Lost + Found

Lost: An iPod bursting with constantly updated music.
Found: An iPod dominated by podcasts like RadioLab and Spilled Milk that cuddle my ears on the tube or on long walks around the city.

Lost: Trust in Google Maps’ directions via public transport, which has proven to be woefully inaccurate (mostly for buses.)
Found: Myself, deposited in many unintended locations. But it turned out alright! Which brings me to…

Lost: A nervous heart that beat rapidly upon boarding a bus that would supposedly take me to my destination.
Found: Greater confidence in my ability to ascertain my physical location without a smartphone, usually via one of London’s ubiquitous, helpful street maps. Sometimes, a real live Brit would set aside their reserved nature and help! (Also found: new hand muscles thanks to probably at least 50 lists of handwritten directions!)

Lost: Lots of money. (Maybe not lost… more like spent.)
Found: Lots and lots and lots of experiences. (DUH it was worth it!) I’ve seen quite a few concerts, eaten lots of varied cuisine, and visited a long list of new places. I think food, transport, and travels outside London have been my biggest expenses here.

Lost: It was waning by the end of last semester anyway, but nonetheless, much of the infatuation I once felt with Wes.
Found: Knowledge of what life can be like after college and a growing excitement to pursue that life. Even though mine will probably involve grad school, which is sort of like a continuation of college, it’s another step in the path to move somewhere I choose where I’m supported by a heftier income and therefore possess greater personal freedom. Now that I’ve been exposed to so much, my desires for my future have intensified and grown in number.

And lastly-

Lost: A habit of constantly comparing myself with my peers, usually via Facebook, that too often incurred unhealthy levels of self-doubt (don’t worry, it’s normal, I’m a Millennial.) Also, for that matter, my Facebook account (until June.)
Found: A self that was much more content with my identity and methods of living. The chance to be more self-centered than usual, stemming from my choice of technologically isolating myself from American influences pretty significantly and, well, having a huge new city ready to be discovered at my doorstep… A new type of introspection that came from a much kinder and accepting place than before. I guess it seems obvious now, but this extraction of my virtual persona from a massive judging block surrounded by some very intimidatingly witty and pretty peers (read: unintended competitors) yielded great inner peace. My temporary resignation from Snapchat also facilitated this transition from a state of mind plagued by constant questions of how I could best show off my life to a new mindset where I could live my life according to my wishes, take some pictures for myself and my blog readers, and everyone else would have to make do with stories later on. Honestly, it was an exercise in self-love. Much will change when I return to the states, including social media presence, but I hope I can continue to fend off the tempting gratification that ongoing peer approval infamously provides.


 

As I near the end of “Travels with Charley”, who do I stumble upon but my own Rocinante! (That was Steinbeck’s car that carried them around the US in the book.) Is it a sign??

As I near the end of "Travels with Charley", who do I stumble upon but my own Rocinante! (That was Steinbeck's car that carried them around the US in the book.)

The Power of Loneliness + PAUL SIMON

I’ve been in at least 2 situations where bouncers don’t bother to check my age while my companions get stopped- each of them older than me! Sorta cool.

Also, although I love being so distanced from America through boycotting a conventional smartphone texting service and its apps (snapchat, etc.) and facebook, I admit that that distance has left me feeling lonely more often than I like. Even 3 months in, it’s still sort of strange to rely on email, skype, this blog, and pretty much the post in order to contact friends and fam. However, I still think it’s worth it to stick it out until I return to the states. I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to majorly de-tech myself (OMG that was an AWESOME PUN. ((detach ~ de-tech)) ) in the future without many formidable consequences. But then I think, but this is just like how it used to be… weird.

pullingtheplug

pulling the plug

Loneliness isn’t the same as being alone. As an introvert, I thrive on alone time and rarely feel lonely during those periods. However, although I do have an abundance of independent Sophie time at college, much more than during high school, that amount pales in comparison to the amount at Queen Mary. It’s probably because of a multitude of factors: less in-class instruction time, fewer extracurriculars, fewer friends (it’s worked out well- there’s more to it than just a number, though), etc. And don’t get me wrong- it’s not like I didn’t have enough activities or ideas to fill it. But the fact is that, at least for me, studying abroad exposed me to possibly the most unstructured free time I’ve ever faced (maybe barring childhood summers.)

