Tales of a Fresher

As my week has come to an end, and the weekend opened up, the list of what I want to report back on keeps growing. I could only wish that I had attached a semi-permanent go-pro camera onto my chest, in hopes that this would give you all a better picture of my London life outside of what I can share in writing. Alas, you’re going to get to see my life through the (hopefully clean) window I can create with words.

This past week has been filled with welcome events, induction classes, and a fresher’s fair. Yes, I do consider myself a fresher, although a post-grad. It’s an odd feeling, calling myself what we might consider the equivalent of a “freshman”. However, I’m not sure these two terms are the most synonymous, as post-grads aren’t as hesitant to call themselves freshers, where the meaning of this word does not carry the meaning of (as “freshman” does”), “Innocently naïve young but eager and energy-filled first-year student”. I believe “fresher” to mean, quite simply, “new”.

To start the tale of my life as a fresher I was able to attend the post-graduate (and fresher) boat party this past Tuesday. The name pretty much describes what the event was: a party, but on a boat. We didn’t have the most luxurious of boats, but what I would call fabulously functional. The boat was two floors, where the upper floor was half-covered, half-open to the elements. Earlier in the night, we all congregated towards the back of the boat, where we could watch the sun set on some of London’s most iconic buildings. As the night went on, we migrated to the dance floor and danced to some of the most cliché (but fun) music from my middle school years (e.g. Apple Bottom Jeans (mom you would have loved this one), the Back Street Boys, songs from Grease, Hall and Oates, and others). The bottom of the boat was carpeted and left some more silence for conversation and relaxation, something postgrads seem to enjoy more than crazily dancing on a rocking dance floor. (Dancing to “La Macarena” is significantly harder when mid-way through the sequence, one has to throw his arms out to balance himself.)

One glorious thing about being a fresher at a largely international institution such as UCL is the eagerness people have for initiating conversation and friendship. At events like these, it’s considered socially acceptable (and welcomed) to butt into conversations at will, introduce yourself, and keep on with the conversation. This method of making friends has led me to meet a ton of new people, those from the UK, Mexico, Switzerland, France, Greece, Italy, Canada, Spain, Venezuela, Jordan, and Brazil. UCL houses so many graduate students from around the world, and I think I’ve met more students from countries around the world and less the UK, which I believe is truly amazing.

On Wednesday, I was able to meet all the people in my course (the word “course” is synonymous with “program” or “degree” in the U.S.). As I was already told by my director, we are a small (but mighty, I might argue) number of people in my course (around 25, I think). Among us are students coming from pure philosophy backgrounds, medical students (having finished their degrees or taking a gap year mid-degree), professionals who have already worked in the policy realm, and a couple physicians who wish to take a little more of a philosophical or critical view to their work and profession. We started the day with the course around 2 PM with a short explanation of the “who, what, where, when, why” of the program and followed up with more logistical questions of the day.

After this, we went out to some coffee for a little while, which opened up the initial “first meeting” tensions over coffee and tea. I started talking to a friend named Oli, who comes from a background in medicine. Someone had gotten a matcha latte, and I turned to Oli to talk about tea, especially matcha. My comments were somewhat like this, “Right, so matcha’s a pretty cool thing. Most of what we drink is commercial matcha, not really the best quality but priced well so we don’t have to pay much for it. The ceremonial matcha can go for about US$80 per gram, which is crazy.” Oli went on to ask how I got to know much about matcha tea, and from there my passion about coffee (and *I guess* tea) was discovered. Perhaps I use coffee and tea as a fallback when I’m nervous about meeting people. Alternatively, I’m just super passionate about coffee. I’m for the latter.

We then went on to an introduction and walk-through of the Wellcome Library. I think my initial experience and time with the Wellcome Library merits a separate blog post, so I’ll leave you with a simple request to google the Wellcome Trust and the Wellcome Library, knowing that being on this course at UCL gives me full access to the library’s resources.

True to English fashion, we all went out to the pub for conversation and getting to know each other in the course after the library tour. I wasn’t expecting this to be officially listed in the induction program, but it was, which was a bit surprising to me. However I’ve come to quickly learn that the English follow up so many events (professional or not) with the pub. The pub isn’t seen as a place to go blow off steam or sulk away with a beer in hand, rather it’s a place for lively and intelligible conversation following what was just learned after an intense seminar or talk.

