Monday, May 30, 2011

On Going Home

The other day, I dissolved into a puddle of worry. Don’t ask me why; it’s something I’ve done regularly since I was still in single digits. After thinking about what reasons I could possibly have for feeling this way- after all, my exam was over and my family is coming soon- I realized that the reason was mostly that I felt time here running out. There’s still so, so much I haven’t done here. A lifetime in London would not be enough to do everything offered here, and I wish I had that long to try.

The truth is that after nearly five months, I still don’t miss home. I miss the people, definitely- the closer going home gets, the more excited I get to see them. But I could happily never go back to America and not miss the places I’ve lived.

I thought I would miss driving- I lost out on five months of quality singing-with-myself time- but I don’t. To be honest, as much as I do enjoy singing in my car, driving still makes me really nervous and the tube has its transportation perks. Besides there being no traffic, one of my favorite places to read is the tube.

I thought I would miss my school more, but again, it’s the people I miss, not the buildings and the campus. I don’t long for the theatre as a structure, but I’ve really missed having someone who cares about the upcoming season within shouting distance most of the time. I still wish I could have had another semester living with my wonderful friend Kara, but there’s a chance that could happen again, and perhaps in a space that’s bigger than 10’x15’.

It bothers me that I still remember what a drive to work looks like and that an American accent still sounds normal to me. (This is my own fault though, because it’s the fact that an English accent sounds normal, as I spent a good deal of the last ten years listening to Harry Potter on tape and watching English movies.)

One of the things that is stupidly worrying is that I won’t be able to read the authors I’ve gotten into while I’ve been here, namely Angela Carter and Maggie O’Farrell. There’s such a different writing style here that I don’t think their books will be sold in America. This worry is stupid, however, because Amazon exists.

I realized a few weeks ago that I didn’t have any British souvenirs for myself. No problem, I thought. There are souvenir shops everywhere. I’ll just go out and get myself something with the British flag on it- easy. Not easy, as it turns out. I wrote yesterday about how the urge to buy everything relating to your adopted country will fade after a few weeks. After a few months, buying it becomes a laughable thought. I’ve wandered around at least three souvenir shops, looking at crystal Big Bens and Union Jack tins, as well as a nauseating amount of royal wedding stuff (it will never go away. It will be in the landfills thousands of years from now), and I didn’t want any of it. None of it was appropriately symbolic of my experience, but somehow I feel like if I don’t buy something with the British flag on it, I’m not doing it right. Eventually, I bought a tiny British flag for one pound. I haven’t bought any other souvenir-y type things for myself, and I don’t know if I will. How can I represent an entire experience in a magnet shaped like a post box?

It’s going to be really hard to leave London. Just the thought makes me want to cry. The feeling is even more acute at this moment for two reasons: the first because Adrienne and I just got back from an AMAZING production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe (more about that later) and the second because when I returned and checked my e-mail, I had a personal invitation to audition for this short film that has an incredible script. It got such a reaction out of me when I read it that I have a physical ache inside that I can’t even audition for it- besides the fact that my family is arriving in less than twenty-four hours, filming goes until June 15th. Why couldn’t this have come up earlier?!

*sigh* London, I wish I could have you forever.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Advice Series Part 2: When in England...

Because I am the person from whom you want to recieve advice!

A few things that my mom wisely added to Part One (and you should take her word- she packed my stuff and will be helping me again for the way back!):

-Even if you can pack well and get everything you might want into one suitcase, double check the weight, check your airline for weight and suitcase size restrictions... if your bag is too heavy/large, you will be charged extra (many airlines charge not only for extra weight, but extra inches.)

-If you need to bring an extra bag, go on the airlines website; you can arrange to pay for the extra bag at a reduced rate.

-Remember, you will be completely in charge of moving your own suitcases around, so make sure they are manageable for you in size and weight.


-Get to the airport early. Like, really early. It may seem tiresome to arrive three hours before your flight, but this will allow you to calmly check- in (or, as my mother and I did, calmly try to find the place to check-in… Newark Airport is confusing.) This will also give you ample time to say good-bye, rather than having to run off to your plane with just a quick hug and a “bye, I’ll miss you.”

-If they give you the choice, go through the little scan-y machine because, let’s be honest… being patted down is awkward.

-Make sure you bring a jacket/sweatshirt/cardigan onto the plane with you. Airplane “blankets” are not actually blankets, and if you’re a normal person and sleep on a plane (unlike me), it’s probably easier to do so when you’re not cold.

-If you’re planning to stow your bag in the overhead compartment and you’re sitting by the window, try to take out the things you’ll actually use on the flight. I’m not talking laptops, but things like books. People don’t appreciate those that stand in the aisles picking through their belongings when others are trying to find their seats. If you have a smaller bag and plan to dive into it every five minutes, just keep it under the seat in front of you.

-As long as you get in line when your section is called, it doesn’t matter where you are in line. You have an assigned seat.

-Be conscientious of those around you on the plane. Check if someone’s behind you before tilting the seat back. If they’re watching a movie, you doing so will force them to slouch to see the screen (someone did this to me on the way here. I was angry.)


-When you arrive at the airport and go through border control, just answer their questions. They don’t want to have a conversation and the people behind you don’t want to wait as you make your attempts at conversation.

-Get a luggage trolley before you wait for your luggage. They’re really easy to steer and much better than lugging your suitcases around the airport.

-Realise how cool it is that all of the people waiting for friends/family members when you come through the arrival doors make you feel like a celebrity because everyone’s looking to see if you’re their person.

-Figure out which is the best way to get to where you’re staying (actually, this should be done beforehand.) I would recommend NOT taking the tube if you have more than one bag. Cabs/hired cars can be expensive, but check out those prices, because the tube will be awful with a big bag, especially if you take certain lines at certain times.

-Don't sleep if you arrive in the morning. You'll want to. You will experience a tiredness that is so overwhelmingly powerful that you will gladly lie on any flat surface if it means you can sleep for a minute. If you do, though, it will screw up your sleeping schedule (which, admittedly, is a much smaller deal when you're staying for a few months as opposed to a week.) We were also advised not to drink, but since that's not a concern for me, I never bothered to ask why.

