It’s now been a week since my AH-MAZING (as my advisor would say) trip to London, and I leave for thanksgiving break in Serbia and Krakow in just three days! But my study tour deserves an entire blogpost to itself, so let me not get ahead of myself.
Getting to the airport
Not going to lie, getting to the airport was a struggle. I won’t get into all the details, but long story short: the flights are super early, DIS doesn’t pay for your transport to the airport, and the public transport that we have a free card for is hard or impossible to come by at 2, 3, 4am. One of my friends slept at the airport to avoid the pricy cabs and gruelling 3am public transit.
My core course’s flight was a little later than the others’, but when I woke up at 4am to catch my 4:27am commuter train, I saw on the SL app that that train was canceled. So I ended up needing to take an Uber, and I dropped my apartment key in my early-morning-traveler’s haze as I got out (still have to pay $106 to replace that key, but that’s another story).
ANYWAY, the trip got way better from there. Usually when I write these blogposts, I write about almost everything I did in sequence. Which is probably why I’ve put off writing this post. There was just SO MUCH. I’ll try and take you through the highlights
….(JK these are just a bunch of random thoughts now oops)
Yoga and my worldwide community
First thing I did after we checked into the hotel was look up yoga near me. I found a yoga studio a 5 pound Uber ride away and decided it was worth it. After my family visit and trip to Copenhagen, I knew that maintaining and even strengthening my grounding practices was necessary during these uprooting changes in routine.
So I attended my first hot power class since coming abroad (and, wow, had I missed it)!!! The community at Lumi Power Yoga in Hammersmith emanated the same supportive energy and light as my kula back home.
I really felt a part of the worldwide community.
On this same excursion, I also got some lunch and ended up sitting with an au pair from Slovenia who had just moved to London a week before. She was 19, and we exchanged numbers and made tentative plans to meet up later that week.
This also made me feel part of a worldwide community.
London after a few months in Stockholm
Everyone in London had such a friendly and kind demeanour, which definitely juxtaposed my experience in Stockholm.
I love Stockholm, don’t get me wrong. It’s clean, efficient (for the most part), and when you approach people they are generally kind. It has its own unique charm. However, people can seem uptight and judgmental if you break social norms or disrupt the general flow.
Being in an English speaking country again was also really weird. However, there were still a good number of people speaking other languages or visiting from other countries. Funny enough, it was a school break in Sweden, so I also came across quite a few Swedes who were on vacation.
One night, when I went to get an early dinner at a vegan restaurant near our hotel, I was seated next to the only other people in the restaurant–a mom and daughter.
It turned out they were from Stockholm! I tried to give them privacy, as the mom told me it was their last night in London. The trip was a birthday gift to her ten year old daughter who is in an intensive English language program at school. They kept pulling me into their conversation, though, and I essentially ended up having dinner with them. It was so lovely and special.
This made me feel both my connection to Sweden, as well as a part of the worldwide community.
We had a lot of interesting conversations about London as a city versus Stockholm versus New York. As I’ve said in the past, I’m not a city girl. Which is part of why I can stand to live in Stockholm.
It’s a city, but it’s way more mellow and clean and has lots of naturey get-aways. However, as my professor would argue, there’s way less intellectual and artistic innovation in Stockholm than in world cities like London and New York. People are more provincial, in the literal sense of the term.
London and New York are really fun and fascinating places. I’ve really enjoyed visiting both and benefiting from their roaring art scenes, amazing restaurants, and sheer accessibility of any item or experience you could want to have.
However, I’m always overcome by the nervous energy and lack of grounding in such places. It becomes hard to breathe. I feel my body meld with those around me by switching into fight-or-flight mode. Whenever I return from New York City to the beautiful forests of the suburbs, I breathe a sigh of relief and my whole body seems to relax.
Of course, I’m not a city person, and I know people who thrive off of the energy of a city. However, on a more basic level, the smoke and toxins in the air and hard cement on the ground are things that literally oppose the health of both our bodies and the world.
So it’s interesting to think about the intellectual and artistic progress that comes along with a hyper-industrialised world city that would not necessarily exist in a more life-friendly zone.
Imagining the Other [in European Lit]
Speaking of art, and tangentially speaking of globalisation, we saw a heart-wrenching play called The Jungle based on a true story about a refugee camp in Paris in 2016. It was a true wake up call. At the end of the play, they showed a video with an update of the camp in 2018. The camp volunteer on screen explained that the camp is doing even worse today than in the devastating depiction we just witnessed.