Skipping over a few days, I just finished with a full morning of attending the fresher’s fair, very similar to the event we call “Festifall” at U-M. The UCL campus was stuffed full of students, booths, and (extremely) enthusiastic members of the various societies (in lieu of our word “club”) at UCL. Despite what I believed my actions would be, I ended up succumbing to the welcoming words of way too many societies and signed up for about 12 too many society’ email lists. I guess this is a way to truly figure out if I’m interested in a society – if I can truly withstand the barrage of emails in the coming week from any one society, that’ll be the society for me.

Here’s a (tentative) list of what I want to do outside of classes. I only say tentative because I’m unsure of what my class schedule will allow. I keep hearing this ominous rumor that one-year master’s students are usually locked away in the library all day, inundated with reading and writing that keeps them from doing much outside of work. I’m choosing to selectively filter out these messages and planning on letting myself have a little fun while I’m here.

For extra-curricular societies, I plan to participate in…

  • Jazz Society and big band
  • Writing for Pi Magazine or the Cheese Grater magazine (both are student publications). This may or may not be influenced by my recent viewing of the life of Rory Gilmore.
  • Running with UCL RAX (standing for Running, Athletics and Cross Country)
  • Dancing with the UCL Salsa Society

This might be a bit ambitious, especially because I also volunteered as a representative for my course to the university in all items “bureaucratic”. I’ve also signed up for Spanish evening classes, but all of the club events that I plan on doing miraculously don’t conflict with my Spanish class. Just keep in mind, friends, that I will be putting school first, of course, and extra-curricular activities at a (very close) second while I’m here.

I’m going to leave you with a list of the courses that I’ve decided to take, sans descriptions. Another post (that’s two I’ve told you to wait for), will describe my rationale behind each course decision!

Term 1:

  • Advanced Graduate Studies in the Philosophy of Mind
  • Contemporary Political Philosophy: Authority, Obligation and Democracy
  • Illness: An Introduction to Health Humanities
  • The Philosophy, Politics and Economics of Health

Term 2:

  • Politics and Ethics
  • Global Justice and Health
  • Key Principles of Health Economics
  • Health Policy and Reform
  • Planning to audit the course called: Madness: An Introduction to Health Humanities

All, of course, following with a dissertation!

Thanks for reading, friends. Formal classes start this coming week, so wish me luck!


Lessons from (the play) Oslo

Dear friends,

I hope to leave you with some thoughts today after this blog post. I’ll give a few updates, and then keep on with what I was able to experience last night. Firstly, I am currently working in this bookstore called Waterstones, which is a bookstore basically right across the street from UCL. I took this morning slow, sleeping in after a late night and spending the morning getting some administrative things done before I could go out and do what I wanted for the day.

As much fun as I have been having with getting adjusted to London and experiencing life as a Londoner, it has been a tough ordeal getting used to the commute that I have from my apartment to campus. My place a solid three miles west of UCL, and it takes me 30 minutes to bike there if I don’t get lost on my way. I guess I’m learning how to pack for the entire day so I don’t get bogged down with travel time, but ideally I would be a little closer to campus so I can have an easier time with involving myself in on-campus extra curricular activities. We’ll see what happens with housing, but I do have some applications in to a few places that are closer to campus. But if I do stick with where I am currently living, I’m sure I will get used to the commute that is to follow!

More importantly though is what I was able to experience last night. A new friend who I met while at enrolment (yes, it’s spelled with one ‘l’) and I were lucky enough to get tickets on yesterday morning for a play last night, called “Oslo”. The seats were literally in the very back and highest spot in the audience, but they were half price, so who can beat that kind of deal?? We had to sort of lean over a railing to watch the show, so my back was a little cramped by the end of the 2 hours and fifty minutes of the play, but I would still say that this show was completely worth seeing.

What I’m writing about is going to be written sans any background investigation into this show, as I saw the show not knowing anything of what it was about, and I want to submit my thoughts to all of you having not been biased by any other information that I could have gathered from outside the show itself.

“Oslo” opened up with a scene between a famous sociologist and his wife, a prominent figure in Norway for international relations. They’re discussing the theories behind negotiation: how this task has been traditionally accomplished and how this sociologist’s new theory behind negotiation can function better that the traditional way. It seems as though this duo is a big “power couple” in international relations, and they’re seeking to use this status for the common good of the world. I thought it odd for this play to be set in Norway, because in my mind, Norway is a bit out of the way, a country so far north that it could happily avoid what’s going on in the rest of the world and carry on an independent and neutral pathway in life. Well, this is certainly what Norway seemed to be portrayed as, and this couple sought to use this neutrality for the better.

