A Very British Summer Abroad



Calista Huang

I owe so much to myself for rushing to the information table in Connelly Center back in February and applying for the study abroad program in London for the past summer. It turned out to be quite an adventure with Dr. Christopher Daly, who is the irrefutable MVP of the group, and a gang of new friends in the magnificent city of London. 

Imagine a two-lane street in central London with trees and fences on one side, fallen leaves battered by the rain scattered by the curb and three-floor residence buildings like those on Grimmauld Square in “Harry Potter” on the other, with the words “Byron Court” melded to the upper middle of a wide black door and a metal handle below it. It was not a busy street, with few cars passing by, and pedestrians too. There wouldn’t be much sightseeing from the windows in the apartments (or flats, as in the British way) since the trees across the street were tall enough to block the view of the neighboring streets. The roadblocks at the end of the street separated the flats from the uproar of the city. I had no idea what was beyond this street which seemed to be forgotten by the Londoners.  

 It was not until the next morning when we followed, or tried to follow, Dr. Daly that I realized we were in London. For the record, it was really hard when we wanted to look at every building passing by, to remember all the turns because we would be on our own from the second day on, as well as to keep up with Dr. Daly. As expected, culture shocks kicked in. The British call the first level of a building ground floor, they live in “flats” and take “tubes” to work; they drive on the left side of the road, the layouts of the streets are as complicated as they can get, most of all the British accent… At the end of the day, even the lonely street by Byron Court, where we passed at least twice a day, seemed more unfamiliar than it was the first night. 

However, excitement about a new environment took over everyone. Each one of us shook off the uneasiness of being alone in a strange city and embarked on an adventure to explore the city that once only existed in other people’s words and TV shows. Three times a week we sat in a classroom near Waterloo Station, learning about the kings and queens and the high politics of England throughout history, about William the Conqueror, the Magna Carta, the Black Death, John of Gaunt, all the Dukes of York and Thomases in the English court and Anne Bolyen as Henry VIII’s second wife. The rest of the week we went on tours, guided by the one and only Dr. Daly, to historical sites all within or around London, York and Canterbury. We saw the staircase where allegedly the two young York princes were killed, climbed the York Minster, visited the dining hall in Christ Church College that provided inspiration for the Great Hall in the “Harry Potter” movies, stood on the Meridian Line in Greenwich, and experienced Shakespeare’s play in the Globe Theatrehad authentic British afternoon tea.

The first month flew by as our friendship grow like the buddings after the morning rain. I really appreciated throughout the first month, wherever we go, we did it as a group. Someone in the group would always make sure no one was left behind. We talked and got to know each other on the streets, on the tubes or on the double-deckers. Life in a strange city turned for the better when, most of the time, everything was within walking distance, or just a couple of tube stations away,. And more importantly, when we had new friends who kept telling each other we’re not alone in a foreign city as intimidating as London. Weeks went by, and we got accustomed to the days at Byron Court and to call it our “home.” We took up the mission to experience as much as possible while living in this city which had so much to offer: West End, Oxford Street, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster, the British Museum, the National Gallery… 

The internship was rewarding in a different way from the adventures we had for the past month. Coming back home from our work, we heard stories from each other about their jobs and coworkers. It was another kind of experience compared to all the touring and sightseeing. I tried to take different routes to work, just to see different views of the city. London streets weren’t all bustling after all. There were also streets where residential buildings like Byron Courts were on both sides of the street, or where the stores were deserted with hand-written “To Let” signs hung on the glass doors. 

We encountered a different London through our internships. Other than a city with great history, London revealed herself as the center of the UK in terms of economics, arts, fashion and technology, as a city who has many stories of her own to tell.

The end of the program came without anyone noticing. Procrastination crept along the process of packing. It was never easy to pack for leaving a place where you spent two months and got used to it being a home away from home. As I’m finishing up this article, I notice my notes for Dr. Daly’s history classes in London lay open on my desk, and my memory brings me back to the end of May, when we were about to start the unexpected journey of a very British summer.