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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

Just when I think I have life pegged down, it embraces the unexpected and throws me for a loop! I have entered my fourth year here at Hollins and life is throwing me more surprises than ever. Between my two theses, applying for grad-schools, and working with a group of first-years as an SSL (student success leader), I have also been handling a radical dietary shift. Two days before returning to Hollins, I discovered that I am severely allergic to casein, the protein in dairy. Over the summer, the protein had shut my digestive system down, organ by organ. When I saw a doctor in Olathe, Kansas, it was my last-ditch effort to find out what was wrong with me after an entire summer of doctors shrugging and passing off my pain as a faulty gallbladder. In finding what was wrong, my entire world seemed to flip, you see: I love food. I love all food, good food, bad for you food, terrible food. But I especially love food that has butter in it.
Luckily for me, I haven’t been alone in this endeavor. First Hollins helped me get off the meal plan and ensured that I was living in a dorm with a nice kitchen. Secondly, I have the support of the entire community. As soon as a Horizon SSL heard about my summer’s plight, she brought in two cookbooks about cooking with allergies for me to borrow. Not to mention the support from all of the wonderful friendships I have made over my years at Hollins. I do not have a car in Roanoke, Virginia, and I never have had a car during my time at Hollins. I never needed to get off campus really, but now in order to feed myself I have to get off campus at least once a week to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruits. My friends have literally become my lifeline. Seeing my personal Hollins community come together and support me in my time of need has shown me how strong the relationships I have built at Hollins have become.
In more exciting news, I am a senior! For me, this means finally taking part in traditions that I have only observed. Leading up to First Step, seniors gathered in the common rooms of dorms, commiserating over hot glue gun blisters and tedious needlework. When First Step came, we all donned our robes proudly and fanned over our sisters’ hard work. Marching into the chapel for opening convocation was such a thrill. Opening convocation was a thrill all in itself too! President Gray was giving a poignant speech asking us real and hard questions about the world beyond Hollins, when interrupted by a light-hearted dancing flash mob. Yes, for the first time in Hollins’ history, opening convocation included a flash mob! Thinking back on it, I see the mob as a response to President Gray’s queries, what will we do in this scary world once we graduate and face a failing economy and sexist wages? We will stand up and do whatever we put our minds to. Hollins has given me the skills I need to pursue whatever I want after I graduate, without fear of failure or fear of looking silly to my peers. After opening convocation and that epiphany, we shook our cider and took our first big leap into our senior years, right on to Front Quad.
Later that night we gathered with our pots and pans in tow. I had always loved Tinker Scares, hiding in my freshman dorm, as the seniors unpredictably would run down our halls screaming and clanging together their kitchenware. Yet, I did not know why I loved Tinker Scares… there was just some sort of magic in them. During my first Tinker Scare, I realized that magic and the fruition of what type of woman Hollins has taught me to be. Hollins has shown me, through my classes and her traditions, that there is nothing, not even banging a frying pan with a metal spoon at two in the morning, that I can’t do. I am a strong and stubborn woman who will not let society’s conceptions of womanhood define me. Hollins has given me the strength to stand up for myself and the education I need in order to be taken seriously even while banging my kitchenware in the wee hours of the morning.
And so, traditions under my belt I stepped into my senior year. Please read along with my adventures as my year unfolds. I promise that now, with a schedule of my theses and a handle on my diet, these posts will become more frequent.

London

Time passes quickly when you are not paying attention to it.  As such, I now look ahead and see that in a mere 7 days I will be boarding a plane and heading home away from London.  It is hard to believe that it is already time to leave when it feels as though I just got here.  At the same time, I have grown homesick and I am eager to see the faces of the people I love.

So now the question becomes, what to do with the last week in London.  Well, as I have not been as good at keeping up with my blog as I should have been, the first step is to remember what I have enjoyed most about being here.  The second step is to find more new and exciting things to do and somewhere in there study for finals and write an essay or two.

I think some of my most memorable and fun days have been spent down by the Thames.  Once, when my friend Jessica, who is studying abroad in Paris, came to visit, a few of us went to Borough Market.  This is a food market, and everywhere you go you seem to get free samples.  It was fun just being around the craziness of it all, and hearing the vendors shouting.  After we had all sampled our way through the market, we each got a cup of mulled wine to warm our hands against the light rain and some Thai curry stir-fry to warm our bellies.  Then we wandered.  Wandering has been by far one of my most favorite aspects of London.  There are so many places to get lost in and discover, and when one is ready to find themselves, it is easy to find a tube or bus stop and look at a map.  This day we wandered down to the Thames and walked alongside the water, people watching.

