Saturday, December 7, 2013

Missouri London Program Commencement Speech

Here is the transcript of the speech I gave to explain the Missouri London program to the other 200 CAPA students, and to share with everyone my wonderful experience this semester. 

Here is a photo of Christina Harrod from Missouri Southern State University, Dr. Frangos, my UMKC professor who has been teaching me all semster in London, and myself from commencement night.

Fundamentally, the Missouri London Program differs drastically from all the other CAPA programs this semester and that is because we only have two students in the program: Christina and myself.

Because of this intimate class setting the school work has sent me through culture shock just as being in London has, however I think this set up is perfect for experiencing London through a well informed lens.

For myself, an English literature student, coming to London was an obvious dream. The first thing I noticed when walking in London were the names of authors, statesmen, monarchs and artist on the streets. Gloucester reminded me of Richard III, Marloes reminded me of Dr. Faustus and I soon learned about Hogarth while studying in my Novel before 1900 class.

The importance of being over here for me is to bring to life characters and places that were impossible to imagine in Kansas City. My first day of class in London brought me to a guided tour of Shakespeare’s Globe. This theatre more than contextualizes Shakespeare’s plays and the Elizabethan age, because it also expresses the determination of Sam Wannamaker to solidify Shakespeare’s influence for new generations. As many of us can attest, seeing a play at the Globe makes Shakespeare’s work a lot more interesting. Even if standing for three hours isn’t your thing, the experience of being a groundling, and the stage-to-audience interaction you get at the Globe makes it totally worth it.

Later during the first week our professor, Dr. Jenni Frangos took Christina and I to the Monument of the Great Fire. Climbing 311 steps to the top of the Monument gave me my first birds-eye, panoramic views of London. The event of the Great Fire forever changed the architecture and city structure of London and these differences were apparent in our class, “The Novel Before 1900”

Each of the novels Christina and I read take place partially or completely in London. Because of this we were able to visit the same places as many of the characters of some of England’s most famous novels. Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Grey just to name a few. Each week we imagined the city during the 16, 17 and 1800’s and would also go out to see the changes several hundred years has had on the setting of early novels. These site visits are irreplaceable in my education and have made me really grateful for my experience in London.

Because of the small size of our program this semester, I was able to have one class all to myself. Each week, Dr. Frangos and I would spend hours discussing Shakespeare in depth, the legacy of his work, and his influence on British culture.

Outside of the classroom we’ve all made lasting friendships and traveled the world either solo or with our new friends. Christina and I are lucky to be each other’s only roommate, but also to actually like each other. We immediately connected for lots of reasons and because of this the past three months have been a breeze.

The first thing we realized it that we both liked quiet places. The gardens of Kensington Palace were an instant retreat for us. Then we started walking to Regent’s Park with our backpacks and blankets, and eventually went Hampstead Heath. Each new park or quiet place toped the one before in atmosphere and landscape. The first week we also bought our Royal Palace passes which we’ve since used to visit the five Royal Palaces of London.

After a month of being in London Christina and I left the city for Munich and Oktoberfest. I think a lot of us CAPA students experienced Oktoberfest so I don’t have to explain what happens there, but I think even better than this drinking festival was our day trip to Fussen and the Neuschwanstein Castle. The castle is situated in a valley between huge mountains, surrounded by lakes, forests, and beergardens. The entire day was a dream.

After this trip we returned home to London where we both began to make new CAPA friends from other programs and get to know our neighbors. Our CAPA classes gave us the opportunity to go on many field studies to places we wouldn’t have known to explore and were better experienced through the class setting such as: the Palace of Westminster, Greenwich, the National Portrait Gallery, the Thames river walk, the Museum of London and the Old Bailey. One aspect I really enjoyed about field studies in all of my classes was the freedom to explore the city from a new starting point after each class. Suddenly I’m not starting from Camden and the Northern Line, but instead we’re plopped in front of Westminster and want to find a place for dinner, or we’ve ended in St. Bartholomew’s Close and it’s time for a Fuller’s. The Site visits get us out of the classroom, we interact with the city and our readings, and we are forced to familiarize with new locations.  

Fall break was a huge highlight for Both Christina and myself. I spent the entire time in Ireland and fell completely in love with the green countryside, the hearty, warm food, and the friendly people. The entire trip was so much fun, from kissing the Blarney Stone, to pouring a Guinness. I think many other people were lucky enough to also visit Ireland and can attest to the light-hearted atmosphere and hospitable attitude in Dublin and the rest of the country.

