One of the most exciting aspects of being a UC Berkeley student is the sheer number of opportunities the school offers, whether it be in choice of majors, clubs, dance troupes, or nearby food options. Study Abroad is no different. UC Berkeley study abroad affords students the chance to study in one of 40-50 countries, on 6 continents, for a full year, a semester, or a summer. Students can take classes, do an internship, or in a few cases, do a combination of the two.
Since the days of my high school-obsessions with British music and Downton Abbey, spending time in London had been a dream of mine. Utilizing the resources and programs that UC Berkeley abroad offers, this dream became a reality this past summer, where for 7 weeks I go to spend time in this electric yet historic city.
Embarking on my journey to London, I had a few expectations in mind. British accents everywhere, tea at any hour, and the Queen’s face plastered across official billboard and tacky souvenirs alike. One of the most important things I realized this summer was that for as many of my expectations that were real, many unexpected surprises also awaited me.
My summer abroad took me to the London School of Economics, where I enrolled in two, three-week courses. The first one was International Journalism, which enabled me to learn about journalism practices, examples, and ethics. Each lecture we had a different guest speaker, ranging from a Buzzfeed features editor, to a war correspondent in the Middle East, to an ABC news anchor, providing us the chance to engage with professionals in the field My second class was Global Communications, Citizens, and Cultural Politics, which meshed the fields of International Relations, Urban Studies, and Political Science by looking at issues such as cosmopolitanism and the global city, political narratives, and representation. While these classes covered material similar to my coursework at Cal, it was exciting to have the chance to experience a different academic setting and collaborate with classmates from around the globe.
But of course I spent the majority of my time exploring the big, beautiful city. Almost all of the museums are free, and the Victoria and Albert museum – a work of art in itself – and the National Gallery were among some of my favorites to frequent. I had the chance to see my favorite musical “Wicked” in London’s theatre district, and saw “Measure for Measure” and “Much Ado About Nothing” at Shakespeare’s Globe theater. I did the classic tourist activities, taking photos peaking from a red telephone booth and between traffic bursts on Abbey Road.
Having 7 weeks to spend in London did enable me to feel at least a little bit like a local. I got used to saying “flat” and “lift” and “queue,” and paying for items in British pounds. I had tea far too many times, and walked along the Thames pretending I was a bloody Brit.
My location in the heart of London not only made traveling within the city – on the Tube, London’s subway – easy, but it also allowed me to take trips, both within the UK and outside of it. Another long-time dream of mine was realized as I ventured to the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness (unfortunately, no monster sighting). I entered the fantastic fortress that is Cardiff Castle, and spent hours exploring the castle grounds on a spectacular Welsh afternoon. I took day trips to Cambridge, Bath, and Brighton, meeting up with other Berkeley friends spending the summer abroad, trying local foods, and further enmeshing myself in British culture and history.
While my visits to these iconic places were some of the most thrilling moments of the summer, one experience that remains etched in my mind as one of my favorite nights was spent much more quietly. A friend and I grabbed baguettes and turkey and picnicked on South Bank of Thames right beside the Tower Bridge. We talked and reminisced about the summer and watched the bright lights spread across this city, one that never really settles down to sleep, realizing how lucky we were to have spent two months exploring this place
It’s a wonderfully intricate place, pulsing with big city energy and sparkle while also battling the many issues that affect its diverse population. Its architecture harkens back to its storied history, yet it is one of the world’s top innovative and happening cities. And it was quite a fantastic place to spend the summer. I’m so grateful to have had such an unforgettable summer – be sure to check out the Berkeley abroad website if studying abroad is something you might be interested in!