Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tasmania



Bay of Fires


To celebrate the end of classes, six of us decided to travel to Australia’s only island state, Tasmania. We arrived in Hobart on a beautiful sunny day and proceeded to pick up our home for the next 5 days- a campervan. Traveling in our homes has seemed to be a trend for our trips in and around Australia. This van was slightly different than the van we drove in New Zealand. It was almost as big as a motor home and slept six people, a big difference from driving my little bug at home.

We headed off, slowly, into the city of Hobart. It was a very quaint city, no high rises or modern architecture. It was very reminiscent of a New England style town. We grabbed some lunch at a small café and sat down with our maps to plan our route. The manager of the café was even nice enough to tell us some of the must sees of Tasmania. Everyone in Australia is so helpful and friendly. After lunch we drove up to Mount Wellington, which had a beautiful view looking over the city of Hobart then came back to town to pick up a few things for our trip. As we made our way to the campsite, we looked up to the sky to find the most brilliant stars I have ever seen in my life. There were so many and so bright that there was no need for streetlights. We were able to pick out so many constellations, many of which I had never seen before, as well as seeing two shooting stars. As weird as it sounds, the air was so clean and so pure. It was so strange because I never noticed the air around me, but it was so clean and fresh that it made me notice. Great for the trip, but unfortunate for when I go back home.

The next day we got an early start and headed up along the coast to Cole’s Bay. The water was the bluest I had ever seen and as clear as glass. The rocks were a burnt orange color and when paired with the blue water made for an amazing view. We continued north to Wine Glass Bay. In the parking lot, we were greeted by a momma wallaby and her joey. It was so used to human interaction that it even let us pet its back. We then began the walk up to the Wine Glass Bay lookout. We had a spectacular view of the bay and the surrounding mountains. We then continued down to the bay. The sand was white and the water once again a beautiful blue. On the hike back up to the lookout, Samara and I started our list of 100 reasons we should not leave Australia!

The next day we continued north along the coast to the Bay of Fires. Getting here was somewhat misleading. We had been driving for quite a while, and ended up on a narrow dirt road. We thought for sure we were lost. Farmers on the side of the road were staring and you could tell they were chuckling at our huge van on the narrow road. We decided to continue and the road came to a dead end. We got out of the van to find one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. The sand was a pearl white and the water was a mix of turquoise and blues. There was no one else on the beach and it felt so strange to be completely alone in a setting that seemed to come from a picture book.

Our last full day in Tasmania was spent at Mt. Field National Park. We hiked a trail through a beautiful rainforest setting. It was so green and lush, unlike anything I have seen. There was even a massive waterfall that we hiked to the very top of along a trail. From there we drove down past Hobart to Hastings Caves. We took a guided tour through the massive underground caves filled with different rock formations, stalactites, and stalagmites. The guide even said that some people have had weddings in the part of the cave they called ‘the ballroom’. It was a fantastic trip and once again an unforgettable experience.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Melbourne Cup





Tuesday, November 2nd, is the day when all of Australia stops. Classes at uni are cancelled and businesses are closed. What is the special occasion? Melbourne Cup Day. This is the main race of the Melbourne Cup, which lasts almost the whole month of November. Various races within various states occur during the month. Not only was this my first time to a horse race, but it was also the 150th anniversary of the Melbourne Cup. It was definitely an experience to remember.
When we arrive to the venue the first thing I noticed was the fashions. Never before have I been to a place where large wide-brimmed hats or fascinators were considered the norm. It felt as though I had been transported through time back to the 20s or 30s. Some men and women looked so regal and sophisticated. Some of the women’s hats were absolutely gorgeous and seemed to resemble a piece of artwork rather than a headpiece. There was a fashion competition, Meyer Fashion on the Field, which showcased some of the best-dressed women attending the race.
Upon entering the stadium area, I realized why this is known as the day when all of Australia stops: It is because they are all at the race. The sheer number of people was overwhelming. We were in the general admission section, which meant pushing through crowds and crowds of people to find a place to stand where we could somewhat see the races. There were ten races that day total, the seventh one being the cup race. Each race was relatively short, so there was a lot of standing around in between races, but the people watching kept us occupied. At the fifth race I decided to place a bet in order to truly get the horse racing experience. We walked up the stairs to the betting area and entered what seemed to be another world. Boards were everywhere listing the names of the horses with different numbers on either side. People seemed to be speaking a different language as they handed over their money, hoping their horse would win. I get in line and listen to the pros as they place their bets. As I wait, the man in front of me put down $150 on one horse. I followed with a measly five dollars. Unfortunately my horse did not win, but it was all part of the experience.
The Cup race was probably the most exciting. It was the big race of the day, and a lot of people had money riding on it. The rain didn’t affect anyone’s enthusiasm. You could hear the pure power of the horses as they sprinted past. They are much faster than they appear on T.V. and extremely beautiful. The victor of the race was an underdog with ten to one odds. The horse, ironically, was named Americain.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Studying at Swinburne

