Jun 26 2014

Academiaholic

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I’m writing to all of you who are at LSE (or who project to come in October) and who are planning on doing a PhD after a master’s. Hear my story:

Before I came to LSE I had done a bachelor in psychology and was sick and tired of it being so theoretical and, at times, lacking entirely in critical thinking. I was frustrated because I immensely enjoyed social psychology, but academia didn’t seem to be able to nourish entirely my thirst in understanding the human being. Nevertheless, I still decided to pursue a PhD (and a master’s in between) for recognition in the academic world and in order to get a proper job.

Then I arrived at LSE, with such a determined mind, and trust me, many of my peers were the same; They had their whole lives planned out and seemed quite confident that the postgraduate programme was just some sort of one-year intense project. I remember one of our doctorates telling us the first week “you should expect to change your mind this year concerning your future plans…concerning if you want to do a PhD or not”. I would snigger at that comment and confidently lay back on my chair, probably in an arrogant way, thinking to myself ‘I don’t need to reconsider things, I know exactly what I want to do, and nothing is going to make me change my mind’.

Well I was wrong. Michealmas term taught me that my definition of hard work was flawed. Also, I not only felt overwhelmed with the amount of work (even if I tried to prepare myself psychologically), but I also felt like I hadn’t learned anything before coming here. Let me explain: in my bachelor’s degree I was a very ‘organized’ (or control freak) kind of person. I had my personal timetables and would really stick to it. First week of work at LSE, I threw away four times my once beloved ‘timetables’. I gave up on that. Instead, I would work endless hours in the library until I was done doing what I was required for the upcoming week. At this point, I thought to myself that I wasn’t sure anymore if I wanted to continue in academia later on.

Then the unimaginable happened. During the famous Cumberland lodge weekend, I met what is now my dissertation supervisor. He is, as many other LSE students who had this kind of experience would describe, an academic soul-mate, or a life revelation. I finally found a respectable, knowledgeable, kind and extremely interesting academic who shared the same research interests I had. From that moment on, I realized how oblivious I had been: I thought I hadn’t been intellectually challenged enough? Ha! I still laugh about it! I’ve been intellectually challenged from the moment I met my peers at LSE. But I was ready to accept it only at this point.

During Lent Term, personal research was emphasized due to the fact that we were required to write essays, and pushed to have very high critical thinking. My intellectual thirst was in its apotheosis! I kept on meeting lovely academics and other smart students that have changed my life and my way of thinking like never before. I wanted to do a PhD more than ever, but not for the same reasons as I cited before. I wanted to continue in academia for the love I have of learning, of doing research, of being intellectually stimulated, and because I just…can’t get enough of all of this.

I’ve met some people who told me recently that I appeared to be a confident person, a person that is made for academia. Truth is, I wasn’t like this before, at least not this much. LSE has played a huge role in the way I think, the way I act, the way I interact with people, the way I understand the world. LSE has changed me entirely, and for that I am more than thankful.

Marina Leban

Marina Leban

MSc Organisational and Social Psychology

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Jun 16 2014

Learnt but not taught

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Having spent almost four years in higher education, there can be no denying that I have learnt a lot. Amongst other things, I have been taught the Foucauldian perspective on power and knowledge, the limitations of democracy, the metaphysical possibility of zombies (fun fact: they are metaphysically possible) and that everything, or virtually everything, is problematic in some way.

Yet, to cater to the cliché, the most important things that I have learnt at university are not what I have been taught. I don’t mean to undermine my education at all: the countless lectures and seminars that I have attended have left an indelible imprint on me, of which I am obviously extremely grateful. However, there is no doubt in my mind that when I reflect on my days at university in the years to come, it will not be the string of notes that I took or the wise words from academics that I absorbed that will be the main body of what I remember. After all, I sit writing this blog a mere few days before my final exam – that says something in itself.

Much has been written on this topic already. Countless articles will tell you of the importance of finding out how to pay bills, realising the difficulties of living with friends or even developing a deeper appreciation of your home life. These accounts are all true and, without my time at university, I doubt I would have been able to manage my life as well as I am currently able to. However, I would like to employ a slightly different approach. I want to discuss not only what I have not been taught, but the lessons that I have come to understand in the hardest ways. Without getting too intimate, this is a very personal account of my journey and whilst discovering these things has certainly not been easy, they have had a permanent impact on me.

1) Appreciate similarity, respect difference

When you think of the word ‘difference’, what comes to mind?

This is a question that I recently contemplated given the varying and contradictory images that can be illustrated by the word. Difference can, very basically, be described as a point or way in which something or someone is not the same. It indicates some sort of change, an alteration. However, when you think of difference, is this positive or negative?

