SLC Abroad: London Calling

Let’s face it, Sarah Lawrence students never leave campus, but when they do they go far. I caught up with Jamie, to see how life is across the pond.

Name, Year, Hometown?
Jamie Heaslip, Junior, Ridgefield, CT

What are you studying?
At the moment? Film, drama, literature and history.

Where are you studying?
Queen Mary, University of London, which is in Mile End. Which is in east London. Which is in England.

SLC or Non-SLC?
Non-SLC. Lonesome me to represent SLC here. Not sure I’m doing you all proud…sorry!

What made you decide you wanted to study abroad?
For me, it wasn’t a decision of “studying abroad”, so much as going back to London. I did a gap year here after high school and just fell in love with it, and I’ve really been dying to come back ever since. It’s very hard to live over here on a full-time basis because of the visa laws and all that, so it was more the fact that I had a chance to spend a year here…. I’ll take it!

How did you hear about that program?
When I was young and naive and not sure that SLC was the place for me, I applied to several schools in the UK to transfer over here as a full time student. And then I fell in love with SLC and made the wise decision to stay put there. But Queen Mary stuck in my mind because it’s a little more Sarah Lawrence-y than a lot of the other big London universities. Meaning, a little less traditional. So when the time came that I could go abroad again, I decided on Queen Mary.

How did you apply?
As with most universities, all the application info was on the school’s website, so I just followed whatever they said on there.

What obstacles/trouble did you encounter in the application process?
Not in the actual application process, but I had trouble when it came to registering for classes here. I never thought I’d say this, but I missed the way SLC does registration! I had to turn in the courses I wanted before I got here via email, and they put me in three classes that meet at the same time! It took a lot of sorting out and dealing with typical English bureaucracy… and it wasn’t even sorted out by the time I got here. So once I did get here, there was a lot of being told to talk to a certain person, and then that person can’t help me so I have go to see someone else…and that person doesn’t know anything about what I need, so then I’d have to go elsewhere and elsewhere wasn’t open that day. So lots of running around on a campus where I don’t know where anything is to start with.

Where did you expect to have trouble? What was easy? What advice would you give current sophomores/juniors to help them in their application process?
The actual application process for the study abroad program was relatively simple. I think I had to get one recommendation from a professor, send them my transcript and fill out a form…I’m sure there was more to it than that (maybe a short essay), but I remember being able to send the whole thing off fairly quickly.
As far as advice goes– I would just say, if you’re going somewhere for more than a semester, it’s important to pay attention during the visa application process. It’s probably trickier than the process of applying to schools. It sounds a little ridiculous, I know, but it’s really easy to be denied a visa if you don’t dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. It happens a lot, but if you do what they ask exactly as they ask, you’ll be alright.

Are you studying abroad for the semester or the full year?
Full year.

Did you consider any other universities? If so which?
I looked at and applied to King’s College, mostly because it’s location is a lot more central in London than Queen Mary’s is, but I ultimately decided to go to Queen Mary ‘cause the courses that they offered suited me better.

So how’s London?
It’s London! Nothing to complain about!

Do you find it hard to be an American student in a foreign university?
Not really. Queen Mary is a lot bigger and more diverse than SLC, so there are a lot of kids from all over the world. A lot of Americans, probably more than I expected to meet. So it’s not like I’m the only kid who’s abroad here. But I will admit that it’s a very different academic system here— I guess the main difference is that if you’re a full-time student here, you study one subject only. Meaning, you’re accepted to study something, be it history or drama or science or whatever, and that’s all you study—all your courses pertain to that one subject. There are exceptions and you can study “English and Drama”, for example, but this whole thing means you kind of have to know what you’re interested in when you apply to college. So in that way, it’s the opposite of a school like SLC, where you can go and try different things until you find what you’re into. None of this is an issue for me—they let study abroad students do a mixed program. But I’ve talked to a couple of English kids who have their set degrees and have said they think the American system would suit them better. I don’t think I could’ve known what I wanted to go into straight out of high school. I still don’t know.

As far as how the two schools compare…at SLC it’s easy to find your voice. People listen to you a lot more at SLC because it’s so small and because the conference system actually requires you to speak your mind and make your opinion and thoughts heard. Whereas at Queen Mary, you’re one of many, many students, and it’s a little more difficult to make yourself heard. But you just have to try, is all.

