Bruin in London

Piccadily Circus at Night— Photo Credit: Cheechee Lin

Four weeks into my study abroad experience via UC EAP at the London School of Economics, I have barely had time to write— London is constantly buzzing with things to do! I can’t even believe that I have midterms next week and finals the week after… this has definitely been one of the most exhilarating experiences thus far in college.

So first off, I’d like to chronicle my experiences in the fantastic city by location, rather than time. More to come later!

 

The London School of Economics

This school is one of the leading institutes in the world for economics and the social sciences. I’ve chosen to take two electives here: MG101 (Marketing) and MG133 (Management). These two courses have offered me a chance to get a glimpse of the theories behind strategic marketing and management tactics in the business world. Each course is structured with daily three hour lectures and one hour seminars (much like discussions at UCLA). I’ve had plenty of opportunities to interact with my classmates from all over the world and grow in the process. The fact that approximately a third of my classmates have real world experience working in major companies has further created opportunities to hear about what the adult life is like! These courses have definitely been intensive but definitely manageable, as I have had plenty of time to explore London in my time off! The school itself has a very different vibe from UCLA as it is not so much a college with a town but rather a big city that has a school planted right in the heart of the city. This has allowed me to fully integrate myself into the life here and experience “the true London”.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace—-Photo Credit: Cheechee Lin

Buckingham Palace is magnificent. It’s located near Victoria Station, only a short bus ride from the school. On our day off, a fellow Bruin and I traveled over to watch the changing of the guards, unfortunately, we picked the wrong spot to stake out and thus only saw the entry and exit of the guards. Yet it was still quite a sight to see as guards dressed in royal red and black outfits marched by and policemen galloped by on magnificent stallions. We also paid a couple of pounds to get an in depth tour of the state rooms, which were displaying the Royal Childhood Exhibition at the time. The splendor of the palace cannot be described… unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures inside the palace so I have attached a photo of the statue outside just to give you all a taste of the grandeur!

Musicals: Wicked and Mamma Mia

London has a vibrant arts culture. Every corner of each major street probably has a ticket stand selling tickets to various musicals in London, which run six to seven days a week. I was fortunate enough to see Wicked and Mamma Mia here! I was quite impressed with Wicked. The vocals were incredibly powerful and the storyline contained all the components of humor, romance, and friendship. It was definitely worth it! The stage itself was also a magnificent work of art: a dragon leered over the top of the stage and large stage props were automated so that they rolled in by themselves during transitions. I liked the twist the story put on the original story of the Wizard of Oz. For those who haven’t seen the musical yet, I definitely encourage you all to try it!

Covent Garden, Piccadily Circus & Oxford Street

Bruins in London!— Photo Credit: Cheechee Lin

These three places are probably London’s premier shopping destinations. Granted, London does have fashionable shops everywhere, but these three attract large crowds on a daily basis! Piccadily Circus even had a “Street Musician Month” where they completely closed off the length of the road from Piccadily to Oxford Circus and invited artists to perform and sing. It was quite a sight!

London Eye, Big Ben

Thames River at night— Photo Credit: Cheechee Lin

Of course my visit to London wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the most popular attractions here! I didn’t get to actually go on the London Eye, but even from afar the ferris wheel was majestic. Big Ben was quite on time. You can hear the chimes at the top of each hour from afar (even from my building!). One night, two other fellow bruins and I decided to climb the bridge looking over the Thames River in the dead of the night and the sight was so beautiful.

Oxford University

A friend and I took a 1.5 hr bus to take a tour of this top institution on a random weekend! Though we didn’t actually get to set foot in many of the colleges, the architecture from outside was still amazing. (Think Royce Hall meets Powell times infinity).