Another of my favorite memories of the Thames was a much more tourist-y day.  In one fell swoop, we decided to do the London Eye and the Globe.  We even walked the bridge to get to the London Eye, enjoying the sound of vendors selling food and trinkets on our way.  I don’t believe that I have heard as many different languages in one place as I did that day, most of which I couldn’t even recognize to put a name to.  We moved swifter through the crowd and the line than I ever expected.  Plus, if you buy a train ticket day pass, you can get a two tickets on the Eye for the price of one.   We may be tourists, but we are savvy ones.  The Eye had its very own special presentation, complete with 3D glasses and a bubble machine.  I think that the cheesiness of it all, made it all the more fun.  Like a theme park attraction, they had the expensive photos  taken pre-ride and after ride available for purchase.  The actual ride was quite wonderful.  It was amazing to see most London, because even though we had chosen a clear day a light haze covered some of the city.  It was very beautiful and warm in the glass bubble.  Afterward we wandered down along the Thames.  There were street performers for an entire block as you left the Eye, anything from mimes, to oddly bedazzled creatures, and men who will pose you for any type of photograph from dancing to fighting.  It was great to see this side of London, walking from the Eye to the Globe, a much longer walk than anticipated.  Yet, it was a beautiful day and the distance didn’t seem to matter much as long as we could see the water.  The Globe was must see, but slightly disappointing.  It is disheartening to find out that it isn’t on the spot where the actual Globe was and that archeologists now believe the Globe was a bit bigger. However, it is still like walking back into time, stepping into the theatre where the groundlings stand to watch the shows.  We were very lucky that night that my friend is studying here as well, and has a friend who had spent the last semester studying theatre in the globe.   Though it was rather chilly, her class performed Twelfth Night, and it was phenomenal.  The music they set to Shakespeare’s words made me believe that it was meant to be sung like that always.  After a wonderful show and a great day along the Thames, we found the nearest tube and headed homeward.

So, to mark some of my favorite days and to help my friend Meredith complete one of her to-do’s, today after eating lunch in Queen Mary’s Rose Garden (just starting to bloom), Meredith and I tried to walk from Whitechapel to the Thames.  This is something Meredith has wanted to do since reading a book centered in that area, and I am always up for an adventure.  The weather in London today was so warm that by the water seemed like the best place to be.  It was fun walking through a new part of town, and stopping along the way at anything that looked interesting.  Eventually we started seeing signs proclaiming Tobacco Port and Pirate Ships.  Knowing that these two things had to mean some type of water, we followed the signs and found ourselves in the quaintest quay I have ever seen.  We walked the quay until it was time for Meredith to head home for dinner at her home stay, then we found a bus stop and headed in.  Today was a small adventure, but nonetheless a fun one.  It is exciting to explore some place new in London, yet feel so familiar with the city that I am able to find a bus stop and recognize the bus I would need to take.

As these next 7 days unfold, I will do my best to both remember my times here in London and to recount the adventures that are filling my last days.

Until next time,

Kylie

On Living in ISH

On Living in ISH

When deciding to study abroad in London, you are given two options of housing, either live with a family in a homestay or to live in the International Student Housing (ISH).  There are certainly pros and cons of both and most students decided to live with homestays and most everyone I have talked to really loves their family.  Some of the nicest options of living with a homestay include financial reasons, having a family, being immersed in British culture, home-cooked meals three nights a week, and the opportunity to really connect with people living in London.  However, despite these wonderful qualities I decided to give ISH a shot, mainly because of the students who came before me and lived at ISH.  Each of these brilliant women I look up to, told me about how much they really enjoyed living in ISH, and I have yet to regret my decision.

While I am missing the opportunity to learn the British household culture, I am gaining an entirely different experience.  ISH brings together people from all around the world, some of whom barely speak a lick of English, and we live together, happily, under the same roof.  I have never heard so many languages, or seen so many different cultures in one place.  I have made friends from Brazil, Nigeria, Spain, Italy, and the list continues.  I have had an absolutely eye opening experience, just by sitting with a different person each night at dinner.  Some of my most fun nights have included karaoke and dancing Thursday nights at the ISH bar, where we see cultures join together to sing terrible songs that are known and loved, no matter where you are from.