Swinburne University Campus


This past week proved to be uneventful in terms of exploring but very eventful in terms of schoolwork. Next week is already the last week of classes for the semester. Needless to say there is a great deal of papers or projects due in the coming weeks. Final papers range anywhere from 2,000-3,500 words and are nothing extremely difficult or different from writing a paper at Drexel. Despite this, it seems to be much more difficult here to focus. I think everyone has been so used to travelling or exploring (when not in class) that sitting down to write a paper seems so uneventful and dull in comparison. What also is unusual is that for every class I am taking, there are 2 or 3 grades total for the entire semester. There is a midterm, final, and occasionally another small assignment. Work comes in waves; on a normal week to week basis, our responsibilities are to go to class. Then once midterms start you are hit with work all at once. It is very strange because I am not really stressed about my assignments, which is very different from when I am at Drexel. I think it really is reflective of the attitude of students here as well as the professors. My philosophy professor was describing the requirements for our final paper and what he was hoping to see in our papers. A student raised the question about the due date, making sure what was written in the syllabus was correct. The teacher replied with a response similar to, “Yes you can hand it in then if you’d like, but I just need it by the last week of classes.” This lax attitude with deadlines was something I have never really experienced, especially with something like a final paper.

I suppose that the difficulty in getting started with papers and assignments is that I am taking classes different from those I am used to taking. I am taking my first college philosophy class, which is definitely challenging since it really requires me to change my normal way of thinking, looking beyond the face value of concepts or ideas. Two of my other classes deal with Australian history. One of these classes looks at the political history or Australia. It is a topic of which I have no previous knowledge and although Australia’s political system is somewhat similar to the one we have in the states, there are some great differences. Even the names of the political parties can be confusing. My other Australia class covers the very beginnings of Australia, from its original inhabitants, the Aboriginals, to modern day society. We covered topics such as Aussie slang (which proved to be very helpful), lifestyle, the natural wonders of Australia, and Australia’s role within a global context.

I think that studying in Australia has given me the great opportunity to not only learn about the area within a classroom setting, but also explore the place which I am learning so much about. If the trade off for the experiences are papers, I can handle doing the work. But fortunately we still have about a month, which means more adventures to come!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spring in Melbourne

Elephants at the Melbourne Zoo

This week the warm, spring weather continued in Melbourne. Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, we went to St. Kilda beach, just outside of Melbourne. We had visited the area shortly after we arrived in Melbourne, back in July, which would have been winter. Needless to say this visit was much different. The beach was full of people laying out, walking, eating or riding bikes. The city definitely came alive with the signs of spring. We had a great time just relaxing in the sun and playing games on the beach. Unfortunately the water was still too cold to go for a swim, but we were brave enough to dip our toes. As the sun went down we decided to explore the town of St. Kilda. We ventured to Luna Park, a small amusement park close to the beach. The rides were pretty similar to those in the states, like the “pirate ship.” The smells of amusement park food were too much, so some of us just had to give in to a warm, jam filled doughnut. After leaving the park we continued to explore, walking down some of the main streets of St. Kilda. The town was bustling with people out eating and drinking. So many restaurants had outside seating with tables along the sidewalk. The smells were making everyone hungry so we decided to stop somewhere ourselves. We found this really interesting and small restaurant called Lentil as Anything. It was strictly vegetarian and vegan, with a small but delicious menu. What made this place so different was the pricing…there was none. The restaurant truly operates on the generosity of others. The menu says to pay whatever you feel the meal was worth. The restaurant started out as a hang out for local artists and musicians. Sometimes, money was low, but the restaurant provided them with food, telling them to pay whatever they could at the time. When weeks were good, people would often pay more in order to compensate for previous weeks. I couldn’t believe it. I never heard of anything like that in the States, nor am I sure if something like that would work. The food was delicious too! It was a very eclectic place and somewhere slightly off the beaten path. It still had a real sense of community and tourists were not in sight!

Unfortunately Saturday’s weather was not as nice, but we had a trip planned to the Melbourne Zoo. It was a lot of fun, considering the last time I went to a zoo was about ten years ago. The best part was that a baby elephant had just been born in September, so we were able to see it. He was so precious, and seemed so small compared to his mother. As they were eating, the baby got in the mother’s way, but she just pushed him away with her trunk and he clumsily moved to the side. It was pretty funny to watch the dynamics between the baby and the mother. We also were able to see a silverback gorilla. He was so big, and slightly intimidating. The orangutans were also really cool, swinging from rope to rope and just hanging by their arms as if it were nothing. I really felt like a little kid again, being so fascinated by all the animals.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Flying By

Melbourne City

It is hard to believe that there are only three weeks left in my semester abroad. Time has seemed to fly by, so much so that it feels like I arrived in Australia yesterday. Along with the closing of the semester come finals and papers. At Swinburne, a semester is made up of twelve weeks of classes (not including the week of spring break). At the end of classes, there is a week study period before exams begin. The exam period lasts roughly two weeks, so you have ample time to study and the possibility of breaks between each exam. Luckily, I only have one exam, which isn’t until the end of November, so I will have plenty of time to study. I also have three papers to write which are due earlier in November.