 

Well that’s a quick summary of a couple of the places I’ve been thus far in London! I’m so incredibly grateful to my parents and UCEAP for providing an opportunity for me to study in one of the greatest city in the world. I’m enjoying my time here and am quite sad that I only have two weeks left. London, you have truly taken my breath away with your fantabulous architecture and fast-paced lifestyle and men in suits. Now for midterms and finals…

Shoutouts to any Bruins abroad/ from abroad right now! Let me know where you’re from in the comments below. 🙂

 

Bucket List: Freshman Year

Photo Credit: Cheechee Lin

As the school year draws to a close, seniors in flowing graduation gowns can be seen all over campus, posing for graduation pictures. I can’t believe that my first year at UCLA is almost over (except for finals, bleh). As UCLA prepares to send off a fourth of its population off into the real world, it’s time to welcome the freshman class.

It’s hard to believe that a little less than a year ago, I was the bright-eyed freshman who stepped foot on this campus for the first time. The quarter system does move at a super fast pace, and it seems as though this year has just been a blur. Now it’s time to take a look back at a fraction of the bucket list I composed right after freshman orientation and see what items I’ve crossed off. I was inspired by a youtube clip I had watched shortly before I moved here 🙂

  1. Take part in the Color Run 2014(I ended up participating in Run or Dye with some good friends this May).
  2. Study abroad for one quarter + (I’m studying abroad in LSE this summer! I’ve never been to Europe before, and I’m counting down the days till I’m there!)
  3. Join an a cappella group  (Awechords A Cappella, you have given me the experience of a lifetime. I’m so glad I get to sing with you all for the rest of my college career!)
  4. Volunteer for an educational cause (Project WILD, Unicamp, I am so incredibly lucky to be able to volunteer with you)
  5. University Chorus, UCLA Chorale, Chamber (Performing in Royce was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve had during my undergraduate career. As Dr.Neuen’s last choral class, getting to perform the Beethoven Mass inside UCLA’s best venue was incredible.)
  6. Tour Guide ( I served as a tour guide for Bruin Day! Despite getting stranded outside the elevator from my tour group and having to scour the building for them, it was an exhilarating experience)
  7. Experience Spring Sing (Best show ever!!! More to come on this later)
  8. Figure out what major I want to be (This actually turned out to be not that difficult once I was able to figure out what I was really passionate about!)
  9. Thanksgiving in Beverly Hills ( I had the fortune of dining with an alumni for Thanksgiving since I couldn’t go back home, thanks to the Dashew Center!
  10. Road Trip (LOL my friends from my floor dragged me to San Diego during Winter Quarter amid midterm craziness. I am so grateful they persuaded me, that was definitely an fun-filled adventure!)
  11. Learn something completely random  (Wow. I’ve taken a couple of classes purely for the sake of learning outside my academic career and they were some of the best courses I’ve taken thus far.)

So these were a couple of the things I’ve managed to cross off my list. The rest are little goals or checkpoints I will work towards during the future, and I’ll definitely keep on expanding the list! So for anyone looking to create a bucket list: be as deep, as insightful, or as crazy as you’d like: college is what you make out of it! Set a goal to take a random class, do something you never thought you’d do (like leap off a pole on the top of a mountain), meet some incredible people, and get ready for the ride of your life!

Back to L.A.

By the time that you read this, I will be back in Los Angeles. It is the night before I make a sort-of-a-surprise trip down to L.A. to see my friends and see my campus who I haven’t seen for a very long time. And it’s more or less overwhelming. I spent much of my first semester dreaming about seeing UCLA again. I would take walks through south campus in my head during archaeology class. I would imagine tasting the first, hot bite of a Cafe 1919 pizette when I was hungry. If I was feeling especially fragile, I would look up UCLA’s campus on Google Maps and sit on street view, gazing at Royce Hall while my eyes got fuzzier and fuzzier.

But I haven’t felt like that in a long, long while. Sure, there was a time that going back was all I wished for. Food was better back home, memories were better, the earth was prettier. But second semester wasn’t like that. Walking around Lyon felt like walking in a giant house, everything was comfy like being indoors. I missed UCLA, sure, and my friends of course, but I was thriving without them. My mind had replaced the bricks of north campus with the intricate rooftops of France. My heart found the Red Bridge on the Soane and allowed it to take the botanical garden’s place, if only for those few months.