Again, coming back to London after 9 days away felt like coming home, and we had to get back to work. The schoolwork this semester has been a heavy load, but because the city is an extension of the classroom, I feel as if my days spent exploring were also days spent learning. This semester, like never before in my literature studies, London brought a deeper relevancy to fictional stories. Suddenly a thief running from Leadenhall to the river meant something because we walked those narrow streets, and blowing up the Old Bailey like in the finale of V for Vendetta seemed like a terrible idea. Everyday I spent walking the streets of London I found further connections from streets to store, to boroughs and characters. London makes the fictional real.

Though our program was small, I am glad for the intimacy it allowed for in our learning style. We worked at a steady rate through the centuries as the city of London and all it’s boroughs were defined by: their classes, vocations, and peoples, and we related the early English novels to London’s attitudes today. The Missouri London Program, myself, Christina and Dr. Frangos are happy for this experience and the connections we’ve made through CAPA.

Friday, December 6, 2013

One Week Left in London!

Hey everyone, I'm sorry I haven't written a post lately, but school has been completely consuming me! Really fast I'd like to mention that I have been selected by the UMKC SEARCH department for a research grant! This means that beyond my normal amount of homework I also have research to complete at the British Library, museums, and Jane Austen related cities to visit that pertain to my research! I am so happy for the opportunity to represent the English department in a symposium next April to present my research findings. The other task that was weighing heavily on my shoulders lately was a speech for the entire CAPA faculty, staff and student body. I was representing UMKC and the Missouri-London program so I wanted this speech to really mean something. Luckily it went well and I am always happy for every chance I get to talk to people about my experience studying literature in London. Now, with only one week to go, I've got my bearings back and ready to tackle finals and visit all the last minute places in London. Today I'm going to write about the amazing places and things in the city that I'm going to miss so much!

These are images of the palces that I've been lucky enough to utilize for my research grant studying!
The city of Bath, home to the Jane Austen society and centre.

I'm going to miss simple and quick public transportation. After being abroad for four months driving my car is going to send me through reverse culture shock. Living in central London is a dream, and I'm definitely in a flat I would never be able to afford if it weren't already arranged through my school program! When local Londoners ask me where I'm living and I respond "Kentish Town rd, Camden" they get really jealous. CAPA has given their students beautiful apartments that are a one minute walk from the tube station and thirty seconds to a major bus stop. Public transportation also allows me to read everyday while I commute to Kensington. So I will definitely the London Underground

Our Camden Flats
The Underground
The most beautiful place on Earth, Harrods from the Brompton rd Underground exit.
King's Cross Station!

I'm going to miss the bookstores of London. There are hundreds of bookstores with hundreds of personalities. Some are kitschy, some are ritzy, some look like a hoarder runs the place while others are futuristic and immaculate. I love all of the bookstores and I wish there were more in Kansas City. Hatchard's, in particular is a store off of Picadilly and it is the official bookstore choice of Her Majesty the Queen. The inside of Hatchard's feels like the regal library of Downton Abbey. With it's mahogany shelves and gold painted labels, the old English feel is so prevalent in Hatchard's, it's no surprise that the store has been in business since 1797!

(These three photos are from google.)

I will also miss the markets of London. Markets are an interesting and integral part of the London culture. There are dozens of markets in this city and each is completely and distinctively difference from the next.  Our apartment is only steps away from one of London's most famous market, The Camden Markets. There are the Lock markets and the Stables. The stables have been transformed from obviously, old stables and the Lock markets are formed around canal locks and surrounded by weeping willows, street performers, punks, and musicians. The Camden markets are known for their punk persona and sell a lot of artistic crafts. My other favorite market is Coven Garden market. Some of the London markets have been functioning since the 13th century! Leadenhall market, which has been a trading and commerce space for hundreds of years underwent a beautiful facelift during the reign of Victoria and is still one of London's most beautiful examples of Victorian architecture and design.

