SAP in England (English)–June 2018

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Mary Anne Radmacher


In front of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, London. One of the guides (on the right), Nils Michals (on the left) and his nine students: Theresa Thanh Trang Bui, Nallely Monserrat Carrillo, Sheily Gisselle Munoz Cortez, Claire Wolf Donzelli, Claire Marie Kupfer, Mirian Lizeth Leon, Grecia Rivera, Lily Mieko Tsurumoto, Joanna Sarah Uppin

This 7-day study tour to London, England focused on getting to know the city as well as the works of some British writers, both modern and contemporary (1914-present), that were inspired by the cultural heritage, diversity, and urbanization of London. Students earned 3 units by completing English 1B Critical Thinking through Literature. The class met on the WVC campus and in London on the following dates: 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 June and 12 July. Departure was on Sunday 24 June; return was on Saturday 30 June. This study tour was led by Nils Michals, a poet and faculty member in the English Department.

English 1B Critical Thinking through Literature introduces students to literary analysis with an emphasis on critical thinking, close reading, analytical writing skills, and representative works from major genres. The course promotes appreciation and critical understanding of the cultural, historical, and aesthetic qualities of literature. Students conduct research, study literary criticism, and write research essays that synthesize multiple sources.

Nils Michals designed the focus of this section of English 1B embedded in this Study Abroad Program study tour to London. He explains:

English 1B “Literary London” was designed to pair reading and thinking about great British writing with the experience of visiting London to better understand its art, history, culture, and people. From Sir Conan Doyle to Zadie Smith, students read and analyzed short fiction, poetry, and drama about London. Being in London was the highlight of the course, and some of my favorite moments were when we connected Sherlock Holmes’ detective path in “The Blue Carbuncle” with the contemporary streets of London.

While discussing the story in class, we spent some time with Charles Booth’s 1889 poverty map of London to better understand one of the story’s central ideas–that of London and its inhabitants as the hero. I could tell the experience of being in London helped to clarify how Doyle could see London as the beating heart of a nation and people.

For the research component in the class, students wrote on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, incorporating either Feminist or Marxist literary criticism via character analysis. Again, the experience of being in London to better understand city life, even one hundred years removed from Shaw’s play, resulted in deeper investigations of some of the cultural and socio-economic divisions unique to London.


London (Photo from the Internet)

Excerpts from Students’ Travel Journals

Monday 25 June

Theresa Bui: On Sunday I arrived to SFO at around 5:00 PM, and got my luggage checked in. I felt a wave of excitement, but I was dreading the flight, because it was going to be about ten to eleven hours long. We waited for about three hours due to our flight being delayed. We boarded the plane at 8:00 PM and took off at 8:30. I checked all my social media for the last time, because I wouldn’t be able to see them again until we landed and went to the hotel where there was wifi, and as we all know, living without wifi these days is next to impossible. The flight was not as bad as I thought. Of course, I did not sleep, because airplane seats are extremely uncomfortable. They do not recline as far back as I like. I spent the whole time watching movies, and listening to my music. The ten to eleven hours flew by and next thing it was Monday and we were landing in London.


Getting close to London! (Photo by Nils Michals)

The airport was like nothing I have ever seen, because it is HUGE. We had to take a train to get to another terminal, since walking there would take forever. Just being at the airport I could feel the difference between London and America. All over the airport I saw posters that showed diversity, inclusivity, and equality. There were posters saying “black is beautiful.” There were signs saying how many children they have saved from child trafficking just in the airport. I could tell that London is a place that truly cares about its people and does things to ensure that its people are safe and are being treated like humans.

We were supposed to have a walking tour about an hour after landing, but going through customs took about three hours. The line was really long, and although it was moving pretty fast the sheer amount of people in line made me feel like I was waiting to enter a store on Black Friday. That line was easily the longest line I have ever waited in, but I suppose it was worth it, because I was able to enter London.

After getting through customs we met up with Silke, our tour director, and we got to ride on the Tube in order to get to our dinner. The ride was about an hour long. I’m not too sure, because I knocked out on the Tube, and was apparently resting my head on some stranger. The Tube was extremely hot and humid, so we were all sweating profusely. I thought it was weird that they did not have AC, but I learned that London only gets hot about two weeks out of the whole year, so they never really use AC. We so happened to be in London during the time when they were experiencing their heat wave. Our luck is amazing.

After getting off the Tube we used a really steep escalator, and learned that we needed to stay on the right, because the left is for people who run up the escalators. London is a very busy city, and people are constantly hustling. If we are in their way, they will push you out of the way while smiling and saying sorry sarcastically: definitely my type of people. We got off at Leicester Square and the scenery stepping out from the underground was breathtaking.

I am not one that likes old architecture. I prefer a more modern take on things, but seeing the buildings in person was absolutely stunning. The vibe kind of reminded me of San Francisco, because of all the neon signs, and how busy it was. People were in their own worlds walking really fast to their destinations. It was as if I was in a movie where the people all around me are in fast forward, and I am just there observing everything. All the monuments are amazing, and it was so weird having so much history all around me. It is interesting that the people who live in London see this and do not really think anything of it while I was there in jaw dropping amusement.


Nils Michals and his students… the ninth student is taking the picture!

Our dinner was at Ale & Pie, and it consisted of a salad as an appetizer, fish and chips, and then a chocolate cake for dessert. The first thing I noticed that was different were the portion sizes. If we were in America we would have a huge bowl of salad, but we only got a small plate of salad. The fish and chips were really good. The tartar sauce and the lemon really cut through the grease. And the fish was really crispy. Although it got really heavy in my stomach, and I felt a little nauseous, I would love to eat more fish and chips in America. I barely ate the cake, because I do not really like sweets.

