Dreaming Spires (at a Distance): Why studying at Oxford was not for me, but a daytrip or two was

IMG-20160331-WA0016Some of you may be surprised to know that when I initially explored study abroad programs, I was considering a program at Oxford. The city has been an enchanting place in my imagination for years, especially because some of my favorite authors and thinkers have studied there, at the oldest university in the English speaking world. Dating back to the 11th or 12th century, Oxford has been a place that has inspired a range of people, from Christopher Wren and Dorothy Sayers to John Henry Newman and Stephen Hawking.

To study at such a prestigious institution would obviously be a huge honor. But it was ultimately an honor I chose not to pursue.

The likelihood of my getting into the program was very high, but the more I considered it, the more I realized that such a program was not for me. I am not interested in a future as an academic, for one thing. As someone who has recently struggled with essay anxiety, too, applying for a course of study in which I would have to write major essays on a weekly basis did not seem like the wisest choice.20160320_155036

Talking with an incredible student at my home university who had just completed (and loved) his experience only confirmed my conviction that I would not be happy in such a program. Instead, I chose a London University that has been less academically rigorous. It has given me more time to travel, apply to grad school, and enjoy my final semester.

It was hard and humbling to walk away from the opportunity to study at Oxford. A part of me felt that by doing so, I would be admitting that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough or brave enough. Not enough.

Despite these fears, another part of me knew that I would probably cry every day there, and that an opportunity that may be fantastic for some people might not be fantastic for me at this moment. Living up to an ideal or outside expectation to “be smart” would stress me out to an unhealthy extent, not make me happy. I’m very glad I made the choice I did.

That being said, I had to go visit the enchanting city while I was in the UK, and I enjoyed my visit just as much as I thought I would. Technically, I took two trips to Oxford—but the first one did little more than orient me in the city, so I felt justified in a second adventure.

For the second trip, my flatmate and I caught the Oxford Tube early the Saturday before Easter and began by browsing Blackwell’s Bookshop. Where else?IMG-20160331-WA0017

We then explored the stalls in the Covered Market, which was established in 1774.IMG-20160331-WA0009

And of course, we had to visit one of the 38 colleges that make up the university. We happened by New College and decided that one would be as good as any other. Plus, my flatmate was excited that some scenes from the Harry Potter movies had been filmed there.IMG-20160331-WA0010

We took a gander at the Museum of the History of Science solely to see a blackboard that Einstein wrote on. We followed our foray into science with afternoon tea and two giant scones in the place of lunch.20160326_130229

I next had to stop by the Oxford Oratory Church of St Aloysius Gonzaga, which I may have chosen because Gerard Manley Hopkins served there and because it shares a name with Sebastian’s teddy bear. Along the way, we passed by the Bird and Baby, where the Inklings met to drink and discuss their writing. A selfie-taking session ensued.20160326_143644

I then dragged my flatmate to Holywell Cemetery to find the graves of Austin Farrer (a theologian and Inkling) and Kenneth Grahame (the author of The Wind in the Willows). Props to her for standing in the rain in a graveyard (that may or may not have been open) for a good 15 minutes.20160326_155530

We of course had to finish with a tour of the Divinity School and the Bodleian Library. The architecture inside the Divinity School is simply stunning…IMG-20160331-WA0014

And I’m pretty sure I grinned like a Muppet the entire time we were in Duke Humphrey’s Library, which is the oldest reading room at the University and is filled with texts that are at least 400 years old.

We wrapped up the day with my first Thai food experience (yum!) and a split Cadbury Crème Egg McFlurry, along with a conversation with some of Jenna’s friends who are currently studying at Oxford.

As I talked to the students and reflected on my magical day, I felt very thankful that I had been blessed with the opportunity to visit the place of my dreams, if only for a little while. I realized that the great thinkers of Oxford will continue to inspire me at a distance, and for once, that felt like it would be enough.IMG-20160331-WA0002

You know you are a book nerd when… (UK Edition)

I’ve seen a lot of really cool things lately that conformed to a similar theme (go figure), so I thought I’d inundate you all with pictures in this post. Enjoy!

