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.
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.