We then got back on the Tube and stopped at London Paddington train station where our hotel was. While walking to our hotel I finally understood what people mean when they say that in England they drive in the opposite way. It was kind of confusing, but reminders were written on the ground telling us where to look in order to avoid getting hit and killed, because the drivers WILL NOT stop for you. About a minute away from our hotel we witnessed a huge car crash. Everyone was safe, but I can’t say that about the car, though.


London Paddinton (Photo from the Internet)

Claire Marie Kupfer: Preparing for this trip was so much fun, because we were all excited. I didn’t know the other girls all too well, so I was curious to see how things would go, and with who I would become close. I was hopeful that we would all have a good time and learn a lot. Finally, the day came for us to leave our country.

On Sunday we had a flight that went straight from San Francisco to Heathrow, which was great. On Monday we finally landed in London and Silke took us on the Tube. People piled in like sardines. They were in my personal space. It was about 7:00 PM and most of them looked like they were going home from work. I thought it was interesting that they didn’t drive. That made me think of home and how we drive everywhere. British people are smart, because they save time by not driving and are therefore being safer. They can work while they commute, get more exercise, and save money on gas.


Getting around London. (Photo by Nils Michals)

The walk to our hotel was absolutely beautiful. The weather was perfect, with a light breeze, and seeing London at night was truly exhilarating. Even though this was my second time visiting, this place still makes my jaw drop. There is so much life, people, culture and the best part is seeing people driving on the opposite side of the road. They really know how to drive. I saw only one cop the whole day, even though the streets were crowded. It was interesting to see how fast life is in London. It was faster than in San  Francisco.

I think that my first day in London was amazing, but I was happy as a bee when I hit my pillow. By the time we finished dinner you could see in all our faces that we were exhausted. You could go grocery shopping with the bags that were under our eyes.

Tuesday 26 June

Joanna Uppin: Hey guys, I’m coming at you from London in the United Kingdom. Man, it was crazy getting here. Since I decided to extend my stay, I was on a different flight from the rest of my group. I was on a totally different flight with a totally different airline. I was kind of angry that I didn’t get to be on a direct flight. I ended up missing my connecting flight due to some wrong information and didn’t end up making it here until today. Thankfully I didn’t miss too much, which I am grateful for.

Unlike my classmates, I got to walk through Hyde Park, which was gorgeous btw. I saw a lot of Maidenhair trees, a tree known for sucking up a lot of pollution. I also saw carrot plants and did a lot of walking. I didn’t mind it since I walk basically everywhere back home and I needed to stretch my legs after that long flight. Man, do I hate airplanes and jetlag. They’re just the worst to deal with and it put a small damper in my trip, because I was just so tired.


Walking the cobbled streets of London. (Photo by Nils Michals)

Anyways, I got to see the changing of the guards right in front of Buckingham Palace before finally reuniting with my class. All of them were relieved to see me, especially Nils Michals, since he knew how stressful the whole ordeal had been for me. I couldn’t have gotten through it without him. He’s the best English teacher I’ve ever had. Okay, enough with the side comments, let’s get back to the content you came here for.

We did some more walking, then piled into the bus to grab some lunch. Even though I had eaten on the plane, I was starving and ordered a big lunch. After that was finished, we went to Windsor Castle. It was just stunning inside and out. America has the more modern style to their architecture, so seeing this old style was a breath of fresh air.  The art was done insanely well and told about the history of England. While I have no interest in history, it was nice to see the castle. It really shows how much the wealthy in England benefitted throughout their lives. The art styles of the time were absolutely stunning and the paintings differ from room to room. My favorite part was the art on the ceiling.

Even though it was pretty hot outside, my group and I made the most of the situation by drinking lots of water. We went for a bit of touring around the city and had some amazing fudge on the way back. It was a totally different experience seeing the city as everything was squished together, unlike back in California. The streets have maps everywhere, unlike California, so it was pretty easy to not get lost. Plus, Silke and Stuart, the tour guides, did an amazing job of explaining everything we saw. There is a severe lack of public bathrooms in the city.  The hotel is nice and the staff is friendly. This is Joanna signing out for the day.

Theresa Bui: Tuesday was an extremely full day. It was also extremely hot and of course there was no AC, so again we were sweating profusely, and we spent an obscene amount of money on water just so we could sweat it all out. It was weird having to buy water all the time, because back at home I never buy water. I either just drink a lot of water at home, or bring a bottle of water when I go out. Here we had no where to refill our water bottles, unless you wanted to get it out of the sink, and I refused to do that.


Windsor Castle (Photo by Mike South/Alamy, from the Internet)

After Windsor Castle we got back on the bus, and I again knocked out for a good hour. After we got dropped off, we went back on the Tube. We had the option to either go back to the hotel or go and do whatever we wanted. We were extremely exhausted from walking a lot and sweating a lot, but we were in LONDON, so we opted to stay out. We explored London: we walked on the streets just taking everything in. I loved all the little details that London has, like the flower pots that are almost everywhere, the string lights that are hung up everywhere, all the art that is on the streets and walls, and just the hustle and bustle of the streets.

We went shopping. I of course had to try their boba, and it was probably the worst boba I have ever had. The tea tasted like water, and the boba was hard, but I was not really expecting much. We also tried McDonald’s and the quality of it was astonishing. They use real chicken, real lettuce, and it tasted like actual food. We stayed out until around 10:00 or 11:00 PM, and the thing that amazed me the most was the fact that the sun was still out until around 9:00 PM. It truly felt like summer, and although we were in London for school, it felt like a vacation.

The very air and atmosphere was completely different than in America, and I felt very liberated. When we got back to the hotel I crashed almost instantly. I was so exhausted, because not only did I push my body past its limit but I pushed my mind as well, and I do not regret a single thing. I woke up at around 3:00 AM and the sun started to rise and the birds started chirping, and that was the most peaceful and beautiful thing I witnessed during my whole trip.


