It’s always darkest before the dawn

Although has been reporting 4 something sunsets, London’s cloud coverage writes it’s own rules.  I thought Michigan had trained me well for dark winters, but it’s a bit unsettling when daytime and lunchtime are almost synonymous… in November.  As much as I find myself wishing for more sunlight, the darkness has created a most adequate backdrop for the festivities that have been taking place over the last two weeks.  Since these Oct-Nov festivities are quite different here than they are in the States, I thought I’d share some brief perspectives:


31 October – Halloween

  • Not as big of a celebration over here. Very optional participation.
  • Costumes = frightening & gory.  Lots of face paint: white faces with dark, sunken-in eyes and blood-red accents.
  • I celebrated Halloween at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Fire Festival.  Turns out this is not really a Halloween celebration at all– more like a pre-game for Guy Fawkes and Armistice Day.  No Monster Mash or Thriller, but a nice jazz rendition of Katy Perry’s Firework seemed oddly fitting.
  • Perhaps this is an effect of large cities and smaller personal bubbles, but the fireworks were shot off much closer to the crowd than would happen at a public event back home.  I’d bet that the people up front had to comb a good bit of debris out of their hair.

1 November – All Saint’s Day

  • Typically a holy day of obligation within the Catholic Church, since Nov 1 fell on a Saturday festivities were lumped in with the Sunday mass on Nov 2.

2 November – All Soul’s Day

  • …and since All Saint’s Day was pushed back, so was All Soul’s Day.
  • From KCL’s Chaplaincy: “On Monday 3 November at 18.15 we will be having a Requiem in a Time of Remembrance. This will be a choral (Anglican) Eucharist at which the choir will be singing a Mass setting by Victoria. It is an opportunity to remember friends and family who have died and we will be reading their names out during the service. If you would like someone’s name to be read out there will be lists in the Chapel for you to write names on.”
  • This service was of special significance because of the sudden loss of a KCL’s renowned choir director, David Trendell, the week before.  Choir alum joined the regular choir doubling its normal membership for that evening.  A truly remarkable service.

5 November – Guy Fawkes’ Night

  • Remember, remember the 5th of November…
  • It’s kind of crazy walking past main landmarks in V for Vendetta.
  • aka: “Bonfire night” — I didn’t go to any bonfires, but there were lots of firework shows throughout the city on the 5th, 6th, 7th…

11 November – Armistice Day

  • Between the poppy display at the Tower of London and the Poppy Appeal that has been going strong for the last few weeks, this feels more like a season than a 24 hour holiday.
  • The Sunday closest to November 11 (this year– Sunday, November 9) is called Remembrance Sunday.  I was out of London for this weekend, but I was told that there are some very proper services.  At the church service I was attending in Cornwall, there was a moment of silence at 11am followed by special prayers for veterans.

Many thanks to all veterans (with a special shout out to my dad!)  for the sacrifices you have made in serving our country.

God save… me? (Sung to the tune of America)

This weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a retreat organized by the KCL Chaplaincy team.  The retreat was just a short train ride from Central London at Cumberland Lodge.  (Click here to read more about the Lodge and it’s educational mission.) The beautiful royal grounds (and surrounding Windsor Park) presented an unique backdrop for the retreat’s theme: “Awareness: Meeting God in the Everyday”.  Fun fact: it also served as a nice backdrop for the King’s Speech. The captions in the following pictures tell a bit more of the story.

Click to enlarge and view the full caption.

On the continued topic of interfaith dialogue, I’ll note that KCL is affiliated with the Church of England, and thus members of the Chaplaincy team are Anglican.  As far as I know, Christianity was a common language for all the participants, but the participants’ specific faith traditions varied (many Anglicans, a few Catholics, and at least one Baptist.)  So often we focus on our differences OR overcompensate and create a homogeneous bunch devoid of the flavor by which we are defined.  This weekend seemed to defy that status quo, which is quite in line with the mission of Cumberland Lodge’s mission.

