Tag: United Kingdom

Meeting Idols, Getting Involved

I loved everyone in our group of nine, but Adrienne has to be my favorite. Everyone was there in London to learn more about theater costuming and historical clothing, but Adrienne and I were passionate about the subject in serious way. At least once we both threw ourselves on a museum floor to look at the insides of an eighteenth century gown. We got in numerous animated discussions standing in front of paintings, conjecturing at the structure of clothes.

One day she told me “I e-mailed Cathy Hay. She’d love some help.” I think I made some kind of high pitched noise. Cathy Hay is famous in costuming circles for running a subscriber website that is a compendium of historical sewing knowledge, as well as for her ambitious projects. Her latest effort is a reproduction of a 1902 Worth dress that is encrusted in silver and goldwork embroidery. It had started as an inventive for a fundraiser to help victims of the Haiti Earthquake, but Cathy quickly realized that it would be impossible to finish the dress in any reasonable amount of time by herself, and at that point in time, she had blown out her wrists embroidering.

Adrienne and I picked a day to go and booked train tickets to Nottingham. We were both nervous and excited to not only meet an idol of ours, but to help on this project we had watched come together through Cathy’s blog. An hour’s travel through London, three hours on the train, and an additional hour on public transportation through to the suburbs of Nottingham and we arrived at a parking lot where Cathy picked us up. She greeted us warmly and thrust bottles of water at us, which I thought was very thoughtful.

On the car ride to her house, we managed to not make fools of ourselves. She introduced us to her cats, and her partner Demi and then showed up pictures of the original dress and we discussed how it might be constructed. Then she took us into her workroom and showed us her project. I had seem bit she had finished online, but it looked much smaller in person. And so much shinier. It was then I realized how much of an undertaking this project really was. I may or may not have squealed “Oh my gosh it’s real! Can I touch it? I’m gonna touch it.” Cathy probably thought I was insane.

Then she gave us a demonstration the embroidery process. It was much simpler than I had feared. (This is the point where I admit that I have no patience for embroidery, but I really wanted to get up close to this dress.) Adrienne and I set to work for a couple hours. Cathy made us take breaks, as well as feeding us dinner. She told us about how weird it was to be famous in certain contexts, when she herself felt incredibly ordinary and like she was just doing the things that excited her. I think it was then that I realized how accessible the famous and extraordinary can be. They’re just people, pursuing their passions.

Cathy and Demi took us back to the train station, hugged us goodbye and promised to keep in touch. Adrienne and I arrive back in London close to Midnight on that Sunday, completely excited and satisfied.

Two or three weeks ago, Cathy formally announced plans to send parts of the dress worldwide, so that it could be completed that much faster. I’m absolutely going to help.

Elina Levkovskaya, London, United Kingdom

Finding Fantasies in London

Like many of the students on the Fantasy on the Fringe program, I grew up with 3Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley. They were my friends and they were my heroes. J.K. Rowling’s novels were some of the first fantasy books I read on my own and were one of the main series that made me fall in love with literature, and fantasy in particular. Imagine then my delight when I discovered an entire program based on fantasy and in the United Kingdom to boot. Eleven months later, I was touching down for the first time in London, England!

Arriving in London was like something out of dream. I had been imagining the city since I first read about Harry going with Hagrid to get his school things. In my travel-induced, sleep-deprived state, everything—the trains, the streets, the cars, the buildings—seemed wildly different from the United States. However, after wandering around the neighborhood to find dinner and a good night’s sleep, I found a world which seemed much less foreign. It was bustling with cars, noisy with construction, and brimming with people going to work or the grocery store or to a meeting. Yet somehow there was still an unfamiliar, unexplored feel to the world around me. There were large parks, building with ancient architecture, and historic 1places on what seemed like every corner. This harmony between familiar and unfamiliar was one of my favorite parts about the program, finding the things that I recognized but which had a different role in the United Kingdom.

Interestingly, these differences, to a smaller extent, could be found within the program participants as well. Having lived on both coasts of the USA, many of the differences didn’t surprise me. However, I loved getting to know all of the other participants and hearing about their various universities and towns and lives.

In the movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Trelawney talks about broadening your horizons. This program has not only helped me broaden my view of the world but it also taught me to broaden my own experiences, both academically and personally. The program helped me to be more confident and showed me that the world is simultaneously a lot larger and a lot smaller than I thought.