The old and the new in London (Photo by Nils Michals)

Nallely Carrillo De La Cruz: Ring… ring! We woke up early to start our day. It was our first sleep in London. How exciting! We all met downstairs to eat breakfast and talk about how we slept with the jetlag. Since we were exhausted from the ten hour flight, we were all pleased with the rest. We even got luckier because all we had planned for that day was to sightsee from a bus all day which meant relaxing. As soon as I stepped into the bus I knew there was a tense situation going on with the tour guide and the bus driver. Our passive aggressive tour guide named Stuart was already irritated with the bus driver named Fabio. Stuart took us through the town where we got to see all the stores in London. Since this was my first time seeing the city of London, my heart was filled. I could not believe how beautiful and interesting the buildings are.

While looking outside I noticed how diverse London is. Like the Bay Area, there is a variety of foods from a large amount of cultures. There was Hispanic, Asian, and European food all around. As we drove we passed by many expensive stores, almost like the ones in Santana Row next to Valley Fair Mall, but these were even more expensive. There were fancy cars all around. The whole city of London felt like Santana Row. Our first stop was at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. We saw where Shakespeare did his plays after the first building burnt down. Then later we took a photo in front of the Globe with the West Valley College banner. We were all surprised about the banner, because we thought Nils Michals was joking.


Buckingham Palace (Photo from the Internet)

We stopped by Buckingham Palace, and it felt like a dream. We were all running to see the changing of the guards, which is a march that’s always done when one guard goes off duty and another comes on. We made it to the last part, and it was so cool how all the guards performed in the same pace, almost identically. The green flag was up, which meant that the Queen was present in the palace.

We saw a guard sitting on a horse. I noticed that the horse pooped and was bound to poop even more and the guard just stood there in silence. It’s almost like he didn’t mind the smell. Later, we took a long drive to Windsor Castle. We explored. We got to enter Saint George’s Chapel, the church where the Royals–most recently Prince Harry and Meghan Markle–had their wedding. I spent most of my time with Sheily and Claire and we could not stop laughing together. The fields were beautiful! There was so much green all around and the gardens were filled with red, purple, green I could not believe. It was such a beautiful day.


Exploring the byways… (Photo by Nils Michals)

Sheily Munoz: While on the bus tour through the city, Stuart informed us that the majority of squares created their parks for the nearby residences, and that there is even a memorial area for the 9/11 attacks. I witnessed that the streets are incredibly narrow, and that the drivers do not respect pedestrians. I was extremely excited to see the changing of the guards and to see Buckingham Palace, because these are things you see in movies and dream of seeing and now it was happening. The changing of the guards is beautiful, especially since they march to the beat. I would have loved seeing them in their red suits, but I was informed that they change their uniforms depending on the season.

Buckingham Palace was unreal, especially since the Queen was inside while we were there. What made Buckingham Palace so beautiful is the vibrancy of the gardens and the incredible water fountain in the middle. We continued our adventure at Windsor Castle, where Meghan and Harry got married and where the Queen resides at times. We saw the furniture and decorations past royalty used, as well as the actual church where the royals wed. It is hard to fathom that one can walk through these places where so much history happened.

Something funny happened while Nallely and I were taking pictures in front of Windsor Castle: a kind lady offered to take our picture and after we thanked her and wished her a good day, she asked us where we were from, so I said California and she said “yeah I thought so.” Nallely and I wondered what we did in that short time span to let her know we were from California. Did we look like typical tourists?


(Photo by Nils Michals)

We saw the property where the Queen has her horses and cows. She still rides her horses even though she’s 92 years old. That is such a crazy and incredible thing to be able to do at her age.

After our eventful day, we went back into the city and walked around Soho, an area with numerous shopping stores and restaurants. Following our walk, we ate at a restaurant that had the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted. Whenever I revisit London, I most definitely am going to eat there again. What I also enjoyed about the restaurant was the helpful employees, the beautiful decor, and the reasonable prices. It was interesting to see some bars, though they did not live up to their names and reviews, which implied that they were fun and exciting while in reality they were a bit sketchy.

It was nerve-wracking but mostly fun for Nallely and me to try and navigate our way home at ten at night. We thankfully got back quick and safe and while on the Tube we saw some people in suits and with briefcases and it got us wondering until what time people work, because in the States we are not used to seeing so many people going home that late.


Sheily and Nallely

Wednesday 27 June

Grecia Rivera: This was our first free day in London. We headed to South Kensington where we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. There we purchased a ticket to see the Fashioned from Nature exhibition [the first UK exhibition to explore the complex relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to the present]. Along with new modern fashion, we saw some older pieces by Balenciaga, Dior, and Givenchy to name a few. We also walked around and looked at some Asian art before leaving for the Natural History Museum which was nearby.


One of Grecia’s favorite pictures.

Entrance was free and the architecture in this museum was amazing with lots of stone work and tall windows. As we entered we saw the enormous skeleton of a blue whale. We also saw many dinosaur remains and the skeleton of a mammoth. We spent a long time admiring the gems and minerals, and saw the Ostro Stone which is the largest treated blue Topaz in the world weighing 2 kilograms. What caught my eye in this section was the Aurora Pyramid of Hope, which consisted of an array of 296 naturally colored diamonds. When under ultraviolet light the diamonds glow in the dark and show a different color than the ones they are in natural light.

We then spent some time at the gift shop and met up with a friend of one of our group members who is attending a university in London. We went for lunch at Leicester Square. We had a reservation for afternoon tea at the Portrait Restaurant, which is located on top of the National Portrait Gallery in Covent Garden, with an amazing view of the London Eye, Big Ben (which unfortunately was covered up), and the Houses of Parliament.

