I attempted to write a mammoth of an essay with America in my peripheral brain vision. Solange, The National, The Antlers, The Beatles, & even a skillfully chosen dash of Beyoncé have come together in the deftly titled “nov 9”, because Ebo is a homie who knows the nuances of mood. “Hey Jude” felt especially right.

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THE TUNES

Anyone who knows me — who really knows me — knows that my Spotify repertoire is extensive. That may initially sound like a boast: Look at me with my broad musical taste & wealth of musical knowledge!

It’s not. What it actually means is that I tend to make playlists on the regular. They usually constitute complete changes in general “vibe” to go along with the infinite combinations of moods that I experience in a day, a week, a month — you get it. Some are public, some are private, but ALL are essential components of a well-soundtracked life. I’ve found that this applies doubly so now that I’m in London: study abroad has essentially turned me into a heap of mixed feelings that changes in composition daily. Today I’ve decided to give you a li’l sample of three of my most-played playlists on Spotify since I got to London, each of which has a very different “vibe” (I keep putting it in quotation marks because I truly don’t think I’m cool enough to use the word casually) from the other. When I was younger I — no joke — used to fantasize about being a DJ, so this is probably about as close as I’ll ever get to achieving that dream. Bear with me!

Playlist 1: The Essential “Pals” Playlist

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ICYMI, JHU_Emily and I are real-life pals — it’s crazy, because we never feature each other in our blogs. Ever. In the two weeks leading up to my first departure from the U.S., Ebo sent me this collaborative playlist for us to add to whilst I was in London (re: big ben) and she was fighting the good fight back at home (re: balti). The three emojis pictured are our signature, for no other reason than that we happen to use them a freakish amount in our text conversations. What’s the “vibe” of this playlist, you may ask? Let’s just say it’s got everything from ABBA to Florence + The Machine to Solange to Phoenix, so I’ll say this: I listen to it when I’m in a good mood, especially when I’m making the 20 minute walk to school. A quality day-starter!

A personal favorite of mine that JHU_Emily added:

 

Playlist 2: On The Grind (in a Cinematic Way though)

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I started this playlist in September of my freshman year, and it’s since grown to be about six hours in length. I LOVE MOVIE SCORES, I REALLY DO. Studying in London, however, requires a very specific swatch of this playlist solely devoted to: Philip Glass, Thomas Newman, and Dustin O’Halloran, on repeat, every day I’m doing homework. The three of them have composed some of my favorite movie scores of all time. When I’m sitting in the big law reading room trying to feel as present as possible and leave freshman year Gilman times behind, tracks like this do an especially good job of making the workload feel purposeful and new. The “vibe” is: VERY CHEESY, VERY CONTEMPLATIVE, BUT VERY USEFUL.

Playlist 3: You’re Here, and You Have Many Feelings About This

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“Li’l Baby Sun Emoji ; Scholastic Books Emoji”, as I call it, is something I made a few days after I first arrived in London. I was still sorting through the whole idea of my human self being on an entirely different continent for the next three months, and while parts of me were definitely excited, other parts of my brain hadn’t exactly finished processing. I used this playlist to make the experience feel as real as possible: you could call it my “London, Fall 2016” playlist, but for me, the emojis speak more profoundly to my general “vibe” here. It may be nearing the end of its playability for a while; I tend to pull the plug when I sense some favorite songs risk being overplayed, because I’m a True Professional. Before I make something new to encapsulate the last half of term, here are two tracks I could probably never get tired of.

DISCLAIMER: The video’s weird, but the song is so good! It’s rejuvenating and true and pure, and has some of my favorite auditory components: choppy piano chord progressions, drums that sound like a heart beat, and echo-y effects. It always feels very “walking around in London, and you’re deep in your feelings, but only you know it.” Y’know?

I loved Beach House long before I came to Baltimore, and considering that they’re from there, you can bet they’ve been the soundtrack to a lot of campus walks / slow bus rides back at Hopkins. They might even be my favorite band, which is saying something, because I always vowed it was impossible for me to choose a favorite band. This song is very “woah” and has a knack for waking me up to the weirdness and coolness of being in London for the semester, especially when I’m just wandering around a new neighborhood on my own. Good stuff.

