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.


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.


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!