I had the Soothing Orange Blossom tea along with sparkling wine. To go with our tea, we had some mini tuna salads, sandwiches, and scones with Cornish clotted cream, which was exceptionally good and tasted like a mix of cream and butter. Finally, we had the Fancies, which were pistachio eclairs, strawberry tartlets, blackberry macaroons, mini chocolate nemesis, and lemon loaf drizzle cake. The chocolate nemesis even had gold flakes sprinkled on top.

After tea, we walked around the National Portrait Gallery and made our way back to the hotel using the Tube that took us to London Paddington, the closest station to our hotel near Hyde Park. We met with some of the other girls to go see Dreamgirls, the musical, at the Savoy Theatre in Westminster. The play was about a musical group of black girls called the Dreamettes who were in a talent competition but unfortunately lost. There they met a man named Curtis Taylor who then becomes their manager. He begins to date the lead singer, Effie, but later decides to make Deena the lead singer instead.

Effie assumes there’s an affair between the two and leaves the group, which was now called Dreamgirls. Deena later marries Curtis and Effie has Curtis’ kid but no one knows. She struggles to make it back into the music business, but Curtis tries to steal her spotlight by making Deena and the Dreamgirls even more famous. In the end, Deena leaves Curtis after finding out about his illegal business and his controlling ways. The Dreamgirls sing together one last time and then split, so Deena can pursue her career as an actress, which was her dream. I had not watched the movie before seeing the musical, but I definitely recommend seeing this musical.

And that was the end of our first free day in London.


So much to process in London (Photo by Nils Michals)

Mirian Leon: As I began my first day off, I felt a deep sense of relaxation knowing that I dictated what I did that entire day. On top of that, I had the privilege to sleep in. Yet, my body did not seem to fully accept that fact. Therefore, I was up and ready to go by 6:00 AM. I chose to do some exploring and to find toiletries that I’d forgotten to bring. Once that small chore was done, my classmates and I headed toward the fashion museum, better known as the Victoria and Albert Museum. In there we learned about fashion as far as one can imagine. I even came across a disturbing set of hand fans made from turtle shells! I never in my life thought I would see such a thing. I mean sure, people have always made clothing from animals–but turtle shells? Really?! After I was done being shocked, I made myself understand that the amount of resources people had were much less than what we have now, and people had to make use of anything and everything.

After this, we headed to the Natural History Museum. I was looking forward to it. Sadly, due to jet lag and the overwhelming amount of kids at this museum, my body and brain decided to give out on me. By this time it was 3:00 PM and I was in deep need of a nap. After the age of five, I gave up naps, so this feeling of fatigue in the middle of the day was a something I had forgotten all about. I ditched my group of gals and decided to hit the hay for a while. Thankfully, the Tube wasn’t too difficult to figure out and I made my way to the hotel with no problems. I arrived at my room, and I recall nothing after the moment my body touched the bed. Three hours later, I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to continue my day. At that moment, I wished I could do this everyday back home.

I was headed to the most exciting activity I had planned, seeing the Dreamgirls musical! This was a big moment for me for two reasons: I had never seen a musical in a theater or anywhere besides a TV screen; this was both mine and my sister’s top second favorite musical of all time. Back when my sister and I were very young we did not have a TV but what we did have were a portable DVD player and two DVD discs. The two discs we owned were the musicals Hairspray and Dreamgirls. Almost every day after school we used our 30 minutes of “TV time” to watch small pieces of either play. When I told my sister which musical I was going to see, she flipped out. I felt a bit of guilt watching it without her, but I promised her I would take her to see it.

As the four of us–Grecia, Lily, Theresa, and me–rushed over to the theater, I could not help but notice how alive the city was at about 7:00 PM. It seemed like no one was going to head home anytime soon. It was as if everyone wanted to stay around strangers for as long as possible.


Poetic London (Photo by Nils Michals)

I was nervous thinking that they would not let us in, because we were late. Thankfully, the ushers were kind and quickly brought us to our seats. Here I was sitting in a theater watching a musical I had grown up loving. It truly did feel like a dream come true, a moment I will forever hold close to my heart. I did not even care whether or not the musical met my standards. I just felt a deep sense of gratitude to be able to watch the musical live.

After pinching myself I began to pay attention to the actual performance. I cannot make the argument that the actress performing Deena Jones’ role sang better than Beyonce, but she most certainly embraced the character’s gentle persona quite well. Yet, I can argue that the actress who played Effie White gave an outstanding performance. Her voice was beyond incredible and the way she brought her character to life had me believing that she was the actual Effie White.

What stood out to me the most was the way the writers and/or producers managed to make small changes that created a huge shift in the theme of the musical. In the original Dreamgirls, the storyline was slightly more dominated by the consequences of love and infatuation. This musical is more focused on the friendship between the three original “dream girls.” For instance, the iconic song titled “Listen” is sung by Deena to her lover when she is trying to take back the power he took from her for so many years.

In the musical version, the song is still sung by Deena but it is directed towards Effie, and lyrics are changed so that Deena is demanding that Effie stop talking just to hear her own voice and listen to what Deena has to say. The fact that the musical focused more on friendship and female empowerment had me smiling from ear to ear. It caused me to think and feel as though the musical I grew up loving so much chose to grow and progress just as I had.


London Bridge–of course! (Photo by Nils Michals)

Sheily Munoz: Since Wednesday was our first free day, Nallely and I decided to explore locally and then do touristy stuff. We decided to start by going to Borough Market. However, we got lost because instead of going left we went right. Once we realized the market wasn’t where we were going, we started asking questions, but the two different people we asked gave us wrong directions. We got accurate directions from a third person, and we eventually arrived at the market. It was so amazing seeing so many different vendors and realizing that people get to buy so much fresh and local produce, and they can test the different foods, and everything is reasonably priced. We spent around 45 minutes walking around the market and exploring everything that was offered, and once it was lunchtime, we decided to eat at a Mexican restaurant that was next to the market. This restaurant was the first place where I realized that the portions are smaller than in the States, but the food was delicious.