A good example of this was receiving an invitation to attend Sunday morning (Anglican) church service at the Royal Chapel. The invitation to join worship was not contingent on you being Anglican or even Christian* for that matter. The only rules / requirements were:


Why these rules? For one thing, this establishes a certain request for respect.  When encountering a faith, culture, or even just idea that is different from what you are used to, it is worth refreshing all participants on Michigan’s catch-phrase: “Expect Respect. Give it, get it.”  Furthermore, since the Queen was at Windsor Castle that weekend, there was a good chance that she would be at the church service on Sunday morning. Thus, when we received our clearance pass, we also were given a basic tutorial in the proper interactions with the Royal Family (curtsy, bow, Your Majesty, Duch, Duchess… )

Since the Lodge staff misspelled Berkemeier, (surprisingly not an issue with the 4 E’s this time, but rather with the I) I had to request a 2nd chapel pass since part of the Security check involvedverifying that you had an ID… which matched your pass… which matched the name on the list of attendees provided to Security by the Lodge.  It wasn’t until I was a few yards away from the gate that I realized my second pass also had a misspelling, this time with my first name:


Too late to do anything about it now!

Andrea: Good morning! (Enthusiasm trying to mask the slight fear of being turned away because of clerical errors…)

Security Guard: (Steps back a bit) Goodness, you sure are chipper this morning!  What are you, American?

Sheesh, just when you think you have stopped sticking out as a foreigner…  Well, if enthusiasm and happiness are the new stereotypes for Americans, I suppose I’m ok with that.

If he noticed the misspelling, he didn’t lead on, and I was soon on the Royal side of the gate.  Another ~1/3 mile walk later, I was at the Chapel.  Upon entrance, I was given 2 worship aids: 1 for the general words used, and 1 with the specific readings of the day.  Although the chapel was rather small, every seat was filled.  I was in the 3rd row on the right side with pillars to my left and a draped area in front: in the theatre, they might consider this restricted viewing.

In “good student mode” I previewed the worship aids and quickly noticed a few things:

  • There were three options for each segment: (1) very formal speech with ~2 paragraphs of thee-s, thou-s, brethren-s, and beseech-ing for each passage, (2) still formal, but less flourishing speech lasting only 1 paragraph for each passage, and (3) direct 21st C language, only 1-2 lines long for each response.
  • There were cues for singing different passages… but no music was given.
  • The service opened up with their national anthem: God Save the Queen.

Since I didn’t know the words or the tune of their national anthem, I was a bit sad that the words were not provided in either worship aid.  Leaning over to a fellow retreatant next to me, I whispered:

Andrea: I’m going to be following your lead on this God Saving the Queen opener… I don’t actually know the words.

J: Ohhhh… that might not be a good idea. I’m not really confident in them either!

“But you’re British?!” almost slipped from my lips, but having just been singled out for being a stereotypical American, I thought it would be rather uncharitable** of me to direct nationality-assumptions on J. Within a few minutes, I had found the words in the Book of Common Prayer located in our pew.  As the congregation stood to sing, I was quite relieve to find that I did in fact know the tune: America, or My Country ‘Tis of Thee!

God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

The whole idea of a monarchy is so foreign to me, so in some ways, I found these lyrics to be quite jarring.  If the Queen is present, would she sing: “God sa-a-ave me-e-e, Long li-i-ive me-e-e” ??? Since the Queen was no where in sight, I can’t confirm the answer based on lip-reading, though I’ve been told she just refrains from singing altogether.

Even though the language was rather archaic English (minister elected for the 1st version of the service–full of thees and thous) I found the experience to be simultaneously comfortable (the Gospel passage was the same as it was for Catholic mass that week) and novel (there was no 2nd reading, almost everything was sung but no music was provided) which created a unique worship environment.  Contemplating all these thoughts as I left the chapel after service, I almost missed the fact that Her Majesty was walking in front of me!