  1. You vacillate between thrilled and depressed while at Stonehenge because you just wrote a paper on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and the ending broke your heart all over again.stonehenge
  2. You can’t go anywhere in Bath without expecting Henry Tilney to pop around the corner.


    Bath Abbey

  3. You exclaim excitedly whenever you pass a blue plaque marking the house of someone like Vera Brittain or George du Maurier… And then you have to explain to your flatmates why you are geeking out.
  4. You’ve already posted about the John Keats House but have to mention it again.keats house
  5. You feel very feminist at Cambridge, thinking about the speeches Virginia Woolf gave there. (You also just want to shake your head at Rupert Brooke.)

    cambridge botanical

    The botanical gardens in Cambridge are gorgeous, by the way.

  6. You willingly take the typical tourist pictures in front of the Bird and Baby because you love nearly all the Inklings… except maybe Charles Williams. Mostly because you are bitter about how many of his plays you had to read.bird and baby
  7. You make your flatmate spend ten minutes in the rain in a cemetery while you find the graves of a children’s book author and an Anglican theologian.

    kenneth grahame

    Kenneth Grahame’s grave

  8. You wander the streets in Oxford and wish you had brought your teddy bear.
  9. You can’t decide whether you are most filled with wonder at being where the Oxford Movement occurred, or horror at being where Little Father Time committed his crime.

    dreaming spires

    Dreaming spires

  10. You walk into the Bodleian Library, smell the books, and can’t wipe the smile off your face for the next few hours. (Especially when you learn that there are mazes of tunnels under streets of Oxford full of BOOKS.)

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    The Radcliffe Camera

  11. You see a draft of a Wilfred Owen poem, as well as an ancient copy of a Sappho poem, and have to share even though you don’t have a picture!
  12. You obviously take way too many selfies at Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon because SHAKESPEARE was born in that house. ‘Nough said.shakespeare selfies

In memory of Franz Wright

One of my favorite contemporary poets, Franz Wright, would have been 63 today, had he not died of lung cancer last May. I didn’t realize he had passed away until late in the fall, and even though I never met him, it still felt like a very personal loss.

It’s probably because so many of his poems are intensely personal, whether they are addressed to his dead father, himself, a friend, or simply “you.” In “P.S.,” he writes:

“I’m writing to you
all the time, I am writing,

with both hands
day and night.”

When reading his works, I certainly felt like I was devouring words written especially for me. I still wish I had the chance to tell him that.

My favorite of his works is Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, a brilliant collection he wrote shortly after his conversion to Christianity and which earned him the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The rawness of his faith shines through each poem in the book.

One of the ways in which the personal nature of his poems becomes clear is in how many of his later works become prayers. In “One Heart,” Wright offers up a beautiful prayer that recognizes the contradictory ugliness and beauty that shape our existence:

“Thank You for letting me live for a little as one of the
sane; thank You for letting me know what this is
like. Thank You for letting me look at your frightening
blue sky without fear, and your terrible world without
terror, and your loveless psychotic and hopelessly
with this love.”

Franz Wright faced many challenges in his life, including an absent father, mental illness, and drug addiction, but I’m thankful that he seems to have found some measure of peace in his final years, and that he was able to pass it on to the rest of us.

A Daytrip to Dover

IMG-20160302-WA0010“To one who has been long in city pent,
‘Tis very sweet to look into the fair
 And open face of heaven,—to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.”

~John Keats, “To One Who Has Long Been in City Pent”

My flatmate and I were sick of being cooped up in the flat and writing essays over Reading Week, so we decided to spring for a daytrip to see the White Cliffs of Dover. I didn’t know much about them, other than that they were supposedly stunning, and that “Dover Beach” is the title of a lovely (if melancholic) Matthew Arnold poem.

I learned a bit more from helpful factoids etched into a fence along the way. The cliffs are—you guessed it—white because they are made largely of chalk, and they extend up to 350 feet in some places. From our location on the cliffs, we were only 22 miles away from France, or close enough that my mobile carrier welcomed me to that country.IMG-20160302-WA0024

The town itself is a bit of a letdown, though it is unique in that it has been populated since the Stone Age. It does have the benefits of a) being too small to really get lost in, and b) possessing a cute tea shop in which my flatmate and I got our fix of British tea (scone included). Fish and chips at a local pub were also a good idea, though they did not quite atone for the town. The cliffs, on the other hand, more than exceeded our expectations.