Afterward, Nalley and I headed to Trafalgar Square to takes pictures with the Lion statues and to tour the National Portrait Gallery. When asking people for directions, instead of saying the National Portrait Gallery, we said British Museum, because we got the names confused. We took the Tube, but then Nallely and I finally realized that, we didn’t recognize the area and we decided to get off at a stop that seemed familiar, which was Charing Cross. We got off and we were right at Trafalgar Square!


Nallely and I didn’t have enough time to tour the Gallery peacefully or to look around Trafalgar Square, because we wanted to watch the Mexico v. Sweden game, and we still needed to find a place to watch it. Instead, we looked at all the artists drawing in front of the Gallery and we took pictures in front of the water fountains. We wanted a picture on the lions, but neither of us was able to climb the lion, which was funny, so we just took pictures of them.

Nallely and I did not see any fun places to watch the FIFA game, so we decided to get back on the Tube and go to Paddington, because we knew there were places near our hotel. Nalley and I arrived at the bar/restaurant in time for the second half, and it was interesting to see so many people cheering for Mexico. I assumed the majority would be rooting for Sweden, since the country is incredibly close to England and I expected that most white people would not cheer for the darker people of color.

After, Nallely and I decided to go back to Soho to explore the different stores. Claire met up with us. She and Nallely decided they wanted sushi. We looked for a restaurant and Google took us to a costly area where the sushi was delicious but pricey, and the service was awful. We found our way to a nearby Tube station so we could get back to Paddington. We were successful and got back to our hotel quickly. Before Nallely and I went to sleep, Grecia and Claire hung out in our room and we talked about what we did that day and what we planned to do the next free day.

[Students also saw the Rosetta Stone and visited Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Picailly Circus, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and Queen Mary’s Dolls House.]


And what is this? (Photo by Nils Michals)

Lily Tsurumoto: We were off to the Vitoria and Albert Museum: Morning light filtered through the subway window. Mottled dresses in a motionless dance. Ribbed cathedral-like ceilings caging prehistoric behemoths. Tea served with scones. Enigmatic glowing wonders. Flowing chiffon gowns and cinched bodices with spouting skits. Rooms full of dreams–everything you remember from your favorite period movie. We made our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and bought tickets specifically for the Nature to Fashion exhibit.

Upstairs there was an exclusive area with a striking display of modern clothes, outfits that are familiar to us. It’s easy to see how they influenced the fashion that we wear today from the soft florals and bold graphic designs to the textured coats.

I had plans to meet up with a local friend for afternoon tea, and by coincidence she was at the station by the Victoria and Albert Museum, and she decided to meet us early. It was very exciting as this was a childhood friend I’ve known since fourth grade. She moved to London for college. I hadn’t seen her in over a year when she visited the United States. And now I was visiting her where she’s been studying during the past three years! We hugged and i introduced her to the rest of the girls.

All together we headed to the Natural History Museum, which was right next door. While I’ve seen it in movies and pictures, there’s nothing that can quite prepare you for how magnificent it really is in person. It’s actually ginormous in magnitude, and then it’s beautiful with a cavernous curved ceiling plated with intricately decorated panels. The walls and halls are comprised of varying color tones of stones giving the interior a mottled look and texture. It’s very cathedral-like with stained glass windows and distinct ribbing along the entire building. A large skeleton hangs just at the epicenter of it all. There’s honestly too much to look at in this museum.

Below is my personal favorite dinosaur–just because it’s not really the kind I imagine.

Afterwards, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery by Trafalgar Square to have afternoon tea. It was everything you’d expect from an English tea party: there were finger sandwiches, mini desserts, and different varieties of tea.

I was excited to try the scones with clotted cream and jam, as I had never tried them before. The whole experience felt very quintessentially English, especially since from where we sat we could see a skyline view of London through the glass walls.


After tea, we browsed the National Portrait Gallery. We started with portraits of the Tudor family, and went on to other regencies. The detail in the paintings is mind-blowing, especially the clothing. The fabric seems almost real, as if it was sewn into the picture.

Too soon the museum closed and we parted ways with my friend! We figured out a Tube route and went to the Savoy Theatre where we met the other girls and saw a performance of Dreamgirls. The show was amazing! We had the privilege of watching an award winning performer, amber Riley, who did an incredibly breathtaking rendition of Effie. It was definitely a tear jerker. Riley’s voice is powerful and emotive. There were strong feminist themes, particularly about the empowerment of women of color, and about women empowering other women.

In a lot of ways the play related to our core reading material in our class. In Dream Girls Deenah and Curtis have an abusive relationship. That is similar to the relationship between Higgins and Eliza in Pygmalion, where Higgins creates his dream woman out of Eliza.

Dreamgirls was definitely a highlight of the trip. After a rousing applause, we headed back home. Feeling peaceful and satisfied, I had the best night sleep of the trip!

Thursday 28 June

Grecia Rivera: We woke up early and had our breakfast at the hotel, and at 8:30 AM  we set off to our planned tour of the Tower of London. We saw the famous Ravens. According to our guide, Stuart, their favorite snacks are biscuits dunked in blood. It’s believed that the Ravens must remain at the Tower to make sure it remains standing. We saw several Beefeaters and their living areas. [Beefeaters are Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Soverign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary; they are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London.]


A Beefeater (Photo by Grecia Rivera)

Everything looked just like the video we had seen in class but even better. We then looked at the Crown Jewels. We saw Queen Elizabeth II’s crown, the Imperial State Crown, which symbolizes the sovereignty of the monarch. The crown contains the Second Star of Africa, which is a diamond weighing 317.4 carats. The Great Star of Africa is a diamond weighing 530.2 carats at sits at the top of the Sovereign’s Scepter. It is the largest clear cut diamond in the world. We watched a video of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. She only wore the Imperial State Crown for a tiny part of the ceremony since it weighs around five pounds.



