I spent my last three paychecks on clothes. I packed for two weeks. And I decided to weigh my suitcase one day before we depart. Packing, unpacking, rearranging, packing again and I’m back to the drawing board.
It’s midnight, the night before my flight. I hop back onto my computer. My eyes squinting and watering as I try to read over my three different checklists. Am I packing too little? Am I packing too much? Do I need to unpack and rearrange again? Quickly I roll last minute clothing into the sides of my suitcase. I take out my blow dryer, I add another pair of shoes, and I run though my checklists one last time. I am finally done packing. I manage to zip it up…what a relief. Now time to weigh it. I struggle to lift my suitcase as I weigh it on my scale at home. I give up. It’s time to head to the airport. Will my bag be under the recommended 50 pounds?
Now at the airport. Ready for three weeks in London. I head towards the station to check my bags. My bag weighs in at 57 pounds. Yes, that’s right… 57 pounds of clothing…for three weeks. Am I insane? No. Just a girl. Six pairs of shoes, four jackets, countless pairs of pants, shorts, dresses, sweaters, shampoo, conditioner, toiletries, towels, and…. well the list goes on, so I’ll save you some time and remind you, it weighed in at 57 pounds! I unfortunately pay the $100 dollar “overweight” fee. Why? Because, I am a girl! After the regretful $100 dollar fee is charged to my card, I think I am finally ready for London. I was ready to sweat, stumble, and trip on my journey to London.
Finally in London. Wishing I would’ve listened to my professor. Hearing the words “make sure you pack light” circling through my head. On my way to the hostel. I squeeze myself and my 57-pound luggage onto the subway during rush hour. Everything is a blur. People are rushing to work at 9 am, and struggling to find a place to stand on the subway. My luggage blocks the entrance as it sits on my feet. I’ve lost all feeling in my toes. My feet feel like they are being crushed by a boulder. Struggling to lift it as people try to exit, an older gentleman finally directs me to where my luggage should be sitting. Next to the door, I see a small space where no one is standing-an open area that looks like it was made for my luggage. The small area is about 5 feet from me. I can’t do it. I dodge in and out of a crowd of sweaty people. The subway is moving and shaking and I can’t keep my feet stable on the ground. I make my way across the car. Frantically shuffling, sweating, and falling over my bag, I finally was able to find a place for my burden I call a suitcase.
I make it out alive. I follow the “way out” sign, this is the British form of “exit”. I regretfully look up towards the stairs of death. 20 steps. A 57-pound bag. And a 120-pound girl. You can do the math… it doesn’t add up.
If you have ever spent a single day with me, you would know how much I dislike litter. If I see it around town or on a walk at all, I pick it up. To put it into context, a person that litters is the Wicked Witch of the West to my Dorothy, we don’t get along and I want to melt them for being so rude.
To me personally, litter is pointless and makes absolutely no sense. When someone litters, they are literally destroying the earth and harming wildlife and nature with each thing they carelessly toss on the ground. So, typically I pick it up if I see it and throw it away without making a deal of it. You might ask yourself: “If you don’t make a deal of it in America, why make a deal of it in London?” Well, because it is everywhere.
London should be called “The City of Very Few Trashcans”. Which seems strange because back in 1858 there was a great stink that affected London. People were dumping human waste into the River Thames (a very popular and central river in London). On a hot day, the sun heated up the waste causing the whole town stink.
Fast forward to 2015, a new epidemic is affecting London: litter. In a radius of 10 miles on the streets of London you will be extremely lucky to find a single garbage can. IF you are so lucky to find more than one in this radius mentioned, it would be very advisable to go out and purchase a lottery ticket, because you are clearly a very lucky person.
Garbage cans that are around town are typically overflowing with garbage, with garbage sitting around and on top. It is a very hard and un-fun predicament to be in. Everyone is littering around me and litter is found everywhere; ground, trees, fountains, subways, everywhere. I either have to carry around my trash for a long long time or set it gracefully on the ground with all of its friends. So far, I have been stuffing it in the purse I carry around till I do find a garbage can.
I only hope that by the end of the trip I have not converted into litterer. I only hope that I, Alexander Hagen, will be able to stay strong, persevere, and keep helping my main girl mother earth by not supporting this disgusting and harmful habit.
I walked into St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in London, and was immediately overwhelmed. Baroque architecture (the style used to build St. Paul’s) might as well be next to the word extravagance in the dictionary. But I’m going to skip past describing all the statues, pillars, domed ceilings, paintings, mosaics, monuments, tombs and chandeliers within the cathedral, because honestly, you can Google it all. What I really want to tell you about is something you can’t experience through Google.