And so now it is the night before I get on a plane that will drop me in LAX in the hottest weather I will have experienced in over nine months. And I will hop onto the blue Flyaway bus and make my way to Westwood, which I’m sure will seem as strange to me as France did when I first arrived. I mean, of course I expect to be overcome by happiness the moment on walk on campus and see the neuroscience building towering proudly above me. And I know that I will swoon at my first stop by the south campus student center. I’ll be taking every one of my favorite walks, and I will, I know, be absolutely adoring it. But if the “reverse culture shock” that I encounter when I get down there is anything like what I experienced coming home to the Bay Area, I also have to be prepared for the inevitable alienation that will happen when I am about to face.

They always talked about coming back and being blown away by how the familiarity seems so foreign, but before you experience it firsthand, there is no way of knowing exactly what it feels like. I wait in a confusing and surreal anticipation for my reunion with the place that I have missed and loved and not been to for the past nine months. I hope everything turns out OK, even though I know it will. And it will, especially after my mind is able to grab hold of those lovely north campus bricks. It won’t be until I’m there that I know I am back.

Self-study Abroad

I am done with school. More or less. I am still working on a research project I’m doing through my program, but all the other classes are totally terminé. I have now spent eight months in France doing lots of eating, a solid bit of traveling, and next to no schoolwork. This is, of course, not to say that I did not have any “study” in my study abroad experience, but I think that the name generally leads people to believe that us study abroaders are doing most of our learning in the classroom (which is just absolutely not the case). Sure, there are people who do enjoy and benefit from their classes. I even use the knowledge I gained during my French linguistics class on a biweekly basis. But one’s time in a foreign country features quite a bit more self-study and reflection. Without the handy extracurriculars of home campus and the quarterly events like Spring Sing, study abroad students are allowed a lot of time to sit and ponder their humanity. I think that during the first semester, I averaged around three existential crises a day. Last October, I watched more TV than I have ever watched in a single month, and I began to worry my host mom with all of the conversations I had aloud with myself. By second semester, first semester’s long and often bizarre road to self-discovery led me to a sunny patch where I could thoroughly enjoy the country I was living in because I was so thoroughly enjoying being myself. Sure, I enjoyed me back in LA, but how could I not when I spent my days strolling through the botanical gardens? Spending a semester in France showed me who I was when I didn’t have the luxury of weekly treks through the palm court of Bunche or delicious lunches from Cafe 1919.

And like I said, second semester was really one giant, comfy, sunny patch. Never has there been a period of time where I have found so much pleasure in eating food or starting new fun habits. The doodling I was doing in my school notebooks became increasingly stunning. Larger scenes, more detail, feeling! With my friends, too, I had become so happy, so satisfied. Everyone I talked to had something to teach me. I was hardly in a classroom, and, in fact, my courses were anything but intellectual (remember my puppeteering class?), yet day by day I could feel myself becoming more and more in tune with my academic interests. I was living in a party, one that was filled with beautiful, yummy, informative things.

And I suppose that’s what study abroad is. It isn’t about learning a foreign language or taking classes in another university system. It isn’t about getting to know a foreign culture or meeting the locals. It’s about meeting you, getting to know your own culture. It’s about having talks in your head, becoming fluent in your own voice. And it took me a while to see that and understand that, but now I know that what I learned about myself this year abroad was something I could not have found in a classroom back at UCLA.

It took me leaving to know exactly why I am more excited than ever to go back. So here I come, senior year. I know I will love you as much as I love me.

Pizza Quotas

 

In the midst of furiously editing a paper I was writing yesterday, I decided to take a break from using my brain to go grab some dinner. My friend Josephine and I took a walk over to Lyon’s seventh arrondissement where we decided on eating at a pizza place where we had gone earlier in the semester. And even though the pizza was as delicious as it was the first time, leaving the restaurant I knew that I would never come back. I had reached my quota for “that pizza place in the seventh.”

But that isn’t to say that I have totally reached my quota on pizza. About a week ago, my friends and I were talking about how completely over pizza we were, just absolutely done. We could wait until California to get a slice of Hawaiian  and for now we needed to get our fix for melted cheese elsewhere. But two days later I found myself excitedly digging into a calzone at a restaurant that overlooks one of Lyon’s rivers. Apparently my palate was still accepting pizza.