While thinking about the preparation and work for papers and exams, I also think about leaving Australia, which has come to feel like home. I have had so many great experiences here and I can’t imagine leaving. Looking back at mid-July (before I left for Melbourne) I remember thinking that four months away would be so hard and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I already changed my plane ticket home to a later day once, so I guess it is fair to say that I have found plenty to do with myself here in Australia. I recently presented the idea with my parents about staying until the end of December, but that didn’t exactly fly with them. I think that if I had the money, I would definitely stay longer. Although I feel as though I have taken advantage of every opportunity and traveled a great deal, there still seems to be so much more to experience and see. As I am nearing the end of my stay here, I realize how much more I want to see and do before I leave. This experience has definitely instilled an even stronger desire to travel all over the world (for more than just a vacation). This experience has made the world seem so much smaller. I have even started thinking of where to work after I graduate from Drexel. Before, I only thought of places in the States, but now the possibilities of where I could work and live seem endless; the world is at my fingertips.

I not only think of leaving the beautiful country of Australia, but also the people I have met. I have gotten to know people from all over the world, each story and way of life uniquely different than the other (as well as mine). I have learned so much from other people and have formed some wonderful friendships. It is hard to think of us all going our separate ways. I am so glad that I have taken this opportunity to study abroad. Places I have been and people I have met have truly impacted my perceptions of life and culture. I am very glad I still have more time to experience everything Australia has to offer.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sydney

Surfers at Bondi Beach
Sydney Opera House

This past weekend we ventured to the most famous city in Australia- Sydney. A short flight from Melbourne, only about an hour, Sydney is one of those iconic cities that you must visit. Culturally, it is very different than Melbourne. Walking around the city, Sydney really reminded me of Philadelphia or New York, due to its similar layout and the outward appearance of some buildings. The people also seemed much more uptight than the citizens of Melbourne, but everyone was still very nice and helpful. Because it is such a popular city, Sydney seemed to have a great deal more tourists than Melbourne. It was difficult to find a resident of Sydney on the street to get directions. Sydney was also more expensive, not really appealing to a college student budget.

This was my first true experience of hostel life. We stayed in hostels on our New Zealand trip, but the in the hostel in Sydney twelve people, some strangers, shared a room as opposed to only six (all of whom I knew). Some roommates were messy and slamming doors and loud voices often interrupted sleep, but I also was able to meet some new and interesting people. Some people actually lived in the hostel, like an apartment. It was really strange to see people sitting in the common area all day watching T.V. I didn’t understand why they weren’t out exploring the city!

The first day we decided to see some of the famous sights of Sydney. First we went to the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Since the famous climb across the bridge would cost $200 we decided to walk up one of the pylons for $9 instead. At the top we had some great views of the city, the bridge, and the famous Sydney Opera House. It was really beautiful. Inside the pylon there was also a mini museum that displayed pictures with interesting facts about the bridge and its construction. From there we walked through “the Rocks”, which is the historic part of Sydney. There was a street market with a variety of food, crafts, and clothing. Samara and I were even able to find our first soft pretzel (one thing we both miss from the States).

From the Sydney Harbor Bridge, we walked around the harbor to the Sydney Opera House. It was so amazing to see it in person and proved to be much more impressive than pictures. We took a tour inside the Opera House and were able to sit in the opera theater as well as the drama theater and the Utzen room (dedicated to the architect of the Opera House). It was so interesting to learn about the building process and history of performances.

The next day we went to Bondi beach, which has become a destination for both locals and travelers. Little beach shops lined the streets as well as restaurants and cafes. We spent most of our time there walking around and taking in the sights. Unfortunately, it was too cold to test the waters. Later, we went back to Sydney and took a free walking tour of Sydney. Our guide was very enthusiastic and kept the tour fun and lighthearted. It was a great way to get to know our way around the city as well as the history of Sydney.

The three days in Sydney flew by quickly, but we were able to see a lot and experience the cosmopolitan vibe of the famous Australian city. I would like to go back before the end of my stay in Australia.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hiking the Frans Joseph Glacier
Our camper van- Hibiscus

Bungy Jumping

This past week was the week- long mid-semester break, a time to escape the classroom and reports. Wanting to take full advantage of our location, on the opposite side of the world, six of us decided to take a trip to the south island of New Zealand. Weeks of planning and preparation finally arrived and the trip didn’t disappoint. We accomplished so much in ten days that it would be hard to write it all in a short blog, so I will just highlight the major events.

