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Living London Pt. 1

Hannah talks about her off-campus studies experience.

Hannah talks about her off-campus studies experience.

This past winter term I had one of my best (if not the best) experiences at Carleton so far: studying off-campus in London. I participated in the Carleton program Living London: City, Scene, Anthropocene. Though the program is run through the English department, people of different majors (like myself for example) were still able to participate in the program. Before this abroad experience, I had never been out of the United States before. As far as places to study off-campus go, the UK has a lot of similarities to the US. That being said there were some things that I definitely had to adjust to, but looking back, I would 100% do it all over again.

This post will consist of the content of my study abroad, and the following part II will contain my thoughts on the whole experience.

Audrey and Hannah
Audrey and I walking the streets of London during our urban field studies class


I lived with most of my classmates in a large flat in South Kensington, near Hyde Park (which was great for a daily stroll). I got to live with one of my best friends in a double. In the flat, there were two kitchens, a common space, and a desk area where we were able to do homework. It was quite fun not to have a meal plan and to grocery shop and cook with my friends that I met on the trip (though carrying the full grocery bags for a twenty-minute walk is not something I miss too much!).

Students on a train
Riding on the train to Paris with the class.

Most of our transportation consisted of taking the bus, walking, or riding the Tube (I am the Tube’s #1 fan, as a person who does not come from an area with much if any public transportation). For this program, Carleton provided a budget for food and travel, so we were given an allotment at the start of the term to budget throughout our time in London.

Flat in London
The only picture I have of my room in London apparently (and my very complex ham and cheese sandwich)
Hyde park sunset
The beautiful Hyde Park at sunset!

London as a City

My first class (Monday mornings) was two hours long and taught by our main program director and Carleton professor Peter Balaam (who is awesome). We would have readings due before each class that covered everything from Londinium (Roman London!) to the modern day, and how London has shaped (and been shaped by) its inhabitants. Truly a fascinating class and it was always a great way to start the week, as it also gave out the logistics and often an overarching theme of learning for each week.

Urban Studies – Field Drawing

This class had two parts, a one-hour drawing session on Tuesday mornings with one of our incredible program directors Dana Ross (artist and teacher), followed by a field session on Thursdays. Luckily this class wasn’t graded on our artistic ability necessarily, but more on how to be creative and analyze London from a different lens than we were used to. This was one of my favorite parts of the OCS experience. I feel like a lot of the things I do at Carleton are very logically driven and perfectionist (though it all depends on your major and who you are), and this allowed us to be creative in a way I haven’t been in a while.

One of the coolest projects we had to do for this class was drawing quick sketches of twenty people living their life in London each week. By the end of the term, all our sketchbooks were filled with short moments of our time captured via drawings (which steadily got better as the weeks went by!). It was a bit funny to try and draw people without them noticing though, definitely got some strange looks every once in a while.

Drawings of people
Some of my 1-2 minute quick drawings of people (hey I never said I was an artist)

London Theatre

My theatre class consisted of a two-hour class session on Wednesdays, and about two, three, and even four shows a week in the evening. The class was led by a London theatre review critic, and the shows I saw were amazing.

During class, we would discuss the shows we had seen so far, what was done well and what wasn’t, and we wrote reviews every couple of weeks. I have enjoyed theatre throughout my life, but I hadn’t seen many big productions before the London program. In this class, I saw everything from Othello to My Neighbor Totoro.

people eating
Grabbing a meal with my friends

My favorite show was The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre, a three-hour show about the rise and fall of the Lehman Brothers financial firm. To be honest, I thought the show was going to be rather boring, but the entire cast consisted of only three people who wove this story of 158 years, through three generations of people using just a switch of their voice and a change of their posture to play different characters and scenes. It truly was such incredible storytelling and a show I will never forget.

Furthermore, discussing the shows with my classmates as we made our way back to our flats in South Kensington via the Tube was almost as invigorating as seeing the shows themselves.

Urban Field Studies – Field Work

This was probably my favorite class. We would go on various excursions around London, exploring museums, famous locations, and lesser-known places finding bits and pieces of history in places you wouldn’t know about unless you looked twice. We even got to work with an archaeologist named Mike, a resident Londoner who took us mud larking on the River Thames. A mudlark is a person who scavenges the river mud for things of value. The Thames is known as a great preserver of history (aka anything that has been thrown or fallen into the river) because of the mud that it is composed of. We found so many pieces of old pottery ranging from the 15th-20th century (even some things from Roman times!), as well as pipes, part of a shoe, roof tiles, and more.  As a geology major and classics minor, Roman London was fascinating to me, as was mud larking!

Mudlarking items
Some of the things I found while mudlarking


Oh, I almost forgot to mention that during the midterm we went to Paris for a week to compare the two cities. Learning about the history and different structures of Paris and London was so interesting (don’t tell France but there is a chance that I like London better than Paris… but maybe that’s because I don’t speak French and that was a bit stressful, though not Paris’s fault.) I certainly had my fair share of croissants, and the buildings were so beautiful. We even got to tour part of the sewers while in Paris and the catacombs (where I learned that I am in fact claustrophobic. So much learning was accomplished on this trip!).

thumbs up in the catacombs
Me at the end of the catacombs tour very excited to be going above land soon (don’t worry I am slightly happier than I look)
Eiffel Tower
My friends Audrey and Soren pose in front of some metal structure? (Kidding I know its the Eiffel Tower)
Man standing in sewer
My friend Ethan poses by some art in the Paris sewer


So what did I think of this entire experience besides “it was incredible”…? Stay tuned for more.



Hannah is a sophomore majoring in Geology and minoring in Classics. Born and raised in Minnesota, she considers herself somewhat of an expert on MN winters. At Carleton, she fills her schedule with writing for the Admissions blog, working as a CCCE Communications Fellow, taking flute lessons, and increasing voter engagement on campus. When Hannah isn’t in class, she can be found tossing a frisbee with Syzygy, looking at rocks, reading, walking and skiing in the Arb, thrifting, and hanging out with her besties. Meet the other bloggers!