Senna Steward, Harry Potter in the UK, London

So Much To See, So Little Time!

As part of our curriculum, our class participated in many excursions around the UK. We got to visit some of the most beautiful and popular museums in London, as well as many less well-known attractions. One highlight for me was seeing A Mid Summer Night’s Dream in the Globe Theater. I will never forget this abroad as a whole, but that experience in particular will always be close to my heart.

Each day we had class and an excursion, beginning at 10am. We saw wonderful sites in our excursions, but there is so much to see in London and Edinburgh, and there was certainly not enough class time to see everything. This meant that my friends and I in the program would take any free time we had to explore the city. We found wonderful sites and neighborhoods on the weekends or after classes. There is so much natural beauty in Edinburgh especially, and we made special trips to hike the beautiful terrain.

With so much to see, free time became engulfed in exploration. However, I was there for academia, and there was still homework to be done. One major challenge I faced while abroad was finding time to accomplish the homework we had been assigned for classes in the midst of exploring a new country.

Every college student procrastinates at least slightly, and while I admit I have done the same in the past, I usually like to get things done as soon as I can so I don’t have to worry about it. But while abroad, I found myself often putting off work because I wanted to see the city.

At one point during the abroad trip, we had an essay due that was a major part of our grade. I had put it off until the night before because it was a weekend and I wanted to go see Hyde Park before we left for Scotland. I was panicked and extremely nervous that I would not finish in time. My best friend that I made on the trip, Alyssa, stayed up with me and worked on her own assignments so I wouldn’t feel so alone in my endeavor. We took “rain breaks,” where we would go outside and dance in the rain as to get our heartbeats up and help us focus when we returned. Once I finished my assignment, I was so grateful to her for helping me through an otherwise stressful night.

From this experience, I learned that even though I was in a new and exciting place, getting my work done first would allow me to enjoy my studies abroad more fully. I plan to go abroad again in my college career for a longer period of time, and so learning this lesson when I did will help me greatly in my future studies.

Austin Skelton, Harry Potter in the UK, London

“Health is Important: I’m not Kidneying”


You can’t plan for everything. It was the final week of classes and I was working on my final papers for my political and arts journalism courses. I hadn’t been feeling too well, but I didn’t think much of it. I convinced myself that I wasn’t feeling well because I had eaten some gluten earlier. But the pain didn’t get better; it got worse.

I couldn’t get to sleep the night before the last day of classes. I was uncomfortable and the pains were stabbing my left side and migrating to my back. It became so unbearable that I couldn’t think straight. It was midnight when the pain grew to a crescendo. I decided that I had to do something about it. I made my way downstairs to the security desk at the dorms and informed them that I was in extreme pain and asked them to call the hospital for me. The dorm staff called the hospital, I described my symptoms, and the hospital said they would send someone to get me.

I waited in the lobby for an ambulance. Intense pain rushed in waves over me and I felt nauseous. After an hour we called back and the hospital decided to send a taxi because no ambulances were available. I had emailed my mother back to let her know what was going on. I told a classmate to let one of the program leaders know in the morning. I realize now that I should have called one of the program leaders immediately, but it didn’t cross my mind in my delirious state.

I sat alone for several hours in the waiting room at the hospital. I was terrified that it was going to cost me money that I didn’t have, but I did my best to remain calm throughout the situation. Eventually I was taken in to the emergency room. They did some tests and found out pretty quickly that I had a kidney infection. They sent me back to the dorms in another taxi at four in the morning, but this time I had medication.

I went to class in the morning and talked with the program leaders. They assured me that they were there to help me and would have been fine with me calling them in the middle of the night. The director told me he would have personally driven me to the hospital at midnight. I should have had it in the front of my mind that the directors are there to help me at all times. I should have communicated with them to the best of my ability. I only stayed in class for half the day, but everyone understood. Before I left, I communicated directly with my teachers and was given extra time to turn in my work.

Nobody wants to have health problems while abroad, but it’s a possibility that it can happen. While you’re abroad, it’s critical to understand that your health is important. You need to take care of yourself, mind and body. You need to understand the systems of health care in the country you’re traveling to and how to communicate with them. In my case, since I was in London, everyone spoke English, and the emergency room visit and medication turned out to be free. This isn’t the case in every country. It takes some insight to make good decisions in adverse situations, but it’s possible. At the first sign that something might be wrong, the best idea is to talk to somebody about it rather than suffer alone.