We started by running through the airport trying to catch our flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. Luckily, we made it and were able to begin our trip on time. In Christchurch we picked up our homes for the next 10 days- camper vans. They resembled the hippie vans of the 60s, with graffiti artwork covering both sides. Inside was a makeshift bed of foam pads, a cooler, propane tank, dishes and a pump sink. It was here that we would, eat, sleep, and drive for the next 10 days (a life with no phones, internet, or facebook). We packed up all our belongings and headed north. Our first stop was to see the seal colony in Kaikoura. Standing along the coast, we overlooked rocks covered with seals, all shapes and sizes. Driving a little further we went to the Ohau waterfall. Here there were seal pups swimming and playing. It was amazing and the pups were absolutely adorable. I was able to venture out on a rock close to the shore and a seal pup came right up to where I was sitting. It looked up at me with its big eyes and touched my sweatpants with its nose. I was never so close to a seal in its natural habitat.

From there we traveled to Abel Tasman, where we spent a whole day kayaking in Tasman Bay. It was absolutely beautiful. The water was so blue and crystal clear and gorgeous sandy beaches lined the coastline. There were two islands that we were able to stop and explore. We stopped and had our picnic lunch on one of the islands. It was beautiful and sunny and I felt as though I was in a travel brochure. We continued around the island, but unfortunately our ride into shore was not as leisurely as the ride out. The wind began to pick up and white caps covered the bay. Waves were splashing into our faces and no matter how hard we paddled, it seemed as if we could not move. Luckily my kayaking partner and I had a sense of humor and eventually made it back to shore. It is safe to say that we all slept well that night.

Leaving Abel Tasman, we traveled down the west coast. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. Looking back at all the pictures taken, none of them did it justice. After two days of driving and stopping at other cities we arrived in Frans Joseph. It was here that we hiked the Frans Joseph glacier. Our guide led us onto and through the huge mound of white and blue ice with pickaxe in hand (to pick away ice to create a better walking path) We were adorned with spiked hiking boots, hats, gloves, and lots of layers of pants and jackets. The views were spectacular and it was truly a unique experience. After hiking on the ice all day we went to the Frans Joseph hot springs to help get warm.

We continued down the west coast to the city of Queensland and the surrounding area. We went horseback riding just outside the city in Glenorchy. Here we did a three-hour horseback ride. The scenery was spectacular as we rode in the valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. We also learned that the surrounding area is where they filmed the Lord of the Rings movies. Unfortunately I have never seen them, but I will be sure to eventually to see if I can recognize any of the landscape. My horse, Oden, was a bit difficult to control, but it was a great time. We were even taught how to post while trotting, which was a bit nerve wracking but very fun.

The last major event of our trip was probably my most memorable. While driving we stopped at a popular attraction, the first bungy jumping sight in the world. We watched a few jumpers as they jumped from a bridge with a rushing river beneath them. The more I watched, the more I wanted to experience it for myself, so four of us decided to jump. I shuffled up to the edge of the bridge, posed for a few pictures, and immediately looked down; big mistake. But I decided to just do it. I would like to say that I jumped, but it was more or less fell off the edge. On the way down I tried to scream, but nothing came out. It was the most exhilarating thing I have done. I was so glad I did it and was the perfect way to end the trip.





Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shrine of Remembrance

At the entrance of the Shrine of Remembrance

This past weekend I ventured to the Australian Shrine of Remembrance. It was an assignment for a class to visit and write a reflection about the memorial to those Victorians who lost their lives in war throughout Australia’s history. It was a good chance for me to learn about Australian involvement in the major wars throughout history. I had this stereotype that Australia was never really in wars or suffered great loss of human life from past and present wars.

The actual Shrine was beautiful and commanded your attention as soon as you walked to the entrance stairs. The building was located on a hill just outside the city center of Melbourne. You could see the entire city from the balcony, which goes the whole way around the shrine. Despite the busy streets below, the shrine was very quiet and peaceful. Outside there was a tall memorial with a flame burning at the base. The “Eternal Flame” was lit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954 and has been burning ever since to commemorate those who died in World War II and their eternal life.

The most amazing part was the sanctuary. In the center of the sanctuary is the Stone of Remembrance. It is symbolic of a gravestone for all the Victorian service men and women buried in unmarked graves or overseas. It is purposely set to sit below ground level so that visitors must bow their heads to read the inscription, “Greater Love Hath No Man.” But this memorial gets even more amazing. World War I ended on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. Each year on Remembrance Day (November 11th) a natural ray of sunlight shines in from the opening in the roof onto the Stone of Remembrance. At precisely 11 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time) the sunlight illuminates the word “love.” Although I was not visiting during this time, seeing that memorial was truly a moving experience.

