Joan in England

I took part in the University of Exeter International Summer School 2013 from the 20th of July to the 10th of August.

How can I summarise a wonderful and exciting experience in a few pages… I will try to be brief, here goes. My preparations for the summer school began when I received a full scholarship to attend the University of Exeter Summer School. The scholarship included accommodation, two meals a day as well as the course fee. However, having got this, I still needed the money for the flight ticket and thanks to the International Office I was awarded the travel bursary.

I applied for my visa just 2 weeks before the day I was expected to leave and I would not advice anyone to do the same because I had to pay an extra R1000 for a faster processing time of my application. I was not sure if I was going to have my visa in time and it was a scary period for me. Luckily, after 4 working days my visa was out.

With everything in order, I was ready to start my adventure in England.

I arrived in London at the Heathrow Airport just after 6am because I had taken a direct flight from Cape Town to London which made my journey less stressful. After I arrived I had to wait for about 6hours at the airport to wait for the shuttle which was organised by University of Exeter which was supposed to take us to Travelodge Covent Garden which was where we stayed during our stay in London. At the airport, I met some of the people who were also attending the summer school and I remember a girl from China giving me a snack which was a tongue of a duck. And what a way it was to start the summer school.



My time in England began with a 3 day orientation in London which gave us the opportunity to explore the capital city and also get to make some friends. My roommate who I was assigned to ended up becoming my best friend for the rest of the summer school. In London we had a very comprehensive social programme which left us very exhausted in a good way at the end of the 3 days. On our first day in London, we had a guided tour of the major landmarks in London. These included, Westminster Abbey, The Cenotaph, No.10 Downing St, Horseguards Parade, Trafalgar Square, The House of Parliament and Big Ben. We also had the chance to visit the National Gallery. At the National Gallery we saw various art works by major artists such as Picasso and Monet. This was a really breath-taking experience for me because I had never seen any of their real work. The whole tour in London was by foot so you can imagine at the end of it we were so tired and had sore feet. But it was all so worth it and would not have traded.

After our day excursion we still had to go and watch Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Globe Theatre. The Theatre still resembled the original theatre in all facets. The major difference was obviously the restrooms and some lighting. The stage was open stage. The amazing part is that there were no sound effects except for the instruments and the voices. I can say the play was well put together and it was just amazing watching it onstage. All the actors were really exceptional especially the Macbeth character. I also liked how they put some humour in the play which made stand out for me. And for me, the fact that I watched Macbeth by Shakespeare in the theatre that Shakespeare did his plays actually made this experience more meaningful for me.

On our second day in London, we took a tour at the Tower of London. I was expecting to see a huge tower but to my surprise it was more of a tower than a fortress. My roommate and I spent some time exploring the tower. There were many artefacts which had been preserved for years. There were also prisons and dungeons in the tower. The British had preserved some of the carvings which were drawn by the prisoners. I also found out that Famous figures such as Anne of Boleyen, were beheaded in the tower. My favourite part of the whole tour was seeing the crown jewels. There was just beautiful and unbelievable. The jewels were just too much and to think that there was also Queen`s crown which was worth about 120 karats was just mind boggling.

After our tour to the Tower of London, next stop was Thames River. The cruise was really refreshing but it was so hot on that day apparently it was one of the highest temperatures recorded in the last 7 years. However, I really enjoyed the cruise were we also saw some major landmarks in London. Consequently, we decided to go to the British Museum. The first thing I wanted to see was the Rosetta stone which was over 3000 years. I did a bit of wondering of the museum, there were really some pretty amazing stuff but it`s surprising that most of the items in the British library was not actually British was from other countries such as the Egyptian tombstones. After a while I got tired, to be honest I am a history geek so most of the things did not excite me.

During the day we had received some news that the royal baby was born. I have never been a royal family crazy fanatic until the day I was in London and heard the baby was born.  The royal family has got a tradition of that they have a banner or rather a note at the Buckingham Palace at the arrival of a new baby. Therefore, a group of us decided to go to the Palace to view the baby announcement. However, there was a huge crowd at the palace as well as various news crews. I squeezed myself to the front of the gate to see the announcement but I was so disappointed that it was just the size of the picture frame and since it was at night I could not really see the was written on it. After this, we went back to the motel and the following day we left for University of Exeter. My time in London was really amazing and I am glad that I got to do most of the things on my bucket list.