Now, you should know that I am very much a city girl. I thrive in an environment with supermarkets, book stores, and 24-hour Taco Bells, all connected by asphalt roads (many of which my dad built!). But even I stopped to wonder to myself if maybe the Romantics were onto something in their gushing enthusiasm for nature.


This helps explain why Rolling Stones songs were stuck in my head on the bus ride back.

Romantics like Wordsworth and Coleridge and my beloved Keats viewed nature as a redemptive place, a healing force. In a time when industrialization and enclosure acts meant that far more people began to live in urban areas, it makes sense that they worried about the effects of such a shift. City life, especially at the time, often came with disease, overcrowding, and moral corruption. Returning to the countryside, if only temporarily, seemed to be a healthy alternative—physically, mentally, and spiritually.

While I might find more positive aspects in city life now, I do think it is easy to fall into a mindset that nature is somehow less essential today. Urbanity is newer, after all, in the narrative of progress, and nature is more distant from our daily lives.

But maybe we should care more about the natural world, both on the larger scale of global warming and deforestation, and on the smaller scale of its value in our individual lives. It’s amazing, for instance, how a quick walk through the park behind my London university can clear my head and offer some much-needed perspective, even on problems that will still exist when I return to the flat.

20160224_160535Basking in the sun and blue skies as I hiked along the White Cliffs revitalized me and cheered my spirit. I felt I could soak up the fresh air and lovely landscape forever. I began thinking about Dorothy Day, who in The Long Loneliness describes how marveling at God’s creation helped lead her to embrace Christianity. I also reflected on interpretation of William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace, who wants to spend hours in his garden observing spiders’ webs after his own conversion.

Both of these people found inspiration in nature, as well as “A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,/ Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we / may see and remark, and say Whose?” (All credit to Walt Whitman for those beautiful words.) But what they found did not lead them to blissful inaction; it became an impetus for engagement in their world. In Day’s case, her conversion to Christianity eventually lead her to co-found the Catholic Worker Movement, and Wilberforce’s faith helped fortify him to become the force behind abolishing the British slave trade.

As my flatmate and I wrapped up out day in Dover, I continued my obsession with reading


Reading “Dover Beach” at Dover Beach

poetry on location by making my flatmate stop in front of the Matthew Arnold house and the rocky shoreline to read “Dover Beach.” The poem reflects Victorian anxieties about faith in a world trying to reframe its worldview after Lyell’s revelations about the age of the earth and Darwin’s explanation of how life changes over time.

With each age comes its own range of doubts, fears, and problems, our own age included. Standing on the shore, I found comfort in the brisk breeze and expanse of water before me. An encounter with nature may not dissolve all of our problems, but it can reenergize us for our response to these problems. Allowing nature to refresh us, like a Sabbath, can prepare us to then continue on to do the work we are called to do in the world.

“A Thing of Beauty:” The John Keats House Museum

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“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”
~John Keats, from Endymion

Representation of Fanny Brawne’s Room

Visiting the John Keats House Museum was just as magical of an experience as reading his poetry. There is something enchanting about his language that has kept me turning to his poems over and over again, even before I began to understand them.

Poetry has always been a part of my life—a fact which I credit to the several “memory pieces” my grade school required us to memorize each year. To this day, I can recite John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” and Rudyard Kipling’s “Seal Lullaby” by heart, not to mention various lines of Poe, Frost, and Tennyson.

From these required encounters with poetry, I began to seek out poetry on my own. There’s something so comforting in having a few lines of poetry or a few verses of Scripture at the ready,


Keats’s Parlor

memorized or not. I think there are times when we don’t have the words for our experiences or feelings, and the use of another’s can offer great solace and a sense of companionship.

John Keats is one of the poets who has held a special place in my heart for many years now. I’m not sure how I first stumbled across his work, but I suspect it was in browsing either The Best Loved Poems of the American People or Immortal Poems of the English Language—two books I have flipped through until they practically fell apart and I felt justified in buying second copies. I immediately fell in love with the sound of his poetry, especially

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Poetry and lines from Keats’s poems adorn the walls.