Another memorable display was the Gallery of Medals. All along the wall, enclosed in a glass case, are 4,000 service medals from different wars. Each single medal represents 100 Victorians who have served in wars and 6 who have lost their lives. Seeing the large amount of physical medals really put into perspective how many people actually died for their country. It really made you reflect not only the soldiers Australia has lost, but also those from the U.S. who gave their lives for their country throughout history.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Melbourne Spring Fashion Week



Looks from the Designer Show at Melbourne Fashion Week

Wanting to truly see what Melbourne fashion is about, I decided to attend a show at Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. I was so excited to see firsthand the new trends to hit Melbourne for spring. The designers (most located in Melbourne) included above, ALPHA60, Carly Hunter, Claude by Claude Maus, FAT, Jack London, Limedrop, Tesla, and Trimapee. Most lines included both men’s and women’s garments. The overall feeling of the show was very cognizant of the attitude and overall vibe of Melbourne: modern and urban. Most of the garments from FAT, Jack London, and Limedrop were very minimalistic in certain aspects of the design. Shapes were very simple, and seemed to be draped delicately around the body. The colors of the show were also a range of mid-tones and muted colors, while black and white seemed to dominate the runway. There were pops of color in the form of a tropical -like pattern as well as a beautiful coral color.

Another trend among all lines was the incorporation of menswear into women’s wear. Button down collared shirts and oversized blazers were combined with feminine skirts for a casual look. There were also a few dresses to graze the runway. Two of my favorites were a black one-shoulder dress and the one photographed above. The shape is simple, but the draping and folds made it interesting. I just think it looked so elegant and modern. Carly Hunter’s line was based off of a shear woven fabric with large solid dot pattern. It was probably my least favorite line due to the fact that it was very reminiscent of the 60’s and lacked variety in styles.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show. A few found it underwhelming, but I really liked the minimalistic and casual style of the show. Most garments were pieces that you could incorporate into their everyday wardrobe. At the end I could honestly say that I wanted to take home almost all of the clothing I saw on the runway. Now I am inspired to dress like a Melbournian fashionista, if only I could afford it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Local Status

Before coming abroad, I wasn’t exactly sure how classes were going to be set up in terms of our other classmates. There are other students from other schools here at FIE during the same time as us, but some are doing internships, some aren’t staying as long as we are, and so on. Bottom line, you take all of your classes with essentially the same group of Drexel students. This might sound boring, but it’s actually a great bonding experience.

Strangely, it’s a bit like being at summer camp again. Everyone really forms a special kind of relationship and bonds as a group. We are assigned a lot of group projects, but groups are easier to work with than at home because everyone is comfortable with working with each other and its really easy to get together and work on projects since we all live in the same building.

In addition to the schoolwork aspect, everyone is just as open about free time activities and social events. If you don’t have a best friend in your major before going abroad or your friends chose different programs, don’t let this be a reason that you choose not to come to London. Honestly, I’m really surprised at the rate everyone has been forming friendships and bonding with one another. It’s a nice unexpected aspect that I’m sure a lot of us will take back to Drexel.

In other news, I had my first visitors this past weekend. My two friends who were studying in Madrid, Spain for the summer came to London for the weekend and I think my roommate and I did an okay job at being city tour guides. By no means do I feel like a local yet, but I’m starting to feel like I really know my way around. I’ve visited Philadelphia and New York before I went to school and did my co-op there, but it’s a completely different experience actually living in the city for a significant amount of time. The same is true with London. Even if you’ve been here before, the day to day activities and living like a local for three months make it an entirely new experience. Realizing that you are starting to know how to navigate around one of the biggest cities in the world without so much as a fold out map is a pretty cool feeling, I won’t lie.

Mix matched prints and blue hair

So my roommate got it in her head that she wanted to dye her hair green. A lot of the other girls in our program agreed that they would get some brightly colored streak of color in their hair as well. But of course, who was the only person to go through with it with her? Me. A few phone calls to salons, a sort tube ride to Camden and fifty pounds later, my blonde hair has streaks of blue in it.

To be honest, its kind of exhilarating doing something so spontaneous and out of the ordinary to my appearance while I’m in London for the summer. It’s also really interesting doing something like dying my hair blue in a city like London in itself. People do whatever they want here- down to their hair, make up, clothes and behavior. Not in a rude, awkward, disrespectful way, but more in a liberating, free, accepting kind of way.

I have definitely noticed a gradual change in my personal style since I’ve been in London. I’ve been wearing clothes that I always want to, but never have the courage to wear at home. Knee socks, leopard platform shoes, mix matched patterns and now dyed blue hair. Going to school in Philadelphia, we are all so close to New York, the biggest fashion city in the United States. But honestly, it’s completely different from London and an atmosphere that I’m so grateful to experience.

