Special Staff-Student Relations
By removing both the professor and student from the confines of the American university and traditional classroom setting, The Culture of London Program insists that learning, be not only pro-active, but occur throughout the city. Students gather for class given daily at Reid Hall, attend lectures at various art galleries and history museums, take architectural walking tours, visit cathedrals and governmental landmarks, attend plays at London's many theatre houses, and engage in conversation with fellow classmates and teachers on Tube cars, in jazz clubs, and even between pints of Guinness in pubs. Being in London, not only affords the program participant an opportunity to study British culture on-site but exists as a non-academic milieu for non-hierahical intellectual exchange between teacher and pupil.
Teaching assistant, Danny Siegel (center in black) is surrounded by students on the last day of classes.
Danny Siegel, a former teaching assistant to the London program, comments on the study abroad experience and the program's general impact on the participants.
"What is it about the London program that lingers? . . . that
makes you wish, months after you've recovered the American life
which is after all the one you really want, that you were back
over there, thrown together with strangers, getting lost in
Pimlico? For me the lure is in the fragile community that
forms under the pressure of the city. Both years I've attended
the program, I've had a similar experience: a quick sense of
familiarity with the whole group of participants, followed over
three weeks by a realization that I hardly know any of them -
that everyone has a secret life which really just shows around
the edges. As instructors and students at home, we get to know
each other after a fashion. In London, though, you're caught
off guard; you tire out and reveal things; you can't always
live the life of the mind; sometimes fish and chips wins out
(shockingly) over a concert at St. Martin's. Also, the stress
that the London program places on things that change within the
city, really breaks down the "expertise" that stands between
teachers and students in an ordinary classroom. Everyone is
confronted by the new, the unexpected, and in the space of a
second all you can do is react. It all seems a little
frightening, in retrospect! It's a different kind of education."
"My sense is that the London program has two objectives, the first one explicit, the second one less visible but completely palpable. The first objective is to reveal the city of London in as many aspects as possible - historical and contemporary, countless times imagined and reimagined, but always lived in by real people. The second objective relates to the experience I described above; it is to give a group of students the opportunity to live an intense intellectual and emotional life away from the usual concerns of "home" and "school." The fascination of London itself has worked strongly on the program participants, many of whom find ways afterwards to get back to London as soon as possible. But the second aspect of the program - the separate life it allows - has also affected participants strongly. Reading student journals, I was able to see how many students found in this course a chance to explore their own boundaries, to discover how they were like and unlike their peers, how they confirmed or bristled against their own self-conception. Far from being a corollary feature of the course, this opportunity for reflection and articulation seems to me an essential part of its mission."
A rainy picnic with Professor Levenson in Hampstead Heath.
For many former participants like Lisa Schievelbien, the experience of studying in a foreign country meant attending various cultural events. By doing so, Lisa felt less an outsider or visitor to London and more a member of the city's thriving community. Lisa recounts her fondest memory of London:
"The Nick Cave Meltdown at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall counts among the most pure and thrilling experiences of my life. Nick Cave (songwriter, poet, and leader of his band, The Bad Seeds) organized this summer-long art festival, and I caught a spoken-word event one June night called 'The Sacred and the Profane.' Cave opened the show with three songs from his album Murder Ballads, and his guest artists read poems, smoked chains of cigarettes, churned out white noise on keyboards, and told engrossing stories. I may have been the only American there, which made me feel like a spy, a cultural voyeur. Later though, as I walked along the South Bank, the smell of the Thames mixing with the cup of peppermint tea warming my hands, I knew that I was in just the right place."
Lisa Schievelbien (center in orange) at the Primrose Hill picnic.
She also notes some advice for future program participants:
"Visit the Courtauld Gallery and the National Gallery. Catch cheap movies at the Prince Charles Cinema and listen to street musicians in Leicester Square. Eat at the pasta take-out shop a block from the Hampstead Heath tube stop. Shop at the Charing Cross bookstores. Don't get on a bus after midnight (when the tube closes) unless you're absolutely sure it's not going to drop you off in a shady neighborhood across the river. Always keep ten or fifteen pounds in your pocket. If you have to pick, visit Cambridge instead of Oxford and go punting. Spend an afternoon in Camden Town market, where there's good coffee at the Bean 'n' Cup (I 04 Camden High Street) and cheap cashmere sweaters at Stitch Up (45 Parkway). Tell loved ones to make copies of letters they mail to you at Regent's College--they may never arrive."
Aside from the close relationship between professors and students, the program also helps to foster strong friendships among students. Participants not only explore and study London through the various fieldtrips and classroom discussions, but they rely on each other for initial comfort and company in an unfamiliar country and culture.
Three's Company in rainy London (my favorite photograph).