My first instinct, being the idealist that I am, was that ‘difference’ can be synonymised with ‘making a difference.’ This resonates with the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, who told us to “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or John F. Kennedy, who said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Yet, difference is more than about making a change. It is also about the existence of change. As a master’s student at the Gender Institute, I have become familiar with the term ‘intersectionalities’, a word I am sure many of you would have heard before too. Appreciating intersectionalities involves appreciating that differences can result to differing experiences and that these distinctions should be respected as best as possible. Race, class, sexuality, religion – in a university context you will undoubtedly meet individuals who do not share such common ground with you but it is essential to respect this regardless in order to ensure that the world remain a place of stability and harmony.

This certainly has not always been an easy task for me. If someone’s fundamental beliefs are antithetical to my own, trying to accept their view is not necessarily possible. On most accounts, though, I have tried to respect our differences and understand that agreement on everything is not strictly necessary. However, similarity is something that I found equally difficult to grapple with.

The term homophily refers to our tendency to associate with those who are similar to us. To me, this makes sense given that similar interests give friends something to talk about and common ground can bring comfort and validation. As a British Indian who has lived in Nigeria, Malaysia and England, when I went to university, I believed that I would have a lot of common ground with a lot of people. I was not wrong. I could relate to both local students and international students in some ways, whether it was discussing the television shows that we enjoyed as children, our favourite restaurants half way across the world or mutual friends that we shared. Naively, I assumed that this similarity would only churn positive results but I was proved very wrong. I soon became exposed to the judgement that existed amongst a significant amount of my peers and I was stuck in the middle. ‘Your other friends – they’re so stingy.’ ‘Your other friends – they’re so snobby.’ I was hearing these things from all ends, and this was not only frustrating, it was heartbreaking to see condemnation as so pervasive.

This is not to say that I have not been guilty of such judgement. You would be hard pressed to find an individual who has not criticised someone who is not like them. Yet, I was forced to come to terms with how I felt about the situation. It may seem somewhat obvious a lesson to learn but I have consistently found that whilst people know to appreciate similarity and to respect difference, it is not practised as well as it is preached.

2) Context is often everything

My undergraduate experience was at a campus university, not far from London but incomparable to the LSE in so many ways. Everything was much closer: it did not take long to travel to see a friend, it was inevitable that you would run into multiple people you knew in the library on any given day and you were unlikely to be introduced to someone who did not already know someone that you did too. During my time at the LSE, I have met a fair few people but this has generally been limited to the people on my course. Having previously lived in London, I already had friends that I was able to spend my time with. Whilst the tube and buses facilitate movement, distance is often still a concern. Perhaps this is also where postgraduate and undergraduate life differ. Space is a problem, but difficulties arise with available time too. Whilst I was doing my undergraduate degree, I was still able to maintain a relatively healthy social life. Postgraduate life tells another story at times.

I came to realise that context often defined a situation and the part of my life that I have felt this most is in friendship. I consider myself lucky given that I am still very close to my school friends, as I have often witnessed others around me lose touch with theirs. Perhaps what was keeping them together was proximity, perhaps it was something else altogether, but that the change of situation and environment had such a detrimental impact is indicative of the effect of context. A similar phenomenon has occurred for me with the difference between my undergraduate and postgraduate experiences. I have already lost touch with many and, though this saddens me profusely, it is something I will just have to accept. As my mother always reminds me, we have different types of friends in life: friends for a reason, friends for a season and friends for a lifetime. Unfortunately, not all can fall in the latter category.

3) Don’t undermine mental health

A few months ago, I wrote a blog on depression. I discussed the pervasiveness of depression amongst students and how there is no sole reason that is responsible for this. Depression, anxiety and self-harm are among the many mental health issues that occur in a university setting. Mental health might be invisible to some but it exists, it is very real and this is, in my opinion, not acknowledged enough.

I became aware of the gravity of the occurrence of mental health in a number of ways, but how this came about is unimportant in relation to what can be done about it. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate some of the information I have previously mentioned. Whilst I am certainly not an expert on depression, professional forums do exist where such issues can be discussed within a university context. The misunderstanding and stigma that surround mental health can often act as a deterrent to those who might benefit from help. It is imperative that we ensure the discussion on mental health only continues to grow and in the right direction.

The LSE Student counselling service offers a free and confidential service for LSE students and runs specific workshops on depression. Appointments are available through email or in person and details can be found here.

Students Against Depression is a website which provides advice, information, guidance and resources for those affected. More information is available here.

