Updates | 02

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Admittedly, I’ve been rather absent on this blog for a while, and that’s because the last few weeks have been an emotional free-for-all. This year has been an incredibly stressful one in terms of figuring out what I want my future to look like and the steps I need to take to make it so. And what I decided in all of my soul searching was that following the completion of my undergraduate degree, I wanted to get my master’s. So last summer, I began the process of researching programs, compiling letters of recommendation, editing my writing sample, and studying like a maniac for the GRE. When fall rolled around, I was doing all of that plus my schoolwork for my final semester, my duties as the editor of a literary journal and president of the English honor society, my work as a research assistant to one of my professors, and trying to make the most of the time I had left with my college friends before I moved back home. And I was stressed. I am someone who experiences stress both emotionally and physically. It caused my lymph nodes to swell, my shoulders and neck to develop severe tension knots, and my anxiety to spiral. But I got my applications submitted and graduated shortly thereafter, leaving me with a few months to decompress.

Fast-forward to March when grad school admissions decisions were being sent out. Because I am someone who wants to build my career on academics, I only applied to top tier programs. In other words, I had no safety school. But my GPA, test scores, and recommenders were really good, so while I was hopeful about my applications, I wasn’t too worried about them. And then the rejections started coming in, and I was crushed. One of the things I value most in myself is my intelligence, and rejection in an academic sphere felt like a rejection of what I saw as my most vital self. I was accepted to some programs but not given as much funding as I would have liked, and in my already discouraged state of mind, I counted those acceptances as nothing but softer rejections.

I applied to five schools, and by the first week in March, I had heard back from four of them – two acceptances and two rejections. The only school I had yet to hear from was my top choice and the most prestigious program I applied to. I thought that being rejected from the lowest-ranked program I applied to meant there was no way I’d be accepted to my highest-ranked program. But y’all, I was. I received the email right as got to my desk one morning and immediately burst into tears and called my mom and cried some more.

So I’m excited to officially announce that in the fall, I’ll be moving to England to pursue a master’s degree in English literature from Oxford University! If you’re a long-time reader of my blog, you may remember that I studied abroad at Oxford one summer and that I fell in love with it. I’m so excited to be returning and that all of my stress about my future and self-doubt over my abilities have subsided for the time being.

The point of this post – other than to keep you updated on my goings on – is that I’m an emotional gal. And that has meant that for the past month or so, I’ve been preoccupied with feeling all of my feelings and that blogging has not been something I’ve had the desire to do. But I’m slowly coming out of the funk, so expect to see some more posts from me soon. And within a few months, I’ll be coming to you from a new location!

– Lauren

Canterbury and Dover

IMG_5986Hey there!

One weekend during my stay in England, I took a trip to Canterbury and Dover, and of course, the literature student in me was incredibly excited to see two places of such literary significance. I took a bus from Oxford to Canterbury, which arrived in time for me to spend the afternoon exploring the town and attending an evensong service at the cathedral. The next morning, I took a formal tour. Canterbury Cathedral was my favorite church I saw throughout my entire time in England for multiple reasons, among which is its connection to The Canterbury Tales. Of course, its beauty had a lot to do with that as well. I cannot believe that a building like this one could have been built without modern technology. I highly recommend taking a tour.
IMG_5995IMG_6054IMG_6037IMG_6082As soon as my tour ended, I grabbed a quick lunch and got back on a bus, this time to Dover. Dover is on the coast, and on a clear day, you can see France from the shore. I was excited to see Dover purely because it is the setting of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” but it is also home to the secret war time tunnels.

The first thing I did once arriving in Dover was drag my friends around in search of the best spot to see the cliffs. As the bus dropped us off near the tunnels and the castle, we couldn’t actually stand on the cliffs, but we were close enough to see them and take pictures, and that was good enough for me. Then we climbed to the top of Dover Castle. Finally, we went on a tour of the war tunnels after waiting an hour to get through the line and almost missing our bus back to Oxford. Personally, I didn’t find the tour of the tunnels incredibly interesting. My favorite part of the afternoon was simply walking around with my friends.IMG_6086IMG_6092IMG_6098IMG_6128
IMG_6165IMG_6131Overall, I enjoyed my visits to both places and am glad I had the opportunity to cross them off of my list. However, I do have some tips for travelers. As for Canterbury, I found it a very uncomfortable place to be at night. During the day, the streets are lively and feel completely safe, but at night, it felt a little sketchy. Whereas in Oxford, I felt that I could walk around alone at night (I didn’t, Mom. Don’t worry), I went out of my way to make sure a male friend could walk me back to the hotel in Canterbury. That could have been the specific area I was in, but I would recommend going out in groups and staying at a hotel in a central location. As for Dover, the wind is ridiculous. Ladies, go ahead and put your hair up and don’t wear a dress.