Within the crypt (which was gigantic, much larger than a normal church crypt—it was the entire length of the church above it), there was a small room towards the back end, called the Oculus. The room was about 15 x 15 feet. When I walked in, the room was dark, illuminated only by the floor-to-ceiling screens on three of the walls. People were scattered about, leaning against or sitting by the four pillars arranged in a square in the middle of the room. I took a spot on the floor against a pillar towards the back. My feet and calves throbbed in time with my heartbeat.
There was a film showing on a loop that gave a visual history of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Right outside the room there was a timeline of St. Paul’s and prominent events that occurred at the church. The Oculus took this physical timeline and made it into a visual history with pictures, music, and sounds. As the film started, ancient lute music played in the background and pictures appeared on the screen, with subtitles documenting the year and event.
There have been four different churches on the site, starting in 604 A.D. The Anglo-Saxons built the first church. Historians aren’t entirely sure what happened to this church, but they do know a different church was built in 693 by the Anglo-Saxons again. This one burned down in 962 and was rebuilt again in the same year. The church burned down yet again in 1087 and wasn’t completely rebuilt until 1240.
St. Paul’s Cathedral burned down for the last time in 1666, in the Great Fire that razed almost the entire square mile of the City of London. A picture of flames flashed on the screen, then the sound of fire crackled softly through the speakers, quickly growing in intensity. The projector zoomed in on the flames, the screen grew brighter, and I had to squint from the sudden brightness.
This is just one of the few striking events the Oculus covered. St. Paul’s also survived Hitler’s Blitz during WWII thanks to the courageous men and women who were part of the St. Paul’s Watch. When incendiaries hit the ground, they would run towards the freshly exploded bombs with buckets of water to put out fires before they destroyed the buildings around them.
Shortly after the Blitz picture, the film ended and the screen went black for a few seconds before starting at the beginning again. I stood up and followed the others out into the crypt to continue my tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
When discussing London, one thing you can count on hearing is the common phrase of the London Underground’s intercom system: Mind the Gap.
The slogan that is on t-shirts and signs, and is adorably copied by excited tourists and children pertains to the gap. It is the space between the tube car (the subway car) and the platform you’re arriving at. The words are a practical warning to a generally clumsy population.
Then why do we love these words so much? Is our love based on the friendly female voice that calls out before the car doors open? Or perhaps our love is due to the simple sound of the catch phrase that accompanies the rather complex series of underground rail systems? Or simply, us tourist love British things and go gaga for anything said with an accent that we can repeat? The world may never know.
On the tube, our class of American tourists has no shame about projecting that we were in fact, tourists. We talk and laugh on the otherwise silent car, tease about being super confused about the tube, call out our new favorite hashtag, #lostinLondonWSU, and repeat ‘mind the gap’ at least once every time we board.
I am not specifically skilled at ‘minding’ anything and thus the phrase caters to clumsy patrons such as myself. As we were boarding the car, I did a little trip-and-catch-myself dance before the poles and guard-rails came to my rescue, preventing me from doing a hard face-plant. When the only other alternative is train surfing or bracing yourself against other riders, you chose the pole! Which brings me to my next point: spontaneous pole dancing!
To add an extra bit of awkwardness to my narrative, when first standing on the train I was totally befuddled as to which direction the train would be jolting us. With only two fingers really gripping the pole, I swiftly pivoted around it, whooping in surprise as the tour group balanced themselves out. I remained upright but a bit too twirly. Giggles abound as I recollected myself and struck a pose! It wasn’t quite a Bridget Jones on the fire pole moment, but it was a spontaneous display of my tourist awkwardness!
Thankfully, other people’s inner pole dancer emerges whilst riding the tube for not being prepared for the sudden departure. I am not the only one out there I swear! The fact that the tube’s conductors have specific announcements calling attention to the gaps in the line or staying clear of the doors means that enough people had issues with the gap to require a loud speaker to be installed.
When people say that traveling really brings the best out of you, this is not what I had expected. Sure, I assumed I would gain an appreciation for the public transportation, London’s complex design, and for its people through various methods of watching them (not creepily, I promise). What I was not excepting was being taught to be more mindful about gaps, directions, and proper pole techniques!
Now this is a story all about how my life got flip turned upside down
Midwestern, Wisconsin born and raised
on the right side is where I spent most of my days.
Walking or driving it was all cool.
Going home or down the hallway at school.
When I went to London it wasn’t all good
Everyone walked on the left in all the neighborhoods.