Predictably, it’s been both favorable and disappointing at times. I’ve relearned how to motivate myself to start essays 3 weeks before they’re due (an eon in college time) but have also confronted new (and accordingly, scary) levels of self-reliance. Going into this experience, I think I understood this partially, but by being in a wildly new place and situation, it’s going to be pretty important to like yourself. You’ll be your only companion, navigator, (mental) conversation partner, and much more during many, many minutes. The specificity of that “many, many” is of course dependent on the type of person you are, but nonetheless, it will probably still be atypically high.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a stable group of pals since I was little. At school, camps, and other programs I’d prioritize forming bonds with the other kids. But here, although I’ve met some great people, I’ve sought the social interaction I crave in a pretty different way. Or maybe it just feels that way. Here, I supplement my social quota by chatting with strangers also waiting for a haircut or for the concert to start, per se. Relatedly, I feel human connection when

Thousands of strangers squeezed into one arena are suspended in the same energy-charged ether emanating from not just the world-class performers on stage but each other… Hands reach to encircle their lover’s waists, eyes close to minimize distraction from the music, and an undeniable feeling of togetherness unites the pulsing crowd. Even though I’ve come to this concert by myself, there’s no chance of feeling alone.

So yeah, Paul Simon and Sting… you might think of them as peanut butter and pickles, musically. But after being physically tired out by the hit-after-hit, nearly three hour long extravaganza, I have no choice to report that this fusion was incredibly successful. Of course, Sting had a chance to do his rock’n’roll thing and Paul Simon unleashed some particularly mellow tunes on his own time, but when they did collaborate, it was harmonious (PSIMON PUN). I lost track, but I think they played something like three separate encores, each bowling over the audience more than the last- “Cecilia”, “Every Breath You Take”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”… A total of 36 whopping songs.

Favorite parts:

-When Paul Simon first came on stage, which unexpectedly left me with a face slick with tears. I think it was because I was so happy to see such an influential musician who provided me with stories and harmonies that kept me feeling grounded and comforted during intense times of growing up.

-“You Can Call Me Al” sent the entire audience into a dancing, clapping frenzy. Paul definitely proved his power as a performer.

-“Every Breath You Take”. It was magical. Sting has the voice of a young rockstar, still- the timelessness of his performance was spellbinding.

Immobilized by Choice + ELIOR visits!!!

I bet you’ve been there before- where you feel like, with choices overflowing every mind-tab you have open, you can’t fathom where to begin? Overwhelmed is a pretty accurate adjective. The situation isn’t inherently a bad thing- the feeling is, but the provocateurs aren’t always. Right now, I’m referencing two very important things: what I’m going to do with my summer, and what I’m going to do with my recent cornucopia-like food delivery. If you know me, you realize that these two decisions aren’t so different in weight.

Another reason for feeling paralysed by endless options is that I have a world-class city at my feet and a limited amount of time and moolah left. It’s certainly a great problem to have, but it’s still not without pressure and stress. I do hold myself to oftentimes unreasonably high expectations, but how could one not fear that dreaded moment when they’re 22, 42, or 82 and they felt regret about not spending their twenties/time abroad wisely enough? Honestly, I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of squeezing out as much London as I can thus far, and probably will continue to. But a challenge coming up is prioritisation: where to spend the big bucks, what’s worth my time (markets > / = / < studying??), and how much more orange chocolate bars I’ll allow myself to buy because they’re unique to the UK and I need to build a dependence on them so I can go through even harder reverse-culture shock, obvs. (no, not this!!)

So with that, let me share some things I have on my April/May to-do list. These things are part of a 45-tab bookmark folder, fyi. In the tiny chance you live in London and are my friend, gimme a shout if ya wanna join in.