-Wear the seatbelts on the buses. Yes, it's weird and uncomfortable, but it's the law. Just do it (and you will be hounded if you don't most of the time.)

-If you’re staying for longer than a week or two, unpack as soon as you can. Of course, go to any meetings and take care of getting the things you need to get, but don’t live out of a suitcase. I think this is especially important if you’re going to get homesick. Living out of a suitcase is probably not the best way to get used to the semi-permanence of your stay.

-If you’re living in a place that allows you to cook, go grocery shopping a day or two after you get there. There are some nice, cheaper sandwich places to get food around the city, but they’re not everywhere and even the cheap prices add up after awhile. Sainsbury’s is a great shopping place with good, low prices. There are huge ones around the city as well as smaller “local” ones. Other stores, like the co-operative, Tesco, or Budgens are a little more expensive, but still good choices.

-If you need things like lamps, blankets, bookcases, etc. to use temporarily, go to Argos. Their prices are cheap and you’ll either get what you ordered within minutes, can have it delivered, or can pick it up in a few days. There are Argoses all over the city, so just look up where your nearest one is.

-Go to the meetings you’re supposed to go to. Yes, they’ll probably be boring, but you’ll most likely get at least one bit of important information and they’ll probably give you a free pen or something, too.

-Just a note that if you only have a laptop (as opposed to a television, which you probably won’t have due to need of a crazy tv license), be aware that you won’t be able to play your own DVDs as well as renting or borrowing from a library because they’re in different zones.

-Talk to people. Get to know those with whom you’ll be living. This is the part I found hardest. Thankfully, I had a ready-made friend in Adrienne, and she talked to people while I lurked behind :p But definitely get to know your residence-mates. While I know and like two (three, including Adrienne) people in my flat, I haven’t had a single conversation with the other three.

-More about Oyster Cards: if you’re going to be traveling a lot every day (basically, going in and out of the tube more than twice), get a deal other than pay as you go. Pay as you go adds up fast, and it also holds you and your friends up when you have to stop and wait in line to top up.

-Get a street map and a tube map. You will use them during your entire stay.

-If you’re at university, do your required readings. The teachers actually use them.

-Don’t study too much. My roommate told me that the thing she regretted most about her time abroad was how much time she spent studying, and now that I’ve taken my exam, I can say I have the same regret. Studying is important, but you only have a limited amount of time in your temporary home.

-Go places. Especially if you’re in London, there is so much you can do spur of the moment. There are museums and festivals and exhibitions a lot of them are free.

-Go places by yourself sometimes. Friends are lovely to visit places with, but when it comes to museums, exhibitions, etc., especially those that you’re really interested in, it’s nice to not feel that you have to go slower or faster.

-That said, travel with your friends. Or your family. Just travel with someone. This is for a few reasons. First, for safety. Second, for cost (hotel/hostel rooms, etc.) Thirdly, as I discovered when I went on the countryside tour on my own, good experiences can be had without friends along… but then there’s no one with whom to reminisce. It’s a little lonely.

-It doesn't rain here as much as you might think. I kept track on my calendar, and as of today, the final count is 37 instances of rain in nearly five months. The lovely thing about London rain is that it rarely pours and when it does rain at all, it's short and the rest of the day is fine. Like I wrote last time, I've worn my Wellies only twice.

-London has a night life, but it's mostly pubs. Shopping and the like cannot be done after about six pm because everything closes down. It's annoying at first, but then you get used to it.

-About pubs: pubs are cool and different from American bars. Some are more similar in that they play loud music and are overflowing with drunk people. Others, though, are more for hanging out, with couches and things as well as the bar. I really enjoyed the one I went to that was like this, and there's not the same expectation to drink at these sorts of places. Also, remember that as much as you might want to drink (whether in a pub or at home here), the cost of alcohol, like anything else you'll buy a lot of, adds up,

-Two notes on traveling and souvenirs that contradict one another: When you first arrive in London (or any new, exciting place), you will feel the urge to buy every cool thing you see, sure you'll never find anything like it ever again. Ignore these impulses for awhile until you calm down about your cool new place of residence; in a few weeks, those ceramic Will & Kate masks will start to look pretty silly.
However, do remember that you may not be back for a long time or ever. This is especially good to remember when you're traveling to places besides your adopted country. Travel is expensive, to be sure, and I'm not recommending that you go crazy, but I had to remind myself while in Venice that I'd probably never be there again. It's okay to get souvenirs, but make them worthwhile ones and don't spend your life savings on them.

Next time: specific things to see and do!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cheery Chekov

Today was wonderful.

As you might have deduced, one of my favorite places not only in London, but in the world, is the National Theatre. It is my goal to work there one day because they put on such amazing shows with fantastic casts at very reasonable prices. Both Laura and I wanted to do the backstage tour as well as see The Cherry Orchard, so we decided to make a day of it.

It didn't start out well- though we left an hour early, our tube station was closed and we had to walk about a half-mile to the next one. The line we had to take is one of the slowest in the underground system, and we knew that in order to make the tour, we would have to run. And we did- we sprinted from the tube station to the theatre, only to find that they put an earlier time on the website so people will be on time.

I'd been on the tour before two years ago, but a tour at the National will vary from day to day because their shows are reperatory, which means that a show that's on today might not be on tomorrow. Our tour guide was great and we got to see some really cool behind-the-scenes stuff like an unused horse puppet from War Horse (which is one of the shows I wanted to see here and didn't), several sets, and some props being made. Sadly, we weren't allowed to take pictures, so I have none.

When the tour finished, we had about two hours before the show began, so Laura and I grabbed lunch and then took some pictures in and around the theatre (...we both really love the National.)

I will confess, the reason Laura and I wanted to see The Cherry Orchard was not because it was written by an extremely famous playwright. In fact, neither of us had a clue what the show was about. However, we are both huge fans of Zoe Wannamaker, the leading actress in the show. Most people know her as Madame Hooch from the first Harry Potter movie, but I became a fan of hers after watching the British sitcom My Family for many, many years.