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Days Off

By some stroke of luck (and a bit of finagling on my own part), I don’t have class on Wednesdays or Fridays each week. In the interest of making the most of my time in London and staying on track with course work, I try to make full use of the day: the following is a poorly photographed but very honest depiction of a well-spent Wednesday, with equal parts work and play and a few riveting pics of me pretending to be the lead character in a movie about my life whilst on public transportation. Let’s start at:

9:30 am: RISE & SHINE

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After quickly breakfasting, showering, & mentally planning out the day ahead, I snap a reassuring selfie for the sake of this blog, complete with Trendy London Filter & optimistic hand sign. My flat is about 20 minutes from campus, and with traffic, the commute can take up to 30 minutes, so it’s important that I start my day with good vibes and a clear head. Thus, I listen to THIS about five times before I walk out the door.

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Just try it, and feel free to thank me later in the comments below!

10:00 am: SUCCESSFUL COMMUTE

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I wanted to snap a photo from the bus ride to school, but alas, it was too cramped for a selfie to be anything other than painfully awkward for all parties involved. Instead, I’m going with this gloomily regal pic of UCL — it’s the first view of main campus that I get everyday as I stroll through the main gates, an architectural bastion of education that is as majestic as it is terrifying (the front steps are VERY steep). Peep that rotunda! The main courtyard is surrounded by trees, offers plenty of quality bench options, and generally has throngs of students milling about. It’s the only “quad”-like part of the school, and walking through it each morning is still something I’m getting used to after two years of greeting Gilman on the regular. But it’s a good change, it truly is.

10:10am-1pm: STUDY SPACE ACQUIRED

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The UCL Main Library is a treasure. With a multitude of different reading rooms, large and small, all well-equipped with outlets and wood panels and natural light (and, you know, books), it gives the whole homeworking process a pleasant ambiance. Today I chose to squirrel away in the law reading room, which is nominally for law students and filled with law books but is actually inhabited by a bunch of plebeians like me who need an old academic vibe to get anything done. I wanted to snap this pic quickly so that I wasn’t seen as an annoying tourist, so alas, you have my unidentified pal in the corner & strange lighting. But you feel the effect, I hope! This is actually my third try: the first two were taken from my seat, and just really hit home for me that I am a failure of a millennial who canNOT take good iPhone photos. Amen. Here they are.

Try #1: Nope!

Try #1: Nope!

Try #2: Not Quite, Molly!

Try #2: Not Quite, Molly!

You see my point. Anyhow, there I sat for several hours, plowing away at my readings for Topics in Visual Representation on visual/material culture in the aftermath of 9/11.  The essayists discussed everything from the fetishization of traumatic images in the media to the use of the about-to-die image, that pivotal moment just before the subject actually dies, which is used far more often in journalistic depictions of human tragedy than the actual action of dying or the gruesome aftermath. It was a heavy way to start the day, but well-worth it, considering my complete lack of experience in the field of visual studies and anthropology. One of the best feelings is the one you get when you sense your brain expanding with new info, especially when you’re in a sunlit reading room that was built eons ago & housed many other scholars before you. And, of course, here is my study set-up: simple, functional, caffeinated: Covergirl. All a gal needs!

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1:30 pm: FIELD TRIP

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At around 1, I decided I had done enough work for the day; I was getting peckish for food & the outside world, so I quickly grabbed some lunch and hopped on the tube to go to Whitechapel Gallery, a *free* contemporary art gallery in East London. Here is a haute mirror selfie featuring my two fun-loving fellow commuters. At that moment, I was probably listening to soul music and dreaming up imaginary scenarios about my life, but that’s just me! A walking cliche!

IMPORTANT NOTE: There was a small dog on the tube, and it looked at me. Truly a blessing: truly a good omen.

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I got off at Aldgate East Station about fifteen minutes later and, to my surprise, the gallery was located right next to it. I really think I owe it all to the dog.

