Honors in London

January 1, 1970

What It’s Like to be an Honors Student in London

“To halfway through the semester!” my friend, Naomi, cheers as the four of us raise our greasy Shake Shack burgers.

Halfway? My mind nearly melts at the thought. How can it already be halfway through the semester? I start to panic, hoping that I’ve done enough memorable things so far, and planning to make sure I continue going to places I won’t regret not exploring later.

Now, I know a Shake Shack might seem like an interesting choice for a “Halfway Through the Semester” celebration—especially when you’re in a place as culturally diverse as London—but at that point, we were all craving some American delicacies back in our stomachs. It’d been six weeks in London thus far, which was over a month away from our home and our “Houghme.” And, while London is (in my painfully obvious biased opinion) one of the best and most enriching places in the world, food isn’t exactly its best thing to offer.

Thankfully, I had countless amazing experiences to reflect upon, once the last six weeks of our trip were up. From the academics to the fun free times, there isn’t a single thing about the Honors in London experience that I regret or don’t already miss dearly. Every moment was memorable, making all the hard work more than worth it.

Honors Academics

The joke around campus is that the Honors in London students barely survive the semester—and if they do, they should feel blessed. That sounds terrifying to many, and I definitely felt some of that intimidation going into the Fall 2018 London proseminar. Everyone here is smarter than me, I worried. I’m going to absolutely drown in the coursework. As a perfectionist type of student, I wasn’t used to that, so worrying quickly became a habit of mine.

That worry ended as soon as we dove into the material. The proseminar set us up for what we studied while in London, and had us looking at classic scholars from Plato to Virgil to Thomas Aquinas. Then, once in London, we shifted gears and looked at religious writings from theologians such as Martin Luther, classic English literature such as Othello by Shakespeare (in its entirety), and scientific and philosophical writings by thinkers such as Charles Darwin and René Descartes. I never thought that any of these readings would interest me as much as they did (besides Shakespeare; who doesn’t love a good “What, you egg? Young fry of treachery!” moment?), but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed digging deep into the material.

An Immersive Approach to History

The majority of our coursework occurred in a discussion style, deemed as “colloquies.” Our professors would ask guiding questions, and we would respond with what we got from it. If we were wrong, it was no problem; the professors would simply walk us through it and try to get us to find the right answer. They simply loved to hear us discuss, and—as an eager speaker in the classroom—that satisfied me greatly. In lectures, known as “plenaries,” we would receive a three-hour historical account of the time period we were currently studying. These lectures tied in with the literature we read, the art we viewed, and the music we listened to throughout the week.

All of this resulted in an immensely immersive experience. One moment, you’re reading a first-hand account of Europe during World War II, then a few hours later you’re viewing a painting from that same time period in London’s famed Tate Modern, and that night you’re listening to a musical piece composed in response to the war’s heavy impact. All the while, you’re in a place where the war truly hit home. This is what made me fall in love with London: feeling as if I was a part of its history.

Finding Fellowship With the Cohort

my children, it is time

*snaps fingers

My cohort member JT—who has changed his Messenger nickname to “Thanos the liberator” and the cohort group chat name to “infinity semester”—sends these messages the day classes in London come to a halt. He then proceeds to start removing everyone from the conversation. I hate this, another cohort member, Bri, texts in response.

This is exactly how our cohort functioned throughout the semester. We ended up having to split into a jokes-only and a business-only group chat, because we were texting each other so many funny jokes and memes. When you’re in London with a group of about twenty-four people, it becomes easy to grow close to them. The best way my cohort bonded was through humor. We filled the chat with memes of recent readings or funny pictures we sniped of each other. There were many laughs we shared together.

On a more serious note, however, we also grew close spiritually and emotionally. It’s not easy being in a foreign country for months, far away from your loved ones. There’s also a lot of time for things to happen that make you want to run for cover. But, the cohort was always there for each other whenever that happened. With a meeting full of prayer requests every Thursday and shared sit-down dinners every night, fellowship developed naturally in the London cohort. It became one of the most meaningful fellowships I’d ever been a part of—and to this day, on campus, each one of us still feels tied to each other.

Exploring the City

Of course, one of the best parts of the honors experience was exploring London. There was so much to see: Buckingham Palace up close, Westminster Abbey rising adjacent to (the sadly scaffolded) Big Ben, the infamous Wembley Stadium for sports and music fans, and Shoreditch—the “hipster” part of the city, full of cool graffiti and aesthetic small businesses. Anything you could possibly want is in London, fitting for every mood. Feeling historical? There’s a museum on practically every corner. Feeling tired? Bet there’s a Costa Coffee or Starbucks down the street for your caffeine supply. Feeling in need of retail therapy? Oxford Circus—a long stretch of road with all kinds of stores—is just a few subway stops away.

It’s harder to avoid exploring London than it is to actually do it. Just one stop on the Underground—the subway system typically coined as the “tube”—would bring you to a whole new and enriching destination. I had fun spending my free time just riding around in the tube or London’s famous double-decker red buses and getting off at any place that looked interesting. Finding new coffee shops was a great way for me to do this. I tried all different kinds of espresso drinks (as drip coffee is nowhere to be found in London) and talked to many different store owners. I could’ve explored forever—and, although I adventured quite a bit during the semester, there’s still some places I know I need to go back to and explore in more depth.

Altogether, London was truly just a unique and life-changing experience for me. Although it feels good to be back at Houghme, reunited with my field hockey team and non-cohort friends, a piece of my heart is always going to remain in my favorite city. Every bit of the work it took to get there made it extremely worth it, and that’s the magic of the Honors in London program.