Alternatively, London Nightline is a confidential listening, support and information service for students in London. The phone service operates from 6pm-8am every day during term time and the number is 020 7631 0101. Further contact can be done through email, instant messaging and Skype calls and details can be found here.

4) Perspective.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “The optimist sees the doughnut, the pessimist sees the hole.”

This is the age-old conundrum of how one looks at the glass: is it half full or half empty? Perspective encapsulates our attitude towards something, perhaps how it makes us feel or think. Awareness that perspective can alter an entire situation is imperative but is often overlooked. Perspective is taught in class continuously. In essays, for example, one is usually expected to survey at least two different sides of an argument. However, sometimes, as I came to realise, we need the help of others to see things in a different way.

A very simple story summarises how exactly university gave me a situation to understand perspective. I did my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. After my first year of university, we were allowed to drop one of the subjects if we wished to. I had a very mathematical background and, since the age of 14, I had decided that I wanted to be Prime Minister. The natural decision for me seemed to be to drop Philosophy and continue with the other two.

However, I had serious doubts over this decision. I simply was not enjoying Economics and I had not anticipated how much I would grow to love Philosophy. I sat in a Philosophy lecture two days before I was meant the make my final decision when, during the class, our professor said as a passing comment that ‘Economists rule the world.’ This swayed me. At this point, it seemed like I had been given a sign so I turned to the friend next to me and announced my decision to carry on with Economics for this reason. She looked at me, confused, and asked the question that would entirely change my perspective and consequent decision: ‘But have you seen the world today?’

As Rory Sutherland said, “When you can’t smoke, if you stand and stare out of the window on your own, you’re an antisocial, friendless idiot. If you stand and stare out of the window on your own with a cigarette, you’re a philosopher.” The way we look at things can change how we feel about ourselves, others and the world around us and the power of changing perspective should never be underestimated as a consequence.

5) Never stop asking questions as you will stop receiving answers

‘Keep asking questions.’ I was told this on the first day of my undergraduate degree, I was told this on the first day of my postgraduate degree and I was told this throughout university. As I am writing about things that I have learnt but not been taught, you might then question why this is on the list, given that I was advised to ask questions continuously. The truth is, although I was told this time and time again, it was only until I figured questioning out for myself that I truly realised how important it was.

At school, in preparation for any kind of assessment, I would read through my textbook, learn significant amounts off by heart and regurgitate it in order to do well. University told a different story and, as a consequence, for the first time in my life I found myself struggling in an academic context. I was at a loss, I didn’t know what to do and I was becoming increasingly frustrated. I decided to change my approach. Instead of trying to figure out the answer, I went to the root of the problem: the question. In order to understand the question, I needed to dig deeper. I asked what it meant, what were its causes, what were its consequences and, like the buried treasure in the depths of the earth, I gained some clarity.

I have felt wildly out of my depth on more than one occasion throughout my university experiences. In fact, it is frequently the case that the more I know, the less I understand. However, although it took me a significant amount of time to realise this, I eventually came to terms with the fact that this did not matter. For me, answers became only as important as the questions that they followed and, even then, were just the icing on the towering cake of knowledge.

Advice has never been my forte: giving or receiving. As John Steinbeck once said, ‘You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.’ However, as I share these lessons with you, I have in mind one overlapping theme that I hope you have been able to learn at some point as well: the importance of listening.

Listening allowed me to realise how I differed from others and to value their lived experiences. Listening made me aware of the common ground I shared with not only those I felt were already like me, but even the most unexpected of people. Listening forced me to come to terms with how change is very real and to understand circumstances. Listening opened my eyes to the impact and magnitude of mental health and taught me the instrumentality of empathy. Listening offered me the opportunity to try and understand things from a different point of view. Listening educated me on how to ask the right questions. I listened others and others listened to me. I listened to myself and I have never understood who I am better than I do now.

For everyone who is graduating this year, I wish you the best of luck. Education has been quite a journey. Whilst I will deeply miss certain elements, I am excited to see what the next stage of my life has to offer. As the late Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” Never stop learning.

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Jun 16 2014

A MOMENT IN THE SUN

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Exams are over (well, mine are) and summer is here (well, sort of)! Ah, the blissful relief. No more burning the midnight oil, trying to pack three months’ worth of course material into a two-page summary. No more waking up in a cold sweat after dreaming you’ve slept through the exam. No more irrational anxiety, no more looking like the “before” side of health product adverts. But there is little respite. A morning to sleep in, an afternoon in the sun, and by evening, the mind is already clocking back to work, and once again, time is measured by productivity. You don’t dare relax too much, for fear of losing the momentum. Now that exams are done, there’s the dissertation to think about. And after that comes the mother of all questions: what next? And as the “next” inches into the “now”, the question becomes ever more significant.