The current hot topic of the day, it seemed, was the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis in the state of Israel. I wasn’t sure if the Palestinians quite yet had their own recognized territory (this is in the 1980s), but from this play, it seemed as though Palestinians were occupying the Gaza Strip and other parts of Israel. This power couple wanted, under the nose of the United States and other foreign powers, to conduct peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, for this would be one of the most pivotal negotiations in history and would end forty years’ worth of bloodshed between these two peoples. Apparently, this idea was unheard of, as there was a traditional way to carry out peace negotiations, and the U.S. usually had to have their hand in whatever went on (as they normally have to do so in any sort of foreign affairs). As an aside, I thought this show was a great precursor to being educated without a U.S.-centric point of view. As much as I love my home country, I love this opportunity to learn from a completely different point of view!

As soon as I learned of the subject of this show, I was a little worried, as I wasn’t very informed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (thanks to my high school self, who was averse to any sort of topic containing the word “history”). Obviously my philosophy on history and the humanities has changed since high school! However, despite my being uninformed, I was surprised at how easy it was to understand most of the jokes (there were many) that were uttered in this play, as well as the topics that were portrayed.

Aside from the humor, the play did a wonderful job in describing the true abilities one must have to keep with or break certain sets of rules laid out in international relations. Sometimes, to make a true advancement on a stale topic that just won’t seem to change (peace accords were attempted multiple times between these two peoples in the past), one must take great risks and push or bend the rules of the game. After all, rules were formed by humans and sometimes they contain imperfections that we must be open to changing. However, this play leaves me asking, “How does one know when to break the rules and when to play by them?” “How far can I push without being seen as too disrespectful and out of line so much that I lose credibility?”

Especially in the field of international relations, or even global health, I thing we’re going to have to push the norm to start getting resources to those who don’t have them. This is exactly why I chose to study philosophy, so I would be able to take a set of rules, or a system, and investigate what fundamentally governs that set of rules. By seeing what lies underneath as motivation, I might be able to use that motivation to form a new set of protocols that better fit certain situations at hand. By acknowledging inherent motivation behind rules, and still following that motivation but while creating new rules that better fit a situation, I believe I could really meet governing powers with thoughts that aren’t easily contested or denied.

I think that Oslo taught me that breaking protocol, when sometimes risky, can be hugely beneficial. This act, when carried out for these specific peace agreements, had its moments of contention, but in the end created friendships and relationships that moved these two peoples forward, closer to peace. Another part of the show that intrigued me was how the negotiators (representatives from both Israelis and Palestinians) discussed business matters and then friendly matters. The director of the play laid this out so that the respective topics were discussed in separate rooms, and when in the “friendly matters” room, I could see that no matter the political struggles of any country or territory, humans still have families and friends, those relationships which we (happily) cannot avoid. With that statement, I want to leave you with a question. If you have ever been in any sort of rue or engagement with another party, have you stopped to think about who they really are, as another human? They have family and loved ones. They have their own set of struggles. They, too, have to learn how to function as a human, be it figuring out what to eat, who to talk to, and what their purpose is in life. If we stop to realize how human our adversaries are, we might stop thinking of them as adversaries and merely as other humans with whom we can connect.

Now, I didn’t leave too much about Oslo, so maybe you can go see it for yourself if it pops up near you! 🙂 Having now written this post, I think I’m going to go do my own research into Israel and Palestine so I am more comfortable with discussing this area of the globe.

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the weekend.


Bournemouth and what followed

Dear friends,

I hope you all are reading this in good times. I am finally moved into my new home, which is housed in Notting Hill, a little west of central London. I do have a decent commute to classes (about a half an hour on average), but I should be getting used to the commute, as I was incredibly used to the daily commute from north to central campus back at U-M.

Considering my last update was about Oxford, I’ll keep going with the city-per-post feel, and talk a little bit about Bournemouth. One of my hostel roommates, named “Ivgeny (not sure how to actually spell this)”, talked about how Bournemouth really didn’t seem like a town in England. Having come from Oxford, I did really connect to this comment. Oxford was beautiful in its own way, with forests and pastures of green, and animals grazing in fields housed in differed colleges. I saw reindeer, squirrels, cows… What I saw in Oxford, and what I saw on my way to Oxford, were what I would believe to be “the traditional English countryside.” Included are a few pictures of these notions:

However, Ivgeny (just going to stick with this spelling) talked about seeing palm trees in Bournemouth. I wasn’t aware of this at first, but there they were when I went down to the beach! This town was vastly different than the Oxford-English countryside that I encountered the other day, yet it was still very English in its own way. Despite how different Bournemouth felt, I still got to experience this town in all of its glory, especially through the beach. Most of my time was spent there, only because I knew that my time in the city would keep me from the sea for a good while.

