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Sunrise, Somerset

12 Dec

Hello everybody!

It’s about time for another update. With only five days until my departure, everything seems hurried and rushed but also slowed down, all at the same time. Time seems to be inching by and then very suddenly flying past! It is a very strange feeling and it’s almost as if I’ve been in a funk over the past few days. Not happy or sad, just somewhere in between.

Last week, I had the chance to visit Somerset House on the Strand. When I say it’s next door, I mean it quite literally — King’s and Somerset House actually share a wall. And yet this was the first time I ventured into the massive courtyard. The first thing you see is a large ice skating rink right in the center, set up for especially for the holidays and sponsored by Tiffany & Co. The whole courtyard has lots of Christmas decorations including a large tree, the Wrap-Up Shop and Designers at Somerset Shop selling all kinds of little gifts and even a miniature Tiffany’s luxury sweets, gifts and yes – jewelry. Since I went in the afternoon, it wasn’t very crowded, just a few kids squealing and laughing as they ventured out onto the slippery ice.

I visited two exhibits (both free) that were currently going on. The first was 20 Years of Dazed and Confused Magazine, which was essentially a visual journey through two decades of covers, articles and celebrity spotlights. I don’t know much about the magazine but from what I saw they must have a reputation for producing avant-garde portraits of celebrities (read: nude). Lots of Kate Moss. It was interesting, and some of the portraiture and fashion spreads were quite stunning, but it probably would have resonated more if I was familiar with the magazine.

The second exhibit I visited was called Amazon, a photography exhibition. The first portion centered around the work of Sabastiao Salgado from his project ‘Genesis’, and was largely aerial photos of Amazonian landscapes and portraits of indigenous, traditional peoples. The photos were all really beautiful and I especially enjoyed the various shots of the natives  – sometimes hunting, sometimes resting, sometimes just watching the world go by. The second portion of the exhibit featured the photography of Per Anders Pettersson from a recent visit to northwest Brazil. These photos were meant to illustrate the extreme devastation and destruction of the Amazonian landscapes due to deforestation and other non-sustainable practices that exploit both the land and the impoverished people who live on it. The exhibition works — seeing the photos of the people and the land, and then realizing what terrible things are being done there, made the crisis seem that much more real and relevant. It was incredibly sad, but I am glad they are raising awareness about such an important issue. The Amazon is a treasure and it should be protected instead of abused and discarded.

The last stop at Somerset, and the part I was most looking forward to, was the Courtauld Gallery. Since I was there on a Monday before 2:00PM, it was completely free! I got to see the exhibits and the gallery for absolutely nothing – awesome! But this small collection would have been worth paying to see. When you first step in, the gallery seems small (deceiving, as it spans several stories) – but the personal, cozy feeling was what I loved about it! After I visited, it felt like I knew a secret – all these incredible and famous pieces of art right there! Ten feet from the Strand! I promptly told everyone I talked to that they had to go! They have a modest collection of sculpture and decorative art spanning several periods and regions. They also had great drawings and sketches by lots of  artists – in particular, they had a special exhibit on Spanish drawings. Some were plans for later paintings while others were more just doodles and studies. My favorite, by far, was a 1906 sketch by Picasso of pigs. Just lots of little pigs. I fell in love with it.

But the crown jewel of the Gallery is definitely their collection of paintings. From medieval to Renaissance, Rubens to Impressionists, it was quite an impressive inventory. They have one of the famous self portraits of Van Gogh displaying his bandaged ear, and the first work from Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’ – a sweet but somber portrait of a small child holding a dove. I spotted Manet’s familiar A Bar at Folies-Bergere and Cranach’s Adam and Eve (you might know this piece from the intro theme for the TV show ‘Desperate Housewives’). The collection was rounded out by pieces from Monet, Cezanne, Renoir and Degas. It was extraordinary and a definite must-see for anyone visiting London!

Thursday evening I got to meet up with some friends from Queen Mary’s and we headed over to O’Neills Pub in Leicester Square to see a live band preform. The band was awesome – we sang at the top of our lungs and danced the night away. We had a blast!

I was a little sick this weekend, but I am feeling much better. Now I’m just trying to crank out these last papers and fit in all the last minute things I’ve been meaning to do while here. I can’t believe I have less than a week left in London!

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Word Up

14 Nov

Hey ya’ll!

I know I’ve talked before about the differences in words that I’ve encountered in my time abroad. I thought I’d setup a little mini-translation for those of you back home, in case you ever need to communicate with a Brit. So print this out and keep it handy if you ever make it across the Atlantic. (I got this idea from my friend Katie’s blog, which you can read here.)

American v. British

Subway = Tube
“I’m late, I have to catch the tube to work!”

Sweater = Jumper
“Haven’t you got a jumper? It’s freezing outside!”

Underground walkway = Subway
“Go in the subway and you’ll bypass the traffic and come up the other side.”

Pants = Underwear
“Someone’s left their pants in the dryer – ew!”

Exit = Way out
“That door over there is the way out.”

Tank Top = Vest
“You might wear a vest at the beach or in the summer if the weather is warm.”

Dorm = Flat
“I’ll meet you back at the flat with the groceries.”

Attractive = Fit
“That boy plays rugby, he’s right fit!”

Ground Beef = Mince
“I’m gonna cook up some mince for dinner.”

Cookie = Digestive, Biscuit
“Don’t you dip your biscuits in milk?”

Bangs = Fringe
“She got her hair chopped off and fringe across the top.”

Very nice = Lush
“Your homemade pasta was lush!”

Gross = Minging
“Get your minging curry out of here! It stinks!”