Exciting and overwhelming, in a positive way 🙂


Just took a slide test for my Museums class and finished my European Culture and Society paper, so that means that I am completely done with 2 of my 4 modules! Only 2 exams and one paper to write before I leave at May’s end or June’s beginning.

All in all, these classes were really great. Although the Museums one was 95% Americans, it was a privilege to “study” a different London museum each class- a total of 11. Also just a note that each museum was free. London is crawling with free museums- a gift. The Euro class was also well worth it, even though most students were freshmen. I got a much-needed dose of European history conveyed through major movements, not sticky details of war and piles of Georges and Marys (can’t distinguish them to save my life.) Learned about colonialism, feminism, the Russian Revolution, and many other eras through literature and film, which was really cool. This class was taught by a different professor each week, which also livened it up and only once was it boring! (structuralism, anyone?)


So, ELIOR came and visited!! We’re on Year 9 of friendship. So yeah, she is sort of my #1 and gosh, I could write odes and sonnets (already have, check those birthday cards yo) and endless interpretive dances about how much she means to me, which she knows, and I know, so let’s stop there and look at nutty pictures of us at a Tove Lo concert instead. LOVE YOU ELIOR!

Tove really did an awesome job, and her opening act, Urban Cone, offered some of those deeply satisfying beats and electronic soundscapes you can feel with your whole body.

Friendship year 3: Homecoming 2008 waddup!

We also walked around Notting Hill and Portobello Road, then ventured to Buckingham Palace for some classic awkward Eliophie pics so here’s a bunch of those too!

Comical Professors and Van Morrison (!!!)

I’m not used to having classes that are so blatantly applicable to life! Examples: lectures on feminism and postmodernism in my European Culture and Society class, and the value of nature in a capitalist economy in Geographies of Nature. So REAL!

I’d like to tell you a quick story from my last Euro class. The scene: our professor is shooting out all these incredible facts about how we live in a postmodern world and what it means and what is everyone’s favorite Starbucks go-to and can we ever prove the eclipse happened and all of a sudden he springs

“You don’t even know if you exist unless you’ve taken a selfie that morning.”

Whoa. No wonder this guy has tenure! (In case I’m not being clear, this sentence was so powerful because it completely encapsulates the essence of postmodernism and simultaneously couldn’t resonate more with our mostly eighteen years old millennial class. And it’s funny.) Man, the professors here are just full of goodness.

Which brings me back to our old friend placenta prof! Today he added another moment to his “greatest hits” collection.

So, we’re learning about the precursors to humans, namely Homo australopithicus and Homo habilis. He keeps reiterating the important advances that eventually led to our species, like the use of tools and having bigger brains. Yada yada. Excitement level is unwavering at zero. That is, until he reaches for his baby and pelvis props, announcing, “I will attempt to give birth this morning!”

The entire class explodes with laughter. Even the “manly” men couldn’t help but giggle. (Overall, England seems much more patriarchal than the US, and that’s reflected in the sociology of the sexes here quite noticeably. But that’s for another time.)

So he takes his pelvis model and a baby doll and actually shows us how much trouble it is for a baby to traverse the birth canal because of our ginormous brains! Now that’s LEARNING!

He also told us that hominins (a type of ancient humans) have gained “two tablespoons of grey matter every 100,000 years”. Chew on that unexpected measurement of intelligence! (Sorry for that unsavory pun. <– but not for that one! 🙂 )


I’m going to a CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL on Friday!! And, as they’re conjoined, a Cheese and Wine affair too! As my funny father quipped, I’ll probably regain the ten pounds I gave for a ticket after a day’s sampling of chocolates and cheeses. (Get it? Go punny papa!)


On Wednesday, Van Morrison and I decided to meet at the Royal Albert Hall and have a conversation. We talked of many things: New Orleans, gypsy souls, dancing in the moonlight. But the subject matter wasn’t the main takeaway, no. As I wasn’t the only one involved in this meeting of friends, I’ll let the grown man sitting in back of me explain what we were all feeling after the conversation had ended:

“YAY!”