I definitely feel most of the Design and Merchandising girls on my program and myself will take a different sense of individual style home with them after our summer in London. We just started our second five-week term of classes and one of our first assignments for Fashion Product Promotion class is to take pictures of street style. I’m really excited about this project because so many people dress so much more interestingly here on a daily basis. I don’t know how cliché this may sound- but Londoner’s daily dress is really inspiring to witness. It’s something you definitely don’t see at home. People incorporate trends into their wardrobe, but completely make the style their own. In America, everyone tends to adapt trends in the same way and everyone ends up looking the same. So if you want to do something out of the ordinary, like dye your hair blue or even just wear a bright color you’ve never been brave enough to wear at Drexel, you will definitely have the opportunity to do it in London.

Learning by doing

One aspect about our British Culture class that I really like is that a lot of our homework involves going out and doing research as well as learning about historic events that still have relevance today. For one of our group projects, we were divided into groups of two or three and assigned a specific area of London in which we were supposed to visit, learn about and take pictures of and then report back to the class about our experience. My group was assigned Brick Lane, which is a street in East London that mainly serves as the Indian district, but also turns into a hip, artsy area with vintage boutiques and markets. I really like learning from personal experience rather than simply researching on the internet and putting together a power point. It’s a lot more enjoyable to give a presentation when you’re telling your classmates about something you actually experienced, which I have found myself doing in this class.

Another benefit of these presentations is you get to learn about what everyone else liked about their assigned areas and what they consider worth doing, which is most likely what everyone else in the class will want to do as well. Our final project is a paper done individually which must compare and contrast some sort of parallel between American and British culture.

I’ve come to find that our teachers in London give students less format and structure. Here, I feel more freedom in terms of thinking for myself, sharing my opinion, project ideas and creative ways of presenting information. I asked my teacher about my idea of comparing the original UK television show “The Office” to the now insanely famous American version of the same show, thinking it might be kind of a stretch. My teacher loved the idea and immediately said yes. I especially appreciated that he trusted that I would figure out the best way to present my idea. Having less structure in the way in which I approached the assignment allowed me to learn a lot.

Traveling

Being abroad is a great opportunity to travel. So much so in fact, that there is actually a lot of pressure to go to as many countries as you can. One thing every abroad student must realize is that you can’t go everywhere and you can’t see everything. Finding tickets, mode of transport and places to stay can quickly add up, so most likely you won’t be leaving England every weekend.

Even when you are in London, there are a lot a great day trips you can take that won’t break the bank. A bunch of us went down to Brighton Beach the other day, which is only about an hour train ride from the London Bridge tube stop. A round trip ticket was about nine pounds I believe. It took us straight into the little seaside town of Brighton, which has a main high street the leads directly to the beach. We were able to find the beach without any maps or sense of general directions just by following the crowd that we exited the train with. We spent most of the day just lying out on the beach, which has stones instead of sand. The water was too cold for us to go in, but a lot of people were swimming. I think if we had waited until August to go, it would have been warm enough. There are tons of outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants as well as clothing and souvenir shops. There also is a Brighton Pier along the beach, which is just like a carnival or fair back home. We got back to Metrogate in time to have dinner and go out.

Honestly, you don’t even have to go as far as Brighton to feel as if you’ve experienced a different atmosphere. Going to different parts of London, even tube stops within Zones One and Two, can be a day trip even within itself. My roommate and I often pick a random tube stop that we haven’t been to yet and just go to it, get off and see what we see. I actually really recommend doing this. The unlimited Oyster Card (Metro Card) that FIE provides us with is really one of the greatest benefits so far.

The other day, my roommate and I randomly got off at the King’s Cross tube stop and ended up finding the British Library completely by chance. The actually had a free Ancient Map exhibit going on, which is how we spent our afternoon that day. London is such a huge city and I’m coming to find that there really is something interesting to see everywhere you go.

Taking Advantage of the Common Language

Upon arrival at FIE, one of our very first information sessions was a new student orientation that involved a short lecture on how we should expect to adjust to living abroad. This presentation was informative and a little comforting, but we were shown a “feelings graph” that was a little strange. It mapped the ups and downs of a typical abroad student’s emotional journey while studying in a foreign country. While I’m sure highs and lows of that nature could be expected somewhere more atypical, so far London does not seem like that much of a culture shock. I assume it I because of the common language.

I know many people wouldn’t pick London as their destination to study abroad in college solely because of this reason. My Dad was of this opinion when I was deciding where to study abroad. His reasoning was that living in London nowadays is just like living in New York, and for that reason I should pick somewhere that would be a little more “uncomfortable”, but in a good way.

