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Exploring London's Culture During My First Week Abroad

October 05, 2021
by Andrea Arias

Hello everyone, and welcome to my blog! My name is Andrea Arias, and I am a senior at James Madison University, majoring in theatre with concentrations in both theatre education and performance. Throughout the semester, I will post all about my internship and my overall experience in London as a student studying abroad from the United States.

Andy at an airport in the USAndrea at the airport.

My First Week in London

I'll admit, the jet lag was a little rough, but I had to quickly recover because week one was orientation week! We explored the Bloomsbury district, which is where we are staying, as well as other areas just outside of Bloomsbury. Our wonderful tour guide, Sarah, showed us important memorials, statues, and plaques that commemorate important people who have since passed, or events that are meant to be remembered. We traveled over to Buckingham Palace which is one of the queen's four homes. We explored Green Park and St. James's Park, and even had the opportunity to watch the changing of the guards.

My peers and I also traveled together to Piccadilly/Soho to explore the nightlife, which was full of lively and active individuals. We also had a police officer come speak to us on the topic of safety, where we learned just how different the laws and expectations are here versus in the United States. Theft is more common, and actual violence is very unlikely to happen like it does in the US, for instance.

I've already made tons of friends with all my other peers who are studying abroad! We are all looking forward to exploring London together as a group this semester.

CEA CAPA orientationCAPA orientation for fall 2021.

My Internship with Synergy

It's hard deciding what I am most excited for out of this experience, but I do think my internship is a top contender, since it will also positively impact my career and future goals. I am working for Synergy, a company that does theatre work in prisons. During my time here, I will be working on three different projects. I'll speak more on the other two projects once I have begun working on them, but the one I have started is a filmmaking project, where ex-convicts are being given the opportunity to create a short film. These participants are being paired with professional editors who will help flourish the films.

My role includes reminding participants about meetings and deadlines, as well as creating reflection reports after each meeting so that we can reflect on the overall creative process. My first task was to call each participant (through a company phone I've been given) and remind them of one of our upcoming meetings; this task had me absolutely stoked, because I was able to introduce myself and sort of meet each participant individually, at least over the phone.

In a few days, I will actually get to join one of the sessions, where I'll be able to match a face with everyone's names, and listen to their story ideas (since they will bring in a rough outline with their ideas). I can already tell I will fall in love with doing work surrounding theatre in prisons. While there are many resources out there for ex-prisoners to find homes, jobs, and even financial help once out of prison, help with being integrated into society again is an aspect that is often overlooked. There is such beauty in knowing that these projects allow ex-convicts to create a story, and will push them to discover their own humanity again.

Buckingham PalaceBuckingham Palace.

Advice for Prospective Students

Here are 5 pieces of advice I have for you:

1. If you are debating studying abroad, I strongly encourage you to do it. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience and will change your perspective on you life, no matter what you choose to do here"”whether that's taking more classes, doing an internship, exploring the life and culture of those who reside here, or all of the above.

2. If you find yourself on the streets of London without anything to do, (safely) ask a local what they recommend! From trying to find a gym, library, park, or pub, the locals are the ones who know their city best. In just this week alone, I have had the most precious experiences going to places the locals recommended I visit.

3. Do not find yourself in positions where you are being labeled as a stereotypical American. Londoners are much quieter and have a peaceful approach to their days. There were moments my peers and I had to remind ourselves to be a bit quieter and less unruly. There are laws here related to noise level too, so be mindful!

4. Don't take any moment for granted. Every experience, even down to grocery shopping, is a new and invigorating experience that you don't want to forget. Take these moments and use them to reflect on your own life back home.

5. Familiarize yourself with the tube (the London Underground aka the subway). It will save your life in terms of traveling, and you will feel like you fit in more once you've become accustomed to how it works.

Takeaways from My Experience So Far

Here are 5 key takeaways I have:

1. I am so appreciative of how kind Londoners are, and how they are willing to work with you when you need help. From my experience so far, my supervisors and colleagues at my internship are understanding, flexible, and bring such a humanistic approach to all the work they do, even if it's a small task.

2. I am grateful to be sharing these special moments with my other peers studying abroad from the United States. We get to go on this journey together, and it's rare to find connections like the ones I've made here thus far.

3. I will continue to take as many pictures and videos as I can to capture each moment. Already, I've looked back on the pictures I have taken and find myself smiling as I reflect on my days here.

4. Respect everyone for their differences. Although there is no language barrier present, London is a different culture, and it's crucial to try my best to settle into this new environment, out of respect for those who call this place home.

5. If you're as much of a fanatic over Takis chips as I am, make sure to pack them if you travel here, I haven't been able to find any and am feeling homesick over that alone.

On Westminster BridgeThe London view at night from the Westminster Bridge.

Andrea Arias is the Content Creator - Blogger.
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