His exclamation resounded with a pure sense of joy… a vulnerable, raw display of genuine human happiness. It was especially unique because of my location in London, a part of the world known for its reserved residents. That’s the magic of Van Morrison: his music zeros in on the part of you that’s grown numb to the spirit of life and taps it awake. His music is interwoven with spirit and soul. I left that theatre feeling renewed with motivation for life. That’s big stuff right there. Other reactions blurted out seconds after the last chord ended included “Brilliant!” and “Utterly brilliant!”

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It wasn’t til the last half hour of the show that the magic really started for me- the first hour was him playing his lesser-known music and duets with “friends” that I didn’t recognize (but will post pics in case anyone can solve the mystery.) But after he played “Days Like This”, the audience knew what was coming next. He really saved his allure for the end, in my opinion, letting loose his legendary voice and leaving me feeling awed, thinking, “he’s still got it.” “Brown Eyed Girl” was a pleasure to behold, “Into the Mystic” sent waves of relaxation and good feeling about the entire concert hall. There was no way to avoid the goodness he poured over the crowd, even if you were in the limited legroom, obstructed view seat you bought for 50 pounds four days before the concert.

So yeah, Van’s the man!

Glad-I’m-not-an-English-major week

Extremely concise revelation from studying abroad for just over 2 months:

I’ve learned more about myself in those two months than I did one year at Wes. At the very least.


This week I’ve written two essays and have one more due next week, totalling about 6500 words. That’s about 26 pages of double-spaced, 12-font words. As a science major, that’s way out of the ordinary and has been a big challenge. In case anyone cares, I wrote one essay about Perissodactyla, an order of ungulates whose members include tapirs, rhinos, horses, and the largest mammal to ever live; my second essay is about how museums appeal to emotion in order to educate visitors, using three examples of London museums; the last has an undecided thesis, but may be about colonialism and Jose Saramago’s “The Tale of the Unknown Island”. One more 4000 word beast due in April too. So yeah, words don’t come cheap this week!

Instead, I’ll share some pictures. Below are some pics of street art around Brick Lane, very unusual stores at a krazy-kool pop-up mall in Shoreditch, a lovely event celebrating International Happiness Day where I received free hand and back massages, candy, and a daffodil (and a pic with a bellboy host with whom I unintentionally cuddled up to because I had endorphins falling out of my ears, I was so happy), and a crazy haircut to top it all off. Long story short, I was a hair model for an academy and got a free haircut (would’ve cost about 60 pounds normally at this place!) that in the end turned out quite nice after I washed out all the mousse but for the rest of the day left me looking like orphan Annie’s stunt double. It’s straight now, but I have about half the hair I did before!

And one last thing- spontaneously bought tickets to see VAN MORRISON at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday! I’m so freaking excited!!!!

My mom “popped over” to London

Some of my wonderful readers have inquired about where I find energy and time to generate so many blog posts. The answer is that I just love exploring my experiences abroad through writing. I’m inspired to create a lasting narrative of this time in my life and open it up to my favorite friends and family and let them inside my world. I’ve had a separate blog reserved for personal and philosophical musings for something like five years now, so it’s not a new concept, although making it pretty public is.

So about my mom “popping over”: it was so, so wonderful! We enjoyed a lovely weekend together and I’d like to give a small recap of some things we did but not everything, or in great detail.

We visited the Saatchi Gallery (thumbs up), found this hilarious little dog at a gorgeous garden shop, enjoyed Middle Eastern food and snagged a pic on the stairs (lights and tiles in background), then visited the Oxo Tower Wharf (bursting with fascinating creative stores and enchanting watches) and Gabriel’s Wharf for some more fun shops and a great little trumpet/snare drum duo that played some upbeat jazz on the waterfront. A candlelight concert at St Martin in the Fields (a b e a u-tiful church in Trafalgar Square) tied up our day, filling our heads with heavenly choral music. Yes, my mom is amazing!