After listening to him, I started thinking maybe he was right, however, although my dad does make a good point, I am starting to realize that I’ve made the best decision for me. I think London gives a Design and Merchandising student the best of both worlds. You’re in a whole new city and it’s a new experience living in a foreign country, but it is also easy enough to adjust that you could picture yourself living here one day. As one of the biggest fashion cities in the world, it’s great that we get to experience living here before we graduate. Kind of a preview, if you will.

I think studying in a country that speaks a different language would be great for certain people, but so far I’ve really enjoyed being out and talking to locals. This ability to converse with everyone is definitely adding to my learning experience. A lot of British people have just as many questions and preconceptions about life in America as we do about life in England, which can be really interesting.

I had someone ask me if schools really had groups. After talking them, I realized they were talking about American high schools and how they are depicted in movies with social groups like jocks, nerds and goth kids. Another boy started talking to me about Obama and how awesome it was that he came from a family with a single mother and is now the president, compared to the UK where everyone in power is a royal. Before we came to London, we were asked a lot about what preconceived stereotypes of British people we were aware of, but its funny to learn what they think about Americans as well.

Praha

Classes started this week. While in London, our semester is divided into two accelerated five-week terms, in which we take two classes each. For the first term, I signed up to take International Business and British Culture/Visual Media. Not enough people signed up for International Business, so it was dropped and I was put into an online International Fashion Merchandising class. So a) I get to take an International class while abroad and b) I have more time outside if the classroom to explore London.

Our British Culture class seems interesting so far. Don’t let the four hour classes scare you. The teachers know you are only here for the summer and take you on a lot of field trips during class to take advantage of that. I’m looking forward to our British Culture class in particular because a lot of our assignments look like they will involve researching by going to different places around London.

This weekend, I went on my very first weekend trip. A word of advice: while abroad, do everything in your power to get your parents to come visit you. Independence is great and all, but college students rearely get to take advantage of great meals and hotels. My parents have been to London many times before, so they wanted to meet up with me in a European location that none of us have been before. So, my roommate Ericka and I met up with my family in Prague, Czech Republic. We flew Easy Jet, one of the discount airlines that I’m sure you will become familiar with while abroad. (Note: Just because your tickets say your gate closes a half hour before take off, does not mean you have to run through the airport at 6 in the morning- it doesn’t really close.) Prague is such a beautiful city, and relatively cheap for the student traveler. As most of you know, the World Cup is going on and it’s a huge deal in Europe. We watched the US game with hundreds of people in the central square in Prague where a huge screen is set up for the games.

Budget airlines fly from smaller London airports, but it is worth it. There are a number of busses and trains that run to London Gatwick, Stansted and Luton at all hours of the night, no matter how early you have to get to the airport to make your flight. No matter your destination, there are always signs in English and easy ways of transport to the city.

Just touched down

I can’t believe summer is finally here! After a road trip to Newark, flight overseas, and bus ride to the dorm, we are finally at our new home in London. I definitely recommend the group flight. It was very easy to find other people on the program, and a woman from FIE was waiting to greet us with a Drexel sign as soon as we got off the plane. They also accommodated a double decker bus ride to the dorms with a tour guide to give a nice introduction to the city and answer any questions that we might have.

I have traveled throughout time zones before, but I must admit I still have trouble with jet lag. So far my roommate and I have been sleeping whenever we get tired and have been on never-ending searches for food in later hours of the night. London is different from Philadelphia in that when you’re hungry at three in the morning, you can’t just walk over to the 7-11. Here, you’ll most likely end up at Burger King if you want food past 10 pm.

Our dorm, Metrogate is in the beautiful neighborhood of South Kensington. I am very happy with our accommodations. I live in a generously sized room that I share with one roommate and we share a bathroom with three other girls. All of our rooms are very close together and people often wander in and out, much like freshman year. Our street, Queen’s Gate Terrace, is right off of Gloucester Road, which is full of cute shops and cafes. Metrogate is a short walk away from the Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Harrod’s, Science Museum, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace and Royal Albert Hall. (Anyone remember the Spice World final concert scene?) We live in a great area that is more residential than touristy, so I am looking forward to feeling like a true Londoner.

One of our first group activities was a walking tour around the city. The name does not lie; it was a lot of walking. But already, I feel better acquainted with the city. I was actually born in London, lived here until I was three and have been back a few times, but I know that living here during my college years will allow me to experience London as I never have before. If you are deciding between Study Abroad programs, don’t rule out a certain location just because you have been there before!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Graffiti on Union Lane, Melbourne

Touring the city of Melbourne for the past 3 weeks has been great. Viewing all the famous sights has been fun, but what I enjoy most are the hidden treasures of the city; the things that really give it character. There are many arcades or alleyways that include small boutiques, cafes, and amazing graffiti.