Reading all this, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s a singularly depressing outlook on life: a list of tasks to be ticked off, one after the other, no sooner than one goes out, new ones pop up to take its place.  Such a dour metaphor: life is a to-do list.

Except it’s not.

London is truly beautiful at this time of the year. The distance between dawn and dusk has decreased, and the days are longer than they have any right to be (in my very Kenyan opinion).  The bunnies and squirrels are out in force, the flowers are in bloom and the skies and grounds are painted with the colours of summer. The city is flooded with tourists, and the parks are full of families spending quality time together. (Is it just me or do children appear out of nowhere in summer time? There seem to be so many more of them these days!) Frappes and smoothies are on offer at all the coffee shops and of course, strawberries are in season.

Can anyone truly be immune to all this? I think not.

A bite into a plump, red, juicy strawberry. A sip of a cool iced mocha. A moment; just one, when the sun emerges and shines down bright, as a gentle breeze musses your hair. Small things, insignificant things even, but tiny little reminders not to take life too seriously. Deadlines will come, deadlines will go, and we will meet them, as we always have. But that golden moment in the sun; fragile, ethereal and fleeting, that, I’ve realised, is something we all deserve to enjoy, no matter what our pressures may be. After all, as the saying goes, we all deserve our moment in the sun.

 

 

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May 29 2014

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER CELEB (well, sort of…)

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I am acutely conscious as I write this that it is exam season; ergo any moment not spent poring feverishly over stacks of reading material is considered a moment squandered. Still, I plunge on, in the hope that you will squander a few minutes to read on about another wonderful talk that I recently attended.

On 21st May, Prof. Gerd Gigerenzer delivered a public lecture at the Old Building titled Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions. This was of supreme importance to me, because one of my optional courses was on Organisational and Social Decision-Making, and we drew extensively upon Prof. Gigerenzer’s work in both our lectures and for our essays. The chance to meet the celebrated author and scholar whose works I’d been reading for months was extremely exciting, and the talk itself did not disappoint. Gigerenzer started things off with a really powerful opening statement:

He then went on to debunk several myths, especially about excessive trust in statistics and systems. His main argument was that in a 21st century technological society, risk literacy is necessary. We can all be risk savvy, and are very much capable of making decisions without being nudged. Above all, he distinguished between risk and uncertainty, and the need to view experts as part of a problem rather than as a solution.

What really stood out for me was Prof. Gigerenzer’s consummate skill at communicating his point concisely, yet effectively. You could easily see that there was tons of material on the subject and that his arguments were based on a solid wealth of scientific research, yet his arguments never strayed into the abstract or the vague. Bayesian statistics and complex models were eschewed for clear, tangible examples that in no way missed out on the deeper theoretical perspectives. It is often said of psychologists that we make our research inaccessible to the public by shrouding it in unwarranted complexity; Prof. Gigerenzer certainly kept it simple.

Another highly refreshing aspect, was for me, the incisive and open way in which Prof. Gigerenzer delivered the lecture. His critique was simultaneously ferocious and refined, and he certainly took no prisoners when pointing out flaws in the banking systems and the NHS. And of course, all of us behavioural economics and psychology aficionados were thrilled by the several veiled references and critiques of Daniel Kahneman’s work. It’s not every day that you hear Nobel-prize winning scientists criticised, after all! I confess, the callow tabloid writer in me was constructing headlines for a heated academic war, before I realised this wasn’t quite going to be the front page of The Sun.

Tabloid fantasies notwithstanding, it was a most illuminating lecture and one I’m so glad I attended. It is hard to pick a single highlight about the LSE Experience, but I would certainly say the public lectures or special lectures are a major winner. I really enjoy the chance they afford me to “think” about topics or ideas that we could not possibly explore in class. The writer in me was thrilled at the LSE Litfest and the lecture by Binyavanga Wainaina, while Amartya Sen’s lecture on poverty was an experience to remember. Also, it’s a rare opportunity to get the chance to meet the authors of classic texts, or listen first-hand to scholars whose works you have cited in your class essays. That is why I feel so fortunate to have listened to Prof George Loewenstein earlier in the year and now to Prof Gigerenzer, who are so well-known and respected in the academic community. After all, these are the celebrities of our disciplines!

See you at another public lecture soon!