Had she not been in the show, I probably wouldn't have seen it- all I know about Chekov is that his plays feature a lot of cold, depressed Russian people. And this show did, but they also made it really funny in places. The cast was great, and I was surprised to find out that Claudie Blakley (Charlotte Lucas from 2005's Pride and Prejudice) was in it. The acting was great, and I'm really glad we got the better seats so we could see everyone's faces. Zoe Wannamaker has a very distinctive acting style; though she didn't by any means play Susan from My Family, she does amazing things with her voice just like she does on the show. Claudie Blakley, too, has her own style so that even if you didn't recognize her name, you'd remember that you'd seen her in P&P.

I have at least two copies of The Cherry Orchard at home, but I've never read the play, and I'm glad I saw my first Chekov rather than reading it. The cast did a fantastic job with the material (it was technically an "updated" version, but it wasn't updated a lot; the dialogue was still very old fashioned), but I know that if I had been reading it, I would have spent the whole time thinking, "Stop talking about your bookcase. No one cares about your stupid bookcase" (which was monologued about for a long time. On stage, funny. On paper- NOT.)

One complaint that Laura and I had were the sound effects. Some of them just sounded fake, but others were confusing. This play was one you really had to pay attention to, and Laura missed one character coming onstage and asking another if they could wait to chop down the orchard until her mother had left the property. Because the chopping sounded more like a clock ticking than it did chopping, that's what Laura thought it was.

Overall, the play was really, really well done. The lighting was great and very detailed- they even put fireflies in the tall grass in an outdoor scene. The actors were wonderful and they didn't bow twice, which made me like them even more. Definitely go see this show if you're around London when it's on!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Advice Series: Before You Leave

I got a comment yesterday from Diana asking me if I might do a sort of advice blog for people who are or are considering studying abroad in England. I've decided to do it in a few parts.

While every experience is of course different, here are some tips that will be helpful for anyone thinking of studying abroad here :) First, packing and pre-travel tips:


-Make sure you get all of your paperwork done as soon as you possibly can. I was lucky to go through my school, which did a bit of the work for me, but even so, I was constantly checking up on them, making sure they got every document I sent in. Even if you’re a person who doesn’t like to bother people with questions (like I am), now is the time to get over that fear and ask. It’s better to bother someone now then to find yourself unable to go to England because you forgot to fill out a form.

-If you need a visa (which you will if you’re studying for any extended period of time), get on that right away. All visas take time to acquire, and problems can occur even if you apply for it way ahead of time, so save yourself a ton of stress and get it as soon as possible. After you've gotten your visa, make sure it's the one you need. Being told off by border control is only amusing when you know you have the right visa (which is another reason to know you have the right one: you can stand up for yourself.)

-Passport, of course. This also takes time, so (I’m already repeating myself) take care of it now. Also, vanity tip: if you’re eighteen or older, that will be your picture for ten years. Look nice (I did not follow this rule. I regret it every time I look at my passport :p)

-Collect any paperwork that proves you’re allowed to stay in England. For me, it was my acceptance letter from my university. They may not ask to see it, but bring it with you anyway.

-Print out your plane tickets in any way you can.

-Put all of this paperwork into a folder only for these papers. I used a bright-colored plastic one that Velcro-d shut so that the papers couldn’t slide out. If it’s a bright color, it will be easy to locate amongst your things.

-If you’re going to be using an Oyster Card (which is the easiest pass to use for buses, overground, and underground transportation) check out the options and order your card early so you can have it BEFORE you leave. It’s annoying and expensive to buy a day pass when you could just be using an Oyster Card.


-Pack only travel-size shampoo/body wash etc. This serves two purposes: you won’t have to worry about bigger containers breaking and leaking all over your things and you’ll have a little less weight in your bag. You’ll be able to buy regular-sized bottles when you get to England.

-As I read before I started planning for this trip, pack what you need, then take half of it out. I didn’t pack nearly as many clothes as I usually do to go to school, but it was still more than I needed. I brought things that I haven’t worn yet, or worn once. Some of these things are items I’d still recommend you bring just in case, like a pair of dress clothes/a nice dress. While it is one extra piece of clothing, it’s cheaper than having to buy a new dress for one event. But you really don’t need five t-shirts if you usually wear blouses. Try to pack things that can be put together into a few different outfits. If all else fails, remember that they do have washers and stores in England ;)

-Shoes take up a lot of room. As a shoe fanatic, I am sad to say this, but you don’t need that many pairs. I brought about eight pairs of shoes, and there are three that I wore just once or twice. One of those pairs was my Wellies, but even so, I would recommend that you bring a pair of those. Other good shoes to have would be sneakers, good walking shoes, and non-Wellie type boots, as well as a pair of nice shoes.

-Something to consider is that while you may get a certain number of allowed bags on the way there, you might not get the same allowance on the way back. This is happening to me- I was permitted two bags for “free” (included in my ticket) when I came to England, but on the way back, I’m only allowed to bring one. Obviously, this isn’t happening, but I do have to pay extra. It will be hard to pack everything into one bag, but if you can do it, I bow down to you.

-In addition to packing things that can make up a few outfits, pack light layers. The temperature can change very quickly here, and layers are also a good idea when you’re here in the winter months. December-February is extremely cold, and I often wore knee socks and/or tights under my jeans because it was so cold.

-Don’t pack heavy blankets or sheets- they take up room, weigh enough to make a difference, and you can get them for really cheap when you arrive in England.

-Pack stuff to decorate your room with. If you’re living in a place for awhile, you don’t want to have plain white walls; even a few pictures can do the trick.

-Put at least two changes of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost. It will give you some peace of mind even if you’re not scared of losing your luggage.

-Put something on your luggage to distinguish it. My new suitcase may be unique in its ugly rust color (sorry, Mom :p), but my other one looked like a lot of cases that are around. Tie a pretty ribbon on it or something else that will help you spot it.