:O    <– what I would have looked like if my insides were speaking

Her physical attributes are just as they appear on television complete with matching coat and hat. But if I were to describe her aura, I suppose I would liken her to Mary Sue: she displays a warm smile and manages to make deliberate individualized eye contact.  Gives a certain understanding to “the Monarch of the People”. I managed a polite head nod and kept walk so as not to create a traffic jam in front of the chapel.

So… I suppose I can add that to my two truths (and a lie): I’ve been to church with the Queen of England.  😉

* The perceptive reader might challenge that claim by referencing back to my “Christianity was a common language”.  True, but the invitation was given not only to members of our faith based retreat, but also to the University College London students who were at the Lodge for a Physics / Astronomy Society retreat of some sort.

**I’m currently reading CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity and realized this probably scored me some points among my Anglican friends. 🙂  All jokes aside, it is a great read and particularly interesting when considering the content within its historical context: a collection of radio talks given by a non-theologian, during WWII.  Unless you are Joan Campau (one of my close, very eloquent friends), “uncharitable” is probably neither heard nor employed in your day to day life.  CS Lewis gives a thought-provoking explanation in this segment regarding the difference between the virtues of chastity (absolutely, objectively defined) and propriety (defined in relation to era and place): “When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity.  But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners.  When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable.”

*** Correct you are– this doesn’t lead back to *** within the text! I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. 🙂 Remember the draped section in front of the pews on the right hand side that I mentioned? That’s where the Queen sits during service.  She also has a separate side door for entering and exiting the chapel, hence the reason why I didn’t see her until the end.

Featured Image: One of my favorite of the many pieces of art that were hung throughout the Lodge. (#76, I’m not sure who the artist was.)

Let there be light!

This week’s M&M (Mass & a Museum) Sunday routine was spent in Kensington at the Science Museum and Our Lady of Mount Caramel.  I say routine, but life in London is always full of surprises.  On this particular morning, my walk to the tube station crossed paths with a herd of half-marathon runners.


Other than the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum was the only thing on the “Exceptional” / “Worth a Journey” list on my trusty street map that I hadn’t yet visited.  There were enough bio-exhibits to keep me satiated, but in general this wasn’t one of my favorite museums.  (Perhaps my expectations were too high? Or perhaps, with such gems as the Imperial War Museum or the British Museum, my standards have shifted to be quite high?)


The one objective bonus of this visit was the other museum-goers: apparently Sunday morning is the prime time for parents with children 4 years old and younger to venture out.  Many a buggy (stroller) to be found.  Though I’ve grown rather accustomed to the British accent, there is something absolutely adorable about it’s utterance in a child’s voice. To get the full effect, you must put on your best English accent whilst reenacting this scene:


Boy 1: Mummy! (tugs at the neckline of a darling little sweater) I’m warm, Mummy!

(Mom proceeds to help Boy 1 take off his sweater, take off his shirt, remove his teeny-tiny undershirt, and get dressed again.)

Mom: John (presumably the father) can you check with Henry? He also might be a bit warm.

(Henry, the younger brother who couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, trots around the nearby exhibits.  He darts behind a tower of old VWs and, out of direct eye sight from either parent, attempts to get into the passenger’s door of the lowest one. Meanwhile, John lengthen his stride to catch up to the swift toddler, soon discovering Henry’s situation.)

Dad: Henry!  Come out from there! (The space between the Tower of Cars and the wall surely would not have fit a full sized person. John’s voice becomes a bit more stern.) Henry. Come out. Now. No, do not touch the car.  Henry! No, you cannot get in the car… (John continues to rationalize with Henry until the boy surfaces again to the open air…)


Perhaps this doesn’t appear to be so humorous to the general populous, but for me, it brought back a flood of memories of growing up with my younger brother, Henry.  At 6’5″, he is now considerably taller than the British Henry that I had the pleasure of encountering this week, but he (17 years old) and my lil sister Geraldine (15 years old) bring just as many smiles to my face.  Special shout out to H & G, who will be heading to the State Championship matches this week for high school Varsity Tennis and Golf, respectively.  I’ll be cheering you on from London!