PS: I would certainly recommend that anyone who has even a remote interest in this topic (or is looking to procrastinate by creating one) download the podcast, which is usually available a few days after the event, from here: http://www.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/Home.aspx )

PPS: Good luck in the exams :)

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , ,

May 19 2014

Exam Season

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Those who have been following this blog will find this post familiar. In December, I wrote a post on essays, entitled Essay Season. In it I got away with comparing essay writing to Bugs Bunny, and President Eisenhower to Elmer Fudd.

Now, in an exercise in self-plagiarism, or creative recycling – depending on the point of view – I will repeat my guiding principles but apply them to exams. In a way it is a sequel.

As before, I should mention that these are merely guidelines. I am not an expert in these matters. So if you follow my advice and your exam results disappoint you, do not come running after me, a lawyer at your side.  I will probably be out of the country.

Here are my five suggestions for getting through exam season.

Breathe

This may seem self-explanatory, but a lot of people tend to forget to breathe while revising for exams, and in consequence, go blue in the face. No exams are as important as to warrant failing to take a breather.  Always remember to take a big breath every once in a while to calm your nerves. Oxygen is quite pleasant.

Eat

This is in fairly similar to my first suggestion. The fact is we tend to forget the simple things when we are engrossed in revisions.  By eat I mean sitting down to a meal three times a day without any textbook propped up as reading material, or notes used as napkins. Your brain needs fuel. A good meal is always good for morale.

Sleep

Now you might think me a tad facetious. Yet it is my personal opinion that sleep should never be compromised. It is probably the most important element in success, aside from the actual studying. You need sleep to assure all the information you have rummaged through during the day stays memorized and is in order. I suggest adopting a regular sleep schedule.  If what makes you fall asleep is a teddy bear, favourite pillow, or a copy of the Tax Code, so be it. Find what is right for you.

Study

You might say study is implied. I am not going to suggest any particular method because each person has their own which works best for them. What I will say is whichever method you choose, have a plan and stick to it, and remember to target what you retain. You do not need to know everything in every detail.  Target your subject matter and be precise.

Practice

We work best when we are prepared. Most courses have previous exams available. Use them. Pick a few questions and take 15 minutes to plan a rapid outline of how you would answer the question. An exam is an exercise in coherent reflection. Training yourself by writing these questions is the best preparation.

I realise that three out of five of my tips are related to body functions. “What a disappointment!” you might say, having read this article to procrastinate from studying.  However my suggestions affect you (if they affect you at all), I wish you the best of luck for your final exams.

Breathe, eat, sleep, study and practice. Be confidant, stay strong, and all will be well.

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May 14 2014

Preemptive Nostalgia

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I’ve been a bit M.I.A. recently, and by recently I mean the past two months. I assure you this is simply due to the fact that I have been fully engaged in the trials of being a twenty-year-old LSE exchange student.

Once upon a time in…

Early March

Let’s Dance: After months of meetings, rehearsals, e-mail/Facebook exchanges and other logistical shenanigans, my astounding co-director Alice Baudry (LSE ’15), LSE Dance Club president Lucy Jiang (LSE ’14), and myself put on the LSE Dance Club’s annual show, “Through the Ages.” It was a riveting evening of performances ranging from Irish Dance to Wracking and Romantic Ballet. I was fortunate enough to perform in and direct the show, giving me great insight into the versatile and sometimes hidden talents of the LSE community. It was an overwhelming privilege to witness the power of dance forge new friendships and collaborations.

An image of the LSE Dance Club on stage

LSE Dance Club

Please be alrightThat was the phrase running through my head when I heard that my friend from Columbia on a year-long exchange at Oxford had suffered a terrible accident. She fell from a roof and hit her head, leaving her unconscious and with several internal injuries. Thanks to a mix of modern medicine and miracle, she is well on her way to a full recovery. However, as someone who has dealt with a lot of trauma in her own life, this was nothing short of a harsh reminder. You  Only Live Once, so please everyone — take care.

Late March/Early April:

Provence, je t’aime: With the a five-week long pause from classes, I set off to Marseille and Martigues, where half of my genes originate. No seriously, the Baret side of my family has been in Marseille for generations, with Place Felix Baret named for my not-sure-how-many-greats-grandfather, the city’s former mayor. The sunshine was such a relief from London’s eternally grey skies. It was remarkable to reconnect with family I hadn’t seen in far too long, to be in such close proximity to my favourite body of water in the world, the Mediterranean Sea…luckily I’m returning in June.