-You can use space bags, but as I’m discovering, you may not be able to find a vacuum (or, as they call it here, a hoover) to use when you’re packing to go home.

-Don’t pack things like hair straighteners and curling irons. If you’re going to be here for awhile, it makes more sense to buy a cheap one when you get here. The fact is that it’s a really bad idea to plug your hair-doing appliances into adaptors; they’re too small to handle it and you’ll just end up with a broken appliance.

-Sign up for Skype. It’s free, and it’s basically the same as a phone call (except you can see the person, which is like a bonus.) It’s a really awesome way to stay in touch with people.

-In my opinion, it’s cheaper to get a cell phone there and pay as you go, but see if your company has an overseas plan.

-If you’re living in a flat or a place where you’ll have to do your own cooking, don’t bring over pots and pans. Instead, use a service like All Unied- besides having a ton of cheap-ish options, they’ll deliver right to your door. They also have packages that include pillows and blankets, and you can buy the packages or just rent them.

-Remember that you WILL accumulate stuff, even if you’re just here for a short time. As hard as it might seem, try to leave a little room in your cases for this inevitable happening. Shipping things back can be expensive.

-Be aware the English cash notes are larger than American notes and may not fit in your wallet. Also, that if you’re American, you’ll have a lot more coins than you’re used to.

Next time, arrival and things to do!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exam Day!

Today was my history exam. It's one of those things that, though you spend a ton of time preparing for it, you never expect it to actually arrive. On one hand, I was glad to get it over with. On the other, I wanted to study for the rest of my life.

My exam was at 2:30, and I decided to find the test location and study away from any possible distractions for an hour beforehand. I found the room and was told by another girl who happened to be there (who was also American) that I needed to know my seat number. I did not know my seat number. Thankfully, they post these outside the room... except that neither of our class' titles were up there. We found out later that those lists were for the exams that had happened at ten this morning. Finally, the proper lists were posted and we could find our numbers.

Everyone showed up really early, and as there are about one hundred and fifty desks in the exam room, that's a lot of people to have milling around for forty-five minutes. When 2:20 rolled around, we were let into the room, but only after we showed our i.d.s, because people often sneak in just to take a test for fun :p We had to leave our bags on the side of the room before going to our assigned seats. In addition to my history class, there was a German class and one other that I don't know the name of.

The booklets we used look a little like PSSA booklets, but with less annoying bubbles to fill in on the front. The guy running the exam time bears the title of "invigilator" which, to me, sounds like someone who leads you in a really intense workout routine or someone who will kill you with a machine gun if he catches you cheating. (The last page of the test bore the sentence "This is the end of the booklet If you need more paper, please ask the invigilator." My exam-addled mind, however, read it as, "Please ask the alligator.")

The exam room is the sort of thing you would only expect in the movies. Besides the obscene number of desks and people, there was a clock hanging on a big post as well as a chalk board that had the start and end times (written in miliary time) for each individual exam.

When we were finally allowed to start, I turned to the questions page and immediately saw that I shouldn't have studied so much. While I wouldn't have been able to answer all of the questions in essay form, I definitely could have done more than the required two. I was really nervous because it was an essay exam, and the last one I took (back at Arcadia) didn't go so well. However, the last one was also on a subject I didn't like. I liked this one, and once I quickly outlined what I wanted to talk about in each essay and began to write, it was just like all of the other essay exams I've done: tedious and not very enjoyable, but not terrible either. I think I did all right- there was a lot more I wanted to say in my first essay, but I had already used up an hour on it and had to move on.

I used an hour and forty-five minutes of the time, but couldn't leave because everyone has to stay in the room for the last fifteen minutes. So I sat there and listened to the rain pour outside (it's been a terrible rainy day today) and felt the tube roar underneath me (kind of loud and distracting during an exam, especially since it happens every two minutes or so.)

When we were released, I think I heard everyone audibly sigh as they left the room. Those exams are ridiculous- not necessarily because of their level of difficulty, though they are hard, but because they scare you into studying so much that to emerge from the exam alive feels like the sweetest freedom you could ever have.

I am very happy to be completely finished my junior year of college, even if it does mean I have to be a senior in the fall. Now I can just enjoy my last few weeks in London without worry about homework or studying. I got some yummy Indian food on Brick Lane to celebrate and now I am going to... well, do whatever the heck I want because I can!

Monday, May 23, 2011


My absence is again due to studying- I finally finished highlighting the even key-er parts of my key notes tonight and will be reading them over until my exam on Thursday at 2 p.m. But it's also due to the fact that I've been having some fun, too.

I was invited to a picnic in St. James' Park by my flatmate and friend Emmie. Technically, it was a post-exams picnic, but I was still allowed to come with my exams yet to be had :p Adrienne came, too, and we met at one to head off to the park.

We got to the park around two and were ravenous by then. We had all contributed to the food haul and it was a pretty delicious spread.

A fair amount of people were expected to attend, but it ended up being only six of us. This was actually a great number to have- we had some interesting conversations and I made some new friends, which is always good. It was warm enough to ditch my sweater and sunny enough to get a slight tan (or, in other people's case, sunburned.) All in all, it was a wonderful afternoon.

We stayed in the park until about six thirty and then wandered toward the tube. Adrienne and I broke off from the group to do a bit of quick exploring and headed back an hour later. Before we had left the group, Emily, one of my new friends, asked us to come to her flat to watch the new(er) Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch. Besides the fact that I've heard really great things about it, I was interested in seeing Cumberbatch in something else after seeing him in Frankenstein back in February. I loved the episode we watched- it's really funny and the series is set in contemporary times, which surprised me. Another surprise was that Cumberbatch's performance as Sherlock was amazing enough to completely make me forget about his perfect performance as the digusting and hateful Paul Marshall in Atonement. I hate that character so much that I was unsure whether I'd ever be convinced by him in another role. I was. We met again last night to watch the last episode, which was just as awesome.