“Ode to a Nightingale.” A class in Romantic poetry and the lovely 2009 movie Bright Star, which is based on the last few years of Keats’s all-too-short life, only strengthened my affection.

Imagine my joy when I realized that the house in which Keats wrote some of his most famous poetry—including his odes—was in London! During his day, Hampstead would have been a few miles’ walk from London proper, but as with many cities, London has a way of absorbing the area around it over time. Although Hampstead is not the rural village it used to be, a portion of the surrounding heath Keats used to walk so frequently has been saved as a park. Hampstead itself is a


Books Keats owned or read

refreshingly beautiful part of the city.

It was a lovely, sunny day when I visited the Keats House, as it is now called—even though John Keats never owned the place and only rented two rooms with his friend. In Keats’s time, it would have felt especially cramped because the Georgian building was actually split into two residences, one half belonging to the Dilkes and the other half belonging to Charles Brown (Keats’s friend).

It was in this house that Keats fell in love with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, and wrote some of his most beautiful poems. This was also the house in which he realized the immediacy of his own mortality after he contracted tuberculous.

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A plum tree in the garden, like the one Keats would have written under

Today, the house is airy and filled with light. I wandered through the rooms twice, imagining life nearly 200 years ago. Gazing at Fanny Brawne’s engagement ring. Reading wall texts. Listening to Keats’s poetry through conveniently placed headsets. The exhibits seemed to follow Keats’s story in many of the same ways Bright Star does, but my familiarity with the story allowed me to pay close attention to each item in the rooms.

Once I had browsed to my heart’s content, I walked out into the gardens, sat near a plum tree like the one under which Keats wrote “Ode to a Nightingale,” and read several of his poems. The breeze, the birds, the blue sky: nothing could be lovelier. When I finally headed back along Keats Grove toward the Tube station, I was thinking, in the words of my favorite Romantic:

         Was it a vision, or a waking dream? / Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
~John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”

Kelly and the Keats House


5 Fantastic London Museums

In case you haven’t figured it out already, I am a huge nerd. Spending a day in a drafty museum or an old church sounds way cooler to me than shopping in trendy Shoreditch. Needless to say, frequenting museums has been one of the highlights of my time here. (And luckily, it is also required for one of my classes!) Here are five of my favorites so far:

  1. torso

    One of the most famous torsos in the history of sculpture- that of Iris from the Parthenon.

    British Museum – Despite my bitterness about spending the entirety of my museum class in one room, I plan on visiting this one again… and maybe again. This museum’s collections are simply astounding. Their scope also reflects the extent of Imperial Britain’s power. Founded in 1753 as the first national public museum in the world, it hosts everything from the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles. I only saw one section in the hour I spent gaping and wandering in circles before class (on how different cultures relate to death, of all things), but I have since received recommendations for other rooms that I must check out in the near future

  2. Churchill War Rooms – I’ll admit, when I first walked into this historic site and museum, I wondered if I had made a mistake. My entrance ticket came with an audio guide, and one of the first stops on the tour was, I think, a closed door, to which the narrator spent a sentence or two ascribing significance. Fortunately, a few hours later, I emerged aboveground, blinking and a little confused to be confronted with modernity. The maze of rooms I had just wandered through had been the secret center of Britain’s war efforts during World War II, the space in which Churchill and his war cabinet planned future moves. Not only did the site make the most of the actual rooms; it actively engaged visitors through the hands on museum component. It was also powerful to hear recordings of Churchill’s speeches when surrounded by the urgency the space still managed to convey.


    The building may look impressive enough here, but it doesn’t even capture the two massive cannons out front.

