Liverpool - Chris Rowland

November fifth is a holiday in the UK, particularly England. It is known as either Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night, and it has been celebrated since 1606. It commemorates the failure of what is known as the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. This was an attempt by several conspirators to blow up the House of Lords, killing everyone inside including King James I. They wanted to reinstate a Catholic ruler to the throne of England and Scotland. The conspiracy was thwarted when authorities found Guy Fawkes in the basement of the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Since then, November fifth has been a major holiday for the country. It was originally celebrated by sermons and ringing bells, but has since evolved into a patriotic holiday much like the fourth of July, marked with firework displays all over the country. In Liverpool, the display was set off from barges on the waterfront, and I joined tens of thousands of others on both sides of the river to watch them. The official display lasted for about a half hour, but unofficial fireworks were going off all over the city for hours. Anywhere I looked I could see fireworks going off in rapid succession. Children carried sparklers and flashing lights through the streets. Overall, the city was in a great mood that day, and several days after. They had come together to celebrate, and it was great to be a part of.

Crowds gathered to see fireworks over the Mersey.
Crowds gathered to see fireworks over the Mersey.

Thanks to our membership in the LJMU International Society, we get the benefit of taking several free trips to locations throughout the UK. The first of these trips was to the northern city of York. Besides being the inspiration for “New York,” this city is full of history. Originally founded in the early first century, it is another reminder that English cities are much older than their United States counterparts.

York is just under two and a half hours away from Liverpool, to the Northeast. We travelled in a coach along with 40 other members of the International Society from all over the world. When the bus dropped us off, we were free to explore as we wished, and we had all day to do so. My flatmates and I set off on our own to discover what York had to offer.

As it turned out, York offered quite a bit. There was the architecture—gorgeous and intricate stone buildings from hundreds of years ago. In the center of the city towered the beautiful York Minster Cathedral, constructed between 1220 and 1472. Then there were “The Shambles,” a shopping district dating back to the 14th century. “The Shambles” resembled Diagon Alley from Harry Potter, with narrow streets and eclectic leaning buildings.

Aside from the historic architecture, there was also a good deal of natural beauty in York. In fact, one of the first sights we saw upon arriving was an exhibition showcasing many of the area’s native birds including owls and falcons. The city is home to two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss, and the bridges over them provided a great vantage point from which to view the tree lined riverbanks and the numerous rowers paddling along. Another great spot from which we could take in the natural and architectural sights was the city wall.

York, like many other medieval cities, was defended by a mighty stone wall surrounding it. Much of the wall remains from the 14th century when it was renovated. In fact, it has more wall than any other city in England. To end our day in York, we walked along a few miles of the wall, taking in the view of the city and the surrounding land. Unfortunately, by this late in the day, my camera had run out of battery so I couldn’t get any pictures, but it was a great perspective to see from. I felt immersed in the history of York as I walked along the same stretch of wall and looking at the same buildings that people have been walking along and seeing for hundreds of years.

The grandest of all, Buckingham Palace.

London is one of the world’s great cities, so it was a must for us to plan a trip down to see it while we’re here. On Friday night after we all had finished our classes, we took a two and a half hour train ride from Liverpool’s Lime Street Station to London’s Euston Station. From there, it was only a short walk to the hostel we were staying at. The great thing about studying in Europe is that if you take advantage of the public transportation and hostels, it is much more affordable to travel around than it is to travel from the United States, and the semester affords you plenty of opportunities to do so.

Despite the fact that Liverpool and London are both UK cities, they each have a completely unique character. Liverpool is a diverse port city, but London is the most diverse city in the world. Liverpool has a compact and easily navigable city center, while London has a larger land area than Los Angeles, and as many people as New York City. Liverpool has a history to be proud of, but London’s history is the history of the Western World; from its settlement by the Romans in the year 43 all the way up to today where it is still a center for culture, finance, and politics. We wanted to take in as much of this history as we possibly could in the 3 days we had available to us.

On Saturday morning, we woke bright and early to take advantage of the free walking tour that our hostel provided. This tour was entertaining, informative, and good exercise, as it lasted nearly 3 hours and covered all of the major tourist attractions in London. We saw several palaces including the grandest of them all, Buckingham Palace, home of her majesty the Queen. We also saw the Elizabeth Tower (home of Big Ben, which is actually the bell in the tower and not the tower or the clock itself), the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, King’s Cross Station (where Harry Potter departs for Hogwarts from platform 9 ¾), and the River Thames.

After the tour ended, we continued on our own to see the Shard (the tallest building in the UK), the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and the London Eye. All-in-all, it was a busy and interesting day, filled with equal parts history and beautiful architecture.

On Sunday, having seen all of the major attractions, we decided to venture into some other areas of town. First, we went to Camden Market, a massive area of open air vendors selling all kinds of goods from intricate lamps to sweatshirts to foods from all over the world. After we spent a couple of hours there, we set out to find Abbey Road, home of the studio where The Beatles recorded many albums and the famous crosswalk which graced the cover of one of those albums. This was a bit out of the way, but it allowed us the opportunity to take a double decker bus and see many of the more residential and less touristy parts of the city. It also allowed us a great vantage point from which to see some of the many sports and luxury cars that Londoners drive around—from Lamborghinis and Ferraris to Aston Martins and Rolls Royces.