An image of Marseille

Marseille

Paris, encore une fois: and of course after a week in the south of France, the city of my birth summoned me to its quarters. I stayed in Versailles with my aunt, and embarked on the 20-minute train journey to Paris every day to meet one of my nearest and dearest friends, Samantha. While in Versailles, I paid tribute to Le Roi Soleil at his dazzling palace, which by the way, worked out quite well since he is one of the revision topics for my European history course. During some solo-time in Paris, I ventured to Musée D’Orsay to satisfy my craving for impressionist paintings and went to see the film “Her,” just because.

The Rest of April

Welcome to Londontown: I returned to London for a week of revising followed by a visit from Sam, which largely consisted of frolicking in the Royal Parks and admiring the blooming flowers.

An image of Venice

Venetian Wonders

“Buona Pasqua a tutti!”: Samantha and I left London for Verona, to reunite with our dear friend Patrizia for the Easter holiday. We spent nearly a week in the north of Italy, on the Lago di Garda meeting some of Patrizia’s closest friends and family. We attended a graduation ceremony in Padova, punctuated by unique rituals — for example, the cracking of eggs on the head of the new graduate while she reads an embarrassing manifesto and takes swigs of bubbly every time she fumbles. Sam and I spent a day in Venice indulging in gelato and avoiding tourists at all costs, mesmerized by the picturesque canals and pastel coloured buildings. This trip was memorable for many reasons, perhaps because it was my first time in this region of Italy, but more likely because I was in good company.

An image of LSE friends at Lago di Garda

Friends at Lago di Garda

May

Revision, Revision, Revision: That’s what I’ve been up to lately.  At LSE you have nine weeks to revise for all of your exams, each of which count for most, if not all, of your mark.  Of course nine weeks seems like a lot of time, especially for an exchange student like myself who is used to having exams all year round and a three-day reading period to revise for finals. Aside from the occasional revision lecture, there is no more classroom time. Instead you can expect to find any LSE student in the beloved/not-so-beloved library. Everyone has their own routines and exam-coping mechanisms. I’ve developed my habits over three years now, though this year I must admit, is slightly different. I’ve found the most important things for me are maintaining excellent eating habits, sleep patterns, exercise routines, and have a laugh now and again to fuel the soul.

Preemptive Nostalgia is the syndrome I’m currently suffering from. Transitions are daunting, and with less than a month left in London, I am doing all that I can to appreciate the wonders of this fine city I will soon no longer call home. I’ll save the goodbyes and eternal gratitude for my final post, but it must be said that I have met some damn good people here who I am sad to leave behind. For now, it’s back to revising…

Rose

Rose

Bonjour! I was born in Paris, France and raised in Cambridge, MA, USA by a French mother and American father. Consequently, I am a dual citizen and fully bilingual. I study sociocultural anthropology at Columbia University in New York City, and have a special interest in medical anthropology. I am also pre-med; after earning my bachelor's degree, I will attend medical school and become a surgeon. At LSE, I study anthropology, English literature, and European history. As a city-slicker, a year in London is nothing short of ideal! My interests outside of scholarly pursuits include, dancing (ballet and modern), watching the world's dancers and choreographers pour out their souls on stage, long-distance running, creative writing, reading, film, socialized medicine, peer-mentoring, observing surgeons in the operating room, and volunteering in the Emergency departments of urban hospitals.

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May 13 2014

Spring Break Sightseeing

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Most of my friends in the US have completed their school years, but at LSE I am just starting exams. I actually have just recently returned to London after a five week spring break. I spent roughly four of those weeks back in the US spending time with family and friends, but I was able to explore a bit of Europe for the last one!

First, I visited Paris. I was able to see some of the traditional tourist attractions, such as the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe. I studied French in elementary and middle school, then re-visited the subject a bit during my time at Allegheny, and I was impressed by how much I could remember! Some taxi drivers didn’t understand English very well, and many were happy to help me practice my French skills.

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It was very interesting to compare Paris and London. Both of course are historic and have beautifully ornate architecture, but the styles of the cities are a bit different. Paris is very linear: all the hedges, buildings, etc. are aligned and very carefully planned. London doesn’t share this lovely symmetry, but I am a bit more partial to its historical architectural and interior designs.

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While in Paris, we also visited the palace of Versailles which is a breathtakingly beautiful place. My favorite is the famous hall of mirrors, mostly for its ornate ceiling and numerous chandeliers.

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I also got the opportunity to take a day trip to Normandy. Looking back, this was my favorite part of the trip. We visited German bunkers, Omaha beach, and the American Cemetery in Normandy. Since I am very interested in WWII history, it was incredible to actually experience the locations where history happened. It’s unbelievable to stand on Omaha beach (see picture of me below doing just that) and to imagine the horrors of D-Day happening on that very spot. This was one day trip I definitely won’t soon forget.

