Learning from Across the Pond

Oh school. The reason I’m actually in London. I almost forgot about that. With all the traveling and sightseeing we do, it’s easy to forget that we’re in this new country to learn. Now Madrid was a breeze- go to Spanish class for a few hours then come back and go exploring. The schedule was the same every day so it was easy to get locked into a routine. But London is a little different. The courses here are more intense and focus on independent learning. We have essays, group projects, readings, and final exams. Compared to the teaching style of Universidad de Nebrija in Madrid, London is the complete opposite.

So here we study at FIE, the Foundation for International Education which is located in South Kensington. The dorms we live in are about 10 minutes from classes and there are plenty of restaurants around. From Nando’s to Burger King, South Kensington has a lot of options. There are two tube stations about 8 minutes away (each). This is really great because the tube is so convenient and easy to use. It takes 15-20 minutes to get to attractions such as Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Covent Garden, and the Borough Markets, which I talk about in more depth in a previous post. It’s really nice to have the school near by, as getting around London does take some time. We’ve become incredibly dependent on the tube, which is not a bad thing but coming back to Philly after using this well organized subway system will be a little adjustment.

In London we are registered for two classes; I am taking Food, Society, and Culture in Britain and History of Modern Design. Out of the two, I was most excited for the food class, obviously because of the food aspect. And I have to say, I’m impressed so far. We’ve attended afternoon tea, learned a lot about the culture and history of England, and have enjoyed many food tastings. Our first food tasting involved classic British food items such as jellied eel, black pudding, and Marmite. We learn a lot about history but in the context of food. So when we learned about England’s role in the world wars, we were taught through food as a lens. Rationing, meal times, and traditional dishes were just some of the topics covered. We’ve also learned about how immigration has effected Britain’s food culture, as Chicken Tikka Masala is now England’s national dish. We’ve experienced cheese tastings and wine tastings in addition to going on weekly field trips. I find that to be really nice that we get to go out and experience the food culture of London instead of just reading about it from a textbook. It really allows us to appreciate this new culture of food and see the effects of history on the food they eat here. We never really think about it but food plays a major part in the development of a country’s culture. And that is exactly what this course teaches us.

The second class I am taking is History of Modern Design. This class is not exactly a favorite of mine, as history has never been my strong subject. I do enjoy going on the field trips, though, as we get to go to really interesting museums. In this class, we go to two museums a week, checking out different exhibits and learning about the progression of design in Britain. We don’t just look at the fine arts, we look at architecture, furniture, and craftsmanship throughout history. It is actually really interesting and all the field trips make it easier to learn.

Learning here has been so exciting! I love going to class and coming back smarter than before. I think London’s education system is very different from the one in Madrid because they focus a lot on independent learning and group work whereas in Spain the teachers really make class interactive and use games and activities to guide you through the curriculum. To simplify what I mean I would say that our London classes focus more on knowing the material for a good grade whereas the Madrid classes focus on absorbing the information and understanding the material. I’ve experienced opposing theories in education during my time in Europe and, personally, I would have to side with Spain. I just learn better when I’m more involved in the learning process rather than having to read something at home then come in the next day understanding the topic.

Studying abroad has been an incredible experience and I would encourage everyone to go abroad!

Until next time, Cheers!

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