Pizza has been a standard part of my weekly diet this semester. Josephine and I made a deal back in January that we would have weekly dinner dates that switched between eating pizza and  eating burgers and that we would carefully make our way through all of the establishments in Lyon that served these delicious (American) staples. Just as it was for certain pizzerias, I have reached my quota on several of the burger joints I’ve been to. One place I refuse to eat another burger at, and I will only return for their Thursday night deals (where you can buy a pound of french fries for three euros).

But I have to wonder why I run into these quotas. Is it because I want to try as many restaurants as possible? Is having delicious food or a cute ambience not enough? For some places, a limit for visits does not exist. There is a cupcake place here in the city that I’ve been to more times than I can count, and I have eaten Vietnamese food at Petit Grain on many occasions. There are also places I strive to go to often, even if I can’t always find a reason to. I walk past my favorite boulangerie on a weekly basis just to say hi even if I am not going in to buy a baguette. There is a cafe a couple streets over that I wish I had made my regular lunch spot, but I discovered it too late in the semester, so now I try to go as often as I can. There are, too, places for which my desired number of visits is “once.” There’s a bar that I spent a lovely night at, huddled outside under blankets sitting next to a tree that was growing up through the terrace, but as much as I adored the bar, going that one time was enough. Why do some places beckon me back while others outlive their allure? Why do I have my “favorite cafe” or “regular joint” when at the same time I am so interested in trying a new restaurant whenever I go out for lunch?

I’ve had a heck of a time walking the streets of the Lyonnais peninsula searching for new pubs and new restaurants  and for the most part I’ve been able to try the ones I want to try. But sometimes it is worth it to forgo testing that new kebab place and instead snuggling up in the familiar environment of the cupcake bakery?

I don’t know. But for now, I guess I will try not to worry too much about quotas and pizzas and novelty. That is until I get back to UCLA where Los Angeles has more bars and restaurants to try than there are days in the academic year. Here’s to hoping my experience in Lyon prepares me for the food uncertainty I face in the future.

Dreaming of a taco

Since the day I got here, I have been dreaming of eating a taco. A salty, beautiful carne asada soft taco with maybe some guacamole and a side of rice and beans. Even thinking about it now is making my heart swell in anticipation (I go home in about a month to be reunited with my long-lost love, Mexican food). Of course that is not to say that I haven’t tried to recreate my old favorites over here. I’ve used my blender to make horchata and have tirelessly searched the produce section for non-rock-like avocados. I even tracked down a decent Mexican restaurant in Paris when I went, but having a chorizo taco on a sad, imported tortilla is not quite like home.

In the absence of chilaquiles, I’ve been eating other food. Every so often I walk past one of my favorite boulangeries and pop in to grab a cookie. They aren’t quite like American cookies, the dough is made with almond paste and bitter chocolate, but it is very very tasty. Sometimes, instead of a cookie, maybe I grab a pain au chocolat. Or perhaps I stick to a classic baguette to make a sandwich with.

I now regularly eat crepes and quiches. I have developed quite a taste for biscottes and cheese. And while it is true that I still stare longingly at the dry, unfortunate flour tortillas in the supermarket’s international section, I have gotten quite good at passing them up and grabbing charcuterie instead.

This year I’ve fallen back in love with roast chicken, a relic of my childhood that I swore off after having eaten it so many times for family dinners. I eat duck regularly now, not just for special occasions. And the amount of goat cheese I consume has nearly tripled in recent months.

But what does this all mean? This new-found appreciation of all food that is rich, buttery, and completely devoid of spice? Will I have trouble readjusting to my quesadillas? Will even eating a pepperoni pizza trigger memories of the pounds of salami I’ve had since being here in France? Is it possible that upon my return I will crave a pear tart in the same way I now crave the hot first bite of a burrito?

I think so.

And now, with my last month ahead of me, I plan to relish in the glory that is French food in the hope that when I get back to the United States my palate will be programmed to always remember the love I have now for the yummy things I’m eating. I am still going to enjoy that first taco though.