Another aspect of ISH that has made me happy for deciding to live here is the opportunities that are provided.  From free pancake night to a dinner theatre evening with the Tudors or even, free Scottish dancing lessons, ISH has provided ample opportunities to meet other students in London and have fun on a budget.  There also happens to be a venue below ISH, that plays live music on the weekends.  On the first week I was here in London, one night my friends, who live with host families, had decided to eat dinner with their families and the commute had changed their minds about going out that night.  I wasn’t very tired, and was still nervous about going out and exploring London by myself, so I was a little disappointed while I ate my dinner in the ISH cafeteria.  However, while I ate, I overheard loud music coming from a room nearby.  Deciding to not let my night be a bust I was determined to find the source of the music. I stumbled into the sound check for that evenings music line up.  I ended up having a lovely conversation with the Londoner who books the bands and a nice man from Italy who does the sound for the venue.  Later, that night I went to listen to the bands and met some really nice people.  It is easy to find something to do, when you live at ISH.

When I was deciding to room in ISH, my roommate from Hollins had to drop out of the program.  I was warned that I would be randomly placed with a student by the ISH facility and asked if I would like to opt for a homestay.  I decided to go ahead and give ISH a shot and I have been so lucky.  My roommate’s name is Paula and she is from Spain.  She is here, studying English, and is remarkably understanding of my shoddy at best Spanish.  One morning I woke up are rolled towards her as she got ready for her early class and asked, “Que tiempo?” thinking I was actually asking, “What time is it?” To which, she looked out the window and said, “Uh, how do you say… uhm… it is raining?”  I have enjoyed living with her and being surrounded by the sounds of a foreign language that I somewhat understand.  Just another unexpected yet pleasant aspect of London.

From about third grade on, when I stumbled upon a history of Shakespeare in my elementary school library and I saw my sister’s class reading some of his plays, I was hooked on Shakespeare.  I have since acquired the complete works of Shakespeare, a little book of the Love Sonnets, and another book of all the sonnets, as well as acted in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, and a reader’s theatre presentation of Twisted Tales of Shakespeare, specifically Macbeth.  Shakespeare has been supremely influential upon my academic career and in terms of how I think about writing.  Shakespeare believed that he could immortalize his lover, by writing him (this is controversial, however since the sonnets are written to a young man and it is assumed that poetry is mainly autobiographical unless stated otherwise, I will stick with my male pronoun).  This idea of making someone, or an idea last more than a lifetime has always intrigued me.  It is safe to say that studying and visiting where he worked and lived had always been a fantasy of mine, but never something I thought would actually happen.

It did occur to me when I was deciding to study abroad that by choosing London, I would be walking in some of Shakespeare’s footsteps, and living in the city where his life’s work took place.  In fact, most of my applications to study abroad mentioned this detail, and how much this would actually mean to me.  Yet again, I failed to realize what this actually means.  I am studying Shakespeare where he lived and worked.  Because London has changed in the last 400 years (and no one can blame them), it was difficult to see this detail behind the large skyscrapers and efficient public transportation.  I was happy to be here nonetheless, but lifetime of fan-girling over a dead playwright had not struck me until we, as a class, visited Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown.

Staying in a quaint bed and breakfast and going to see two of his plays, Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet, I felt connected to the past and where it stands today.  We walked the streets of the small town of Stratford that seemed to be locked in a time-capsule, and for the first time, it did actually feel like we were walking in his actual footsteps.  It struck me on the second floor of his childhood home, that I had only imagined what it would look like on the inside, and there I was getting ready to walk into his bedroom and then into the room where he was born.  I was making a pilgrimage that the likes of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams as well as important poets and writers had made before me.  Suddenly, it made perfect sense why I had chosen to leave Hollins, which has become like a home to me, and spend one of my last semesters in a foreign country away from the women, who have become my sisters.  That moment I was standing in place where I had never actually thought I would have the ability or the means to get to.  I am eternally grateful for that moment, and if the rest of my experience abroad had been terrible (which it hasn’t, it has been splendid—more blogs to come on just how wonderful), this moment would be worth it all on its own.  Study abroad is full of those moments; it provides those opportunities, through the classes offered and the trips made available.  Sara, the director of the program here, works so extremely hard to both provide these opportunities and to let you be independent and learn what it is like to live abroad.  Anyways, I am off to my Shakespeare course now to discuss King Lear and to study for my mid-term next week! I will write soon about living in ISH and the weekend markets—two of my most favorite things so far!