I bumped into everyone so I sent a quick prayer
Please don’t let me get lost in the stairs
I hope anyone who has seen the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rapped that to the beat of the theme song. But in all seriousness, London life really is opposite. Almost everything is done on the left rather than the right. Will Smith’s life was “flipped-turned upside down” when he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle; he did not know anyone or how to get anywhere. This is exactly how I felt when we landed in London.
The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane was how everyone was walking on the left, at a fast pace. If I had a dollar, or rather a pound, for every Londoner I bumped into or almost took out with my suitcase I could probably afford a plane ticket back to the United States. That’s exaggerating a bit, but I did bump into people a lot.
Londoners also drive and park on the left side of the road. Traffic is always crazy, which stresses me out and I’m not even driving. However, I was impressed. Especially, with those who managed to parallel park. I can’t even do that on a deserted street.
As crazy as London is, I absolutely love it. After five days of bumping into strangers and nearly getting hit by a car or two, I am finally getting used to the whole stick to the left thing. It may be hectic at times, but it really seems to work for the city. I just hope I remember to stick to the right once I get back home.
See you on the flip side,
We stepped out of the King’s Cross underground station and were met with the sight of Victorian and Georgian buildings; narrow buildings composed of rough brick in all hues and clock towers soaring overhead. We looked up at the buildings as we wheeled out luggage along uneven, cobbled sidewalks and tried not to bump into the people rushing past.
Suddenly, the light reflected off of a metal surface. A flat fronted metallic building was nestled amongst the buildings of brick and stucco. This modern building stuck out like a big silver thumb, but at the same time, it fit in with the feel of the city as a whole. London is an ancient city that is also incredibly modern at times, and this blending is what makes London so unique. It is a city full of juxtapositions.
The people here are just as diverse in their appearances and behavior as the buildings surrounding us. People of all ethnicities and races call London their home and choose here to visit. An average of 300 languages are spoken in London every day. On any given day here, it is not uncommon to hear French, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and many more languages. There are some days I hear more “foreign” accents than British accents. So there is no stereotypical Londoner. Some stereotypes of Londoners I’ve heard or thought of myself are that Londoners are very proper and everyone wears a bowler hat and walks with a cane or parasol.
I’ll admit, I’ve seen a bowler hat or two atop the head of a subway underground street musician, but Londoners are much more complex than that. In some aspects, they are very proper; while traveling up or down an escalator, it is proper to stand on the right side of the elevator so that people who want to pass you can do so on the left. I was promptly warned of this rule the very first time I stepped on the escalator, and a native Londoner kindly told me to please stand on the right.
However, once on the street, all bets are off. No one adheres to walking on the left or the right sides, but everyone proceeds to pursue the fastest route for them. It is chaos on the sidewalks. It is also not uncommon to see a couple French kissing on the sidewalk, causing traffic to diverge around them.
So while Londoners can be proper at times, they are very lax about other things that we in America would find strange. So while we think of London as an ancient city full of people who speak in British accents and act very proper, London is actually an incredibly diverse city full of ancient and modern, propriety and discord, and white and all the other colors of the rainbow.
It all started after the Clink78 hostel common area closed and we ended the night with London Bridge, by Fergie. Such a brilliant song to play while visiting London right? The lights turned on and the conversation started. I got the chance to talk with people from all over the world because a lot of people didn’t want to go to their rooms just yet. One of my conversations was with a British male, born and raised.
Recently I have been becoming across green signs that said TO LET. I asked him, “To let what?” I don’t understand why they didn’t finish the sentence. TO LET….. you go to the bathroom, or TO LET…… you go to the restroom? He really couldn’t answer my question as to why the bathrooms were called “To Let”, he told me that is something I should Wikipedia. Another guy popped in his head and said, “It means Toilet they just forgot the I and the L. I introduced myself and he was visiting from Uganda. It was very interesting to get different perspectives from how others interpreted signs. Although his interpretation of TO LET made for a good laugh.
Turns out “To Let” means a room or property available to rent, as some bathrooms are 20 to 50 pence (cents).
I wish there were universal signs for bathroom or fire escape so basic things were not so confusing. I saw a green sign with a little white man that looked on a mission to go to the bathroom.
I thought, “That guy is running to the bathroom”– naturally because in London there is a variety of signs that mean bathroom.
Turns out that it actually was a fire exit sign, quite embarrassing, but it made me wonder if there are signs in the United States that are a little different that we have just become accustomed to? Kind of like my conversation with the guy who has lived here his whole life and could not explain what “To Let” actually meant.
The second you get off the plane, you know you are no longer in the states any more. For one you walk straight off the plane and are immediately outside to get your baggage in the open, yet humid, air. Many of the people that would stop us and ask us what we are doing on the island would say “what could you possibly study here?” but with an island rich of history and culture, I do not know how you could go there and not learn something new.