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A highlight of her visit was a comprehensive rock ‘n roll tour of the West End. We drove past countless residences, places of death, studios, and landmarks of huge influencers of the rock scene including Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Cat Stevens, the Beatles in general, Mama Cass… it was so great! Our tour guide used to be a road manager for a rock star (forget who) so he was like an encyclopedia. He even threw in a Coldplay location (I went berserk.) Anyone know of the song “Violet Hill“? It’s deep, dark, powerful tune named after a park in a fancy part of London.

I really wasn’t feeling getting a picture at the Abbey Road crosswalk because I felt like such a tourist, but somehow my mom and the tour guide ended up staging the included photo. Can you tell who wanted the pic and who wanted to not get run over? It is pretty funny though.

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We learned so much, covered an incredibly large area of London, and rocked out to some great music all the while. The guide even told me that Paul Simon was involved in East London/the UK, recording The Paul Simon Songbook and writing Homeward Bound there!

I’d definitely recommend this tour if you’re into London’s rock ‘n roll history.

Fittingly, just a few days later, my London and its Museums professor told us that the day earlier, when he was teaching at the Tate Britain with a different group of students, he turned around and there was Mick Jagger. A scruffy one, he said, but all the same, Mick Jagger!


The last great thing I’ll mention is our trip to the over-the-top artsy restaurant Sketch. The atmosphere, decor, food, bathrooms… I was incapacitated with wonder.

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It was my first real dining experience, and I can’t wait until I have enough dinero to afford another one. The basis of food is art and appreciation for flavor, which deeply resonates with my views.

It was fantastic to have a family member visit me. However, as my friend Caroline talked about in her study abroad blog, it’s also difficult to let go and realize you won’t see that special slice of home again for months. Now that I’ve readjusted to college life, I’m fine, but I sorely missed my friends and family on my birthday (Feb 18). I’m very happy socially over here, but nothing can compare to the physical closeness of friends and family on a special day like a birthday. Can’t wait to see my beloveds upon my return in May or June!

Up next: One-day trip to Venice!

Fact of the Day: Some prehistoric birds used to eat horses

Let’s play some picture catch-up! Dare I divulge what you may think of my timing? I must: tardy 😦 . Geez, your side-eye is so chilling that it’s making me chili! Please relish knowing that I’ll stop making puns before finagling saurkraut into one.

Here are my Brighton pictures. My disposable ended up disappointing me with about half the pictures being crummy. So although my memories are enough for me, these pictures will have to suffice for you all 😦 Sorry!

Also, about the concert pictures: Exactly zero out of four were even adequate. So here are some pics I found attached to a review of the concert.

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Yesterday I went for a lovely walk along Regent’s Canal. Didn’t bring my camera, so let me paint a mental picture for you:

The canal runs parallel to Mile End and Victoria parks, lovely green places full of runners, walkers, cyclists, families, and students taking a break from work. A sidewalk accompanies the canal, providing a walk filled with color from the adjacent houseboats (last night I must’ve seen at least 30: they were all moored right next to the bank.) When you give a canal a houseboat, you also get some fun, quirky decorations that top the roofs including potted plants, tools, statues and gnomes, lights, and anything else you can dream up! Sometimes you can peer into a window and catch a glimpse into the lives of these uber-efficient-space dwellers. I also passed a houseboat that was a functioning cafe! Too bad I didn’t bring any money to try it out, but I’ll just have to go back!

Lovely snapshot of Regent’s Canal at Victoria Park

Here’s a link to see more pictures

I think it’d be such fun to live on a houseboat for a while. It reminds me of Rue in Chocolat. I know I’m romanticizing the lifestyle, but living in a tiny house with only what you need and a lack of property to command seems like a great way to live… at least, for a while.

You can rent one on Airbnb! You can also rent HOBBIT HOUSES. I think that’s my dream house.

the dream

the dream