So the first thing I did was go for a run on the beach. However as soon as I made the decision to go for a run, I opened my suitcase and realized that I had managed to forget my running shorts. (Once I make the decision to run, usually nothing will stop me at that point.) I did remember to pack my swimsuit, though! Accordingly, I thought I would manage and take a run in my suit. It was a run on the beach, after all.

While running, I was thinking about how fun it would be to get a picture or a short video of me running along this pretty picturesque beach, with steep cliffs to the north and a deep blue ocean to the right. Considering that I can’t have myself taking the picture of a second “me” running, I waited for the right person to stop and ask for the favor of taking my picture. This subject happened to be a short little Irish woman, looking as if she was on her way home from work. I asked her to take a few pictures of me with the sea and the cliffs in the background, and after a few seconds of smiling I was met with “I’m not sure it’s working!” So I walked up to check and see how she was handling the phone, and she truly did know how to work the camera, because I found these pictures a little later:

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Indeed, the camera was working. I shared these photos on Instagram, because they oddly looked like a selfie, only to reveal that they were taken by a very unsuspected photographer. I loved how she described her relationship with cell phones: “I’m a bit of a jinx with these things, you know.” Alas, little by little, I am experiencing UK culture as each day passes.

My next day in Bournemouth was spent with a morning of sleeping in, only waking up to the sound of someone rubbing the wall of our dorm with a paper towel. I was very intrigued by this sound, as they usually don’t list “scrubbing-wall-with-paper-towel” in the most common alarm clock apps. Only did I find out that our roommate had come back having had a little too much to drink the previous night. Despite his embarrassment, we (Ivgeny and I) managed to help him feel a bit more comfortable with his involuntary (but necessary) bodily functions. (As an aside, it is not uncommon for the English to speak freely about their nights out or about their levels of alcohol intake, while in the U.S. this topic is seldom discussed with ease.)

I managed to spend the entire morning after breakfast on the beach reading, but not until I had the time to sit down in a park that was adjacent to a retiree complex. This is important to note because I shared my park bench with a man who greeted me with a “morning” but nothing else – we both sat on the bench in silence, enjoying the day. Perhaps this was another bit of English culture (reserved, stoic, as some may think), but as I write this, I wouldn’t doubt this happening in the U.S. either.

To top my day off, I went on a little mecca to a locally-renowned fish n chips place in Westbourne, call Chez Freds. I will tell you, the 30-minute walk it took to get there, the twenty-minute wait, and the walk back while eating said fish n chips, was worth every second of my time. If you’re ever in Bournemouth, this is the place to go for a proper fish n chips!

I’m a bit tired at the moment, so I’m going to sign off – I have an early morning tomorrow to go test out a bike from a guy I found on Gumtree, the UK’s version of craigslist. Hopefully the bike works, and if it does, expect a post and a new name for the bike soon! (Yes, I prefer to name my bike = my commuter back home is named Sebastian.)

The Bear Inn

So it’s about 10:30 PM here in Oxford, and I was feeling a bit down about today because I got into town a little late. A lot of the things I wanted to go to had closed already, so I went for a walk and tour around Magdalen College, which was absolutely beautiful. However, what’s important for this short post (are blogs allowed to have these?) is what happened after leaving Magdalen.

I first had to find a place that had wifi ~and~ a good dinner, which oddly isn’t that hard to find in Oxford. I went to this place called All-In-One, an interestingly hip food and cocktail joint that had its fair share of young folk countered with a few very elderly couples. Surely these are the signs of a good restaurant. I had a little video meeting to set up for a video call next week, then after closing my computer, I thoroughly enjoyed a pad Thai with this incredible rice cake.

After this, though, I was looking for things to do and one of my friends (she goes by Snow White (we’ll talk about that later)) suggested a few bars. I ended up (innocently) taking none of her suggestions and instead ventured over to this place called Bear Inn. I did what I normally do at restaurants when I travel alone, and read. However, doing what’s commonplace here in the UK and Europe, but surely not in the U.S., I sat down at the same table as this man reading a newspaper. (I did the American thing and asked if I could sit there, albeit completely unnecessary. (Four-day)-old habits die hard.)

The book I was reading was the only book I brought overseas, solely because I believed it to be worth the weight (it’s a pretty big book). The book is called Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. I see it almost as this mecca of my mind that I need to make before or while I start my program. Nancy Scheper-Hughes speaks volumes to the intersection of health and politics, health and the human condition, and to be able to learn some of these mindsets via the culture of Northeastern Brazil is all the better. I’ll save a post for that later, though.

