2012 Spring External Programs Shannon Barter United Kingdom

Getting “Oriented” in London!

The remainder of my first week in London was spent in a hotel, as the IFSA Butler London Orientation continued. I am so grateful I had this week long orientation, because they truly made sure they got us all accustomed to our new surroundings! We went on various walking tours, where we got to see all the major iconic buildings and monuments I had only ever seen in movies. This was a real treat, because our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable on the whole area and showed us a lot of places I would never have thought to venture on my own. One of these places was Horse Guards Parade, which lies in the political center of London, right across from St. James Park. This place is very beautiful, but the thing that is so interesting about it is that this is where beach volleyball is going to be held during the Olympics this summer! Now, as beautiful as the venue is, I would never have guessed beach volleyball could be held there! I took a picture of it (below) and am really looking forward to seeing it transformed come July!

Typical backdrop for beach volleyball?

It was during the walking tour that I realized the first major difference between America and the United Kingdom: the history! In America, Philadelphia is considered to be one of the most historical places in the nation, full of landmarks from the 1700’s. These are awesome to see, and I often remark when in Philadelphia how cool it is to be going to school in a place with so much history. Whilst walking around in London, you realize America’s history has nearly just begun! All of the monuments and buildings here have such a long and intricate history, it is truly fascinating! Whether it be the various palaces owned and lived in my famous monarchs, the beautiful churches, or the parliamentary buildings; so many places here have stories dating back thousands of years! I have decided that one of my goals during my stay here is going to be to brush up on my British History, so I can really understand the significance of all of the amazing sites I see!
Following the walking tour, a member of the House of Lords came in to talk to us about how the British government works. He delved into the history of the system briefly, however I still want to learn more about how their system came to be. He explained that although everyone knows about the famous British Monarchy, this position of “head of state” is really just a figure head. The equivalent of their president is the Prime Minister, and the House of Commons and House of Lords are loosely similar to the House of Representatives and the Senate. He discussed British politics briefly, and this was really interesting to me as well. He explained that Britain is rather supportive of President Obama, and that the upcoming election in the US is going to have a huge impact on Britain and their own politics as well. He also explained that abortion and gay marriage are hardly issues at all in the UK, and political parties are hardly divided at all on these issues as they are all for them.

As interesting as Orientation has been, I am now truly excited to get out of the hotel and move into my residence in the heart of London. So far, the experience has almost felt like a vacation rather than a semester abroad! I am sure once classes start and I am all settled in to my new flat, I can truly start to feel at home. Wish me luck!

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