We got a historical tour of Christiansted from a native named Miss V. She walked us through the area called Free Gut, which was the only area the “freed colors” were able to live. She also talked about how many of the people enslaved were not sold into slavery by their own kind but trusted the wrong people and tricked into thinking they would just be providing a service.
Law enforcement on the island is different than in the states. We were going down the road nearly 30 miles over the “speed limit” without having to worry about being pulled over. While talking with some locals who were fishing on the end of the pier in the restricted area and were asked if we wanted to go with to see, they had said law officials would not do anything about them being there, and they were right, but it was not an idea we were used to. With us having white privilege and a lack of law enforcement, white islanders, and tourists in particular, could get away with a lot without getting in any kind of trouble, slightly different than that of the states.
While on the island we were all assigned work sites. I was assigned to work with the Women’s Coalition, which works with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. The Women’s Coalition works hard to provide as much support to survivors as they can. One way they do this is with their shelter to allow protection for victims on the island. A unique thing about the shelter is that it is located in the center of town, instead of the middle of nowhere, like shelters in the states, because the community is so tight nit, by having neighbors so close they can keep an eye out for the shelter and the survivors staying there. With St. Croix being a territory and not a state they do not get as much money from the government so they have to fundraise to produce enough money to support all their services. One of their main incomes comes from their thrift store, Closet to Closet. It is similar to a second hand store but is slowly working its way up to feeling more like a typical retail store. The Women’s Coalition offer other services including advocacy, educational programs, and support groups for survivors and their families.
We were able to meet with so many intelligent people on the island all able to bring input and get us to understand our shared history with the enslaved Africans and the long history the island has with it. The extremely knowledgeable Olasee Davis shared multiple articles including one to show how Enslaved Africans freed themselves of slavery by multiple revolts and their final revolt by threatening to burn the entire island.
(The view from Maroon Ridge. Breathtaking!)
Professor Davis had also taken us on hike to Maroon Ridge, which is beautiful and rich in its history. Maroon Ridge was an area where slaves who had escaped would hide in the cliffs and on the hills, as they had nowhere to run. Many were left with the option of being caught and brutally tortured or jumping from the ridge in the belief that their soul would return to Africa. It was extremely chilling standing at a spot many had once jumped from.
(Professor Olasee agreed to take a photo with us in front of this old light house.)
Before going to the island we were required to read Voyage of the Sea Turtles by Carl Safina and learned about sea turtles and their interaction with the island. We were fortunate enough to watch a leatherback sea turtle lay her eggs on Sandy Point Beach. The process for the leatherback to lay her eggs is quite lengthy but extremely fascinating to watch. Our guide was able to answer most of our questions about leatherbacks but there is still so much we do not know about their life in the sea. However, we do know their laying process in that they will go into a state of trans as she digs a hole and begins to lay her eggs. When she finishes laying her eggs she carefully covers them up and begins to mix the sand around it to disguise where she laid them and make her way back to the sea and never get to see her babies.
The island is rich with history and I was so grateful to learn it all and experience it first hand.
The moment I stepped out of the plane in St. Croix I knew that I was in for the experience of a lifetime. The warm sun beating down on my skin and the beautiful palm trees that surrounded me created an atmosphere of pure bliss. The beauty of the island is truly magical, but it was the people and the history of St. Croix that made me fall in love.
My very first night on the island, I attended a town meeting regarding a project to try and recover artifacts from several sunken ships used in the transportation of enslaved Africans believed to be near the island. Although I attended this meeting to learn about the project, I left learning far more about racial stratification. Most people seem to tiptoe around the topic of race, but the people at this meeting spoke from the heart and directly addressed their feelings of frustration about how only white people were standing up there trying to research their history, and their culture. They advocated for wanting to be able to involve their younger generation in this project, as well as the strong desire to keep their history alive on the island. I walked out of the discussion with so many internal questions on, “How would I feel if someone came to try and research my heritage and life being the complete opposite of me?” This question is a very valid one, and also one that has no simple answer. Being able to listen to the islanders, so passionate about their heritage, both recovering from the past and pursuing positions and information for their newer generation, was stunning. This meeting provided the perfect introduction to the culture of the island.
I had the opportunity to visit the St. George Botanical Garden and the Estate Whim Plantation. On these tours I was able visually see the history I was learning about. It’s one thing to read about the slavery on the island, but standing next to the giant sugar mill and witnessing the vastness of the plantations was emotional. Learning about the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and specifically its effect on the island of St. Croix, shaped a large aspect of my travel study.