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Next we spent a couple days in Amsterdam. My favorite part of the visit was our trip to the countryside where we got to see Holland’s famous tulips and windmills. I even got to sit in a giant clog!

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However, now all of my fun travels are over and it’s time for me to buckle down for finals. These exams are very stressful, and my last one isn’t until June 17th so I’ve still got over a month left! Better get back to it, but I hope you’ve enjoyed a snapshot of what I’ve been up to.

Posted by: Posted on by Aurley Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

May 8 2014

The Final Stretch…

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As I am anxiously waiting for my LSE exams to begin in t-minus two weeks, my friends from my home university back in Virginia have already finished their exams. Finished! The Facebook posts of joy and celebration mock me as I go to revise yet another topic in a long to-do list. This is the exact reverse of September, when I was lounging home in Texas counting down the weeks until my departure to London while friends were back in the day-to-day of the fall semester. The grass is always greener on the other side.

As much as I’ve been complaining, my final exam schedule is actually kind of…nice? Is that an appropriate word? I begin on May 21, and end June 18, with about 1 exam every week. I know there are many that are envious of me.

With all of this time, I’ve had more than a few opportunities to reflect back on a year that is somehow almost finished. I am happy with my decision to keep a journal, because reading back to my first few weeks at the LSE shows me just how far I’ve come. As cliched as it sounds, you truly don’t know what you are capable of until you relocate to one of the largest cities in the world, by yourself, at age 20. I have grown more than I ever thought possible and I’m sure when I return home in just under two months my journey will become even more apparent. At the end of September, I left all my friends at my home university behind as I moved to a new country, not knowing a single person, with two 60-pound suitcases and a serious love of all things British. In just a few months I would learn how to conquer public transportation, become more comfortable with my larger-than-life city surroundings, and discover my independence and learn to embrace it. Talking with my parents over Skype, it quickly became apparent to me just how much I had seen and done in such a short time.

It was not all easy. There were times when it was very hard, and when I yearned for my comfortable and familiar bubble back home. But I am so happy it wasn’t easy, because I never would have learned so much about myself. LSE helped me discover my passion for public health and development with the help of amazing professors and thought-provoking readings. London pushed me to discover my independence and confidence to venture into new situations, and to just grab my purse, go out, and EXPLORE. I knew coming to London for one year of my undergraduate was taking a giant leap into the unknown, and I am so glad I jumped.

Posted by: Posted on by hoffmasa Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

May 6 2014

London Walking…

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This post comes at a time when most of us are getting ready to brave the long walk to the library. That walk might just become a lot longer, considering the current tube strikes. London is really a great city to get around on foot. Wide footpaths, functional signals, streetlights and lots of signs and maps. And, now that spring is here, the weather helps too. But no doubt, you have probably read all of this in some article or the other extolling the virtues of walking around central London. What some of the articles neglect to mention is how to negotiate the crowd and weave your way through packed streets in rush hour without arriving at your destination flushed, sweaty, grumpy and smelling like second-hand cigarette smoke. So, I thought it might be helpful if I share some of the insights I’ve gained from months of people-watching as I marched, dashed and trudged through the city streets. Below follows a brief typology of walkers that you are likely to encounter on the streets of London, and the various strategies they use.