This morning, I was supposed to have breakfast at Jamie Oliver's restaurant with Arcadia. If you don't know, Jamie Oliver is a very famous cook here who has had a million television shows. Unforunately, while I set my alarm, I neglected to switch on the actual alarm. We were supposed to meet at the restuarant at 9:30 and I woke up at 9:15. If the resturant hadn't been twenty-plus minutes away, I would have attempted to get there, but I hate it when people are late and decided not to be that person. Thankfully, the event was free, so I didn't lose anything but a hearty English breakfast. I was automatically punished for my laziness by the fact that the only thing I could do for breakfast without going shopping was a piece of toast and jelly. Oh, well.

Random but sad: I did my last grocery shopping trip today. Bye bye, Sainbury's. I will miss you, your funny wrappers, and your amazingly low prices.

In addition to my studying, I've been doing a lot of personal writing and I'm pretty happy with what I've done; even though it's just a single scene, it took me a long time to write it. Now I must return to said writing :)

Also- tomorrow, it will be a week until my family gets here!!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Juvenile Post of Contentment

Despite the constant grey weather and the rain battering my window, things are good around here, for a few reasons.

Reason 1: I have made a studying decision (now, calm down, guys, I know you're excited :p) I know that there's no way I'll be able to read 44 more sources in the next eight days- it'll take me that long just to get through my now thirty-five page-long document. I also didn't want to spend my final weeks in London sitting in my room. I am so, so much calmer after making this decision.

Reason 2: After a good nine months of trying, I finally got a response about this student film I did in March of 2010. I had a great time on the film but didn't get to go to the screening of it. The director finally e-mailed me and sent me a link to the film online and has promised to send me a DVD copy. I'll never watch it, of course, but at least I'll have it for a reel or something.

Reason 3: I finally got back to a script I've been writing for over a year now. It's been "done" since December, but I haven't read it since February, as I was focusing on my schoolwork and then my novel. I opened it back up today and... I don't hate it.

Reason 4: I did get more studying done today, and I'm feeling okay about my chances on the exam. Stay tuned for a freak-out later this week, though.

Reason 5: I taught myself how to make grilled chicken with seasoning. I am the next Top Chef.

Reason 6: I watched two good movies yesterday: Inception and The Social Network. Inception was cool and surprisingly good to write by- it helped me get through a scene I've been stuck on for awhile. The performances were all great, but I especially loved Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page. My viewing of TSN was my second in two days. It's that good. If you haven't seen it, you should do so. Well- written, well-performed, and just all-around good.

Reason 7: I went to Camden Markets again today, and though I didn't get what I went there for, I did get something else cool for one of my friends :)

Reason 8: My family will be arriving in less than two weeks!!!

Now I must get back to writing!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The London Look

I'm not really a fashionable person, but sometimes I try and one of the best places to experiment (and possibly fail) with your look is London.

Guys pretty much dress the same as they do at home and girls don't exactly dress crazily in London, but they're much less inhibited than Americans. Girls in America tend to stay with the current fashions, and they do this in London,too, but everyone adds their own twist.

For example, one big thing, and my favorite, is tights under shorts.

Many times, the tights are black, but other times, they're patterned.

Still other times, they're bright red. Or yellow. Or turquoise. And the shorts vary, too- I and many others stick with denim, but people go for black, flowered, checkered, shiny gold... you name it, they probably sell it.

Popular shoes for girls, and another trend I love and follow, are Oxford shoes (boys wear these, too, but the ones they wear are more masculine-looking.)
Before I came to London, I wouldn't have bought a pair of these in any color but black. After all, black goes with everything right? Well, in London, everything goes with everything. I bought a pair that's a bit lighter than the middle pair, and have worn them with way more stuff than I would have ever deemed acceptable. People also wear sparkly shoes in gold and silver glitter, bright yellow or red (often with their yellow or red tights), or flowered, among other things.

Dresses are popular but not as much as skirts and blouses/t-shirts. Jeans are in, too, but leggings more so (this is a fashion I refuse to adopt unless I'm wearing a dress/skirt. Leggings are not pants, no matter how skinny you are.) Bangles are big, as are big rings. Many girls tie their hair up with a scarf in a sort of Rosie the Riveter style.

There are many more fashion-y things that I'm over-looking, but really, in London, there are no rules. Once, a girl showed up to an RT class in camo pants and a sports bra (again... no matter how skinny or fit a person is, I consider an actual shirt a requirement to attend class.)
On another note, I got very little studying done today... it's all starting to sound the same and they're all citing each other, but I'm still not even halfway through the reading list- I have to read 45 more sources if I want to do that, which is not going to happen in ten days. It is very possible that I could fail this exam, despite the hours upon hours of studying I've been doing.
But I did do something fun today, which was going to Laura's drama practical rehearsal. They perform on Thursday, but their class is huge and there were never any tickets available, so she invited me to come and see their dress rehearsal today. It was a really cool piece and I'm really glad I got to see it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What Is Home?

I'm at the point in my stay in England where I forget that I'm somewhere besides home. Just now, I was talking to someone online and they brought up that I am, in fact, here. My reaction was, "Oh, yeah... I am, aren't I?"

I can't decide if this is good or just really really sad, since I leave in less than a month.

It's interesting how people, places, and routines become such a part of your life that you forgot you knew oherwise. It's startling to remember that it's not what you've always known, and even more startling to know that it's going to be gone eventually, and perhaps for good.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tension All Around

I don't like to study. Actually, maybe the problem is that I don't know how to study. I never had to when I was younger. Then I became old and had to learn more than two-page study guides to ace a test. My major actually requires lots of studying, since we have to memorize a good numbers of scenes and monologues per semester, but the difference, I think, is that memorization has a definitive end point- when you know it by heart, yay, you've done your job (well, part of it.) With regular studying for tests, you don't actually know what information will be useful.

Which means that after reading about nine specific sections in primary sources, I have thirty-one pages of "important quotes," put in quotations because who knows if they're actually important or not... and this is just a fraction of the stuff I need. I don't know what I do.

But whether I know what to do or not, this stupid list of books (to which our teacher wants us to add by ourselves) is staring at me from my wardobe door.