The other day we were walking around the city, seeing how Australian clothing stores compare to those in America. Bright and colorful graphics were peeping out from the corner of a small alleyway, catching my eye. I crossed the street to take a picture to find a long, narrow alleyway covered on both sides with graffiti. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. It took a dark, dingy alley people would maybe take as a shortcut to a colorful, vibrant street art gallery. The graffiti was mainly images, rather than words or slogans. There was a great deal of stencil work as well as freehand images. Images covered everything from the brick walls to the grated door coverings, varying in styles and subject matter. Some were attacks on politics or main -stream media, while others resembled the works of Tim Burton.

As I walked around Melbourne, I paid more attention to the graffiti culture around the city. I had never seen anything like this in Philadelphia. The graffiti here could be comparable to the murals painted on the sides of certain buildings in Philly, but I think the graffiti offers an urban culture vibe. Although most graffiti images are illegal, people seem to like this style and what it brings to the city. Many galleries are showing “street art” and famous graffiti artists are now starting their own businesses. A specific crew, known as the “Citylights”, has started a 24- hour light box gallery in a dead-end alley. Every month they have a new exhibition. The medium is images, inspired by street art printed onto vinyl and placed in a light box. It is amazing how "street art" can spread into different avenues and how a city culture can embrace it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Prague Bucket List


It is my final week studying in Prague, and I am sad thinking that next weekend I will be leaving Prague and continuing my travels throughout Europe. The four week program went by so quickly; it all seems a blur. My classes for the most part were very relaxed and laid back, so I found myself really enjoying the time spent “in class”. The group as a whole got along great, we were always doing something together, so it’s no wonder how time flew by.

Since it is my last week, I am trying to cram in all the tourist attractions that I kept putting off. This week, before my afternoon classes I went to Prague’s famed TV Tower, which is perched quite high on a hill. The TV tower can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city. Although, it always seems to be in the distance. There is a metro stop for the area around the TV tower, so it’s easy to access. I wanted to visit the TV Tower not only for the landscape view of the city but also for the unique art installation on the exterior.

Prague TV Tower

The Prague TV Tower has quite a few large sculptures of babies crawling on the tower, and they are visible from afar as well. Although you cannot make out what the figures actually are until much closer, it’s obvious that there is something on the tower. The babies are an art installation piece by famed Czech sculptor David Černý. The babies are made of fiberglass so they are pretty lightweight considering their size.The babies were originally suppose to be a temporary exhibit, however the citizens of Prague grew so found of them, the city decided to keep the installation installed permanently.

The TV Tower babies were so popular more were created and placed on Kampa Island near the Charles Bridge. Later that day my group went to go see the babies on the ground. Once I was face to face with the babies, I realized that they did not have faces! I did not notice these unique traits on the tower babies because they were placed so high up. I thought the babies on the ground were quite large, but I later found out that the babies on the tower are actually twice as large compared to the size of the ones on Kampa Island. Those are some large babies and large sculptures!

The Baby Sculpture on Kampa Island

The few other things on my Prague Bucket List include: dinner at Clear Head Vegetarian Restaurant, The Kafka Museum, and going up inside the Astronomical Clock to view Old Town Square from above!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Samara and I at our first Aussie Rules Football Game

If you truly want to experience Australian culture and mingle with the locals there is only one thing you can do- go to a Footy game. Mainly popular in Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria, Australian Rules Football is a very popular winter sport. Fans battle the cold, and usually unpredictable weather, to come cheer on their home team.

Twelve of us ventured to cheer on our local team the Hawthorn Hawks on Saturday morning at the famous MCG Center (Melbourne Cricket Ground). We were pleasantly surprised to get $13 dollar tickets that allowed us to sit 5 rows behind the goal posts, a deal rarely heard of at any professional sporting event in the states! As the Hawks battled the Melbourne Devils I learned a great deal about this Australian pastime. Besides actually learning the rules of the game, I was also introduced to some common passionate (and colorful) phrases of fans, much like American sporting events. A popular way for fans to show their team spirit is to wear scarves with their team’s colors. Looking around at so many necks adorned with stripped scarves made me feel as though I belonged at a Harry Potter Festival. Another fun aspect of the game was that both teams had songs, much like anthems, that fans knew by heart and recited as their team took to the field. Although we did not know the words to the Hawks song, the tune did resemble the famous American song Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The game lasted about 3 hours (total playing time) but I was never bored or ready to leave. There was always something happening. Very few times was the game stopped for penalties, and there are no such things as “time-outs”. The game is extremely physical, bodies constantly being thrown to the ground (keep in mind players wear no types of padding). Scoring occurs relatively often, with two different types of goals. Kicking the ball through the middle post results in six points, while kicking the ball through the side posts is one point. Lucky for us, the Hawthorn Hawks came out on top and continue their run to the Grand Final. The final game is a huge event in Western Australia, one that requires the purchase of tickets months in advance. Although I will not be able to attend the game, I will definitely be watching, hopefully having a reason to wear my yellow and brown-stripped Hawthorn scarf.