  3. Imperial War Museum – I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a war buff (though those of you who know me might bring to mind my fascination with the American Civil War and World War I), but I spent five or six hours in this museum before I realized I needed to leave to make it to Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The exhibits are engaging, well contextualized, and emotionally powerful. Besides numerous artifacts from both World Wars, the museum contains a large collection of Victoria Cross medals (along with each recipient’s story), a twisted window frame from the World Trade Center, vehicles used in Afghanistan, and much, much more. My favorite displays were on World War I and the Holocaust.
  4. National Gallery – When I was young, a dear uncle of mine (who once gifted my five year old brother with a lighter) sent me a book of some of the world’s most famous paintings. On discovering that many of the paintings’ subjects were wearing scanty—if any—clothes, my parents rightly waited a few years to let me peruse the volume. Since then, I’ve periodically poured over the pages, inspired by the artwork within. Imagine my joy, then, when I walked into the National Gallery and saw many of these works of art in person. Turner, Vermeer, Van Gogh—all of these artists and more are displayed on these walls. Once again, the Gallery’s collection is breathtaking (if sometimes oddly organized) and will require a second visit, both for the collections inside and the view of Trafalgar Square (the center of London) outside.
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    Beside the V & A’s copy of Raphael’s fresco, The School of Athens, in the Cast Courts. (A reproduction of this hangs in the main Great Texts room in my home university.)

    Victoria and Albert Museum – Before I saw this museum for class, I had determined that my visit would mark my last journey to Kensington. The week before, I had seen the Natural History Museum in the same area and walked away unimpressed and annoyed at the distance. (I think this was mostly because the museum seems targeted at a younger audience, and my class readings presented a much more exciting description of the Darwin Centre than I saw. Plus, the dinosaur exhibit was closed.) After seeing a bit of the V & A, however, I knew I would make the trek at least once more. Founded in 1852, it houses the world’s largest collection of “decorative arts and design,” which might also be called, “all the beautiful and breathtaking things.” Sculptures, jewelry, fashion, paintings, furniture—it was hard to focus on any one object in the abundance of eye-catching pieces. One of the more interesting exhibits is called the Cast Courts, which houses dozens of nineteenth century plaster casts of famous statues, towers, and architecture. Rather than feeling that these copies were of no value or inauthentic, people at the time saw them as ways in which they could study and appreciate these marvels of the world before visiting the real monuments themselves (if they were so fortunate). The scale of these casts is still impressive today.

Westminster Abbey

20160115_102419Westminster Abbey has probably been my favorite of the places I’ve visited so far. After catching a glimpse of the exterior during a bus tour, I knew I had to see the inside. To do so, I may have spent more on admission than I did on food that week, but it was worth it.

The Abbey was originally a 10th century Benedictine monastery. Dedicated and enlarged by Edward the Confessor as a church in the 11th century, Westminster Abbey was largely rebuilt by Henry III in the 13th century. It’s now a fully functioning Anglican church that houses the Coronation Chair (which has been used since 1308) and has been the site of many royal weddings (most recently, the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton).

I walked in and literally felt my jaw drop and my eyes grow wide. History assumes a very tangible form in Westminster Abbey—so much so that despite the vastness of the structure, it still feels like the building itself is pressing in on a visitor.

Memorials and monuments crowd the walls and the floor. I found myself doubling back to gawk at markers I had walked over or skipped when my eyes were drawn to another. And if my eyes ever happened to glance up, there were even more memorials, not to mention the amazing Gothic arches and columns.

I don’t have the words to describe the staggering beauty of that place. Just one marker on its own would be magnificent, but instead, there were hundreds of them set in the most architecturally beautiful building I have ever seen.

It was also a bit like entering an auditorium full of some of the most influential people in Western history. So many people who have felt very alive to me in the pages of the books they wrote or the history I have studied suddenly felt very close physically, too.

Jeremy Irons, who narrates the audio guide and just happens to be one of my favorite (and living!) actors ever, kept pointing out graves that made my eyes bulge. William Wilberforce, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Thomas Hardy (minus his heart), Geoffrey Chaucer, Robert Browning, Laurence Olivier, Mary Queen of Scots, Edward the Confessor…

The list goes on and on, not to mention the many memorials for people who are buried elsewhere but still commemorated in the Abbey (e.g., Shakespeare, Keats, and even FDR). There’s also a smaller church just outside the Abbey called St. Margaret’s that has a mind-blowing history of its own—John Milton was married there, Olaudah Equiano was baptized there, Cromwell was originally buried there, etc.

Some other highlights in the Abbey itself were the memorial to the unknown solider from World War I, Henry VII’s Lady Chapel (stunning architecture that kept me circling the room multiple times), the rose window, and a particularly moving memorial to Lady Elizabeth Nightingale (who died after being struck by lightning and going into early labor). The memorial shows her horrified husband trying to fend off the skeleton of death, who threatens the wife with a deadly dart.