Spring is here!

For the past several months I have been wearing long underwear beneath my jeans. My mom brought me two pairs when she visited in November, and I haven’t taken them off since.  This winter has been the coldest I’ve ever endured, especially coming from California where I am used to trips to the beach in the days following New Year’s. These longjohns have been my savior, staving off hypothermia, always giving my freezing legs a nice, warm, comforting hug. I’ve developed quite a relationship with these guys.

But last week, the strangest thing happened. I went outside, and I was hot. I walked through the streets confused, completely unable to run my errands like I planned. I looked into the reflections of storefront windows to see if I was accidentally wearing many more clothes than I thought. But it wasn’t the clothes, it was the sun. The sun had somehow actually managed to raise the surrounding temperature to a livable 53 degrees. I let out a deep sigh in disbelief (finally, a sigh I couldn’t see).

I immediately walked very quickly back to my house and up to my room where I ripped off all of my clothes, including my long underwear. I stared at their limp, hollow form for a good two minutes before looking into the mirror at my pale, naked legs. I was free. These underwear that had been a miracle for so long were suddenly totally obsolete. I started to put back on my clothes. I opted not to grab the extra jacket, I wore sandals, and my wrists were left exposed.

The walk downstairs out of my apartment building into the open air was full of apprehension. Had I imagined the sun? Were the sandals overly optimistic?

I stepped outside and was overcome with an intense happiness, one that only exists in the company of short sleeves. Without thinking, I skipped over to the bike lock-up station, took out a bike, hopped on and skidded off towards the river. I pulled my bike down the nearest set of stairs to get to the water. I rode north along the bank, passing brightly-dressed families, shirtless French men, kids with ice cream. Every seat along the water was suddenly filled with people, the warm weather having pulled us all out of our houses. Everyone was smiling, and as I biked I let out silly, giggly laughs. Giddiness was splashing about everywhere. It was spilling out of the cold drinks of the people sitting at the riverboat cafes. Romance was falling from the trees.

Suddenly, spring had sprung. Lyon was no longer trapped in the cold, keeping its people holed up in their bedrooms or hiding behind scarves. I made my way to park, my legs sore from biking for the first time in a long while and my cheeks sore from smiling. I had a little glass of sangria. I took a ride on a paddle boat. It was perfect.

Now, with a little over a month left here, I plan on participating fully in this French springtime. More ice cream! More walks! More smiles! And no more long underwear.

Success in Travel

I have arrived at the mature and knowledgeable traveler stage in my life. I can’t say I hope it lasts for a while, because once I return to the United States I believe the extent of my traveling will be to and from the next town. Still, all of my international voyaging has been doing me good. I have gained a new understanding of how traveling works and how to complete my trip stress and complication free. I’ve found that now when I visit new places I have a greater appreciation for the monuments and sport a deeply serene attitude. My traveling expertise has also begun to seep into other aspects of life – my weeks now all feel well-planned and exciting and my self-confidence has reached new heights.

Airlines are now not such a freaky mystery to me. It is actually very simple to find cheap flights, especially if you begin your search early (in fact, I would say timing plays the largest role in determining how much you pay for a ticket). I now know all of the baggage allowances for the various European airlines, who you can check a bag for free with, who lets you get by with a bag that’s a little too big, who doesn’t. I know which airlines serve food, I know what kind of restaurants are going to be in which terminal (one of the highlights of my trip to London was the airport BLT that I had been looking forward since day one). I also know what kinds of things to expect from the cities I visit, even if I’ve never been there. I know how to find the museums that will interest me, I know how to decode hostel reviews.

And this is all stuff you will learn if you do a lot of traveling. For example, when I went on a trip last semester, my friend and I were stranded at the airport because bus service wasn’t running that day. When I visited Ireland last week, I knew the exact bus we would be needing, I spoke with driver to make sure we wouldn’t miss our stop, and we nabbed the best seats for the ride.