London

It is hard to put words to how I currently feel.  I have embarked on a great journey to the “only read/heard about” and the place where I spent my time day dreaming of when I was younger.  I never actually thought I would be here though, and now that I am, there are no words to describe my feelings.While my plane circled the clouds above London, I cracked open my window and let my eyes adjust to the sunlight for what I figured would be the last time for a long while. Periodically, planes would pop out of the white mass, and I kept expecting my large plane to nose dive in, propelling us down to the city.  Yet, my airplane took another long and lazy circle above the cloud coverage and then slid into the clouds as you would ease into a hot bath.  We stayed submerged in the gray scale for some time, my eyes constantly looking down and searching for my first glimpse of London.  Spats of gray later, I was given my first, short glimpse of London.  My stomach was in my throat. We eased out of the clouds as slowly as we had entered them.  I could have spent hours flying over the city, taking everything in miniature.  I gulped my stomach back down as we landed and everything became life-sized.

A friendly Londoner, who had been away for 7 months singing on a cruise ship, helped me with my overhead bag.  He walked with me to the passport check.  I asked him if he had any helpful hints about London.  His answered, “People here are really friendly.”  And he has not steered me wrong.  It is not the friendly you think of in the States, where people smile at you and say hello– but rather a friendly where I have never felt uncomfortable, and I have always been able to ask locals for directions when I get lost.  A friendly that will help you when they realize that you don’t know what you are doing.

The London airport was much simpler than the Atlanta, and I found my way with ease.  Customs was not a hassle, and the long line seemed to move quickly.  Before I knew it, I was given entry to the country, and finding my taxi cab driver holding a sign with my name on it.

I must have left my stomach on the plane to catch up with me.  I still cannot believe I am here.  But every day, as I become more comfortable and a little more confident that I know what I am doing, I start to realize that I will be living here for a semester.  And really, thank goodness.  I do not believe I could experience all of London in less.  My friend Meredith has made it her goal to try one new thing every day she is here.  My goal is to take opportunities– for instance, last night coming home a man from Italy asked two of my friends and I if we would like to go downstairs and learn traditional Scottish folk dancing.  I do not want to miss a thing.

It feels as though I have been here for an eternity, but looking at my half unpacked suitcase, I know that is not the case.  Today is the last day of our London orientation with Sara, and then start classes.  Though, for LMU classes have already started.  On Tuesday, I sat with my friend Emily in our creative writing class and nervously shared my writing I had just done about a terrible house I had just drawn.  The students were from everywhere: Germany, London, Nebraska.  I could not believe it.  Afterward, I saw an opportunity to talk to one of the girls from London on the elevator.  I am excited to be able to take a class at LMU, I feel as though it will give me the opportunity to make friends outside of the United States.

However, as Meredith reminded the group last night– it is okay to take photos as we are tourists. And yesterday was the day for it.  We went on a bus tour of the whole of London.  Then afterward we walked around and found places to eat.  Then by some chance, while walking down a street I began to recognize things.  And suddenly I remembered where we were.  On my first night, in a sleepy-jet-lagged haze, I went with Morgan and Sana to a very friendly pub.  It was intimate, the bartender was very nice, and they had a jukebox full of great music.  It was a nice place to visit and catch up with each other, and upon leaving I was very sad to think that I would not be able to find my way back there again.  Yet, as we explored the streets of London, I realized that I have a better sense of direction than I thought I had, and soon we found ourselves at its doorstep!  Inside, we rested our feet and visited.  It is a very nice spot, and I think we will go back.  Afterward, we wandered some more and then took the tube to King’s Cross Station.

Doing the tourist-y thing, Meredith, Emma, and I found Platform 9 and 3/4’s! It was a very fun time!  Then on what I think will become one of my favorite streets, we found a very reasonable Thai Food restaurant. The evening was a success and I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them!

