IFSA Orientation: Part 1

I set my alarm for 7:45, but I woke up at two hour intervals throughout the night and was quite awake at 6:30am, so I decided to just get up. I knew that there were 200+ IFSA students, and our orientation starts at 9:00am, so getting to breakfast early would be a good idea. I walked downstairs at about 6:45, just throwing on some clothes and bringing my cell phone so I’d have something to do since likely no other students would be up. However, when I entered the breakfast room, the girl in front of me looked like a student. I asked if she was also from IFSA, and she said yes, so I asked if she wanted to sit together. I’m really glad I asked, because she’s awesome!

Before I get to that though, let me say that the continental breakfast was actually a spread compared to its American counterpart. They had toast, roasted tomatoes, beans, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, and potatoes. Then further down the way they had two types of yogurt, croissants, ham and cheese (that you could put in the croissant), raisins, hard boiled eggs, and individual packets of cereal.

Back to the other student. Her name is Grace, and she is a Microbiology major at Oregon State University, though she grew up in Hawaii. Turns out she knows Cassie (one of my good college friends). She’s also staying after her program ends, until January 1st or so, and is hoping to travel, but doesn’t have any official plans yet. She told me about the Eurail pass, which gives unlimited travel between 2, 3, 4, or 5 adjacent countries for a certain number of days. I really need to start planning where I want to visit. She started explaining the history of Hawaii, which is very interesting, and partway through the story, a student at another table popped in. It turns out he’s also from Hawaii, and he joined our conversation. I forget his name for the life of me, but he’s going to a university in Cardiff.

When we finished up breakfast, I went to the front desk because the plug in my sink was down, preventing water from draining, but the sink didn’t have any lever to life the plug. The receptionist said she would send someone right up, which meant I was afraid to shower or even use the bathroom since the maintenance person could come by at any moment. I finally gave in to basic preparations like washing my face, and the person didn’t end up coming by.

Orientation was held in the St. Giles Conference Center, which is in the basement of the hotel. When I say basement, I mean what feels like 5 floors underground. So far underground that I’m pretty sure I can hear the Northern line above us (the Northern line is one of the subways/tubes). Instead of being too serious about what I truthfully learned, I think I’ll summarize the fun points. The two directors of the London IFSA-Butler office, Lynne and Andrew, had a funny comedy routine introduction where Andrew kept insisting Lynne was an alcoholic and Lynne insulted him back. It was very funny. We learned that all English are supposedly drunken alcoholics. Charlotte followed up with a more serious talk about the academic differences between the U.S. and U.K., which was sadly very focused on the Humanities departments as opposed to the sciences. At this point I was already pretty tired. Because it had been an enormous 2 hours. I have some adjusting to do when I get back to classes…but at least we had a refreshment break which included tea, coffee, and most importantly, BISCUITS. On the round, silver platter, I saw the love of my life glinting and reflecting in the surface right back at me: Chocolate Bourbons. These are two rectangular chocolate biscuits (think a mix between shortbread and butter cookie for the flavor and texture) filled with chocolate cream. It’s incredibly rich and the best part is dipping it into a hot liquid softens the cookies and melts the cream, so the result is basically ganache. I didn’t want any hot drink, so I just ate mine raw. I saw Grace sitting on the sofa, so I joined her conversation. That’s when I met Anna, who is the person in charge of the Community and Culture course that IFSA-Butler offers. All three of us talked about current politics and such, which was very interesting, and described our majors. Then we headed back inside.

Anna then led a discussion on critical thinking in the UK context. Aka college essay writing. Or at least that’s how the HSA department at Mudd requires us to write our essays. The most important part of the lecture was her introduction, “So it’s true that all English are drunk. I had a pint earlier and I’m drunk right now and don’t know what I’m doing”. She proceeded to give a presentation with some inappropriate language and examples. But in a way that wasn’t too insulting but more than anything hilarious. This was followed by lunch, which was held upstairs in the hotel restaurant. I made sure to high-tail it out of the conference rooms as there are over 200 students, and though we had two lunch shifts, I still didn’t want to wait in line with 100 students. I wanted. My. Food. However, the staff at the front of the restaurant were a little frustrated saying that we were 15 minutes early. So we were told to sit down. I sat down at the table closest to the buffet area to make sure I could pounce on the food as soon as possible. But no one else behind me decided to go for that table, instead sitting down at larger tables further away. I was worried for a while that maybe there were fewer students than tables, and that I would be alone and should move. Thankfully my table then filled up. This lunch table ended up being the starter for my current (and by current I mean I’m writing this on September 17) IFSA-Butler friend group.

Lauren, a Scripps student I had met at dinner the night before, was to my right. Christianne and Alex were also there. I forget who else…but anyways, we had a lot of really good conversations. We talked about Harry Potter for a while, then diverted to fantasy novels in which I explained the concept behind my shirt. Travis, the Hawaiian guy from breakfast, had read the Mistborn shirts, but hadn’t realized that my shirt was a reference to the novels. I made it with my college friends. It has the allomantic symbol for bronze on it, with ‘bronze’ written underneath. Each of my friends chose a different metal, which give you a different power when ingested and ‘burned’ or metabolized.