Just before I headed to Our Lady of Mount Caramel, I received a message from my friend, AB: “They’re celebrating Diwali in Trafalgar Square today!” Goodness, and just when you think you’ve made it through the “Exceptional” / “Worth a Journey” list!… 😉

I made it to Trafalgar Square around 2pm, just in time for the public dance performances. Nothing like a good bit of Indian dance music (including Bollywood favorites like “Jai Ho!”) to put a little swivvle in your hips.  Since the music and dancing could be heard from all parts of the Square, I was able to check out the side booths, quickly joining the queue for a free sari.  That’s right folks: they had piles of folded saris (~6 meters of beautiful cloth– it’s all in the way it it tied on you) that they were dressing people in FOR FREE.  The queue looked rather short, but since it takes a non-negligible amount of time to tie a sari, this translated into ~40 minutes.  I passed the time by reading one of the few physical (not digital) books for class.  This one was about Cosmopolitanism, which (as Wikipedia succinctly defines) is a philosophy “that all human ethnic groups belong to a single community”.


Considering the circumstances, I couldn’t have chosen a better reading topic.  Here were a few of my main observations.  (Before I get myself into stereotyping situations, I’ll preface this by saying that my understanding of Indian culture is mostly shaped by my travels there in 2013 with the University of Michigan Society of Women Engineers.)

  • Diwali is the Hindu festival of light  that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Like other religious feasts such as Passover (Judaism), Easter (Christianity), and Ramadaan (Islam) the specific date depends on various lunar calendars instead of our traditional 12 month Gregorian calendar.  This year, Diwali falls on October 23, but London got a jump start with their October 12 festival.  (I liken this to having a Christmas parade in early December.)  When I glanced at the announcements from Our Lady of Mount Caramel, I was admittedly a bit amazed when I saw the main article was about celebrating light.  Upon further reading, I realized that they weren’t actually advertising the celebration on Trafalgar Square– rather, remembering the other-worldly solar activity (now referred to in Catholic tradition as the Miracle of the Sun & apparition of Our Lady ) at Fatima in Portugal October 13, 1917.  Though the overlap of events probably wasn’t intentionally constructed interfaith dialogue, it provided an excellent bridge for understanding.
  • India is a fascinatingly diverse country with a cultural color palette that is very different from what I’ve grown accustomed to in the US.  My interest in Indian culture began when my older sister Gretchen spent a 11 weeks working as an engineering intern in Chenai, and incidentally, wore a sari every day.  When she returned home, we attempted to resurrect our childhood days of playing dress up, but despite Gretchen’s best efforts I never managed to successfully make the sari look presentable.  Even when I traveled to India with SWE, the pants, long top, scarf combo of the salva kameez was all that I could handle. Since this (London) was my first experience getting fully draped in a sari, it seemed only fitting that my “blouse” was my Keep Calm and SWE On cranberry V-neck.
  • If the Brits love of queuing is on one extreme, the almost non-existent queuing strategy in Indian culture is on the other extreme.  I particularly remember a situation when I was trying to order food in the domestic airport terminal in Delhi.  Though American’s don’t queue with the same amount of fervor as Brits, I still relied on my American mindset as I approached the display case… which turned out to be rather ineffective: I stood while a steady flow of business men (from my perspective) “cut in front of me”, ordered their meal, paid for their meal, and began eating.  I’m not trying to make a case for either system, just trying to contrast the two.  While proper use of elbows and hand waving are key components of communication in India, I’m pretty sure that would earn you a stern British glare in London.  Such a juxtaposition: forming a queue while women tied saris and men politely guarded the entrances from passersby that tried jumping the queue. (Madam, madam!  The queue is this way!)


(Click on photo for expanded view + full caption.) 

The day was made complete by a delicious lunch of chole (spicy chick peas). Though it may not measure up to the dishes that I enjoyed wilst in India, it was indeed tasty.  My task now is to find the restaurants that have made London legendary for having the best Indian food outside of India.