Stay tuned for more study abroad posts!

-Lauren

My Favorite Places in London

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Hey there!

Remember that time I said I was going to write a series of blog posts about my study abroad adventure over the summer and then proceeded to write zero posts about my study abroad adventure over the summer? Yeah, me too.

Aside from Oxford, where I stayed, London was the place I explored the most. It was so easy to hop on the train to Paddington after class and spend the afternoon in London. I saw all the typical touristy things like Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and the National Gallery. I watched a play in the West End and toured the Tower of London. Incidentally, my favorite places I visited in London were places I visited on the same day. One Saturday, some of my friends and I headed into London and spent the entire day climbing to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, browsing Tate Modern, wandering around Shoreditch, fighting the crowds at Camden Market, and visiting the Arsenal Stadium in Islington.

St. Paul’s Cathedral. To begin the day, our program director paid for us to tour St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I saw a ton (and I mean a ton) of churches over the course of the trip, and after Canterbury Cathedral, St. Paul’s was my favorite. The architecture and intricate detail were so incredible. Photography wasn’t allowed inside the cathedral, but part of what makes it so memorable is the view from the top. According to the internet there are 528 steps (approximately 365 feet) to the Dome, and climbing them is hard work. If you’re claustrophobic or very scared of heights, I would not recommend climbing to the top, because many of the staircases are winding or extremely narrow. If you’re only slightly scared of heights, like me, definitely do it. From the very top, you get a breathtaking view of London. Warning: after you climb back down the stairs, your legs will be shaking for a while (even if you’re in good shape), but it’s so worth it.

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Tate Modern. As we walked across the Millennial Bridge to Tate Modern, the first thing I noticed was the live music being played along the Thames. One of my favorite things about England is that  admission to museums is free. There are so many great museums in London, but Tate Modern is definitely my favorite. I love modern art, and seeing so many amazing works of art throughout the course of my trip may or may not have provided the impetus to my adding the art history minor I had been considering for a while. I saw some of my favorite works at Tate Modern, including Lichtenstein’s Whaam! and Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych.

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Shoreditch. After leaving Tate Modern, we took the Tube to Liverpool Street and walked to Shoreditch. As soon as we reached Shoreditch High Street, there was no doubt that this was the trendiest place we had visited so far. There is amazing street art everywhere. I live in a place that does not allow displays of public art (which is tragic), so it was really cool to see the colorful buildings and fun murals. We even saw a Banksy. In addition to ogling over the art, we ducked into a vintage shop and tried on the most ridiculous outfits we could find. If I could offer one bit of advice about shopping in England, it would be to shop in vintage shops. They’re a little pricier than charity shops, but some of my favorite clothing finds – a green faux-leather midi skirt and men’s denim Ralph Lauren polo shirt that had been tailored into an empire baby doll top – were from vintage clothing shops. Afterwards, we asked a local where we should eat lunch and ended up trying Turkish food for the first time. Also, Shoreditch is home to the famous Brick Lane Market.

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I don’t have any photos of the last two places we explored. If I had to describe Camden Town in two words, I would choose crazy and stressful. It was so crowded I could hardly move around. However, there were some really cool stalls in the market where we picked up some souvenirs. Finally, we went to Islington to see the Arsenal Stadium. When we got off the Tube, I was confused for a moment. Islington was so calm and quiet, I didn’t think we were in London anymore. We walked around the stadium for a while before grabbing dinner at a sushi restaurant. Tip for American travelers: when you pay for your food in cash, pay with exact change, because lots of places assume any extra cash is a tip, and trust me, it’s really awkward to explain to the waiter that you weren’t actually tipping them and that you want that money back.

Clearly, this day was a busy one, but on the bright side, we got to see some really amazing places and got really good at navigating the Tube.  The train pulled into Oxford late that night, and by the time I made it back to my room, I was dead on my feet. Regardless, this day was one of my favorites of the entire trip.

Stay tuned for more posts about my trip!