What’s important was the page I ended up turning mid-read (this isn’t meant to be offensive, rather informational, explaining where Brazilians feel the “nervousness” of hunger):


To have this open in a bar was merely peculiar, and the man sitting across from me commented, “What’s that you’re reading?” Keep in mind that we had been sitting at the same table for a little while already, about an hour or so. He had already asked me once to keep an eye on his jacket while he went outside for a smoke.

Well, this short little question sparked a conversation, and we started talking about why I was there, why he was there, his family, and other topics. This man, Martin, lives in Paris (but he’s an Englishman), and his daughter had a fellowship to go study policy and women’s studies at a London university (I cannot remember where). Martin himself is a sculptor, where he “misuses materials to create new ideas” (paraphrased) – I thought this was a beautiful way of looking at art, and truly is a mindset that inspires amazing art. You might come to learn that I’m an incredible fan of modern art.

Some world politics and geopolitical concepts/philosophy (mostly him speaking) made its way into the conversation, as well as the interesting tidbit that the pub we were at is the oldest pub in Oxford and originally they had bears from the nearby fight at that site. He said, perhaps, that if you dig far enough, you could find remains of the old ring where the bears fought, and maybe even some bear remains… Also adorning the walls of the pub were cases upon cases of ties from old Oxford club members within each college – I’ll have to do some more research on this one for sure.

Martin and I exchanged contact info and I now might have a place to stay in Paris if I decide to go soon! I will be going to Paris, I just have to decide when. Perhaps when I have a little French under my belt, as I’ll be dabbling in beginner French from UCL soon! With that, I need to go to sleep to get up early and seize the rest of my short time at Oxford. Stay tuned for some more updates on my travels in southern England!

A tourist in London, until the 16th of September

Dear friends,

Currently I am writing from an incredibly hip coffee shop in Bath, England, called Society Café. It’s so hip, there’s a bike hanging on the wall in front of me! I was served my coffee in a milk steaming pitcher, and I’ve already made friends with the baristas working today. What great fun coffee people are!

This post can hopefully serve as a little update to my life after Iceland, especially in my endeavors to become any bit of a local in London.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Tube has been incredibly good to me. The fact that I was able to locate and use the tube right after flying into London speaks volumes to its ease of use. I would say that the signage and directions are pretty forgiving to newcomers, as they prevent one from looking around aimlessly, going back and forth from the same spot to another, and blatantly looking like a tourist. Although my mannerisms might be moving towards “local”, my two pieces of luggage with a saxophone strapped over one of them did a pretty good job of pegging me as a foreigner, I’d say.

Upon leaving the tube, I had a decently long walk ahead of me to the hostel. One problem, though, was that I hadn’t taken a look at where my hostel was in the station from which I would be exiting, and I hadn’t the time to get a new SIM card for my phone. I started walking in a direction that I thought would get me to the right place, but ended up in an area that looked like this: London, preview to Bath - 3.jpg

“This is not my hostel…” I thought. Although the Porsche and beautiful houses led me to believe that I was in a very nice neighborhood. I promptly exited where I ended up, and found a wonderful couple that led me in the right direction.

The only problem with this long journey from the tube was the toll this path took on my luggage wheels. Alas, I believe that I’m due to destroy the large bags that I use for the “50-pound checked bag” each time I make a big journey somewhere. The right wheel to my large black luggage bag has promptly been ripped apart by the countless steps up and down to sidewalk and periodic cobbles. This reminds me of the time when my large bag ended up with a gaping hole in its side after five weeks in the Dominican Republic. Perhaps this is telling me that I should pack a little lighter.

After finally making it to my hostel, I was happy surprised to know that I was staying in an old historical house that was literally in Holland Park. The hostel scene is quite interesting (at least this one), where it’s slightly reminiscent of the co-op culture on campus at U-M. It seems that many people travel in groups to hostels, or some people are quite good at making friends in hostels, too. I, on the other hand, tend to keep a little more to myself if I’m in an unfamiliar situation, as was the case earlier this week.

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The view from my room. The park is just behind the building you can see in this photo!

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A view of the building where my bed was housed!

Despite keeping to myself, I did happen to meet two memorable people. Firstly, was a man from the west coast, who decided that life was too short to not celebrate his birthday in a memorable way, so he decided to travel to Europe for his past two birthdays. His name was Glen, and he had an MBA from Harvard and managed to land a job doing housing allocation and consulting for the State of California in Silicon Valley. I also met a woman named Lucy. Oddly, I thought she was someone who worked at the hostel and I tried to hand my breakfast token (what I pre-paid for to get breakfast the next two mornings) but she was basically saying hi to me instead. She used to be an accountant, but had a large realization that her job and her life vision did not line up. She’s now on her way to tracking a new philosophy, on her life and certain ideas that apply to what she believes the future of this world.

