Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sports at UCL

This week marked the beginning of classes, and along with them clubs and societies. As an athlete at home i knew I wanted to join something - for the friendships and to stay in shape, so at the Freshers' Fair I talked to lots of teams. Today I tried out rowing and swim team. After months of minimal swim training the combination of a new sport and a tough swim practice has left me exhausted, but it was great to be back in the water! I also joined less organized sports like hiking society and dance club.

This morning I went to rowing tryouts, and got to go out on the water for the first time. It was surprisingly fun, although difficult to stay in time with everyone. What really surprised me though was how many absolute beginners wanted to try it! Over 200 people tried out for the novice team this weekend. Of course, I doubt that all of them will decide to join the team.

Welcoming beginners was the common theme from every sport I talked to. Almost all of them have beginners practices or teams. This is so different than in the US, where college sports mostly require you to be a great and experienced athlete already. Sure there are club teams, but most aren't at quite the same competitive level. Club teams are, in general, completely separate from varsity teams, and don't give participants a chance to advance to varsity levels. They are more social than athletic. Sports here are also extremely social, as are many sports teams in the US, but there seems to be much more time for it here!

Overall it seems like sports here (at least so far) manage to strike a balance between training and socials, between being competitive and welcoming beginners, and between sports and school. This is so different than the DI school mindset in the US. Perhaps this way of looking at sports not just as an athletic endeavor but as reaching into all areas of life is a better way to encourage a well-rounded life as a student athlete. I'm certainly looking forwards to a semester here as a part of the sports teams!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

History in Museums

This week was full of adventures. On Wednesday I went on a Community and Culture field trip to the Museum of London Docklands. We were specifically interested in the slavery and sugar exhibit, although the rest of the museum was quite interesting as well. 

A lot of the history about slavery and sugar growing in colonies I had already learned in history during middle and high school. Much of that story overlaps with what we learned in U.S. history, but the story of what was happening in England didn’t. It was interesting to learn about the people of African descent living in England not as slaves, but as free people. For example, one portion of the exhibit talked about the few that made it into the wealthier upper or middle classes. Many of the people mentioned did so through their relationships with wealthy white members of society, either through marriage or some other relationship. The exhibit also discussed how these people, lucky as they were to enjoy a relatively privileged life, were never quite treated as equals by the rest of the white upper class. It was a weird juxtaposition to see them as members of a family, with money in their own right, but still viewed as somehow less than those around them. 

One thing I especially liked about the exhibition was that it did a great job depicting history from multiple view points. It had individual stories from slaves, merchants, and others, but also had bigger picture explanations of the beliefs, politics and economics of the time. It was a very comprehensive exhibit because of this. 

Continuing with the theme of learning about history I also visited the Tower of London this week. The Tower has a very different history than the Docklands area, but I was equally impressed at the quality of the exhibits. Here I learned more about royal history while viewing the crown jewels, the armor collections, and the towers where so many important events took place. The Beauchamp Tower, with all of the engravings in its walls from prisoners there was particularly impressive. Similarly to the Docklands museum this exhibition did a great job sharing the stories of individuals kept at the Tower, rather than just a broad history. I also got to learn about the symbolism of the crown jewels and how they’re still used today. 

King Henry VIII's armor on a model horse and man

Art commemorating the private execution site on Tower Green

An elaborate carving in the walls of the Beauchamp Tower 
An actress plays Lady Kingston in a short play depicting the events leading up to the coronation of Anne Boleyn 

I was very impressed by both of these historical places. London does a great job of displaying its history for all to learn about - both the amazing and the dreadful events of the past are explained and displayed. This kind of history exhibition is so much better than one that promotes only one side, because it helps visitors gain more understanding of the places where they are, and of why events occurred. 
The Tower of London is huge!

Me, enjoying a nice day at the Tower

The White Tower, which houses the armor displays and a lot of other history.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Everyday History

This past weekend was Open House London, an event that allows people to visit hundreds of buildings in London for free. On Sunday I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and visited Temple Church, Inner and Middle Temple Inns, and St. Mary's Church in Merton. All of the buildings I visited were beautiful. While I learned a lot about the history of each place, St. Mary's stood out to me as somewhat different.

So often when we hear about foreign cities we talk about the historical importance of national symbols. We hear about all the history contained in Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, or one of the many Cathedrals throughout England. St. Mary's Church is almost as old, or older than these famous places. It was originally built in 1115, and has retained several original features even as it went through many additions and reparations over the centuries.

The new walls at St. Mary’s were built using the rubble from the originals. 

St. Mary’s Church (and Churchyard cat)
St. Mary's is not unique in London in being so old. This building is different from monuments like Westminster Abbey because it is still used everyday. It is a part of the community with an active parish, community events, youth groups, and volunteer parties.

It was very different to visit a building that was full of history but still being actively used for its original purpose. St. Mary's isn't mainly visited by tourists, it seems to be a central part of the community there. I don't see this often in the US. Almost any building that was 9 centuries old would be protected and walled off from the public, carefully controlled. There wouldn't be friendly parishioners selling tea and cakes inside. Looking around the rest of London, I realized that using or even living in very old, historical buildings isn’t so odd after all. I guess if London didn't use any of its historical buildings there wouldn't be much space left for anyone to live!

Norman arch at St. Mary’s from the original church building. 

The glass in this window has been replaced, but the original window remains intact. 
I’m looking forward to exploring London to find more places like St. Mary’s where history and present day meet. I’m sure that I will find plenty of history all around me, now that I know where to look! 

You can find out more about St. Mary's church on their website here