Riley’s Semester at Queen Mary University of London (Part I)

This fall, Marywood English major Riley Covaleski (’16) had the opportunity to spend four months in London.  We are grateful that she was willing to chat with us about her experiences there—and also thrilled to have her back on campus with us.  Riley’s time at Queen Mary University was both very rewarding and very busy, so this is the first of two posts about her travels.

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Classic London, classic Riley!!

What motivated you to study in London?

It has always been a pipe dream of mine to study abroad. In fact, when searching for colleges, I made sure that each college had a great Study Abroad program that included London/England in its destinations. I’m not sure whether I wanted to go because of some strange ancestral tie to England or just my fascination with the British culture (and accent of course), but my destination was never a question; it was always London. When I finally decided on Marywood, London was already in my sights, but it didn’t feel like a realistic goal.

I was motivated to go to London, oddly enough, when Dr. Bittel and I had a meeting about the Disney College Program. I had expressed my desire to go to Florida, and we were trying to make it work. In the midst of discussing classes that wouldn’t mean anything to my major and my being away from Marywood for a rather long period of time, I brought up a question: Given the choice, would you go to Disney or London? Dr. Bittel, without hesitation, said: London, definitely a million times, London. Go for it. Or, you know, something to that effect.

Immediately after that enlightening meeting, I ran over to the Study Abroad office and began to make it official. Thank God I did!

What were some of your favorite things about living in London? What sights or activities would you most enthusiastically recommend to other visitors?

Some of my favorite things about living in London included the ease of travel. Initially, I was in distress because I wouldn’t have a car to get around in. And the Tube? Public buses? How terrifying! However, they are some of the cleanest subways and buses I have ever had the fortune to utilize. Scranton, you should take note. With Mile End station just a block away from my campus, it was incredibly easy to just hop on the Tube and get off where I wanted to go. The nearest mall was a stop away, Piccadilly Circus maybe six or seven stops. Either way, it only took my about a half hour at most to get the most exciting parts of London. Even the buses were enjoyable, albeit longer in terms of travel time, because they were cheaper and you could easily get a window seat (on the top level, no less!) to enjoy the soothing view of urban life. And that’s what I loved most about living in such a connected area.

My most favorite London locations definitely include, but are not limited to: Shaftesbury Avenue, Big Ben and the surrounding area, Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street, and Oxford Circus. These places are, by themselves, wonderful and exciting to behold, but the activities and sights associated with them are even better. Shaftesbury Avenue houses the most theatres I have ever seen in one place, including Les Miserables, UrineTown, Thriller Live (yes, it’s a thing), and Stomp. I definitely recommend the theatre scene in the most enthusiastic way possible because most of the shows provide student prices that are unbelievably cheap. For example, my friends and I paid 15 pounds each for fourth row tickets to see UrineTown! It was definitely worth the money.

Obviously Big Ben has its own appeal in that it is the most iconic symbol in all of London, but the surrounding area is beautiful in an urban sense. Right across the bridge from Big Ben is the London Eye and the aquarium, both great sights as well. Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street both house shops and great sights, but Regent Street is where you will find the most shops and architectural splendor out of the two. One of the best shops to see is Hamleys Toy Shop, a several-floor toy store with a built-in Build-A-Bear Workshop (how cool?). If you continue down Regent Street, you’ll stumble into Oxford Circus where more shops await. Trust me; your wallet just empties for no reason when you combine these two areas together.

Finally, for the true English Major, seeing a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the yard (for only five pounds!) should be one of the first things on the to-do list. It’s a great experience and definitely one to remember; I saw Comedy of Errors and Julius Caesar and they were both obviously fantastic!

What were some of your favorite things about studying at Queen Mary, University of London?

While I openly complained about the assessment and class meeting system in the British school system as a whole, studying at Queen Mary was a blessing and a half. Queen Mary is one of the only campuses in London where a good number of the students live on the same campus as their classes. That meant I never had to leave the campus in order to get to class every morning. There were also some good restaurants surrounding the campus as well as the ever-lovely Costa coffee shop, so there was never a point where I needed to travel a distance to get something good to eat or drink. There were four grocery stores close by—a Sainsbury’s, a Tesco Express, a Co-op, and a Budgens—that made it easier to get the best deal on groceries. Plus, like I mentioned before, the Tube station wasn’t far away.

Even though the location of Queen Mary in relation to other things was quite wonderful, the classes themselves were enjoyable as well. My Architecture in London class went on field trips every other week to different areas in London to study the different styles of architecture. It was enlightening and rewarding to get another level of insight into the London experience and, even though the class was challenging at times, it was definitely worth the effort put into it. The Shakespeare class was also incredible because we were given the opportunity to see Julius Caesar at the Globe for free as well as participate in a workshop driven by Shakespearean actors that included an information tour and walk about the stage. It was amazing and definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.

To be continued…

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