I would say that I’m two for two with meeting truly inspiring people who want to change the world in their own way. This could be, hopefully, the proper precursor to London, as I’ve been told that it’s a global hub that attracts many different but all bright minds that help me discover new and different ways of thinking.


Upon leaving my tourist days in London, I’m now on to Bath, Oxford, and Bournemouth to fulfill some time as a tourist in England. I wasn’t really sure of where I should go in England, but my reasoning is as follows:

  1. I want to make it up to Scotland, however I’m waiting until I have a long weekend *and* when I get my 16-25 railcard, which will give me a 1/3 discount on a (much more) expensive train ticket than what I paid to get to these three places.
  2. My parents are spending time in Italy as I write this, and I figured that I could get a little piece of Rome by going to the Roman Baths and structures in the first town, Bath (quite obviously named for what I just mentioned).
  3. I’ve been told that Oxford is beautiful, and I want to feel the history and aura of academia that (should) exist at Oxford. I will keep you all updated on what I do feel there 🙂
  4. Many who asked about where I wanted to go were told “I’d love to spend some time on a coastal town, to wake up by the sea…” So, I am fulfilling that statement by hopping down to Bournemouth for a day before I head back up to London.


In ending, I’ll leave you with a picture of what I had for dinner last night. I tried to find an Italian place to eat, and I stumbled upon this place called Sotto Sotto, renowned as the best place to eat Italian food in Bath (as according to Yelp (Fr. Joe, you would be proud!)). However, due to their great popularity, they were booked solid – not even for a table for one! Luckily right next door was a Spanish tapas restaurant, called La Perla. As odd as it was to eat dinner in a slightly nicer restaurant by myself, my Kindle (and the wonderful story of Harry Potter) kept me company.

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Now it’s on to Oxford in a few hours!

What goes on in Iceland… gets shared in a blog!

Hello friends!

I’m writing to you from a small little Turkish café in Kensington, about a 10-minute walk from my current hostel. Just some travel updates – my lease doesn’t start until the 16th of September, so I’m basically forced to do some traveling around the UK in the meantime! It’s hard not necessarily knowing what I’m going to do each day, but the general plan is to go to Bath on Tuesday, Oxford on Wednesday, and Cambridge (or back to London) on Thursday. Saturday is when I move in.

I flew out of Chicago around 8:00 PM Friday night, and factoring in about a six-hour flight, I was able to fly in to the sun rising over Iceland. I have no pictures, so maybe a short description can do it justice. The island had this pillowy fog settling in on certain areas, where others came the steam from natural geysers. Patches of black rock contrasted the cream-like fog, and the stretches of green grass were a perfect intermediary color between the two opposite shades of the fog and the rocks. Iceland seemed so crisp and vacant, where the vacancy of humans created all the more space for nature to show itself.

Upon leaving the airport in the shuttle to get my rental car, I noticed a few sculptures that resembled the nature around them. One was a depiction of men and women in a wind-like form, giving the impression that they were together as one with the wind. (As an aside, it gets *really* windy there, and the wind chilled me more than I was expecting. Nothing a good outer jacket and scarf couldn’t solve!) This kind of embodied what I gathered from my many interactions with Icelanders – they had this great respect for the nature around them, and truly integrated the nature in with themselves. Even in the process of renting a car, the renter basically gave me the impression that some damages happen due to strong winds, random rocks, and other forces of nature… in other words, these damages were ones that I couldn’t possibly control.

This reminded me of a time when I went swimming in the Caribbean Sea off the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. We would venture out about eight feet into the ocean only to get slammed by the incoming waves. My body would be taken up and thrown against the tiny round pebbles comprising the shore. This lack of control was fairly comforting, because I was able to let all control go and succumb to the powerful force that the ocean is.

Taking a slight interlude, here’s a picture of my little sport that I rented. There were a few times when I thought I’d get stranded (funny noises, forgetting to have the clutch in when starting the car…), but Martin (see note in following paragraph) pushed through!


This respect for the ocean was translated into a general respect for mountains and the other natural beauties I experienced in Iceland. Following this paragraph, I’m going to take you on the journey (remembered to the best by my sleep-deprived mind) that I took after leaving Keflavik with my trusty steed. (I felt like calling it Martin, for some reason.)

First up was my drive to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. I almost stalled my car upon leaving Keflavik, only because the “driving a manual transmission” muscle memory was buried in my “high school memories” repository. My time in Reykjavik would be used to find coffee (that for which I was in a dire state of need), and some sustenance that would last me my entire day.

