Tag Archives: LSE

Back to School

22 Sep View from the 8th floor roof deck

I am now an official, registered, card-carrying, graduate student at the London School of Economics.

Following a spring and summer of nebulous and sporadic communications from the school, I arrived at this morning’s scheduled date at my appointed time slot (10 am – noon) for registration. I traveled in style on my creaky bike, and was pleased to find that the ride to campus from our apartment is pretty quick and straightforward; just under two miles, with no really treacherous territory. I’m looking forward to biking as often as I can — which will probably mean as often as the weather is not nasty.

Map of my (approximate) bike route from home (A) to LSE campus (B)

I wasn’t told what to expect at registration, but I think I expected some kind of formal assembly. What greeted me instead, however, was something the English are famous for — a queue. The line of students awaiting registration wound up no fewer than four stories’ worth of staircases in the beautiful, historic Clement House building. As I walked up the stairs past my future classmates (in truth, many of them actually won’t be my classmates, since the line contained students from multiple graduate degree programs), I could feel the once-overs. I can’t blame them; I was checking them out, too. The first day of school sizing-up never really changes, no matter how old you get. I at least earned some points (I think) with my bike helmet, as one student pointed out that if I already had my own bike, I must be somewhat established here in London. Most of the students were newly arrived and looking, understandably, overwhelmed. Once again, I was grateful for my summer.

The line moved quickly, and in less than an hour it was my turn to present a friendly admin with my passport and offer holder letter. I received my student ID, a tote bag, a planner and some instructions for IT setup. And *poof* — just like that — I am a graduate student again.

I met up with Kyra, a friend from Seattle who will also be studying at LSE this year, in the queue, and managed to connect with a few other students from the Management, Organisations and Governance program (MOG), so the group of us went to a campus shop for a coffee and some ice-breaking. Among my new classmates: a Norwegian, an Austrian, a Brazilian, a Singaporean, a German and an Arkansas-er-turned-UK-resident. The program has about 60 students total, more of whom I will hopefully meet this Friday over happy hour.

After coffee, Kyra and I headed to the library to set up our new email accounts. I am j.levitt [at] lse [dot] ac [dot] uk … but I will soon be porting that to my gmail account, so if you’re already using my gmail, please don’t worry about switching.

The student library, redesigned by Norman Foster + Partners in 2001, was very student-y, despite its famously striking spiral staircase. Many of the computers weren’t working; those that were were slow; comfy bean bag chairs littered the floor. And, according to youtube, it has been the site of at least one dance flashmob. The whole place, in Kyra’s words, “smelled like college.”

The Management building, however, does not smell like college. It is lovely. Our trip there was absolutely the highlight of my first day on campus. The Management department is headquartered in the New Academic Building, where I assume — I hope! — I will spend a lot of my time. The rehab project, designed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw in 2008, marries a stunning preserved historic facade with a stylish, modern, light-filled interior. It also, apparently, has a ton of green features, including solar hot water heating, chilled water cooling and passive ventilation. In addition to the Management department, it houses the Law department and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, headed by Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank.

Sadly, I didn’t take my camera this morning. But I snapped a few images on my phone:

New Academic Building atrium

New Academic Building ceiling

We soaked up the autumn sunshine on the 8th floor roof deck:

View from the roof deck, looking southeast-ish toward the Thames

Oh …  and the gorgeous green Lincoln’s Inn Fields square is across the street. Pinch me.

View from the roof deck, looking east toward the park

We left campus and caught up over pho at a new (to me), charming, tasty and cheap Vietnamese restaurant called Bánh Mì Bay, which happens to be located conveniently right on my bike route, about halfway between LSE and home. If I am not at the New Academic Building, you will know where to find me.

Registration of my visa and identity was a success. Next comes actual class registration and orientation on Monday, when the whole thing will become just a little more real.

Self-Made Monday

23 Aug image072

Mondays are the days when my absence of a schedule stares me straight in the eye. Like a dare.