In semi-related news, things are tense here in the flat, because of exams for some people and because of the behavior of other people in the flat for others. Three out of the six remaining people here still refuse to do their own dishes or clean up after themselves, which means that our kitchen is in constant disarray, including a sink clogged by general grossness. When Adrienne wrote a note about this and left it next to said grossness, the offender maturely threw it into the grossness. Then another flatmate thought it was to her and flipped out on Adrienne. It's fun times here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In Which I Lazily Discuss Two Shows

I am tired. I am very very tired and I don't know why. Maybe it's because of the weather- it's grey and rainy. Or because I spent about four straight hours last night standing, three of those craning my neck up to see what I'll be talking about later. Maybe it's because yesterday was a day of grieving, as it has been for the past few years for my friends and I. Or because I've been going to the gym every day and living on much fewer calories than I usually do. Perhaps because I've been studying for about five or six hours every day and I'm sick of it. Or it could be a combination of all of those things.
In any case, it's annoying. I am not motivated to do anything. I waffled a long time about if I even wanted to do this. But things need to get done today, and so here I am, trying to kick start myself even though the day is almost half over.

I saw two shows in the past two days, and it was awesome. Thursday night, Adrienne and I went to go see Les Miserables at the Queen's Theatre. When I booked my tickets, my mom said, "But you've seen Les Mis a million times!" It certainly feels like I have, but the fact is that I've only seen one high school production of it; the feel of seeing it a million times comes from when I was in it, rehearsing many times a week for almost four months. And even though I know the show very well, I've never seen or been in a full-length version (there is a student version of the show.) And so I was excited.

We arrived at the theatre with plenty of time to spare and got our souvenir programs as well as our regular programs. We were displeased to discover that we were sitting amidst three rows of pre-teen and teenage boys. These boys all had extreme difficulty in reading their tickets. They stood at the end of our row (we were on the aisle) for a long time, trying to decipher what their tickets said. Finally, they realised that they were sitting on the other side of us and we let them through. But then it seemed they had still misread their tickets- half of them were in the wrong seat. They all got up and musical-chaired around. A older couple arrived and remarked that the two boys sitting next to me were in their seats. More shuffling around. Then came the sudden need for them all to go the bathroom/get snacks or drinks/stretch their legs... and they did it one by one, every twenty seconds or so, meaning that finally, Adrienne and I stopped standing up to let them through and just moved our knees aside. We were fully prepared to smack them with our programs if they talked during the show (to their credit, they didn't.)

The show was incredible. Three main roles, including Eponine and Cosette, were being played by understudies, but you never would have known. Javert was amazing (and the only American in the cast.) Our Cosette was extremely young (because there are multiple understudies and we were kind of far away, we don't know who played her, but they way she acted and moved was in a way that I think can only be done by an actual teenage girl.) Eponine gave me hope for my future because she was quite short in addition to being fantastic. I wanted to adopt Gavroche. The Thenardiers were disgusting and hysterical. All in all, the cast was great (and, even besides Cosette, it was quite a young one.)

With the perfect voices, the great acting, and the awesome sets, there was only one thing I didn't like, and that was the blocking (or, for those of you who don't speak theatre, how the director has the actors moving around the stage.) Especially for the first act, it was really awkward and you could tell that the actors were uncomfortable with it. Perhaps something had gone wrong and they had just restaged it that afternoon, but it looked weird. The worst instance of awkward blocking was when Javert jumped off the bridge. When he hit the "water", the director had him roll all over the stage. This looked so dumb that I actually rolled my eyes. However, if there's only one thing wrong with a show, that's hardly anything to complain about. Overall, it was fantastic!

(Oh, and I was surprised to find out that the edits they make to shorten the student version are not to clean it up- most of the vulgarity is in the student edition. It's mostly the extra narration that they take out.)

Last night, I went to see Hamlet at the Globe (or, as they make sure to say here, Shakespeare's Globe.) Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play, and like Les Mis, I'd only seen a shorter version before (not including movies.)

Since I didn't to be late, I left much earlier than I needed to, but my obnoxious earliness worked to my benefit this time- if groundlings (which is what I was) get there early enough, they can get right up against the stage rather than trying to see over the other people. Because I was so early, I got a spot right at the front of the stage.

The show was really great, and very different than I think a lot of productions of Hamlet in that it was very darkly funny. The jokes are in there, of course, but this company underlined them and did it well. They also incorporated music- all of the actors (besides Hamlet, who was a little busy contemplating life and such) could play instruments, be it a drum, guitar, violin, recorder, or tambourine. It was really cool, since they used it to accompany the songs they opened and closed the show with as well as using them to add to the atmosphere of scenes like those involving the king's ghost.

They also cast all of the actors (again, besides Hamlet) in multiple roles- Polonius was one of the players as well as the preacher and the first gravedigger. The king also played the ghost (which was a cool idea, since they're brothers), and a player. Since the show is a traveling show, they were very creative with how they cast everyone. Even with Hamlet, they went against the norm- he was really short for a guy, maybe 5'4" at the tallest (I think he was shorter, but it was kind of hard to tell from where I was standing.) Everyone was taller than him, including Ophelia, and they didn't shy away from pointing this out. I'm glad they didn't decide not to cast him because of his lack of height because he was really great. In fact, the whole cast was and I would have given them a standing ovation if I hadn't been standing the whole time.

(One thing that definitely detracted from the show was the fact that the people around me would not stop talking. I know your ticket was only five pounds, but did you come here to see a show or have a conversation?)

And now I must go try to get some things done. The thought of studying more is saddening :(

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Census

Hello, lovely blog readers! I'm sorry I haven't posted in awhile. But I do have an excuse and that excuse looks like this:

This would be just the start of my reading material to get through for my exam. We're supposed to be thoroughly read on four of the eight topics we were given in preparation for the exam- ahhhh!

But I'm not here to talk about exams. I'm here to talk about something that's been annoying me almost as much: the Census.