Jackie Haworth, London, Italy

Studying (and seeing!) Shakespeare in Stratford

As the time has passed since my trip to London ended, I look back on the whole experience with nothing but fondness and a little bit of sadness at the realization in is over. My time in London taught me independence, team building, and helped me to explore and understand a brand new culture. Although they spoke the same language as me, the British people I encountered had a completely different way of living and outlook on life. They have different priorities individually and as a country that as Americans abroad, we noticed the contributions they made to alter their English-speaking society from ours.

It would be impossible for me to write about all the theatre we saw in fewer than two pages, so instead I will focus on one of the amazing short trips we took outside of London. Our first outing was to Stratford-upon-Avon, which we all learned means “the town of Stratford that sits on the Avon River.” Shakespeare’s birthplace, the location of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and home to many other original Tudor period buildings provided an excellent example for us of the Tudor Style and a chance to experience life in a smaller British town.

Stratford is luckily only about an hour and half long drive from London, in which we passed many small villages made up of entirely thatched-roofed houses, the Cotswolds, and the steepest hill in England (which they must close down in the winter due to the icy conditions). We arrived to sunny weather, making it a perfect mini-vacation from the hustle and bustle of the city. I was extremely excited to get the chance to visit all the historical buildings surrounding Shakespeare’s life and to see shows at the Royal Shakespeare Company since they are known for such incredible and groundbreaking work.

Our first day, we visited the home of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Aden, which is a working farm with all kinds of animals including sheep, hairy red pigs, and plenty of chickens. I had the most fun, maybe for the whole trip, playing on the playground at the farm. There was a pretty big group of us who were just letting go of any self-consciousness and just playing like we were 8 years old at recess again. There was a wonderful swing that was a giant hoop with rope tied to make a sort of hammock. Two of my friends pushed me on it as I lay on my back looking up at the sky. My immediate reaction when I’m scared is to laugh so I must have looked crazy while I was swinging. They were pushing me really high and I just kept laughing and then crying because I cry when I laugh a lot. I kept shouting “No!” and “I’m going to die!” But the truth is I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun while being so extremely terrified at the same time. I loved watching people have the same reaction as they took a turn on the swing.

After visiting the farm, we went to Shakespeare’s wife’s cottage, which had wonderful gardens to walk through and lovely orchards to take strolls in. Shakespeare wooed Anne Hathaway at this cottage, so it was exciting to see such a significant place in Shakespeare’s life. I loved spending time in the lavender maze there and just relaxing in the sun.

We saw three amazing productions at the RSC while we visited, Love’s Sacrifice (a Jacobean revenge tragedy), The Jew of Malta (one of Christopher Marlowe’s most famous works and to which Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice as a response), and Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller’s classic). All three shows had extremely high production value, immensely skilled ensembles, and all worked well to captivate their audience during each performance. It was interesting to go to this world-renowned Shakespeare company and not see any plays written by him at all. It was almost ironic that we saw the production of The Jew of Malta, written by one of Shakespeare’s biggest rivals, performed on Shakespeare’s birthday. In fact, for that performance, my seat was in the front row and a man sat down next to me dressed in an outfit made to resemble Shakespeare himself. I was sitting with some of my peers and we all wondered if he was maybe a plant by the company but when we talked to him after the show, he said he was not from the company but that he enjoyed dressing up to celebrate the day. The cast of the show made him come up onstage after and had the entire audience sing him “Happy Birthday.” It was definitely a night I will never forget.

On that same trip, I also really enjoyed our short visit to Kenilworth Castle, or rather the ruins of a castle built in the 12th Century but primarily used as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite places to dwell. It was amazing to walk through the ruins and feel the ancient history of the land. I sat on one of the hills toward the back of the castle for a long while and just stared at the beautiful countryside. As I sat on that hill, I thought about how lucky I felt to just have seen such wonderful play and visit such historic landmarks. I learned so much about myself (and British history!) on the London program that if I had the chance, I would go back just to experience it all again.

– Elah Seidel, GEO London