Anyway, lunch consisted of baby carrots, peas, chicken, salad, and lasagna.

St. Giles Lasagna

At first I was going to skip dessert, as the choices were fruit salad or cheesecake, and I’m picky when it comes to cheesecake (extreme dairy can sometimes upset my stomach), but then I thought, “Why not? It’s free!!”. And the cheesecake was actually really good. It was a plain New York Cheesecake with a good graham cracker crust, but the top had a strawberry glaze. Om nom nom!

Afterwards a few of us decided to meet up in the lobby after gathering some stuff from our rooms and exploring the area around the hotel during our one hour break before orientation started up again for the afternoon. I know Alex, a Portuguese girl, and Christianne were there, but for the life of me I can’t remember if Grace came with us as well. I think Travis was there too. I walked us to the EE store (EE is a cellular carrier like Verizon) so Christianne could get a phone that works in the UK. While she was helped the rest of us chatted and drooled over Alex’s description of her family recipes. Mostly we just walked around. There’s a store near the hotel called Primark which has clothes and housing supplies and such, but mostly clothes. There are at least two floors filled with women’s clothes! This is one of the few affordable stores according to the IFSA-Butler folks. £12 for a shirt really isn’t too bad (that’s about $18). At some point I need to shop either there or at some other store since people in London are very fashionable and the clothes I brought with me consist mostly of t-shirts, sweatpants, and yoga pants. I need to develop a fashion sense and fit in. After walking up and down the street, we returned for our afternoon orientation.

The afternoon consisted of a safety talk by a former policeman. According to him all English are petty thieves. Your body is pretty safe here, but it’s your belongings that aren’t. He actually has two wallets on him, one that’s only filled with £10 and an expired credit card, and another real wallet. That way if he’s mugged, he can offer up his “wallet” and hopefully the mugger will go away. The rule of thumb is give up your stuff if you’re mugged, otherwise your body could get hurt. Weapons aren’t allowed in England, so you can’t carry knives or guns with you. Guns are outlawed in general and the English are really confused as to why Americans would be crazy enough to allow people to bear arms. So the only weapon you really have to defend yourself in case of a mugging is your brain. You can also use whatever means you have around you, but can only use whatever force is necessary in that circumstance. For example, if someone is threatening your life with a knife, knocking them out with a chair is okay. But if they weren’t threatening you yet or something, then you would get in trouble in a court case.

Anna came back in the afternoon to describe the Community and Culture course that I’m able to take with IFSA-Butler. It meets once a week on Tuesdays and we will critically discuss our experiences here and explore more of London’s culture. Essentially it sounds like a bunch of fun and will let me get more out of my study abroad experience. But by 4:30, we were all exhausted.

After the last session of the day, I was torn as to what I wanted to do. I wanted to hang out with my new IFSA-Butler friends, but I was also tired and kind of wanted to be alone. However, I needed Wi-Fi so I could update my blog, and also was hungry for a snack. The solution? I asked Christianne what she was up to and she responded that she and Lauren were leaving to find Wi-Fi and a snack. Yay! Exactly what I was planning! I met them downstairs with my rainjacket and backpack and we walked over to a Starbucks. Though it was cold outside, I didn’t feel like something as creamy as hot chocolate, and as I don’t really drink coffee or tea, I settled for my regular: a Frappuccino. Typically I go for the Double Chocolatey Chip Frappuccino, but they didn’t have this flavor. Instead they had “Chocolate Crème”. So of course I had to order this flavor to compare and contrast. I also learned that my Starbucks card works in England, despite the fact that my balance was in U.S. dollars. Sadly, when I went to pick up my drink, which took a long while to be prepped, there was a vertical slit through the side of the cup, so the drink was beading up along the sides and if you tried to hold the cup it would open and the drink would drip out. I told the worker, and at first he tried wiping it off. Why would wiping Frappuccino off the cup fix the issue of a crack???? It took a while for him to realize that he just needed to make a new one in a different cup. So by the time I got my drink, Lauren and Christianne were just about done with theirs.

So, now to compare and contrast the Double Chocolatey Chip Frappuccino and Chocolate Cream Frappuchino. The Double Chocolatey Chip is more icey and chunky. You can taste the chocolate chips blended into it, and the whole texture is more cold. The Chocolate Cream was much creamier, and the chocolate flavor was blended as a whole throughout the drink as opposed to more concentrated in the chocolate chunks for the Double Chocolatey Chip. I was overall very impressed.

The internet wasn’t working well for any of us, so we packed up early and split up, as Christianne was going to meet up with some friends to go to the Globe theater, Lauren was going to see Phantom of the Opera, and I wanted to try a different Starbucks for better internet. Thankfully I hadn’t finished my Frappuccino yet, so I didn’t feel guilty stealing a table at the Starbucks closer to the hotel. Sadly the internet was still finicky.

The rest of the evening involved meeting up with a friend at Holborn station, which was an interesting adventure. See, part of Oxford Road, which leads conveniently to Holborn, is closed for construction, so I had to do a more roundabout way. However, I did make it there safely and met up with my friend. It was nice walking about at nighttime.

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