Featured Image: sunrise from my apartment window

Happy Michaelmas!

As I finish off my 3rd week here, I’m starting to get find my routine.  Speaking for myself, having a regular ~7 hour sleep schedule is glorious– and a marked improvement from my (unfortunately quite regular among the SWEboard) 5 hour power nap that sustained me last year.  During international orientation, many of my peers remarked that one of the main “culture shocks” is the pace of life in London.  Hmmm, fast paced, you say?  I guess when you’re used to riding a roller coaster, life on the expressway seems rather manageable.

My current routine for Sunday is among my favorite: mass & a museum.

Sept 22 – St George & the Imperial War Museum

Last week was at St George’s Cathedral in Southwark which was just a 15 minute walk south of my apartment.  I met up with one of my friend’s from UM (who is also studying for a year in London) for the 10am “Family Mass”.  Unlike the congregation at English Martyr’s 9am mass, the crowd was much more diverse:  as Wikipedia confirmed “every Mass is attended by people of different ethnicities and ages ranging from African to Asian to European.”  Perhaps it was more noticeable at this “family mass”, but children were definitely a-plenty. The typical attire was also much nicer– my skirt & dress top were no match for the standard Sunday’s Best.

Going back to what I had said earlier about my enthusiasm for learning about the community through their worship services, this week was an excellent lesson in history.  Here is a summary of some interesting points from the St George’s Visitor’s Guide that I picked up.

  • 1793 – 1828:    “The congregation, still largely consisting of wretchedly poor Irish, had numbered about 3,000 in 1793, but by 1828 seems to have increased fivefold.  Two or three of the chaplains died from infectious diseases endemic amongst the poor.”
  • 1848:  St George’s Church is opened
  • 1852:  Officially becomes a cathedral.
  • 1941:  Bombed.
  • 1953 – 1958: Cathedral is rebuilt. (This is the building that currently stands.)
  • late 20th C:  “Visitors to the rebuilt Cathedral have included Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, and, marking St. Geroge’s commitment to interfaith dialogue, the Dalai Lama.  Today the congregation reflects the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of South London.”

Be sure to click on the pictures to see an expanded view and caption.

The entrance to the Imperial War Museum is just a stone’s throw away from St. George’s.  Upon arrival we received tickets to their current special collection on WWI; good thing that we arrived near the beginning of the day because they were already booking 2 hours in advance (to manage foot traffic).  Any tourist guide that I’ve seen ranks the IWM as one of London’s best attractions, and after visiting, I can definitely see why.

Again, be sure to click on the pictures to see an expanded image with caption.

Moving maps to help illustrate key points that lead to WWI:

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Keeping everyone interested:

War effort propaganda:

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Sept 28 – Brompton Oratory & the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

Since “Family Mass” seemed to go well, we decided to give that a go for this week, too– this time at the Brompton Oratory.  This was the most conservative parish of the three that I’ve been to since I’ve arrived. A number of the women I passed on my way in were wearing lace veils; I later learned that the 9 and 11am masses (2 of the 7 masses they say every Sunday) were “1962 Missal” and “Latin High Mass” respectively. Large signs were on the doors requesting that visitors refrain from photographs, but you can view images from their photo gallery on their website.

The 10am “Family Mass” had an unbelievable children’s choir: 5 boys, ~35 girls with a glorious blend (and impressive vowel matching!) that suggested skillful instruction.  There may have been a hymn book for people to pick up on their way into the church, but I must have missed it. It probably wouldn’t have done much good anyway since I’m unfamiliar with the local music and the common hymnal around these parts only has words (no music).  And anyway, the congregation only joined on the opening & closing songs; everything else, including all the mass parts, were sung by the choir. Though I really enjoy singing to participate, being “forced” to just listen provides a unique opportunity that I am very grateful to have had.

The priest focused his homily on this week’s Gospel (click here for the excerpts) which excellently complemented the philosophy reading I have been doing this week on Moral Theory. What is right?  Good?  Just? More on this to come soon!

The Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum of art & design was literally next door, so a post-mass visit only seemed fitting.

USA represent! VA Rotunda Chandelier by Dale Chihuly of Seattle , WA.


The museum is quite large, so I dedicated this visit to the Medieval and Renaissance wing.  Enjoy a few rounds of Identify Me, similar to Interpret This except there are correct answers this time.

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Some of the many representations of St George:

And finally, in honor of the liturgical feast celebrating the Archangels today:

Fun fact: September 29 is the feast of St Michael the Archangel.  Termed “Michaelmas” this date falls near the summer equinox each year and, conveniently, the beginning of the academic “fall term”– or as KCL (and other institutions) refer to it, the Michaelmas term. Check out this short Wikipedia article for a bit more info.

Week 1: Call me a tourist?

This officially marks the end of my 1st week in London. Since classes haven’t yet started, I’ve had a remarkable amount of free time to see London.  Though I’m hesitant in calling myself a tourist– I know how to navigate multiple forms of public transit, I shop at the grocery, etc– I am many moons away from being considered a local. In the past few days, I’ve taken advantage of navigating myself to some of the more popular sites as well as some places off the beaten path. For the geographically inclined people out there, enjoy this map:


Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs

I really enjoy participating in mass when I travel because in addition to the religious aspects, it provides a unique perspective on the culture and community.  On Sunday I went to “Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs” since it was in the direction of the Whitechapel art gallery that I was planning to visit that afternoon with some friends I met during orientation.  Their 9am mass– one of two masses that are said at that parish each Sunday–  had ~50 people most of whom were 2, 3, and 4 times my age.  Hymns were led by one man singing very loudly in the back of the church and and each member of the congregation could pick up a hymnal (or rather, prayer book as it only had words and no music) on their way into the church.

Fitting to the church’s namesake, one of the petitions and a good portion of the homily was focused on David Haines, the British man who was recently beheaded by Isis.  Though Mr Haines was not a parishioner of that parish and it is reasonable to suppose that nobody in the church that morning knew him directly, they came together to grieve for the loss of one of their. In a somewhat strange way, by being invited to share in this grief, I was able to more fully connect with the parishioners and participate in the mass.

Petticoat Lane & Old Spitalfield’s Market

Mostly pictures. Definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in London. It is less crowded and less touristy than many of the places in Central London.

The Whitechapel Gallery featured modern art, but no photos were allowed.  We then headed to the WWI poppy memorial displayed at the Tower of London. It was amazing to compare these two modern exhibitions.  While I didn’t mind keeping a rather quick pace throughout the multilevel Whitechapel Gallery, I trailed along the edge of the Tower of London for quite some time.  Though I haven’t developed a definition of art in general terms, I know it when I see it.

We also found ourselves in the midst of the Tour de Britain. Apparently I’m good at finding bike races, because the Tour de Polone ended in Krakow when I was studying abroad there last summer.

Tour de Britain
Tour de Britain




Classic Boat Rally, St Katherine Docks

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Tower Bridge & The Scoop

On our walk back into Central London, we happened past the Totally Thames festival which focused on celebrating the local area.  In addition to the earth-fairy hats (see picture below) there was a petting zoo and a Sing for Water performance at the Scoop, an outdoor amphitheater.


British Museum

Another popular place to visit, even on a Monday!

After visiting Athens last summer, I was a bit disappointed to learn that many sculptures from ancient Greece were actually in the British Museum in London.  We have nice facilities, we’ll preserve and display them with care, said the Brits. So Greece built their Acropolis Museum in 2009… but they still didn’t get their artifacts back. Though I’m not necessarily supporting the politics behind this setup, it is certainly exciting for me to have access to this Grecian culture in my London neighborhood.

Ancient Greece exhibit in the British Museum
Ancient Greece exhibit in the British Museum

Even though classes will be starting soon, I’m looking forward to continuing the adventures. Here’s to a year of discovery, of becoming a Londoner and not just a visiting student in London.