After we left the Tower, we had lunch at an Italian restaurant called Zizzi. Then we made our way to the theatre to see The Play that goes Wrong. This play was supposed to mimic what a play looks like when the actors do not memorize their lines properly or have technical difficulties with the set. It was quite funny at times, and it was interesting to see how people from different cultures are amused by different things. It was truly a different experience.



Nallely Carrillo De La Cruz: I woke up this day knowing that this would be one of my last days in London, which made me sad. I knew this gave me more of a reason to make this one of my best days and to enjoy my last nights here. We all knew that a long day lay ahead of us. First, we woke up to eat breakfast early in the morning (which felt harder and harder as the days passed by) because we were more exhausted but still grateful. Later, we met our new local guide who was also coincidentally named Stuart. This Stuart was more sassy and carefree, so it made the tour less awkward.

The first thing we did was ride the Tube into town, which was the farthest I traveled in my time in London. We visited the Tower of London, which is where we got to see replicas of where people were executed. My favorite part of the tower was seeing the video of Queen Elizabeth’s ceremony. I could not believe that the jewels are authentic and used throughout so many ceremonies. We had lunch in a beautiful area outside of the tower where we had delicious chips. Later we went to to the British Museum where we got to learn about different artifacts from different places around the world.

When I spoke to my dad about my experience in the museum, he told me that a lot of countries like to put their artifacts there because they’ll take good care of them. He mentioned that if they are placed in Mexico a lot of people will graffiti the artifacts which is not okay. We saw pieces from Greece and Egypt. My favorite part of the museum was seeing the mummies. It’s fascinating to know that things are all authentic and had traveled from far. The building is beautiful. The roof has circle skylights. The light was dim like I have never seen before, reflecting a yellow tint throughout the building. Unfortunately, my feet were killing me so Sheily, Theresa, Claire, and I decided to sit down for the rest of the museum trip.

After we came home from dinner, Sheily and I decided to go into to the city to grab some drinks and listen to music. We went to this club in Soho where they played a lot of throwback music from celebrities like Iyaz. We met some people from India and from Sacramento! The night was eventful and we thankfully caught the Tube back to the hotel even though we had to reroute. Seeing London at night showed me how youthful this city is. Before arriving, I was nervous about visiting London. I didn’t want to feel like an outcast, but everywhere around me there were people of color and a lot of Hispanic people, which made me very happy.


Tower of London seen from the River Thames. (Photo from the Internet)

Claire Donzelli: We began our day by visiting the Tower of London. We had watched a documentary on the Tower of London in the week leading up to our trip (our class seemed to be a fan of the Beefeater who was in charge of the ravens), and this gave us a good background, but seeing the tower in person for the first time shattered all expectations. The Tower of London may have originally begun as one tower, but now it was a large collection of towers and other structures better classified as an expansive and impenetrable fortress. I was in awe of the castle’s majesty, and how something so ancient could still loom over us with such power and so many stories.

Stuart, our tour guide, had a wealth of knowledge and helped us connect with the castle’s history with his great sense of humor and endless interesting stories. The vast history of the Tower of London, he said, could be more easily remembered using the acronym “MOZART.” He explained how each letter stood for a different part of the tower’s history: for example, M stands for mint, because the tower had been used to produce currency; T stands for Treasure, Torture, and Treason, because the Tower of London protected and displayed the priceless crown jewels, and throughout the tower’s dynamic history, prisoners had been tried for treason, held prisoner, and sometimes tortured.

Stuart told us that to become a Beefeater, there were several extensive requirements, including 20 years of unblemished military service. Our first course of action was to visit the Crown Jewels. (Stuart explained that later in the day, the line to see the jewels filled up like a line at Disneyland, and he was right.) The jewels, used in the royal crowns, scepters, and garments, were absolutely stunning.  After visiting the Crown Jewels, Stuart walked us around the castle and told us more about its history. Afterwards, we were free to explore.


The first female Beefeater giving a tour at the Tower of London. (Photo by Claire Donzelli)

I decided to visit the building were prisoners were held. Some prisoners were notorious criminals, and others were political enemies, innocent or otherwise. To my surprise, their graffiti had been preserved over hundreds of years and was still on display. Many of their etchings were Bible verses or ominous sayings, and reflected their all-encompassing sense of hopelessness and discontent regarding the state of their government.

I finished my visit to the Tower of London by visiting the famous White Tower, where I saw all sorts of armor (even armor that was shaped like a large dragon), and dozens of life-sized horses made out of cement. After visiting the Tower of London, we ate a delicious lunch overlooking the marina and headed to the British Museum.

Our group was well aware of the fact that the British Museum was one of my London highlights. Stuart took us through the Egyptian and Greek exhibits, stopping to tell us about groundbreaking historical artifacts such as the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon.

During our free time at the museum, I searched tirelessly for an ancient Mesopotamian map my sister had spoken of at great length that she said changed her life. I enlisted the help of a museum employee, and he directed me to a small stone slab with a map etched on it. It was very impressive that such a map could be made without any access to aerial cameras, however, it was much smaller than I had anticipated. Later, however, I stumbled upon an enormous and intricately detailed aerial map of Venice, and I thought to myself, perhaps this was the map she meant?


The extraordinarily detailed map of Venice we saw at the British Museum. (Photo by Claire Donzelli)

After the museum, we had dinner, and just a dash of shopping. We saw The Play That Goes Wrong, a comedy about a murder mystery. This play had the audience reeling: there were countless failures of communication among the cast and crew and instances where the set broke down. The actors and actresses had to execute perfect timing both in delivering punchlines and in avoiding falling props. This opened up an interesting conversation among a few students on how humor sometimes varies in different countries and cultures.