In the UK (and possibly elsewhere, too), the Office for National Statistics sends out an annual census, which keeps track of where people are when and their employment and marital status. It' compulsory to fill the form out, and if you don't, you get a big fine.

When the envelopes arrived in our flat in mid-March, I ignored mine, figuring that since it was a UK census form and I don't live here permanently, I didn't have to do it. Two weeks later, one of my classmates told me that because I was living here for more than three months, I had to fill it out. When I went to do so, however, I found that my form had been filled out. I immediately went on the website and had another sent to me, which I completed and sent in.

Jump to the past two weeks. Census people have to go around to every residence in their area, knock on doors, and ask people if they've filled out the form. If the answer is yes, the census person goes away. If no, they hand the person one of the forms to do then and there. Because there are so many people living on campus, they've basically set up a census patrol camp here, which means that I get asked at least three times a week if I've filled out the form. Thankfully, since, I have, they leave me alone.
But today, I was coming into the flat after grocery shopping and a woman was waiting by the building door. "Have you sent in your census form?" "Yes," I said, annoyed. "Okay, thank you." I went into the building and unlocked my flat door. "Excuse me," a man behind me said. "Have you sent in your census form?"
"Yes." Now I was really annoyed. But this time I wasn't dismissed.
"What's your room number?" I told him and he checked his form. "I don't have you marked as having sent it in."
Perhaps, I thought, that's because I've been asked by four thousand other people. I bet they have me down. "Well, I did," I said and tried to move past him to my room.
"We need it filled out," he told me. "Time's not really on your side here."
Um... what? It certainly should be. I sent this stupid form in over a month ago. "I don't think I'm at fault here," I answered. "I already filled it out."
"We need you to do it again."
I snatched the form with a definite attitude and went to my room so I could get a pen. In the middle of filling out the stupidly long form, the guy poked his head into my room and said, "I'm still waiting." I wanted to crumple up the paper and throw it at him. Sadly, my aim sucks so it wouldn't have made any impression and I would have had to start the form over.

I would have hope that since I filled out two forms that they would stop bothering me about it, but I still have to walk around campus and these people are everywhere. Maybe I should just hang a sign around my neck: "Yes, I have filled it out."

Also (because this is happening as I type this) I'm sick of the constant knocking on flat doors within and without of my flat as they go around and check. They never consider that a person might be out doing stuff and just stand there and knock and knock and knock. And, as I've found out from experience, if you here knocking outside your door and go, "What is that noise and why won't it stop?!" and you burst angrily out of your room to find Mr. Census knocking on the door across the hall, you will be given the Spanish Inquisition about that person's whereabouts.

A completely unrelated lesson learned today: it takes a really long time to peel a kiwi, and I question whether it's worth it :p

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Bad Essay and A Glimpse into Exams

I mentioned in my last entry that I had to go pick up one of my essays, but I didn't mention what went on when I did so.

First of all, getting to my teacher's office was an adventure in itself. There's been a ton of construction on campus as new buildings are erected and others are simply touched up. I'm not sure which one Arts Two (as it's called, though that makes little sense since it holds mostly history tutors and their classes) is, since whatever they were doing on it began long before I arrived. Anyway, it's finished now and my teacher has just moved into it. The trick was figuring out where the entrance was because, though it is situated next to the main road, you can't get in from there- there's a back way that I had to seek out. By keeping my eye on the building, I managed to find it (so easily, in fact, that I doubted myself.) Of course, finding the office wasn't simple- I only found the right hallway because my teacher had told us in an e-mail which is was, and though he had given us a room number, there weren't any number plates on the doors. The only reason I found his office is because his door was open.

I got there right after another girl and was asked to wait. This was a little alarming- I had thought we were just picking up the papers. We were having conferences?! I shouldn't have been freaked out by this, but I was because though I worked for about a month on this paper (including research reading), and worked hard... deeo down inside, I knew I had probably done it wrong. Because of this, I was pretty nervous when it was my turn to go in.

I was correct- despite my best efforts, I didn't do as well as I would have liked on the essay. Basically, the conference was littered with the word "but"- "Your essay was well-written... but you didn't use enough sources... but you're a great writer... but this is only the beginning of a good essay... but I consider you one of my best students in the class... but I know you can do better than this." I didn't know how I was supposed to feel about what he was saying- he was very nice about it and complimentary of me as a student, saying that he admired the way I dicussed all of the topics in class from all sides of the issue, but I felt terrible that I had done so poorly on the essay, and I could tell that he saw that I felt that way. In passing he asked me what my main course of study was, and when I said drama, he said, "Ohhh, that's why," but that didn't make me feel better. Being a drama student is not a reason for not being able to write an essay, especially since the best essay I've ever written was for the drama program here! I was kind of waiting for him to suggest that I rewrite the essay, and I couldn't decide if that was more humiliating than accepting the grade that I got.

Now before anyone gets too worried- my grade isn't bad. I'm still not happy with it, but I got a high C (the equivalent of an 82% back home), which is a grade most of my English classmates would celebrate over. I just don't like getting Cs, and I think the bigger source of my unhappiness is because I loved this class, and it always sucks to do poorly in a class you love.

In any case, my teacher gave me a lot of notes so I can do better on the exam (which is not an essay. He said it was questions, but then said we have two hours to answer two questions. Seems like an essay to me, but we'll see.)

(Also, when I was getting my replacement i.d. yesterday, I walked past a room and literally pulled myself back for a second look. For anyone who's read the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we do essay exams the same way:

Except that Queen Mary's exams look even more Harry Potter-esque because they're actually held in this set-up in a giant, red-curtained and dark wood-paneled room called the Great Hall. The only thing missing are the wizarding robes and the giant hour glass.)

(Also also- I had a nightmare last night that was very scary and I was exhausted when I woke up from it, but even as I was running from the scary people, when I ended up walking behind Will and Kate in a dark city that I knew was London but looked like Italy, I stopped to take a picture. That's how I roll even in dreams.)