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Fun fact, eating out in Iceland is incredibly expensive.

Why is this so? Quora.com says this…

  • Climate and farming regulation
    • I was wondering why this was and my first thought was that due to Iceland’s climate, they might have to import many of their goods that they use in their meals. However, a quick Google search tells me that importing many products that can be locally grown is forbidden by the Icelandic government. So wouldn’t that make things cheaper? Not quite – it seems that keeping up a farm in Iceland costs about twice as much there than it does in more temperate climates.
  • Labor comes at a high cost in Iceland
    • Apparently there are a lot of extra costs for labor, like mandatory overhead fees, a high income tax, and full paid parental leave.
  • Foods that are imported are expensive
    • Pretty self-explanatory!

I did, however, manage to spend about 800 krona (about 8 dollars) on “exercise bread” (bread full of oats and fiber), a granola bar, water bottle, and two bananas. So my guess is that when you factor in labor from someone serving you as well as the time and resources it takes to cook and prepare food, perhaps that is what contributes to the expense of eating out in Iceland.

Back to the course, though! After getting some coffee, I walked back to where I parked my car and stumbled upon this seaside park. I loved the sculpture – it reminded me of the deep connection with nature Icelanders seem to have, including with the sea!

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From Reykjavik, I began my journey along what is called the Golden Circle, a pathway in southwestern Iceland with many natural wonders unique to Iceland, like different geysers, nature reserves, lakes, and mountains. Not having done my recommended amount of Icelandic homework on the Golden Circle, I decided to basically go where I saw other people going. The route is mainly a highway with various areas were you can pull of and get out to take pictures, hike, or do what you please. So when I saw a bank of cars, I stopped! Simple as that. I told myself that I would take as much time as needed at each stop, and I would feel ready to go when it was time to go.

To spare you the extra reading, I’ll add each photo with a little caption.

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The first stop – a small little creek (or river?) with farms in the distance. An english dad almost fell into the river right before I took this photo! But he was okay…

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Second stop – this was the west side of a big lake that the Golden Circle crests.

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Similarly, on the second stop!

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Third stop – a national park of Iceland! This is presumed to be the first site of where Icelanders held their meetings discussing law and politics. It seems as though this park in general was wrought with political contention and was the site where laws were practiced and enacted (i.e. with their form of capital punishment).

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Third stop – see comment above!


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Also in the third stop!

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Icelandic horses!

These next banks of pictures were (in my mind) a bit excessive to add into the post one-by-one, so take the time to click through them!




One final picture, and it had to be an iPhone panorama…


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A panorama still can’t do Iceland the justice it deserves…

Lastly, while I was driving back, my path was slowed down by Icelandic lambs! I was going to upload a video, but alas, the site does not support videos. Find me in Facebook and you’ll be able to see a video of the lambs! Sorry mom, for taking the video whilst driving… I was going slow, and I just *had* to document the precious moment… Please excuse the moments when I had to shift while taking the video.

On my way back to Reykjavik, I ended up extending the path down to the south coast of the island. In a small town called Selfoss, I managed to find a very quaint coffee, books, and wifi joint. The place was absolutely adorable, and the woman who owned the place was spectacular and very relaxed. I made a new friend there, Lauren, who happened to also be from Michigan! An incredibly small world, truly. Shoutout to Lauren – she had just finished a 250 kilometer super-run with her dad in the northern part of Iceland. Incredible!

Upon ending, I’ll leave you with a selfie that I took in front of the national park’s welcome sign along with some coffee (truly amazing from this trip, and much-needed to stay awake and alive at the wheel) and a postcard that I got from the welcome center (coming at you, mom and dad!). It was hard to say goodbye to Iceland, but I feel as though I truly made the most of my 24 hours in that country. I stopped back in Reykjavik to the sculpture to give a sort of cyclical goodbye, and then returned to the airport.

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After a long night of (attempted) restless sleep in the airport, I did end up making it to London! Side note: my friends were not lying when they said that the Tube is really easy to operate. Here’s a teaser for my next post, my first meal in London!



Meet Jeffrey!

Hello dear friends!

I am incredibly excited to be writing for all of you throughout the upcoming year as the current Roger M. Jones fellow. This post is currently being written from Chicago, my pre-departure city! Sadly, I had to leave my hometown (Midland, MI) behind yesterday with my life neatly packed away into two suitcases. I found it interesting, really, how much packing can teach about one’s personality, life, and habits.