Lily Tsurumoto: The most memorable part of visiting the Tower of London was viewing the Crown Jewels. There is no lack of glitter or luxury. There are golden cups, plates, spoons, birds–all intricately carved and wrought with snowflake-like complexity. Every item is encrusted with sparkling gems.

As we left the Tower of London, me and my friend were hungry and we went to buy an ice cream from a vendor inside the castle walls. The ice-cream cost less than three pounds, so I handed the lady the coins. As an American it always amazes me that you can still buy items with change. American coins are not worth very much at all, so they feel more like meaningless extra weight in a bag.

Afterwards, we headed past London Bridge and stopped by a row of stylish restaurants by a pier on the Thames. It was beautiful with painted boats and wildflowers in pots against the roped walkways. We decided on an Italian restaurant. It was nice to bond with the other girls over a nice meal of comfort food.

Next stop is possibly one of the most life-changing locations of the trip, the British Museum. It has an amazing crosshatched ceiling. Our guide explained that each of the triangles are totally unique and different from the others due to the fact that the original library in the museum is slightly off center.

Our tour guide brought us to the Rosetta Stone (which seems slightly smaller than what I expected, the head of the statue of Ramses II (the exact size I expected), and the Greek Parthenon Sculptures. The amount of history we witnessed in those moments is overwhelming.

The museum has almost 100 rooms and about 8 million objects. Each section represents a different country or civilization in a different time period. There’s something emotional about seeing these pieces of history in person. It’s so different than looking at the tiny pictures in the corners of textbooks.

I was also touched by the amount of tourists in the museum. There was an elderly Japanese couple with their headphones in the Egyptian section, a Chinese family with small children by the Parthenon Sculptures, and a few Indian women in their elegant saris studying the Mesopotamia area. It’s hard to articulate, but it reminded me of how similar we all are as people. We’re all curious. We all want to learn and discover and be amazed by the cultures before us. It’s very humbling to be surrounded by such a diverse community, people with lives that I will never fully understand, walks of life that I’ll never live, but in that moment we were sharing the same experience.

That was such an impactful event that on the last day of our trip I returned with a friend who felt similarly. We spent about six hours in the museum. Of all the places I visited, I wish I could return to the British Museum and keep discovering new things endlessly.


(Photo by Nils Michals)

Friday 29 June

Claire Donzelli: I had planned all of the things I wanted to do on my last day in London: swim in the pond, visit the Tate Modern, etc. After seeing the British Museum, however, all these plans went to the wayside. It was as if the museum, with its vast quantities of stories, exhibits, and priceless historical artifacts, drew me back with a magnetic force. Another student named Lily felt similarly about the British Museum. So, after waking up early and eating a quick breakfast, we hopped on the Tube and headed back.

Much to our relief and amazement, the British Museum had but a fraction of the tour groups it had hosted the day before, and it was easier to visit more exhibits. We spent a great deal of time at the African exhibit which Silke, our tour guide, had recommended. Among our other favorites were the Mexican exhibit, the Enlightenment Room, and a captivating exhibit on the development of clocks and watches. We joked that we could write an essay on any one of the artifacts for our blog, because everything had such an extensive story.

While at the museum, I texted my sister a picture of the map of Venice from the day before and asked her if it was the map she was referring to. No, she said, it’s much smaller, and on a piece of stone. Sure enough, she had meant the other much smaller map we had originally found with the help of the museum guide.


My sister’s favorite map at the British Museum. (Photo by Claire Donzelli)

On our last night in London, we ate dinner at an Indian restaurant and shared our favorite experiences from the trip. I found myself thinking that there was so much to do in this vast beautiful city, and wishing we had more time. All the students on this WVC Study Abroad Program came from different backgrounds, were studying different majors and had different goals, but we had all gained something from visiting London. From English literature and history to teamwork and learning the ins and outs of the Tube, I have learned so much from this experience.

Claire Marie Kupfer: Unfortunately, Friday was our last full day in London. It was such a fantastic week sightseeing, exploring, and experiencing a new culture. I was really happy to have had the opportunity to make some really close friendships with the girls in this class. It was awesome to go on a super cool study tour, and to share it with some pretty great people.

This last day was free for us to do whatever we wanted, so I chose to wander in the streets by myself and to see where I would wind up. I used the Tube to travel around. At first I was intimidated by it; it’s not common for younger people to use public transit in California, but it’s something that everyone does in London. I watched to see what kind of people use the Tube and I noticed that all ages use it. After standing with a map in my hands for five minutes, I figured out where I wanted to go. I actually really enjoyed figuring out my day on my own. I am a laid back person who often goes with the flow, so I was forced to push myself outside of my comfort zone and to be a little bit independent in a foreign country.

I went to a place called Camden Town. I walked around and saw that it was a lot like the touristy spots in San Francisco. Then after a while of wandering I took the Tube and went a little more north up to Hampstead Heath. I had no idea what was there except for the ponds where you could go swimming. I walked and I walked and I walked. All I saw were little shops, cafes and shops for afternoon tea–and no ponds.

I finally went into some random coffee shop to get wifi, since that was the only way I could use data on my phone. I asked the barista what the wifi was and she immediately lit up by the sound of my American accent. She asked where I was from and when I said California she said “No way, do you know any celebrities?” I thought it was funny because of course I don’t. We began talking more and more and I asked her what things I could do around there, and she gave me a lot of good ideas. When I was leaving, she offered to show me where the ponds are, since she was just getting off work. I thought that was so sweet.

Even though London is a big city, the people are super nice and genuinely interested in you. To be honest, that’s a foreign concept to me, because people are nice in California but it’s only when you ask. My trip to London was so wonderful and I enjoyed every second of it.