-Lauren

Why We Should All Be Tourists

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Something I’ve noticed in my day-to-day life, but particularly during my time in England, is the negative attitude regarding tourists that, personally, I feel is a little uncalled for. I have friends who won’t take photographs on vacations because they don’t want to look like tourists. Several shopkeepers have sighed at me while I struggled to count out the correct amount of a currency that is unfamiliar to me. And multiple times as I was meandering through the streets of London, several people pushed past me on the sidewalk, annoyed with my pace.

Though I understand it can be frustrating for a native when visitors in your country interfere with your daily routine or prevent you from catching your train because they have no idea what they’re doing, those instances shouldn’t outshine or overpower the many valuable aspects of tourism.

I think back to a conversation I had with the boy who served me ice cream on my first day in Oxford. I expressed my delight at the beauty and history of the city, and he said, “You get bored with it after a while.” As an outsider, I could not fathom ever being bored with the incredible architecture, cobblestone streets, and cute little shops on winding side roads. But the more I thought about it, I realized that I do the same thing with my own hometown. It’s so easy to become desensitized to your everyday norms.

A tourist is defined as “a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.” Essentially, a person who delights in being in a new place and observing everything it has to offer: its food, history, architecture, and culture. Aside from the obvious economical aspects of tourism, that is its advantage.

Sure, tourism does a lot for the economies of certain places, but the value of being a tourist goes beyond that. Tourists aren’t numb to the gems around them in the way that many locals are. They allow themselves to be enthusiastic about things like architecture or the fact that the tax is already included in the price listed on the menu. They have no qualms about marching up to a red phone booth and posing for a picture, while the locals walk by and roll their eyes. They are willing to try something new at every restaurant instead of settling into a rut. Tourists know how to experience more fully the time that they have within a place. They can see its value and want to soak up every bit of it that they can.

Shouldn’t that be the way we always seek to live? As a friend recently told me “to live deep and suck the marrow out of life”? Tourists understand something that most natives do not, and that is that moments are precious and that every place in the world has something to offer us. Those moments and lessons and offerings should be wrung out as though from a sponge until you’ve gotten every little bit out of it that you possibly can.

So, no, ice cream guy. I don’t think I could ever get tired of the way the sun sets over the spires of the Oxford colleges or the fact that there is a tea room on every street corner. The mild summer weather and waiting for pizza from the truck outside Christchurch will never not be wonderful, and playing Taboo and laughing with friends in a pub will always make my heart happy. And if I’m going to trip as I walk down the street, I’m glad that it’s on cobblestone. I’m happy to be a tourist if it means that I experience life every single day as fully as I can, that I live it and wear it out like a favorite sweater or a beloved pair of socks.

Here are some shots of me being a tourist during my first weekend in London.

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Oxford Study Abroad

My month in England has sadly come to an end, and over the past few days, I’ve found myself scrolling through my own Instagram feed and Facebook album, trying to relive the memories. For the month of July, I studied at Worcester College at Oxford University, and when I wasn’t taking classes I was exploring Oxford and taking trips to various places within the United Kingdom. It was an absolute dream. Throughout the entire trip, I visited London, Canterbury, Dover, Stratford, Bath, Manchester, and Edinburgh, and with the help of my very beat-up journal, I plan to take you through the most incredible month of my life.

Worcester College, where I stayed and studied, is situated on the largest grounds of any Oxford college. The gardens are immaculate, so much so that there are certain areas where you can’t even walk on the grass. However, the open grounds more than make up for it. There was a small lake with swans and Romantic willow trees as well as large grassy fields to lounge and study.

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After I got settled into my room at Worcester and took a quick tour of Oxford, the first thing I did was go on a walk to University Parks and the suburbs to see J.R.R. Tolkien’s house and a bench where he often sat. One of my favorite things about Oxford that I discovered over the next couple of weeks is its rich literary history. Going into the trip, I knew that many world-renowned and canonized writers had come through Oxford, but the fervor with which Oxford celebrates its literary history was incredible to me. For example, every year on the first Saturday of July, Oxford celebrates Alice Day, which recognizes Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. People dress up in costumes; carnivals are held in the meadow; and there are even Alice-themed afternoon teas. And bookstores around town have special displays for Oxford writers, such as Lewis, Tolkien, Carroll, and Wilde.

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Afterwards, I stopped by The Eagle and Child, favored pub of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. It was here that they would catch up and read each others’ work. The pub is decorated with various Lewis and Tolkien-themed things, which serve as yet another celebration of literature in Oxford. It’s perfect in every way.

Stay tuned for more posts about my month in England!

-Lauren