Like I said, traveling has now become much more enjoyable. I was in Dublin, Ireland for a couple days, and I firmly believe that it was the most successful vacation I have ever taken. We visited museums, walked all over the city, ate gobs and gobs of food, trekked over a college campus, and even made friends with a volunteer pharmacist. Leaving Ireland, I felt rejuvenated. And I have a big, beautiful stamp on my passport (“it’s even green!” remarked the customs worker) to always remind me of my success.

Vacationing finally feels like a vacation to me. It isn’t tiring or stressful or something to work at. It’s just fun.

Potluck Culture

If this semester had a theme, it would most certainly be potluck. I’ve attended more potlucks in the last several weeks than in all college. I’ve toiled in the kitchen making dishes of massive proportions to feed my many different friends who for one reason or another decided independently that hosting a potluck would be a great idea. And great they have been.

It started with a potluck to celebrate Chinese New Year. The menu was set to be filled with many delicious Chinese dishes but instead consisted largely of guacamole. We are, after all, college students with limited cooking ability. Still, the year of the snake was kicked off right with many mouthfuls of guac. The other potlucks followed in similar fashion. I attended one that was hosted by a Canadian friend of mine where, in addition to goodies to eat, attendees were expected to bring along a piece of literature to share with the rest of the crowd. My friend Darlene from UCSB hosted a Mexican food potluck for which I made (what felt like) a bathtub-sized amount of horchata. Even my puppeteering class held a potluck on our last day, which, by the way, was one of the more fabulous potlucks I’ve attended. French students live up to their country’s stereotype. We had pork products and different types of cheeses abound, several bottles of wine, and of course baguettes.

Potlucks are a funny thing. Very often you end up with lots of food left over in bizarre combinations or too many people make dessert and you are have to eat sweet bread for dinner. For one potluck I went to, another attendee and I brought the only salads, both of which happened to feature beets and goat cheese, so guests had little choice when it came to grabbing a side for their pasta. But despite all the weird, mismatched food you are bound to encounter at a potluck, they are always very fun. And the best part of them – only having to make one thing in a large quantity as opposed to an entire meal for yourself – makes going to them very worth it.

I’m sure I’ll be heading off to a potluck pretty soon.

Marionettes

This year abroad, I’m tackling a French minor. It’s relatively short, just five classes to do over the course of two semesters, which means that I have lots of free space in an already lightly-loaded schedule to take some courses just for fun.

My fun for this semester (besides a class on the second wave of American feminism) is a class in the theater department about marionettes and puppeteering. The course mainly covers the history of different puppeteering forms across the world – last week we learned about life-sized marionettes in Japan and new-age human puppeteering in the Netherlands. But in addition to the history lessons, the class also came with a marionettes workshop. We learned, during six 7-hour days spread over three weekends, about controlling various kinds of puppets and participating in different kinds of manipulation theater.

It was a gas.

We learned how to use marionettes, how to make them dance or to recite a sad poem. We learned about object theater, making matchbooks come alive and hold conversations with sunglasses and paper doilies. We learned how to use dirt and plastic to illustrate falling in love. But what was better was that we all got to be very good friends after the three weekends.

I took the class with my friend Becca, a third-yeard from UC Santa Barbara. Being the sole Americans in the class, we were intimidated by the French theater students. There were so many huge, dramatic personalities that on the first day Becca and I rushed off to McDonald’s for lunch to avoid the intense, artistic conversations we knew were happening in the cafeteria. Slowly but surely, however, we started becoming closer with the French students. We sat with them at lunch, we walked with them to the coffee machines during break, we collaborated on puppet shows.

And it was all very exciting. Normally, attempting to make friends with other French students in class is nearly impossible. You get lucky to find one or two who are English majors and like practicing their English, maybe another who is nice enough to share notes, and then that’s generally it. Here we were, making heaps of French friends. I learned more French names over the course of three weeks than I had this past semester. And all the while we were doing all this friend-making in puppeteering class.

Not to say that I didn’t enjoy my classes last semester, but this class may be my favorite I’ve taken in France or even perhaps in college altogether. I’ve learned some very fun marionette tricks and also made many new friends. I’m already looking forward to class this week and for a soiree this weekend that the French students have planned. Hopefully my class on feminism will turn out to be this fun.