Finals

Finals are upon us and I have no idea where this semester has gone.  This has been one of the most beautiful, crazy, and busiest semesters yet of my Hollins career and it just promises to get worse, or better depending on how you see it.  I think it will be better, at least I can hope.

Academically, this semester has been a challenge for me.  As I jump into my major I am taking three upper level courses: American Colonial, Literary History and Theory, and Contemporary Poetry.  All three have expanded my knowledge base and given me hours upon hours of reading.  My other two classes have stimulated my thoughts and writing: Creative Non-Fiction and Advanced Creative Writing.  I feel like I have taken leaps and bounds towards the writer I want to someday be, and at the same time that I still have so much more to learn.

On top of this has been the beauty that is junior year.  From Tinker Day, to Ring Night, to the plays my semester has been full of sisterhood.  I have saved my attempts at writing about each of these, and in the following weeks will post my reflections but thought it best to touch base with my mental state now first.

Honestly, I am stressed.  And I should be, college is meant to be scary—if it wasn’t then you aren’t being challenged to step outside of your box and take chances.  The other day while discussing my senior thesis (part of the reason this fear has been laid upon me) and this semester’s term paper (another large reason for the stress) with my academic advisor Professor Doan, she and I began speaking about this idea of taking risks academically.  She explained that sometimes the student with the 3.5 GPA reflects a better student than the 4.0.  That is not because one has worked harder than the other, but because one was maybe more willing to take risks and try something that they were not strong at.  If I had known last semester that I was tied for first of my class I might not have taken quite the challenging semester as I have, but I didn’t.  And for that I am happy.  I never really cared about my grades until my last final was in and I was at home curious to see how I had done.  Education is more than A’s or B’s, or even F’s for that matter.  Education is about learning and college specifically is about learning and focusing in what you love.  This should not be about scoring well on a test or getting a good grade, but about taking away something from a class, and having resounding knowledge.  I can honestly say that the knowledge I have gained this semester, and in semesters past at Hollins has resounded.

As finals are upon me I keep these thoughts in mind.  While writing my 20-page term paper for Colonial History, I reflect on the opportunity I am afforded and the trust granted to write a paper as though I were a graduate student, or better yet, a professional historian, and I smile at the challenge.  While writing my other 20-page creative non-fiction story, I reflect on how much I have grown as a writer in these past months, and stand amazed and how much I have yet to grow.  These two large projects over shadow the two final exams, a final 7-page essay, and the final portfolio that loom for just next week.  All I can do is trust that this semester has given me the tools I need to wade through these and come out at the end looking for my grades with hope instead of fear.  Yet, no matter what those grades reflect, I know I will be happy because I stepped outside of my comfort zone and still tried my best.

Junior Year

Time at Hollins seems to pass as quickly as Tinker Creek after a long rain.  I have barely been able to wrap my mind around the fact that I am a junior let alone that First Step was roughly three weeks ago.  The semesters at Hollins have the unique ability to feel as though they have always been happening and that they have just started.  I am constantly looking back in amazement that so much time has passed.  Already?  We are already into the fourth week of the semester?  I am already into my third year at Hollins? Yet, at the same time: I am only four weeks into this class? I have only been at Hollins for a solid two years?

Junior year is an exciting one at Hollins for a number of reasons.  The first is a given that you will find at any university—by your junior year you know what your major is and you are an upperclassman. The next is something special to Hollins—junior year is a huge year for traditions. I will not only be taking only English/History classes (oy vey, gotta love a double major) but I will also be participating in Ring Night and going abroad to London spring semester.  This year is huge for me, and it feels as though it still sneaking up behind me, waiting to pounce with surprise and the sudden solid realization: I am a junior.

Opening Convocation this year was amazing.  I found out that I (tied with eleven other amazing juniors) am at the top of my class.  Hollins is so full of intelligent, strong women that there are twelve of us in that spot.  I couldn’t believe that I was standing up with my classmates, sure I worked really hard last year, but standing next to some of the women who have not only become my sisters but women that I admire truly gave me a sense of accomplishment.  Kyra Orr is our student body president this year, and her speech nearly brought me to tears. It was good to be back at Hollins.

Here are a few pictures from First Step that I stole from friends of mine (my pictures are locked away on my camera until I can get my mom to mail me the connection cord, just because I’m a junior doesn’t mean I’m not forgetful):

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