Later that night, my flatmates took a train back to Liverpool, but I stayed for one more night to catch a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. This venue was by far the nicest I’ve ever been in, and it is another wonderful example of the gorgeous architecture that London has to offer. Before the show, I spent a few hours in the Kensington and Chelsea Library doing my reading for the next day’s classes, and another hour or so enjoying the view of a rainbow from Hyde Park. All in all, it was a perfect way to end a wonderful trip. In those three days, I realized that London lives up to its reputation as a great city, but I also realized how much I appreciate Liverpool. When I got off the train back in Liverpool in the relative quiet of the early morning, I at once felt comfortable and at home. The streets of Liverpool are familiar to me, and I feel like I belong there, away from the hustle and bustle of a 24-hour city like London.

It has already been 19 days since I arrived in Liverpool, and with each passing day I feel more and more comfortable here. During my first week, I struggled with a brief bout of jet lag which saw me awake and asleep at all the wrong times, but I have long since conquered that. Overall, I have been able to adjust to life in a new city quite well.

During the first week I was here alone, so I explored the city by myself on foot. I was able to enjoy the great end-of-summer weather that there was in early September. I saw the waterfront and the Albert Dock, where I spent hours looking out across the River Mersey to the Wirral Peninsula on the other side and enjoying the breeze. I saw both of the huge cathedrals that the city is home to, the Metropolitan and the Anglican. I found my school, about a 15 minute walk from my residence accomodation. I found the Echo Arena. I found the Bombed Out Church from World War II. I found St. George’s Hall (which was used as a filming location for the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off) and dozens of other gorgeous buildings and landmarks.

As I explored the city, a wonderful thing began to happen. Rather than needing to use my phone as a map all of the time, I could recognize my location by sight and navigate through memory. It is an extrordinary thing to learn your way around in a new city, and it is one of the best ways to feel more at home in that city. Not feeling lost all of the time goes a long way toward not feeling out of place. Besides just learning the streets, there were a few other things which required getting used to. The money is different, they use many more coins here than in the U.S. They drive on the opposite side of the road, so I have to remember to look the opposite way when crossing the street. They use different terms, for example “Cheers” means thank you and they call courses “modules”, among many others. It is truly enjoyable to learn and adapt to these differences, and it gives me a great sense of appreciation for the culture of this place.

After a little over a week of living by myself, my flat-mates arrived. They are all fellow SCSU students, and they are all great people. Two of them, Erica Surgeary and Shannon O’Malley are also keeping blogs which you should check out as well. All of us get along great, and it is nice to have others in the same situation learning how to live in this great city together.

Our first major outing as a group was to a food festival in a local park. There were hundreds of stands with foods from all different cultures. I had the interesting opportunity to try a zebra burger which, somewhat surprisingly, was quite good. We have also gone to a pub in the city center to watch the Liverpool F.C. match versus Chelsea. There were hundreds of joyous Liverpool fans singing together as they defeated their competitors. This was a somewhat foreign environment for me personally as a Chelsea supporter, but it was impossible not to enjoy the electryfing environment.

The people here have been nothing but kind, welcoming, and helpful. I have already met and made friends with people from all over the UK, from Ireland, from the Netherlands, from Romania, from Hungary, from France, from Italy, from China, and from India, all come to study here in Liverpool. Indeed, Liverpool is a great student city. It is accessible, safe, cheap, and full of things to do. It is striking how similar we all are despite our different backgrounds, and the world feels just a little bit smaller for it.

Classes finally begin tomorrow, Monday the 26th of September, after a week of registration and introductory information. I am looking forward to studying Shakespeare, British literature, and fiction writing here at LJMU. I can’t wait to meet all of my professors and my classmates. Here’s to a good semester!

Chris Rowland

It’s finally sinking in that I’m leaving home tomorrow. On Sunday, September 4th, 2016, I, Chris Rowland will be departing from the International Terminal of Boston’s Logan Airport. My destination: Liverpool, England. I am spending the first semester of my senior year away from SCSU studying at John Moore’s University. The past 6 months have been spent preparing myself for this journey: obtaining my passport, working with the OIE, securing funding, finding the best deals on airfare, etc. But until I started packing as much of my life as can fit into one suitcase and one carry-on backpack, it hasn’t felt real.

At this moment, I’d quickly like to thank anyone and everyone who has helped me to realize this dream of mine. My parents, family and friends for supporting my decision; the OIE for being so helpful in sorting out the details; and my friends at the School of Business who helped me to afford it. This blog is dedicated to all of you because without you all I certainly wouldn’t be about to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now, I must confess that as excited as I am at all of the prospects which await me overseas, I am equally as nervous. I have never been out of the United Staes before except for a brief foray into Canada, and therefore I honestly don’t know what to expect. I’ve read countless articles online about others’ experiences with study abroad, the culture of Liverpool and the UK, and tips for traveling in general, but until I touch down in a foreign land where I know no one, I am a ball of nerves.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean final exam nervous dread, it’s more of a before the big game excited nervous energy. The chance to trace the Beatles’ footsteps, to feel the buzz of a football (soccer) stadium on matchday, and to study British Literature in its native land all await me, and I can’t wait to experience it and more. I also can’t wait to share it with you all through this blog. By my next entry, I will be in Liverpool, and I look forward to bringing you along with me. Until then, I hope everyone has a safe and productive start to their semester.

Wish me luck,
Chris