Leadenhall Market

I am also going to miss the relationship that I have been able to form with my roommate Christina, and with my professor teaching over here from UMKC. Dr. Jenni Frangos was a professor of mine back at UMKC, she was my internship advisor and also my general English-major advisor. While in London we spent 6 hours a week together in school and many hours outside of the classroom exploring the city together. Because of the small class size (one-on-one, and two-on-one) in the Missouri London program the three of us, Christina, Dr. Frangos and myself were able to adjust class to meet the needs and whims of our weekly readings. We were able to actually walk to streets together and follow the pages of famous English novels. Dr. Frangos will forever be my mentor, my editor, and the woman I most dearly admire as an English scholar, and I am immensely lucky to have been able to study so closely with her this semester. Her knowledge of English literature is vast and her insistence to teach a "study abroad" class rather than a standard "UMKC" class was perfect for our learning style in London. Dr. Frangos always took full advantage of the city by informing Christina and myself of the cultural events pertaining to our studies, to the museums we can tour to enhance our learning, and the authors homes that are open for visits. Because of Dr. Frangos, two girls from Missouri were able to really delve into all the literature possibilities that London has to offer.

The following two photos are me after leading a tour of London according to Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders. My favorite element of my Missouri London classe is that Christina and myself lead the class on four different "site visitis" following the steps of famous fictional characters.

(Shamless Harry Potter plug)
Of all the things I will miss in London, they can't compare to how much I currently miss my family and because of that, I can't wait to get home to Kansas City and hug my little nephew, my mom, dad, mimi, and sisters! One week from yesterday I will be sleeping in my own bed and making future travel plans to keep on exploring!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I am worth the investment!

Sitting at the train station in Fez, after a long flight back to Morocco from France, I received a Facebook message from my friend. I was exhausted, it was two in the morning, and I still had to wait to catch the train from Fez back to Meknes. Sitting in the café, I starting getting knots in my stomach. I was thinking, everyone was probably already notified. I slowly made my way to my email, as my phone was dying. There it was four emails, one with that really scary red exclamation point, which means high urgency! I went directly to the email, only to read:

 "Congratulations Ida, you have been awarded the Benjamin Gilman Scholarship"

I started jumping up and down in the café, the people who were around me were looking at me like I was crazy. After reading the entire email I realized  the email did not reveal how much money I had won. My friend told me she was awarded $1,000.  At this point I was thinking I probably was awarded around the same since I waited until the very last minute to submit all my work because I did everything in my power to perfect my papers.

After I signed into my applicant award recipient, Gilman had notified me I was awarded $5,000. When I read this all I could do was smile and think about all the people who had helped me achieve this scholarship. I did not win this scholarship because of luck of the draw, I told the scholarship committee why I am worth the investment!

The Gilman application was due on October 2, 2013. I started working on this scholarship essay in the summer, two months before I left for Morocco because I knew once I arrived in Morocco it would be a little more difficult to quickly get in contact with my advisors. Who gave me the best directions and outline to think like a winning applicant. I restructured my outline so many times with Emma Sponge, I owe her and Phillip the biggest thanks for helping me think like a committee member.

When writing my essay's I was telling my personal story. I spoke about my identity as a diaspora of the Ethiopia. This is such a large shaping factor of my life, personality, and aspect on life. This is my identity, who I, Ida Ethiopia Ayalew am. I had to prove myself to be worthy of this investment of time and money. I spoke about my desires, dreams, struggles, and achievements. Making it evidently clear that nothing can deter me from the success I desire.

People want to invest in student's futures when they show progress. I polished my resume and made sure to make it clear that my future was in my control. I have to ability to change what my parent's could not change for me, but what I can change for myself. The financial need was also evidently there, being financially independent from my parents, I needed some help trying to keep the cost of student loans very low, if possible none. Regardless if I received the Benjamin Gilman Scholarship or not, I would still have studied abroad for a year, but I would have without as comfortable means the Gilman has provided for me.

After I have completed the rigorous hours of putting thought into my essays, I had to start developing a plan for my on-site project for my school, once I returned from my journey abroad. My project was actually spun out of an initial idea my advisor Kate Wozniak told me about. She explained how not many minority students are afforded the opportunity to study abroad. That's where my idea came steamed from, to start a personal informational setting to work with the Multi-Cultural Affairs Office. I wanted to speak to people about personal experience as a minority abroad, what kind of impact it made on my life and an educational opportunity to help others achieve what I have, loan free.

Without the help of my advisors, I would not have been able to accomplish as much as I have. This year, I am loan free, $21,000 in scholarships to cover the entire year, living comfortably abroad. A HUGE TIP for my fellow students, START EARLY! The early bird really does get the worm. Get help from your advisors, these are the people who are on scholarship committees and understand what people are looking for in an applicant. Studying abroad loan free is possible! You just have to prioritize and put in some hard work.

A HUGE thank you to the International Academic Program Office at UMKC, for all the support, emails, and encouragement.

Ida Ayalew