Pictures were not allowed inside, but I personally wouldn’t have wanted to put a lens between myself and my surroundings. A picture would be just as inadequate as my words to describe the presence of the place (very much a “someplace,” as Walker Percy might say). Besides, all I wanted to do was look and look and look and look.

I finally lit a votive candle, said a prayer, and left feeling grateful for the opportunity to walk through the centuries in such a beautiful place.


A very happy Kelly returning to her apartment via the Tube.

Top Ten Experiences from My First Week in London

I can’t believe an entire week has gone by since I landed at Heathrow Airport! Although I’ve spent a good deal of time doing boring stuff like filling out paperwork, waiting in line for a visa, and figuring out how a duvet cover works, I think I’ve managed to see a lot of fun stuff, too.

Allow me two notes before I begin the list you are expecting from the title. First of all, I’m generally the kind of person who takes two, maybe three, photographs over the course of the year. I’ve resolved to do better than that while abroad, but bear with me while I adjust to remembering to take pictures and move beyond the “point and shoot” method.

Secondly, this list excludes any incidents from the plane ride itself, from the questionable chicken and dumpling inflight meal, or that time I spent a five hour layover in Austin memorizing Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” while pondering the human condition.

Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top ten experiences in London so far:

  1. Attending my first English seminars in EnglandNerd alert: I’m still geeking out about my classes and reading lists. Victorian sensation fiction is just fun, Thomas Hardy is a fascinating human being, and WWI literature has been my side hobby for the past couple of years. It helps that two of my instructors have already discussed possible field trips around London.
  2. Taking a bus tour through London – I feel like this helped me situate many of the sites in London in both their historical and geographical contexts. (The tour guide was excellent, if a little too willing to give a blow by blow account of Jack the Ripper.) It also gave me a good understanding of where I want to return over the course of the semester.


    Westminster Abbey

  3. Trying to regulate my sleep schedule – Jet lag is real, guys. Or at least, that’s how I’m explaining being fully awake at 2 a.m. my first night here. Was it good that I received a chance to sort out my Wi-Fi problems in the early hours of the morning? Arguably, yes. Am I glad I slept until after 8 a.m. today? YES.
  4. Stumbling across my first bookstore in London – Waterstones is a beautiful UK chain of bookstores, and my friends and I stumbled across it on our fourth night here. My equally nerdy flatmate and I commenced to take selfies and browse the shelves for who knows how long. The less nerdy guy who had come exploring with us began to rue the day he was born, I am sure.



  5. Following the herd on the Tube – Anyone who knows me recognizes that directions are not my forte. Just imagine my face when I saw the map depicting the jumbled spaghetti lines of the London Underground. Fortunately, my flatmate is from Boston and had a better understanding of public transportation than I did, so she managed to get us to our destinations until I stopped trying to hop on trains going in the opposite direction.
  6. Ticking off the line behind us at the grocery store(s) – Because we had no idea what a good price for anyone was when we first got here, my flatmates and I have spent a ridiculous amount of time scoping out local grocery stores—four, I think? Five if you include the Whitechapel Market. Along the way, I’m sure we ticked off a fair amount of people who couldn’t understand why those Americans couldn’t a) get over the unrefrigerated eggs or lack of taxes, b) use the self-checkout machines, c) find where the bags were, or d) realize they had to pay for bags. Oops.
  7. Boating down the Thames and experiencing a British tea – I’m so glad I signed up for this university-sponsored event! Being on a boat was cool in and of itself, but it was such a fantastic chance to see the main sites of London from the river. Our guide pointed out everything from St. Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben to the London Eye and the financial districts. We were also served a tea (which included lots of yummy sandwiches and scones) that gave me a taste of just how serious the Brits are about tea time!