Dish soap = Fairy
“I’m out of Fairy, can I borrow yours to wash up?”

Candy = Sweets
“Cadbury sweets are better than Galaxy.”

Fries = Chips
“I’ll take a hamburger and a side of chips with ketchup.”

Trash = Rubbish
“Is that your rubbish in the bin?”

Thanks = Cheers
“Can I have two tickets, please? Cheers.”

You could/should  do that = Could do
“You should get your paper done now, and watch a movie later.”
“Could do.”

Yard = Garden
“Why don’t you take the dog out to play in the garden?”

“Whatsup?” = “You alright?”

This phrase in particular has led to a lot of confusion, as my flat mates will come in and say “You alright?!” and I reply, “Yes, I’m fine?! Do I look like I’ve been crying or something?”, as I grow increasingly hysterical that unbeknownst to me, something terrible has happened to my face to give off the impression that I am clearly not alright. And then we both stand in confusion, (me, desperately poking at my eyes to check for puffiness) each trying to decipher what the heck the other one is talking about.

Of course, a lot of the pronunciations are different, too. What about aluminum? Here, they say aluminium. (Take another look at it!) Now, say it like ‘al-loo-min-ee-um’. Funny, huh?

The other night, my flatmate and I went out to dinner at Pizza Express, the British version of a California Pizza Kitchen, and she ordered the pollo pizza. I know none of my Texas friends reading that missed a beat – “Right, a pizza with chicken on it.” But it took me a moment to process, and I had to ask, “Wait, what did you order?” Because she literally said “pollo” – as in 13, not our clucking, feathered friend from south of the border. Our Texan familiarity with the Spanish pronunciation rule of double ‘l’s  transforming into a ‘y’ sound spilled across the Rio Grande but didn’t quite make it across the Atlantic ocean. To her, this was completely normal. When I explained that we pronounced it differently due to its Spanish origin, pol-yo, she looked at me doubtfully and said half question, half judgment “..No.”

I had a total Napoleon Dynamite moment right then and there, and had to resist yelling out “Make yourself a dang quesadilla!”

Who knows, maybe Napoleon’s grandma was right. I guess I could understand my friend’s skepticism if she knew we pronounced words like armadillo and Amarillo by an apparently different set of rules. Oh the English language, a curious amalgam indeed!
Claire Piepenburg

Jerry Springer, or ‘How The Rest of the World Sees Us’

25 Sep


American stereotypes or stereotypical of Americans?

Going abroad as an American student is certainly a lesson in humility. Not everyone is as big of a fan of the good old U-S-of-A as we might like to think. And while I have not directly encountered any blatant anti-Americanism, it seems that our reputation proceeds us.

During our first days here, the IFSA students stayed at a hotel before we moved into the dorms. We would encounter people from different countries all of the world in the elevators and almost immediately after the doors would close, they would turn to us and say “Are you Americans?” Sometimes without even hearing us speak. Is it our clothes? Our look? Do we emit a subconscious ‘American’ obnoxiousness — like a cultural dog whistle that only other nationalities can hear? I probably couldn’t have told you where they were from just from looking and I couldn’t have asked them in their native tongue whether they were German or Swedish or Norwegian, like they had just asked us — in English.

I think the general European consensus about Americans is that we are overbearing, dismissive of other cultures, ignorant of world events and that we see things as being either ‘our way or the highway’. My flatmate even told me that she thought the show ‘Jerry Springer’ was meant to be an accurate depiction of American life. When I mentioned to one of my flatmates that Americans pretty much know that the French dislike us, she regretfully informed me that, “Most everyone dislikes Americans..”

My immediate thought in response to this was, “But where I’m from, everyone loves Americans!” Now, how American of a thought process is that?

The stereotypes of Texans are even more grandiose (Although I’m sure we wouldn’t have it any other way!). Today, a guy asked me what state I was from and when I told him “Texas”, he said “Oh God! Aren’t you allowed to shoot people in Texas?” and then he asked me if we were all inbred. (Don’t worry, I told him that he was thinking of Arkansas).  Our gun control and self defense laws are extremely horrifying to the British, most of whom have never even seen a gun before. Pepper spray is considered a firearm here, and you can serve a pretty hefty jail sentence just for possession. (I think I’ll keep my passport, money, cell phone and camera, and you can go wash your eyes out, thank you very much!)

Another huge adjustment is the differences between the collegiate systems. British students are on a different path then American students in their first year of college. You don’t shop around the course catalogue, trying on different classes to see what fits best. At university in the UK, if you are going to study dentistry,  you only take courses in dentistry.  They find our ‘little bit of everything’ attitude towards coursework strange. Some of the UK students I’ve talked to even see it as almost non-committal and watered down. Your educational foundation should be established in ‘college’ (high school), and your focus is narrowed at the ‘university’ (collegiate) level. Courses have a much stronger emphasis on self-teaching and individual learning; they assume that if you are a student then you should have the motivation to come to class, complete readings and do research without being ‘rewarded’ with completion grades, participation points or benchmark quizzes.

So far, the greatest lesson I’ve learned abroad is that in leaving behind your home, family and friends (and inevitably a large part of who you are), you discover so much about yourself and the place you are from. When you are taken out of your context, you are forced to define yourself in clearer terms. Your surroundings can no longer speak for you. Your friends cannot be used to reflect upon your character.  You must be able to communicate articulately and distinctly about who you are as an individual, when all of the ‘extra’ falls away.

Living in London, I am learning more about what it really means to be an American, on a personal and global scale. A lesson that is both challenging and enlightening!