We also visited the site of the Grenfell tower burning. Both of these visits made me feel part of the world wide community but also distant from it and from all the people whose experiences I cannot even begin to understand. Every day now we are bombarded with tragedies, some that we are inactively complicit in just because of the societal structures we support and take part in.
I find that my friends and peers feel increasingly frustrated and hopeless about their own ability to effect any sort of change and to stop the stream of bad news that infiltrates their iPhones.
I’m not going to lie, I felt kind of terrible walking through the streets of Grenfell, reading poetry aloud with my privileged and mostly white classmates. As we walked past homeless people and memorial sites for people we never knew, I felt like our mournful seriousness was almost pretentious and offensively superficial to the locals for whom this was the biggest loss they could imagine.
Okay, on that note, I’m going to make a list now of the other things we did so I can get through this more efficiently…
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- This museum is huge and Anders–our fabulous co-teacher from DIS Copenhagen–told us it would take days to get through the whole thing. However, he took us on an incredibly interesting tour of the progression of fashion over time in England, explaining how fashion was used as both a means of control over the wearer as well as a means for the wearer to fight for freedom and equality. Anders also explained the many other layers of alternative fashions such as punk, norm-core, etc., essentially making apparent that it is impossible to dress outside of societal structures. One is always making some type of political statement with what they wear and how they aesthetically present themselves.
- Bike Tour
- My third bike tour of my study abroad experience! Still not a professional, but definitely improved. In line with my typical biking luck, my chain kind of broke a third of the way through the tour, but it was still ridable! We saw so many places and heard so many interesting stories that I won’t take the time to recount here. I would recommend, though! We also got to see the changing of the guards, which was particularly cool in London if you’re into that.
- British Museum
- We got a tour through this museum. Lots of cool stuff, including the real rosetta stone!
- Went to a cool 5-story bookstore I forget the name of…
- Saatchi Gallery
- This museum was super cool. We got to wander around on our own. Lots of innovative contemporary art and political satire at the exhibit we saw. It was called “Black Mirror: Art as Social Satire”.
- Elmgreen and Dragset exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery
- Exhibit was called “This is How we Bite out Tongue“. Also contained lots of political and social commentary, as Elmgreen and Dragset’s work always does. Particularly liked a piece called Untitled from 2014, a bronze construction of two indented, fluffy, white pillows, sitting atop a black rectangular prism. I immediately felt how tragic it was. As our guide later told us, it was in reference to a piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres called Untitled about his boyfriend who died in the AIDS epidemic.
- National Portrait Gallery
- Interesting collection of works. Chosen mainly for the people depicted as opposed to the artistry. Interesting encapsulation of England’s preferred historical narrative.
- Shakespeare’s Globe Tour
- We happened to be there during the theater’s short off-season, so we couldn’t see a show. However, we got a tour of the famous, reconstructed theater by one of the actors! We got to stand on the stage and pretend to give monologues. We even did some fun acting exercises that helped us think about the roles we play in everyday life.
- Tate Modern
- This was an optional visit, and I was so glad I went. Our professor wanted to see the Rothko room when we got there. He said it was a very meditative, special experience for him. We all decided to join him. And it was very meditative and special that I got to see it with someone who had such a deep personal connection to it. It made me feel very lucky for the close and open connections I’ve made with professors here in Sweden.
- Also, after the Rothko room when I was exploring on my own, I ran into one of my favorite Picasso’s! I didn’t know Weeping Woman was at the Tate, but it was such a lovely surprise to see it in person.
- Dicken’s Walking Tour
- We only read on Dicken’s book in class, Oliver Twist, and I’m not the biggest Dickens fan. So this tour wasn’t very interesting for me. Some of the stories were cool, but the tour was clearly for someone who was a fan of the author and knew his body of works on a more intimate level.
- High Tea
- So. Cool. I’m in love with scones now. They had a whole vegan menu, and it was super fancy and kitschy, but I had a blast! Especially because I was sitting next to the hilarious Anders…
Finally, I want to say that Anders and Jan made this trip so special and wonderful. They are both brilliant and compassionate people who have so much insight and positive energy to offer. I feel so lucky to have had them as our guides and teachers through this experience and hope our paths may cross again!
“Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” —Rick and Morty
“In emptiness, there is … no ignorance, no end to ignorance, no old age and death, no end to old age and death, no suffering, no cause of suffering, no end to suffering, no path to follow, no attainment of wisdom, no wisdom to attain. The Bodhisattvas rely on the Perfection of Wisdom, and so with no delusions, they feel no fear, and have Nirvana here and now.” —The Heart Sutra