2:00 pm – 4:00 pm: FLESH VESSEL SEES ART

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After taking a beat to ensure I was acquainted with the rules of the gallery (backpack or no? photography or no? shoes and shirt required, or no?), I took my time walking through each of the galleries within the Whitechapel building. For #frugalitypurposes, I didn’t check out the special exhibition, which required payment, but the other eight rooms more than made up for it. This picture is from inside Liam Gillick’s “Prototype Conference Room”, where he altered traditional meeting space with brightly colored upholstery in no particular pattern of distribution. I chose a bright red chair, and my homie towards the front chose a dark green one: What does this say about our psyches? No idea! On screen, they showed several different artists’ work, all of which had to do with the intersection of technology and the moving image. I snapped this mid-viewing Mateusz Sadowski’s “It Takes Time”.

Another favorite was Etel Adnan’s “Champs de Petrol (Petrol Fields)”, which was part of an exhibition from the Barjeel Art Foundation Collection on the second floor. I quite liked all of it, but for the sake of bringing this blog to a graceful close, here is just the one:

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4:30pm: HOMEWARD BOUND

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And finally, from the top of the double-decker bus, I snapped a triumphant pic of a glorious and full day. London traffic is a force to be reckoned with, so I had a full half hour to cruise at a higher altitude than usual & reflect on the many things I read, saw, and ate. Today was a good day, filled with well-chosen busyness and sub-par (but HONEST & AUTHENTIC) photography. Until the next jaunt!

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A Site-Specific Education

While I’d like to think that every college experience is tightly bound to a school’s location & regional culture in some way, my time abroad thus far has been both a lesson in the rich newness of my London surroundings and a distinct reminder of the ways I’ve been shaped by my Hopkins education. The level of rigor at UCL, although distributed differently — rather than several assignments throughout the semester and participation grades, I’ve got two huge essays per class and weekly small seminar groups — matches that of JHU, which made for a strange sense of familiarity after day one of class. The main library here shares the natural luminosity and wood-paneling of the Hutzler Reading Room back home, and the six different bus lines that stop by my apartment can take me just about anywhere I need to go in central London, much like the JHMI or Circulator. When my European poetry teacher began lecturing to us about the importance of critical engagement with the works and original analysis, it immediately brought me back to the extensive amount of time I’d spent doing just that during spring semester, and I gratefully realized how well-equipped my two years at Hopkins made me feel.

Still, almost every other aspect of being here is extremely rooted in my here-ness, from the very coin-dependent currency to the bitterness with which my English classmates discuss Brexit to the first wave of extreme self-awareness I felt after realizing I was one of the only Americans in a department with 160 affiliate students from all over Europe. On one of my first days in London, my dad and I went down to Westminster, and, in a characteristic early September, “Indian Summer” fashion, it rained the entire day.

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Amidst all of the logistical changes that were far beyond the scope of a Hopkins education, I wanted to ensure that even my courses here were equally attached to the special sense of place studying abroad provides. Luckily, I snagged a spot in an art history course on 19th and 20th century art that meets in a different museum or gallery in the city each week to discuss both the art objects in the exhibitions and their presentation in such institutions. In another course about visual culture, I’ll be learning about the way Berlin’s architecture and city space has evolved as a form of visual representation of its history, keeping in mind that I’m only a short flight away from visiting the city myself at the end of the month.

Small reminders of home seep into my time here in unexpected ways — like yearning to hear an American accent narrate an advertisement or wishing I could just drive to Target and get absolutely everything I need in the super mecca that it is. Outside of these, however, I try to be as present and site-specific as possible, even as I fight the fleeting temptation to wander into a McDonald’s or think about all the happenings my friends are enjoying back in Baltimore. Every part of my being here is an education in itself (minutiae-induced bouts of homesickness included), and with classes just having started this week — RIDICULOUS, I know — I’ve only just begun.