Fully awake, showered, dressed, fed and up-to-date on New York Times headlines by 7am, Mike tells me goodbye and he’s out the door to catch the tube heading south. I, on the other hand, barely gain consciousness for another half hour (minimum).

It’ll be a memory soon. Classes start next month, and as everyone reminds me, I have the rest of my life to work every day. I’m pretty sure I will never again know a time when I have so little day-to-day responsibility as this summer abroad. I don’t even have to walk my dog.

(Okay, that was actually just an excuse for me to post a picture of my dog. He is back in Seattle, being cared for very well this year by our generous neighbor and a loving army of helpers. That’s unquestionably in both his and our best interests, but we still miss him all the time.)

Does his cuteness not make you just want to EXPLODE?

Here’s the weird thing, though. Despite the delicious indulgence of sleeping eight hours on a regular basis, it’s uncomfortable to know that the rest of the city is up and moving toward a destination with a dress code, a familiar task list and a purpose … and here I am for the next few weeks, often still deciding what to have for breakfast at a quarter past nine. Luxurious, absolutely. But also somewhat awkward, and difficult to wear gracefully. Like a shoe on the wrong foot.

Apparently I crave structure. It seems I am Type A! Who knew?

(Just kidding. I am pretty sure everyone knew.)

So the way I can make peace with appearing in public, despite so conspicuous a lack of adult responsibility, is to make a goal of filling each day with something new. Sometimes, the plethora of choice on a wide-open solo day can itself be intimidating. The key is not to find the perfect thing to do, but to find something to do, and then get out the door.

Yesterday, the thing to do was visit the Museum of London. Descriptions of current exhibits featuring hand-drawn neighborhood maps and London street photography caught my attention … and, like at so many London museums, the price of admission is free.

Our flat (A) in relation to the Museum of London (B)

That plan got me to Moorgate, which until today I knew only as the Northern Line tube stop immediately south of our station at Old Street.  Wikipedia describes Moorgate as the connecting link between the downtown City and East London. It’s a financial center, and its character is solidly high-rise and corporate, with a few standout buildings (among them at least one designed by London’s world-famous Foster + Partners). Moving east toward Old Street and further into Hackney, you can easily see the progression getting less and less corporate, though there are still plenty of bulky office towers near our flat. The architecture and street grid at Moorgate seemed overall much newer than what’s found in the old city center:

The museum occupies a street called London Wall, and as I approached its entrance, I saw the ruins of the ancient city fortification from which the street name comes:

Signs said this segment was built on top of the original Roman wall, which was constructed around the year 200.

The Museum of London devotes its two-story main gallery space to a permanent collection chronicling London’s history, from original settlements along the Thames to the present day. Highlights included the Black Death (1348-49), the Great Fire of London (1666) and the Broad Street Cholera Outbreak (1854). Mike and I covered that last one much more thoroughly last weekend in the Wellcome Collection’s “Dirt” exhibit, so I was practically an expert.

I also enjoyed some of the less gruesome vignettes. A collection of 17th and 18th century fashions worn at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (glittering bustles and towering sculptural hats!) was paraded eerily by mannequins posed amid life-size trees and gazebos, beneath a glow of synthetic starlight. And although I’m pretty sure it’s mostly for children, I really liked walking through the museum’s replica of early 19th century streetscapes, with model shop windows and daily business scenes:

In my opinion, however, the two standouts were the installations that I had gone to see in the first place. Hand Drawn London was a series of 11 maps, drawn by amateurs and professional designers of varying ages and backgrounds. The series was created by the popular culture website The Londonist, which invited readers to contribute their own hand-drawn interpretations of the city.