    The London Eye

  8. Getting really lost and calling Uber – It was bound to happen sometime. A group of us took the wrong bus on the way back from the mall, and the trek to a different bus stop would have been too long, cold, and dark. Let’s hope we’re a little better oriented next time!
  9. Thrifting in the East End – There’s a vintage thrift shop within walking distance of my university (East End Thrift Store) that sells all the clothes you can fit in a bag for £10. For this child of the Southwest, it was the perfect place to acquire some warmer layers and mingle with the locals. It might have been the most successful shopping trip of my life, which I’m sure will astonish anyone who knows me.
  10. Wandering through Central London at night – Some friends and I started by going to see the lights over Oxford Circus, but when we realized they had just been taken down, we began an impromptu exploration of anything within walking distance. I think we ended up at Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square before crossing Millennium Bridge to the South Embankment. There was a weird (but apparently trendy) roller skating rink by a freak show tent across the Thames. Crossing the bridge back to the Tube station, the wind was bitterly cold, but all the lights of London lay before us. It was simply magical.


    A very cold and very happy Kelly.

7 Tips for Keeping up with Class Readings


Don’t let your piles of reading intimidate you!

No matter how much you love books, there will be times in college when you are completely swamped with reading assignments. Don’t get me wrong—I love that I essentially have two majors in reading. It just gets to be a problem when each of your five literature classes assigns between 50 and 150 pages of reading per class, not to mention written assignments. (Or a voluntary book club, the rest of your life, etc.)

There are two things you can do when faced with this course load: do it or don’t. I’m assuming you are here because you are mindful of the cost of tuition and/or you actually want to read the books. The good news is, there’s hope if you manage your time well.

Want to keep your head above water? Here are some tips I learned the hard way.

1. Don’t start all of your reading at 9 PM the night before it is due.

This is a surefire way to hate your life. And unless you are secretly a superhero posing as an undergrad, you will make this mistake. Four hundred pages may breeze by when you are reading the latest Paolini book, but Thomas Aquinas is hard enough to understand when your brain is fully functioning, much less at two in the morning.

2. Utilize your weekends.

Homework on the weekends is not fun, but neither is drooling on your Shakespeare anthology at three in the morning. By knocking out the reading for a class or two over the weekend, you can bring your weekday workload to a much more manageable level. It’s counterintuitive to take a task step by step in a Netflix-binge-watching culture, but it’s definitely worth it.

3. Chanel your inner Linus. (Aka, your book is your new security blanket.)

Going to the dentist? Take a book with you. Have a half hour break between classes? Take a book with you. Riding the shuttle to class? Take a book with you. Little bits of time add up. No one from your book club will ever know you started and finished the book between classes that day. (Unless you admit to this on your blog…)

4. Strategery!

(Side note: Binge-watching SNL will not help you reach your page count goals. Not that I’ve ever learned the hard way.) Choosing which books to read when is a surprisingly easy way to make your life better. Tackling Plato at 10 AM works better than at 10 PM for me. If you’re a night owl, the reverse may be true for you. It’s also important to know which books you can read a week ahead and which you should read closer to the class time. Do you have to turn in a five paper along with your reading? Do it early. Do you have a quiz over that night’s assignment? Read ahead and you’ll confuse yourself. Strategize knowing your habits and your recall level.

5. Audiobooks are the English major’s life hack.

Have you ever wished you could wash dishes or clean your room while doing your homework? As an English major, you can! Audiobooks are especially helpful if you are planning on driving home over a long weekend or break. It can also be of use if you are struggling to understand a scene from Shakespeare—reading along while listening to the words, too, can help auditory learners. Check out your local library’s catalogue or librivox.org for free, public domain audiobooks.

6. Take the time to learn how fast you read.

My techie brother can read faster than I, the English major, can. This knowledge isn’t my secret shame; it’s a fact I can use to my advantage. I know how much time I need to finish an approximate number of pages (keeping in mind text size, difficulty, etc.), so I can budget my time accordingly and not rely on someone else telling me, “It’s a quick read,” only to find myself scrambling for time. Slower readers may have the benefit of better comprehension on the first read; faster readers may need to use their extra time to jot down notes.

7. If necessary, set limits on the times and spaces in which you read.

Reading in bed after midnight is an enterprise doomed to failure 95% of the time in my experience. If I need to finish an assignment, I need to choose an environment conducive to reading. Sometimes this means recognizing that I need to be in a public place where people walking by will guilt me into reading; sometimes this means finding an isolated corner of the library. Know your limits, and stick to them.