Duranya & I at peak American Tourist

Duranya & I at peak American Tourist

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Notes on Summer

I fully expected several things out of my stay in Baltimore this summer: the ability to sleep in past 8 on a weekday without feeling pressed for time and/or guilty about it, the end of my meal plan days (and the curly fries in Levering Hall), and finally getting around to some pleasure reading (i.e. starting June by reading this horribly depressing but ultimately very good book about WWI). I’d be starting an internship at The Contemporary and hopefully getting the hang of cooking my mom’s lentils correctly, even on our small electric stove in Bradford and with less than half of her knack for eyeing measurements out. But the in-betweens of these things have truly brought my summer here into full color — the moments of pure breathing space that generally speaking, during the school year, I’m unable to relish in lieu of upcoming deadlines and lots (LOTS) of pragmatic powerwalking

Baltimore in summer is a constant flux of traffic noises and striking tableaus of old architecture against a blue sky and not too many, but just enough people walking around Charles Village each day. Simple walks to the grocery store down St. Paul Street are accented by the relief of a cool breeze and at least three Dog Sightings, or the repeated realization that no, there aren’t any readings to annotate or intro paragraphs to write for tomorrow. So it’s totally fine if one of your bosses at your internship invites you to take a 2 hour long drive to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab at Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, and you say, “¡Yes!”

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The Park & Museum happen to be located on a beautiful farm that is proximal to an equally beautiful body of water and is basically heaven on earth.

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It’s also a place that makes fast, affordable (but still very exciting) travel within reach, especially when you want to plan a semi-spontaneous trip to NYC to see pals and also, you know, see NYC because you’ve only ever been there once in your entire life. And so you (I) go, and you (I) visit the MoMA for the first time and float on a boat in the Hudson River at nighttime thanks to JHU_Ian. Somehow, you’re back to Balti in 3.5 hours with just enough time to catch the tail end of HonFest and eat a home-cooked meal, no post-trip powerwalks to Gilman required. Thank you, Bolt Bus!

4 friends 1 boat, oh and there's New York

4 friends 1 boat, oh and there’s New York!

The moral of this blog is that a summer in Baltimore is far from a strange, parallel-universe-like continuation of the Hopkins school year, despite some initial worries on my part that I’d be unable to unscrew my headpiece and give myself some space from the full-time student side of my brain. I’m just getting started with it all — my internship, my grocery list, my ability to process having weekends off (the tip of the iceberg) — but if the first few weeks in any indication of the next few months, I think I’ll survive.

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35 Pages Later

35 pages. That was my quota for completing all four final papers I had in lieu of exams — and one final project. In the span of about a week and a half, I managed to pump out each of these double-spaced works of analytical word vomit on time, a task that seemed insurmountable as I gazed at my finals due dates in late April. I wrote my first 10 and 13 page college papers, which, I’m aware, isn’t a ton in the grand scheme of humanities life, but for me, it’s a new benchmark. And that’s just the start.

Spring semester was a ton of work, no doubt. A crazy amount of reading, writing, applying, and Gilman-ing may or may not have been involved. This is nothing new to the everyday ebb and flow of the storied Hopkins workload, save for one component: everything I’ve done this semester was fueled by a very pure strain of interest that kept me going through page 30 (and beyond) of whatever longwinded intellectual essay I had to read for homework. While I’ve had my fair share of interesting courses at Hopkins, nothing compared to taking four classes that I truly loved and seeing the hard work actually pay off. Still, the only way to plow through the heft and breadth of a full semester and finals period in one piece is to have a few essential people, places and things to keep you going. Such as:

A Study Space In Which You Can Eat, Work, and Breathe (physically and metaphorically)

HI JHU_Quan!

In case you couldn’t glean this from my blog name and myriad entries, Gilman is my place, my niche, the place I lay my overstuffed backpack and do it to it. This finals period, however, it was also my saving grace over any other study space on campus for a slew of reasons, including but not limited to: You can actually eat in the quiet reading room and not risk the awkward punishment of having a security guard whisper for you to take your egg and cheese sandwich into the cafe (@BRODY!). There’s a calming fluidity between the silent, stained glass-lit workspace of the Hutzler Reading Room and the airy slice of heaven that is the atrium, for when you need a coffee/socializing break. It’s open all night during finals — one of the many reasons I was able to get my mammoth of an essay on Mona Hatoum’s Variations on Discord and Divisions done in time. Gilman was my rock, the place I knew I could sit and simply be in the presence of many a pal, bound by focus and very different but equally strenuous finals loads (as well as friendship). In the photo above, JHU_Quan and my friend Hana take advantage of the first Gilman delight I mentioned by indulging in chicken tenders and curly fries in the broad daylight of one of the quietest spaces on campus — no scoldings over here!

