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.

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