Pillbox

Tales from abroad: London

The university provides a unique experience because of the cultural differences between the U.S. and the U.K.  (credit: Courtesy of Manasi Patil) The university provides a unique experience because of the cultural differences between the U.S. and the U.K. (credit: Courtesy of Manasi Patil) The London School of Economics is situated right in the middle of the city.  (credit: Courtesy of Manasi Patil) The London School of Economics is situated right in the middle of the city. (credit: Courtesy of Manasi Patil)

My summer in England was perfect. It was a balance between high life in London during the weekdays and cozy, sunny weekends with family in Reading; what more could anyone ask for?

While I was studying at the London School of Economics, I lived in a residence hall on High Holborn Street. This means that all the restaurants and theaters at Covent Garden, or “London’s Theatreland,” were right around the corner. Also, Oxford Circus, the primary shopping area in London, was only two “tube” — the colloquial name for London’s subway system — stations away.

The first major difference between American and British universities that struck me was the visibility of alcohol. Even though many college students in U.S. consume alcohol, it is mostly under the radar. This might have to do with the legal drinking age being 21, unlike in England, where it is 18. Even then, not only did the LSE campus boast no fewer than three bars, so did my residence hall. Every so often, I would find myself reading an official e-mail reminding me of the attractive offers on beer for the night.

Another difference was the dining. The cafeteria in my residence hall would only serve breakfast, and the famous English breakfast is a lovely way to start a day. I enjoyed having breakfast in the cafeteria, not only because of the delicious beans on toast, bacon or the fresh fruit, but also because of the company. Every morning I would meet people from some different corner of the world, with different stories to tell.

Pick a cuisine and you’ll find at least one restaurant serving it either on Kingsway or at Covent Garden. Covent Garden, contrary to what the name suggests, is not a garden. It is an area in London with lots of entertainment. However, among the tall buildings and busy roads, the city pleasantly surprises people with parks — small and big. On those rare sunny days, my friends and I would get a lunch “take-away” from a restaurant and enjoy it over great conversation while sitting in a park. On the not-so-sunny days, we would grab a bite at one of the on-campus pubs and stay warm.

Living in “London’s Theatreland,” I absolutely had to go for a musical. My friends and I went to watch The Lord of the Rings. The stage was exquisite and elaborate and some pieces of decoration extended beyond the actual stage. It could even move to rise and fall to various different levels. The performers danced and sang almost oblivious to all this movement. Their performances were breathtaking, especially Gollum. He crawled over the curtain with the ease, flexibility, and grace of a spider. The fact that I can clearly remember it after more than a year says it all.

Even though I was having fun, sometimes the fast-paced city life got overwhelming. So, I would go to Reading — where my family was for the summer — to relax. Reading is a large town about 40 miles west of London.

My family and I rented a boat on a Sunday and had a picnic on the river Thames, which flows through Reading. It was exciting and challenging to maneuver the boat at the lock — a device used to facilitate water transport between water on different levels. The picturesque countryside, the cool breeze, and the delicious snacks just made the experience even more worthwhile. While in Reading, we also went strawberry picking. At the farm, we were each given small baskets to collect our picked fruits and vegetables in. We picked a lot of strawberries and tasted even more, and also picked carrots, broccoli, cabbage, and other berries. The farm where we were, was also conducting a scarecrow decorating competition. The scarecrows were impressive, with delicate details. After all this hard work, we decided to enjoy some traditional afternoon English tea with scones and cream. Needless to say, it was very delectable.

There was nothing unfamiliar about England. I am fluent in the language that is spoken there and the food and transportation was very predictable, so I wasn’t pushing myself out of my comfort zone. But it was as rewarding an experience as any other, and a very memorable summer.