Mirian Leon: On my last day of adventures in London, I made it my mission to sleep in as much as I possibly could. Unfortunately, all week I was waking up at the same time: 2:00 AM and then 7:00 AM on the dot. The night prior I had embarrassingly fallen asleep during the play, and so I knew my body was demanding I get some rest. Fortunate for me, I managed to sleep until 9:00 AM! To me, that seemed like a complete success. I knew that I was ready to take on the rest of this day.

After I dressed myself with the last pieces of clothing I packed, I headed downstairs for  breakfast with all of the girls I had made plans with for that day. I made the same sandwich I made myself nearly every day that I had been in London. This infamous breakfast sandwich consisted of the following: toasted croissant, grape jelly, butter, slices of cucumber and tomato. Just writing about it makes my mouth water.

We shared our second to last breakfast in beautiful London. As we all laughed and ate together, I realized that I would never again live this moment. People always talk about the “good old days” and wish that there was a way to appreciate those moments before they pass you by. I reminded myself to be present and savor each beautiful moment I had the honor of living.

As we all finished we decided to meet back in 30 minutes to head out to the Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds. Since hearing about these famous ponds, I knew I had to visit them. I am a huge lover of the water and it would be my very first time swimming in a pond. I knew I had to check this off my bucket list. Once everyone managed to get themselves to the lobby, the four of us were off to the magical ponds of England. As we rode the Tube, my heart began to race as I thought about how dark pond waters can be.


And on a hot London day… (Photo by Nils Michals)

You see, I have a slight phobia of dark and deep waters. This is known as thalassophobia. Ever since I was a kid I would have to walk around the pool to make sure that there weren’t any creatures, such as sharks or alligators roaming my community pool. But at 24 years old, I had to tell myself that it was time I overcame this fear, because there was no chance I would be able to walk around the pond to check for any large vicious creatures swimming around. I shared this with the girls and they reassured me that they would be supportive and stick by my side.

Once we got off at our stop we walked down nicely paved streets with enormous homes. At this point, we only came across friendly elders going about their days. Although Nallely’s navigation was helpful, we reached a point where we did not seem to know where we were. That is when we started using the power of communication! We asked a few locals and after getting directions for the fifth time we finally stumbled across the pond for men and women. Our top choice was the pond for only women but this would have to do because after walking through the woods for an hour, we just wanted to soak our bodies in water to cool ourselves off.

Once we were all ready to head into the water, I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that if there were any deadly creatures in this water, the fifty people already in the pond would have said a thing or two. With this, I dove into the chilly dark green water and regretted nothing. Sure I didn’t swim around too far from the deck in case I needed to make a quick escape, but at least I wasn’t in full panic mode. I managed to hold a nice conversation about life with Grecia. This helped keep me distracted from thinking about the impossible, such as me being the first victim, in this pond, to a pack of piranhas eating me alive.

After about an hour of swimming, the four of us decided to find ourselves a place to eat. We eventually found a burger joint because some of us were missing American food. I enjoyed a nice plate of cauliflower with hot sauce and strangely enough, sour cream in replacement of ranch. Along with this, I finally tried kimchi fries, which were not as amazing as I had hoped. Perhaps the kimchi just was not as delicious as it can be; therefore I will try kimchi fries once again. Once we had completed our lunch and discussed all the other countries each of us would like to one day visit, we split up. Two of us headed back to the hotel for a nap, while the other two went off shopping.

As I reached my bed for a nap, I could still hear the cover song to Dolly Parton’s song, “Jolene,” being wonderfully sung by a random lady. With this I closed my eyes and began to dream of Dolly Parton.

After hitting the snooze button about five times, I jumped out of bed to brush my teeth and make myself look decent for our last group dinner. Once I was ready, I realized that my roommate had still not awakened from her nap. So I shouted for her to rise and get ready for us to head to the restaurant. About two minutes later we were walking to the subway station. Perhaps because we were all still slightly sleepy, we managed to get ourselves lost and arrived fabulously late to the dinner. Regardless, we found ourselves enjoying a wonderful dinner.


Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, London (Photo by Nils Michals)

Joanna Uppin: Wow, can you believe it’s been four days since I’ve talked to you guys?! That’s crazy. It’s also the last day of class before everyone else is leaving. I’m really going to miss them. It just won’t be the same without them here. I did so much today, you wouldn’t believe it. I decided it was time to travel by myself and become comfortable with London, since I am staying another week. I ended up going back to Hyde Park for a bit just to get some photos. My phone died on Tuesday and we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside Windsor Castle, but I still wanted pics of the park.

Then I decided to wander aimlessly around. I ended up getting an Oyster Card in the underground for when I am on my own, since they’re easy to use. I also took the Tube by myself for the first time, which give me the confidence I’ll need later. I went to M&M World, which was huge. It was like four stories or something. It was crazy. My feet were so sore by the end of the day. We had Indian food for dinner, but being Indian myself, I did not enjoy it as much as my fellow peers. My parents have officially ruined me for all Indian restaurants for ever.

After dinner was over, most of us girls decided that we wanted to check out the night life in London. We ended up going to a rooftop place. It was cool that night, which was good since it had been hot during the day. The place closed, so the seven of us decided to go to a club. It took a little while, but we finally found a club that we all enjoyed. Five of us stayed there until about 2:30 in the morning before the club closed. From there, everything went downhill for a while. The underground was closed. It closes at midnight, so we had to take the bus. However, we just could not figure out the route to get back to the hotel. We asked quite a few people how to get back but what they told us just did not help us. We caved and called an Uber. It was about 3:30 and we didn’t get back to the hotel until 4:00 AM. Thankfully, I didn’t have to check out until later, but the other girls had to be ready much earlier. This is Joanna signing out for the day.







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