University of Exeter:

A brief background about University of Exeter: when I was doing my research for the places that I would like to go for summer school, I chose University of Exeter not because of its reputation but also because of the programmes that they offer for summer school. Not only that, but it was named as the Sunday Times University of the Year 2013.  I chose the International relations course pathway because it was extrinsically linked to what I am studying. As someone who is majoring in public administration I think that what government is also influenced by what goes on within the international relations sphere.  The whole programme consisted of 150 students from 30 different countries which made the programme very diverse.

An interesting fact about the university is that JK Rowling the famous author of Harry Porter studied at University of Exeter. Therefore it is not surprising that most of the elements which are found in her book are based on the traditions and the buildings that are found in Exeter. There are also places such as the Firehouse where she based the Leaky Couldron. There are also bathrooms which are found at University of Exeter which were replicated in Harry Porter. The Diagon Alley in Exeter also inspired by Gandy Street which is a cobbled street which located just off Exeter Street

From my pathway, I really learnt a lot about various issues that included the discourse on security, terrorism, migration, health and security. The fact that we had people from different countries and nationalities, we had diverse perspectives on the issues which made the whole experience quite enriching.  Prior the summer school I had basic knowledge of the Middle East but from our course I got to learn about the various challenges that are faced and the impediments to democracy. The most exciting part was that we had a lecturer from the Middle East as well as some of my classmates who were from Egypt who also provided us with first-hand experience of issues which are occurring in the Middle East. We also explored issues of strategy with the General Sir Paul Newtown. I found his take on military strategy was very thought-provoking because he had practical knowledge on strategy issues and we also got to do a real simulation exercise to deal with a terrorism crisis. I enjoyed all of my lectures and gained invaluable knowledge.

Accommodation: At the University of Exeter, we stayed at Holland Hall.  I really liked my stay there because it felt like I staying in a motel than a residence hall. This is because; we had single rooms with bathrooms. There was housekeeping which cleaned our rooms every day and changed linen every morning. The room also had snacks and tea as well as a small fridge. Therefore, I can say I had a very pleasant stay in Exeter.

Social programme in Exeter:

There were various social programmes that we engaged in when we arrived at the University of Exeter. On the night of our arrival, we had a welcoming Barbeque where we got the opportunity to meet with our lecturers and the student ambassadors. We also had Pub quiz and karaoke night and a Gala dinner to celebrate our participation at the International Summer School.

The major highlight of my summer school was going to the Stonehenge a World Heritage site which is 5,000 year old monument. It was disappointing that we could not touch it or get within 20feet of it .I also got the opportunity to visit Salisbury which is a medieval city with historic streets alleyways and most exciting the Salisbury Cathedral. I found the cathedral to be very enchanting. The Cathedral was completed in 1258. It contains the best preserved of the 4 original copies of Magna Carta which is the English legal charter of 1215. It also has the oldest surviving mechanical clock in Britain.  I also enjoyed going to the Eden Project which is one of the South –West most popular attractions. The aim of the Eden project is to educate people to live more sustainable. There were also some exhibits art work and displays which we also got to view.

I also got the chance to visit St Ives a fishing town with very beautiful sandy beaches. Not only did I get to spend time on the beach but I also visited the famous Tate Gallery which had quite an impressive collection. Lastly but not least I visited Bath a historic city, a place I completely fell in love The city is full of history and such beauty which is beyond words. There, I visited the Roman Baths and the surrounding temple that were built by the Romans.

I can say this experience exceeded my expectations. I went for summer school with just the expectations of learning more about international relations but I get to learn about the British culture got to visit some of the beautiful places at the face of the earth as well as met really awesome people. In conclusion, I leant so much in and outside the classroom and had an amazing experience which I cannot trade for anything else.