What are your favorite parts of the city?
My favorite area is probably Ladbroke Grove, which is in west London. I used to live up the road from there and I still work part-time on Portobello Road at a record shop called Honest Jon’s. A lot of my friends live/work around there as well, so I spend a fair amount of time there. I guess it’s best known for having the Portobello Market on the weekends, which gets really packed with tourists, but it’s pretty quiet during the week. It’s got a very rich culture and history—there’s long been a big West Indian community out there and the area still maintains that vibe. Every August there’s the Notting Hill Carnival, which is the biggest street festival in Europe. For two days, all the shops board up and there’s this massive party with a different soundsystem on every corner booming reggae and dub and dancehall and dubstep. Everyone drinks lots of Red Stripe and smokes a lot of weed. I’ve only been once, but it was great.
There’s a really rich musical history in Ladbroke Grove, and it’s still going on to some extent today if you know where to look. It’s the home turf of bands from Hawkwind to The Clash, and a lot of musicians still work in the area. Like many areas of London, it’s becoming gentrified (and has been doing so for years), but there are still a lot of characters around there. Good pubs and good food too.

Where in London are you staying? Close to the Univ.?
I am living near Russell Square, which is in north London. If you look at a map, it doesn’t seem particularly close to Mile End (where campus is), but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not bad.

What are your accommodations like?
Well, they don’t believe in sharing rooms here in student dorms, which I’m really happy with. So I’ve got my own room, as does everyone. I’m living in the International Hall, with mostly international students who go to various parts of the University of London. And there are some English kids here too. So it’s all really cool. But 900 kids live in this dorm, so it can be a little overwhelming. But yeah, I have my own room with a sink, and then I share a shower and bathroom with the floor. And we won’t even talk about that.

How is getting back and forth to class?
Not bad. I have to go through the City (financial district) on the Central Line on my way to school, so there’s a rush hour in the morning and lots of stressed out people in suits if I have to go early enough. But there’s also the Metro, which is the free paper, so if I can open my eyes and get a seat, I can just sit and read the paper the whole way. I think NY has a free subway paper, but they go all out here. The Metro in the morning, The Evening Standard in the afternoon. It takes about a half hour to get to campus from where I live. Can’t complain.

Besides your studies, what do you do?
Well I’ve only been here for about four or five weeks, so a lot of it has been seeing old friends and getting myself set up at school and trying to get into something resembling a rhythm. But it’s been really busy so far. I go out as much as possible—sometimes with friends, sometimes just on my own to see various areas of the city. The museums are all free here and I live within walking distance of the British Museum, so I’ll have to get around to taking advantage of that.
I work one day a week at the record shop out west, which I love. When I have free time, I go to pubs somewhat often with friends… I don’t do much hardcore partying or clubbing or whatever, but I do like to go out and just see where the evening takes us. I saw John Cooper Clarke at the Camden Jazz Café this past weekend—he was absolutely great and really, really funny. And I’ve got some really exciting concerts on the calendar, so that’ll be good. London’s a great place to see music.

Is it like SLC and everyone just says their going to the city when really they’re at the Blue Room or watching Glee reruns in their dorm?
Not really at all…It’s quite a bit different from SLC– there it’s easy to set out to go to the city or something and then lose motivation en route and end up at Bates. Here, we’re in the city proper, so going out is a lot easier—it takes a subway ride at most. And since people can get into clubs and bars a lot younger (the drinking age is 18), there are a lot more options of what you can actually do at night.

What are the pitfalls of being abroad? What do you miss?
I miss the people at home more than anything else, to be honest. As far as general pitfalls go…things are very expensive here, so you have to be pretty careful. It’s hard to work out when you can walk across the street. And everything closes earlier here than in New York. Yep, that’s about it.

Photo Credit: S. M. Tunli

Zoe Marquedant doesn't talk about Fight Club. She is an SLC writing student with a dinosaur watch and an over-developed sense of state pride. She can be found around campus perpetuating awkward moments and swearing like a sailor. Zoe firmly believes life is what happens in-between good cups of coffee.

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