  1. The Taurus: A Taurus ploughs through the crowd, without looking left or right. Eyes focused straight ahead, walks in a straight line. Woe betide you if you get in their way; when blocked, they may bend their head down and charge right through you, even if you are not wearing red. Invariably, Tauruses (or is it Tauri?) are huge strapping people, with a build that makes it easier to bludgeon their way through the crowd. You can rarely beat them, so I’d suggest join them. It is often a good idea to follow right behind a Taurus as they part the crowds in Moses-esque style. Alternatively, you could invest in a helmet complete with bull-horns to help you power your own charge.
  2. The Gemini: As you might have guessed, the Gemini is usually two people, often bound (literally) by mutual amorous sentiment. Like Jack and Rose of the Titanic, these good souls will clutch at each other’s hands, determined never to let go (well then, maybe unlike Jack and Rose). They walk step for step together, relying upon their mutual love to waltz through the crowd, blissfully oblivious to the late students and harried executives trying to pry around them. Far be it from me to pass judgment on these hand-holding sweethearts, but the dynamics of pushing through a crowded street when two people resolutely refuse to let you pass in between them often render you heartless.
  3. The Twister: This person might have harboured dreams of becoming a dancer as a child, or else they may lack the sheer force of the Taurus to power through. So they opt to navigate through the crowd by twisting around other pedestrians, contorting their hips, back and shoulder to squeeze through gaps and make their way through. I often see ‘twisting’ as a passive-aggressive strategy: move half of your body to look courteous, but assert yourself by refusing to be fully side-tracked. A minor caveat: if you are a twister, you at a minor risk of sprains, jabs in the side, and painful arm-brushes.
  4. The Zig-zagger: The zig-zagger is a bolder version of the twister. Zig-zaggers scurry through the crowd, zooming right and left looking to gain one millisecond or centimetre. They can dart right into your path, before scampering ahead, ready to weave through left and right again. They will give you little or no warning of their intention, so you must always be on your guard for someone who moves right from the shadow of the shop to the edge of the road in seconds. You might be tempted to grab the zig-zagger by the scruff of the neck and tell them that you’re also in a hurry, but they’ll probably have scuttled off already, so I’d humbly suggest you leave off. How to identify one? Well, most zig-zaggers I’ve seen are often slight in build and nimble on their feet, armed with a cute little backpack rather than the bulky bags that weigh the rest of us down. In short, they are the perfect counterpoint to the Taurus!
  5. The Old Car Engine: I have a pet peeve against this group of walkers. One minute you are following them serenely, your pace set, your footsteps following theirs in perfect sync. And then, out of the blue… THEY STOP! With NO previous warning, they grind to an abrupt halt in the middle of the footpath. Unwitting walkers behind must sputter to a halt too, to avoid crashing into to a faceful of heavy fabric. Or, you are forced to adopt either the zig-zag or twist strategy at short notice, at increased risk of a sprain. Such discourtesy, I tell you! The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to keep a safe one-foot distance between you and the person you’re walking behind, just to be on the safe side.
  6. The moving bag rack: This specimen is most likely to be sighted on Oxford Street, Regent Street or one of the “shopping streets.” It is often hard to tell that a person lurks under all those shopping bags; it is easier to identify them by the brands on the bags. The bright yellow of Selfridges, the dull-brown paper of Primark, the white-and-red of H&M. Armed with the fruits of their retail therapy, they walk into the streets, loaded down with bulky and bulging appendices to their person and taking up the width of four pedestrians. It is not so much a question of trying not to bump into them as it is trying desperately to avoid knocking into one of the countless bags they are brandishing about.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. Throw into the mix a handful of street artists, a crowd of tourists and the free newspaper distributors near the tube stations and you’ve got yourself an idea of what walking on the streets can be like. It is an exercise in patience and a test of your resilience, ability to think under pressure, improvisation skills and physical fitness. But, once you have your ‘survival strategy’, I think it is also a wonderful experience.

Do feel free to add any other types that you might have spotted yourself in the comments section. Till then, happy walking! :) :p

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Apr 24 2014

The Genius of Sir Christopher Wren

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If you remember, my last rambling was on the subject of the British sandwich. Now I turn my attention towards food for the soul: architecture.

London is full of brilliant and stunning architecture. It is a marvel of structural ingenuity. From the neo-Gothic splendour of the Houses of Parliament, to the pyramid of glass and steel that is the Shard. LSE has its own addition to the architectural landscape with the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre.

Amidst this tremendous canvas, there rises the work of a giant: Sir Christopher Wren.

Sir Christopher Wren was not destined to be an architect. He began his career as a mathematician and astronomer, more at home in the sciences than in the arts. But it is the attention to detail and the meticulous outlook he inherited from his scientific studies that make his architecture so stunning.

Wren’s buildings convey quiet majesty. The Great Fire of London in 1666 enabled him to deploy his genius throughout the capital. He rebuilt churches which still stand today, and his masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul’s is Wren’s most famous work. It is truly magnificent and finds it equal only in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. If you have the chance, you should visit the Cathedral during Eucharist service, when the dome is filled with music. But you can also explore the architect’s edifices throughout London.

An image of St Paul's Cathedral

Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral

If you have the energy, you can climb the Monument to the Great Fire of London. Once you have vanquished the stairs, you even get a certificate to prove you have survived the task. It is a de facto claim to bragging rights.

Wren’s second most celebrated building in London is the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich (pronounced “gr-n-itch”, rather like a tropical disease, instead of “green-witch”, like a sordid character in a fairy tale). It is wonderful and it is near the Maritime Museum and the Greenwich Royal Observatory of GMT fame. So if Wren’s architecture is not your cup of tea, your trip to Greenwich will not have been in vain. You can always amuse yourself by standing on the Prime Meridian, with one half in the east and one half in the west.

Which half you choose, I shall leave up to you.

Posted by: Posted on by Matthieu Santerre Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,