Realizing that last sentence, I figured that this post could serve two purposes: 1. To get to know me, of course! 2. To learn a little bit about what a 22-year-old about to make a big life change and go overseas decides is important to keep in his life (at least materially). What’s even better is that through describing point 2, point 1 will undoubtedly be reached as well, because what we pack in our suitcases is so telling of who we are!

Onward, then… To keep things short and digest-able, I’ll share three items that I packed.

*First thing’s first*

– the U-M Engineering Alumni t-shirt –

Naturally, anyone who has been awarded this fellowship has an undergraduate degree in engineering, but why did I study engineering? In short, I chose biomedical engineering for multiple reasons, many having changed and many having remained the same since I started four years ago at U-M. One reasoning upon entering: I wanted to have a major that would guide me towards medicine and health but wouldn’t necessarily pigeonhole me into one field – engineering would give me options, and biomedical engineering was the most interesting to me. One reasoning upon leaving: Biomedical engineering, as an inherently interdisciplinary field, has taught me how to learn quickly and deeply about any topic I face. I have learned that the engineering approach can be applied to problems that are not founded necessarily in engineering (i.e. in public policy or public health). The bottom line regarding the t-shirt is that I couldn’t help but keep a little reminder of why I’m here to study the PPE of Health at University College London.

*Did someone hear some music off in the distance?*

– the alto saxophone and mini MIDI keyboard –

Equally important to my life as my major was my minor – music. Originally upon entering the U, I was enrolled in the School of Music and the College of Engineering as a dual-degree seeking student, in classical saxophone performance and engineering. However, I decided that I didn’t want to spend an extra year (at minimum) slaving over my degrees and not experiencing much of an extra-curricular life. Whether or not that assumption was true, I ended up switching to a music minor and focusing more on jazz and composition. I took with me two pieces of music: the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto and the Fuzzy Bird Sonata. The first piece is one of my favorite (albeit slightly cliché) pieces of classical music to play, and the second is a uniquely difficult piece of contemporary saxophone music that I still have yet to master. Despite what kind of music I decide to bring to or play in London, you will surely be hearing of where I play, what I listen to, and what I write. Usually when I experience something that truly highlights the human condition, I like to channel any feelings I experience into composing some music (usually with the MIDI keyboard). I’ve been told that the music scene (especially jazz) in London is wild, so fingers crossed for some original jazz and other musical experiences!

*Did someone say tea?*

– the coffee brewing equipment –

Anyone who has seen my Instagram profile (subtitled “barista for the masses”) knows of my fondness for coffee. (Stay tuned for my thoughts on tea as I spend more time in the UK.) I have worked as a barista in the specialty coffee industry for two years and three months, and only recently did I have to reluctantly put in my final two weeks at Black Diesel Coffee in Ann Arbor, MI.  Surely, a future blog post will be dedicated to the coffee scene in London, so I won’t bore you with too much coffee-speak. I see coffee in my life as spurring community gathering, connection between people, and communication between global stakeholders. Coffee is not just a drink for me, rather it is this beautiful, naturally-occurring enigma that has the potential to light up one’s eyes and mind with each drink that is created. Speaking outside of the drink itself, my experience working with people (customers and coworkers alike), has been nothing short of outstanding. I have met some of my closest friends over coffee, and the drink (in my mind) undoubtedly had something to do with this connection.

As I look to the bottom of the page here, it seems that I have managed to type about 800 words at this point, so I had better wrap up this intro. In five short sentences, I will give a flash of other parts of my life, and then conclude with a sort of “send off” for the rest of the blog. Here goes…

I love running and cycling, and enjoy keeping physically fit. Reading is an ultimate pleasure for me (see, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, David Foster Wallace, John Irving, Norton Juster, and T.S. Eliot). I consider myself a part of the amusingly fun group of cyclists classified under “fixie riders”. I have an amateur fascination with religion, theology, and spirituality, much of which has manifested through (but is not by any means limited to) the Jesuit order within the Catholic church. I might still want to go to medical school, but possibly go into doctoral work in the social sciences (and possibly combine the two). My time working in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with public health and policy matters has in-part spurred my reasoning behind applying for this fellowship.

In conclusion, I will leave you with some paraphrased words of what I said at the end of my interview for this fellowship. This transition in to the humanities is not a diversion, not a side-path in my life, but a necessary and logical step. It makes sense for me to go study philosophy, so I have the mental rigor to process situations in public health, similar to the healthcare inequities that I experienced in Haiti and the DR.

From Ann Arbor to London, I cannot wait to be an ambassador for U-M’s College of Engineering at University College London. Here’s to the experience of a lifetime (and being able to document this time for all of you).

Next stop, Iceland! (Cliffhanger for the next post).

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