In Which I Get Sappy About a Book and London, As is My Way

I got a package from Amazon today! While I buy lots and lots of books, I rarely buy them online, so getting a book or play in the mail is always very exciting to me. Actually, getting mail in general is exciting, but especially when it's a book.

The book in question was The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson (she just keeps showing up in this blog, doesn't she?) I made myself finish the few things I had to do today- turning in one essay, picking up another- before settling down with it. I read about a hundred pages of it, then stopped to go grocery shopping. After I came back and put my food away, I sat down and read the last hundred and eighty pages. It's a really good book, though not exactly what I was expecting (in both wonderful and I-disapprove-of-this-kissing-after-you've-known-him-for-two-days ways.) And as usual, Maureen Johnson managed to write a book that had me laughing out loud most of the time but crying at the end.

The interesting thing about this book and its predecessor, 13 Little Blue Envelopes (and why I'm writing about them on this blog) is that the meaning of them is very different to me now that I've been living in England. In 13LBE, the main character, Ginny, gets thirteen letters (in blue envelopes) from her aunt, who has recently died. They lead her first to London, and then around the globe as she follows their instructions and has incredible experiences. It's the first book of Johnson's that I ever read, and I loved it because of all of the traveling and that Ginny was very much like me. Also, I was dying to go to England; I hadn't yet been, though I would go about eight months after reading 13LBE.

My first trip to London didn't change the book much for me, because a week in London is not living there. But in anticipation of the sequel coming out, I reread 13LBE, and it was almost a completely different book to me, reading it in March after living in England for almost three months. When Ginny mentioned that all of the tube adverts seemed to be an inside joke, I knew what she meant. I recognized the names of things: Barclay's Bank (they're all over London), the Northern Line (I take it all the time), Angel tube station (it's right by where my hotel was, as well as a few theatres I've gone to.) The fact that bathrooms are carpeted. Calling your university a "uni." How much of a staple Ribena (which is a juice) is. How pubs are everywhere and how casually everyone drinks at any time of day.
I identified more with things I could only imagine, not having lived in London before: hearing your own broad American accent as compared to an English one. All the cultural diversity that I didn't encounter in my hometown or at my regular college. And thankfully, there were also things I haven't encountered- weird showers, scary hostels, and foxes- however friendly- prowling the garbage at night (though I think I did see one from a distance this week, late one night on campus.)

Ginny also travels to Italy, and now that I've been there, I know what it's like to know you look like a tourist. Something I never mentioned about my visit there was just how much Adrienne and I were openly stared at, no matter what we were doing. It was rather unnerving. She goes to Paris, too, where I learned, as Ginny does, that people really do carry baguettes, and the streets really are "asparagus thin."

It was just amazing, reading the books, how much I recognized by name: Pont Neuf in Paris. Brick Lane in London, famous for its Indian food. St. Pancras, where the Eurostar arrives and departs in London. Harrods, with its ridiculous merchandise (Helicoptors. Chanel. Puppies. Helicoptors and Chanel for the puppies... and I'm only kind of kidding.) Charing Cross station. Foyles, a bookstore chain. Ginny and her friends even go to Lille, though they don't stay there for long. Waterloo station, where I disembark often to go to to National Theatre. Victoria Station. Costa Coffee.

And still in the books are things I haven't yet experienced, like Christmas crackers (not food- sort of packages with toys and a paper crown inside.) I've only seen pictures of Paris at Christmas. I've never been to Corfu or Amsterdam or Belgium or Rome. Goals for later in life, I suppose, because I only have a little over a month left here. A month. And maybe that's why cried at the end of the book: Ginny feels the same way about England and London as I do, and so the end pretty much echos my thoughts:

Home. It was a nice thought. She missed her parents, her friends... but the word didn't have quite the same meaning anymore. England was home, too. So much of her was here.
The Question floated back into her mind. It had been lingering in the background, waiting for the right moment to make its presence felt..."Describe a life experience that changed you."
Maybe now she had her answer, and it was one word: England. Sure, that didn't convey a lot of information... but she wasn't going to tell them the truth, that she wanted someone to block her path. She wanted this train to break down, for her flight to be canceled, for immigration to tell her that she wasn't allowed to go. She wanted London itself to rise up and refuse to let her pass out of its boundaries.

This is exactly how I feel, and I don't think that's going to change. I love London, and while I may be leaving soon, I will definitely be back.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I'm Going to be One of Those Lame People, Aren't I?

Whenever people get back from long trips and people ask them, "So what was it like to spend six months living in Big Exciting Place?", the person being asked tends to stammer for a few second before finally spitting out, "...It was pretty cool. Yeah. Cool." And then everyone stares at them like they're dumb.

That will be me when I return. I am warning you all right now, and perhaps that will cut down on the staring. See, I was one of the starers when the travelers would say stuff like that, but now that I am the traveler, I think I get it.

It's not that I haven't had amazing and life-changing experiences here. You've read this blog; you know I have. But I think that when you're asked what the experience was like as a whole... how do you begin to describe five months (not six, Border Patrol Lady) abroad? The person who asks me may want to know what it was like, but they don't want to hear me recite this entire blog. So I expect that I, too, will be the utterer of an eloquent answer such as, "It was...really good. England is very... English." Of course, that doesn't cover anything, but how does one do that? I feel like I should prepare a binder or flashcards or something, so when people inevitably ask me, "So how was your time abroad?" I can just open up to a table of contents and say, "What would you like to hear about? The time I couldn't find food in Wales? The tour I took through the countryside? How about all the times I was threatened with deportation? I talk about the school system on page one twenty-three, if you're interested."

I think that's actually a big reason why I started this blog, besides the fact that I just enjoy blogging. I wanted to keep people updated on what I was doing here so they could actually hear about the experience, not listen to me stutter untrue rumors like "It rains a lot there. No sun. Grey skies always," when I get back, just because it's the only thing I can think to say and I know it will satisfy the England-y pictures in their minds.

You know, now that I'm thinking about this, I'm considering having some business cards printed up that list the highlights of my trip. It will save us all the brainache of my senseless babbling and there will be no staring. I think this sounds like a plan, don't you?