A Quick Outing That Gets You Off Campus And Reminds You Of The Vibrancy Of Life — Preferably Cheap

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We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: JHU_Emily and I strongly endorse Baltimore’s art scene as an easy, fun, free and visually stimulating way to release some of the finals blues for a bit before returning to the tasks at hand: studying, writing, etc. A few weeks ago, the two of us, along with HI celeb JHU_Joseph and co, went to The Contemporary’s latest show, a welcome study break in the days leading up to finals period. The entire trip took about an hour and a half, and I was back on campus researching for the aforementioned essay before I knew it. Baltimore is the city of easily accessible and highly entertaining excursions, among other attributes, and I wouldn’t want to escape from finals stress anywhere else. IMG_0558

Of course, getting off campus and fulfilling academic responsibilities aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. Case in point: my good friend and computer music genius Francesca D’Uva enjoying the spoils a few dollars and some free public transport can bring: coffee, pastry, a rustic ambiance, and finals productivity, all within a 15 minute radius of campus. This is the stuff of dreams and of finals survival.

Last, but not least, a solid village of humans to accompany you in and out of the trenches

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At last, we’ve come to the cheesy bit! The amount of times I’ve counted on these people (along with several unnamed but equally important others!) to accompany me in Gilman burning the midnight oil and eating the midnight junk food over the course of the last few weeks — let alone the semester — is probably somewhere around 40. From Throat Culture to SAAB to strange classes about tasting food purely through smell, I’ve found a group of wonderful specimens here who are as down to sing Toni Braxton karaoke at a local club as they are to sit in The Hut for the entire day afterwards. I’m endlessly thankful to said people for being down for just about anything and everything it takes to survive the demands of both work and play that college entails. 35 pages later and just a few months before I start my junior year in London, I’m happy to say that I’ll have everything I need to get through countless more pages, finals periods and general tomfoolery right here at Hopkins. And that’s a great thing to feel.

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Cheerio & The Like

After months of planning, applying, and waiting, I finally found out last week that I’ll be going abroad in the fall. No matter how many times I tell people, it has yet to fully sink in: as someone who’s never been outside of the country and has made only a few excursions outside of the northeast, I’m having a hard time envisioning my corporeal existence on an entirely different continent for four months, let alone at a school that isn’t Hopkins.

The British are so warm and welcoming with their acceptance letters!

The British are so warm and welcoming with their acceptance letters!

I was accepted into the School of European Languages, Culture and Society at University College London, in the heart of the city. The SELCS program is an interdisciplinary humanities department that covers literature, art history, film and art history in Europe across various time periods and cultural revolutions. Basically, it’s everything I could ever want to study in my time abroad, all packed into one major. I had to submit a preliminary course selection with my application, but because of the way the system works and various other factors I don’t understand, I won’t actually know what courses I can enroll in until I get there. Still, something about this makes it all the more exciting.

As I think about my future time in London, I can’t help but think about how odd it will feel not coming straight back to Baltimore after summer’s end. It only took almost two years and a change in major to hit my stride at Hopkins, but now that it’s happened, I’m starting to realize how much I’ll miss when I’m abroad. It starts with the little things: walking to Gilman early in the morning to finish up work and get a coffee from Alkimia, meeting JHU_Emily in the atrium for mid-day chats and maybe another caffeinated drink, and the ease of taking the JHMI to Alloverstreet each month. Inevitably, I’ll miss the more technical aspects of my Hopkins life: the wealth of cool class offerings for the fall — Gender and Sexuality in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe, I’m looking at you! — as well as the groups I’m in (Throat Culture, I will miss you so). Still, I have to keep in mind that all of this will be waiting for me when I get back, and that the experiences I’ll have in London will only add to my years as a Hopkins student.

Whether I’m in Baltimore or at UCL, I can only be thankful for the opportunities that Hopkins has given me thus far, and the ones I have yet to come across. While I’ll miss the ease of being at Homewood this fall, I’m beyond grateful for the chance to study abroad in London, and to be frank, I couldn’t be more excited.

Things I'll Miss: Ebo scowling at Alloverstreet

Things I’ll Miss: Ebo scowling at Alloverstreet

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