It was a great idea, with imaginative and charming results. One woman had researched locations of famous “firsts” in London, including the spot where the first long-distance telephone call was made, the address of the city’s first coffee shop, and the site of the first electric streetlamp, and populated her map with icons representing the events. A London mother had mapped and described places that suddenly became more important to her when she walked around the city with a toddler in tow: public toilets. An international student at one of Central London’s universities mapped her most memorable experiences around the city, including favorite places for “coffee and pretentious conversation,” destinations for cheap noodles, and a lonely-looking park bench where a mysterious “you” had broken up with her.

A local artist mapped Hoxton Square — our backyard! — with some snarky and, as far as we can tell, accurate summations of what you’ll find there. If you can’t read the photo below, you can see an earlier version of the map online at The Londonist website.

Hand drawn interpretive map of Hoxton Square by Martin Usborne

My favorite two maps were done by an artist who seems to just love looking at the character of the built environment. The watercolor below was his close-up examination of Broadway Market, a narrow street in central Hackney that’s always teeming with local color.

Broadway Market watercolor by Alexander Schmidt

The street photography gallery showcased candid photos by various photojournalists, photographers and amateurs, depicting street life in London from the mid-1800s through the present day. The glimpses of daily life were mesmerizing , and the gallery turned me on to a current project called iN-PUBLiC, an online collaboration by a group of street photographers. The pictures are well worth a look, and I like their mission statement:

The pictures remind us that, if we let it, over-familiarity can make us blind to what’s really going on in the world around us.

Leaving the Museum of London.

I took a bus further into Central London, toward the LSE campus and library. I had hoped to check out some of the books on a list of “suggested” summer reading (scintillating titles such as Debating Varieties of Capitalism: A Reader). I was informed that unfortunately — though not surprisingly — the temporary library pass I received with my admission info packet will not actually allow me to take any books out; that privilege needs to wait until I’ve registered (and, ahem, paid tuition).

But don’t say I didn’t at least try to do the suggested reading.

Here is a view of the extremely urban LSE campus:

I wandered up the street a bit and found myself in front of an archway with a large sign beckoning me through:

The Somerset House was my find of the day. I was (perhaps ignorantly) not at all familiar with the venue, which made stumbling into this gorgeous courtyard all the more of a surprise gift. On a sunny solo afternoon, this was exactly where I wanted to be. Stunning architecture, blue sky, people chattering everywhere and tons of kids splashing in a fountain. How much more idyllic can you get in the heart of the city?

Tween boys and girls are painfully awkward, even in London.

It was right about this time that I realized I was starving. I stepped into a deli overlooking the courtyard and emerged with a baguette stuffed with brie, arugula and cranberry chutney. There were no unoccupied tables to be found, but the smooth stone paving, baking in the sun, made a toasty and comfortable seat. I enjoyed my picnic-for-one while soaking up some sunlight for myself and watching London’s other non-nine-to-fivers celebrate their Monday afternoon.

At 3:30 I caught the bus back to Old Street, picked up some groceries and went home to make dinner and store it in the fridge before heading out on my bike to a volunteer meeting at FARM:shop and an hour of very sweaty circuit training at my new favorite local gym. By the time I biked back home, Monday was almost over.

I’m going to ask you to indulge me for a second. Every once in a while, out of the blue, it occurs to me how lucky I am to be spending this year in a new place, with a new routine, alongside my best friend and forever love. And I’m reminded of the biggest reason I love to travel — which is, now that I think about it, actually not too far from the reason that the street photographers do their work. Again, the quote from their website:

…over-familiarity can make us blind to what’s really going on in the world around us.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to notice every detail of the day. I also know it’s easy to do when I’m away from home, and for that reason, traveling is an ideal, invigorating “reset” button. But the real challenge, I think, is to keep that wonder alive on a daily basis even after the trip has ended, the workweek schedule is reinstated and the illusion settles that we’re living a normal life which no longer needs to be noticed. I can think of some people I know who maintain that wonder very well, but I’m not sure I’d rank myself as high as I’d like on that scale.

I think if I allow one priority goal for this year, it would be to make some sincere strides toward carrying this feeling of daily appreciation and gratitude back home.


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