I also got to go on a walking tour of one of St. Croix’s major towns Christiansted. In 1735, Christiansted was officially founded by Danish West India on behalf of the Danish Monarchy. Race and class were clearly explained and shown in physical location during the walk around Christiansted. For example, the free blacks were only able to live in the part of town called ‘free gut’, which was in the lower and undesirable area of town. In comparison, the white people who had higher rank and class were able live in the elaborate, and elevated American Hill. We can often analyze how race and class affect our daily lives, but witnessing the clear distinction in elevation and quality of housing that divided the races was very eye opening and thought provoking. The walk around the town provided me with an abundance of knowledge and appreciation for the town of Christiansted.
Another huge aspect of the trip was exploring the environmental causes that are at play in St. Croix and learning the importance of conservation on the island. We had the opportunity to go down to the beach at night and watch a leatherback sea turtle lay her eggs. The leatherbacks are an endangered species currently, and being able to spend the night learning more about them from the people who are working tirelessly to provide a perfect safe haven for them to lay their eggs was moving.
We also had the opportunity to go on a walk to explore and learn about the Baobab tree. If it had not been for this tour and the articles we read prior to the tour, I would have passed by the tree without a clue of the significant role that they play here in St. Croix. The rebellion of 1878, known as Fireburn, was an uprising for better wages and rights for the laborers of sugar plantations. They sought these rights by protesting and burning down multiple plantations along St. Croix. . If it weren’t for all of the influential women and men who fought and suffered to earn their freedom, and their rights for equal pay, there would have been no change or progress. It is very important to pay respect to those who were instrumental in these acts of resistance, and make sure that we continue to educate and empower people to continue acts of resistance when it is needed. During this walk Olasee Davis, an ecologist and professor at the University of the Virgin Islands, shared that he still engages in acts of resistance today when fighting to preserve the natural habitat of St. Croix, particularly the Baobab tree, so that generations to come can also gather by the tree and know the significance.
My time spend in St. Croix has forever changed my life. I had the opportunity to dig right in and experience all the amazing history of the island. I analyzed the privileges that I carry, while also doing deep reflection to interpret discrepancies between other races, classes, and genders and how that affects life on the island. They say that after traveling you will never be completely home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere.
This past May I was given the opportunity to travel to the beautiful Island of Saint Croix in the Virgin Islands. Saint Croix is apart of the Virgin Islands, which is a territory of the United States. The people I met and everything I learned is an experience that I will never forget. I’ve never learned so much as I did on this travel study. We learned about everything; from culture to wildlife, to the individuals we met, to ourselves.
Slavery played a huge role in the history of Saint Croix. Like the United States, many of the enslaved people were brought over from Africa. For over 2 centuries from the 1730’s to the 1960’s, enslaved Africans and freed African laborer’s powered plantations on the island.
There are many similarities in slavery between the United States and Saint Croix. There were some differences though. In the United States, enslaved Africans had the Underground Railroad and people willing to help them get to safety. Running away was extremely dangerous, but there was hope. There was nowhere to go on the island besides up.
Olasse Davis, a professor and native to Saint Croix, took us on a hike to Maroon Ridge. When enslaved Africans would run off, they would hide in caves along this ridge. When they were being found, or believed they were being found, they would jump into the water below. They didn’t believe they were committing suicide, instead their souls were going back to Africa. Sometimes, if you were captured, they would cut off your head and place them throughout the trail to try to frighten other run-aways. If they jumped, and survived the jump, they would attempt to swim to Puerto Rico, which is about 40 miles away. As more and more people would die, however, the water became infested with sharks and the trek became more risky.
One of my absolutely favorite days was spent outside walking around Christiansted. Ms. V, a schoolteacher on the island, took our group on a walk through the town and was incredibly knowledgeable on the history of Saint Croix. Ms. V, being so insightful, inspired me to want to do my own research on my own family history. We went to an area referred to as “Free Gut”. This was an area where the freed Africans lived. To be considered “free”, you had to be Christian and you had to be part of the military.
This is a picture of three of the homes. Yes, that is three different homes. Each set of stairs leads to a different home.
The homes were 30 feet by 30 feet. After some time they could upgrade to 30 feet by 70 feet but that is still very little space, especially for a family. This neighborhood is placed at the bottom of the hill, and the Whites lived above them on the top of the hill. At all times, the freed Africans had to have their cards with their identification that stated that they were free and had to be able to prove it.
While there, I chose to work at an Early Head Start program on the Island. As an education major and a 7-year nanny, it was amazing to see the difference in childcare.
The center was in Christiansted. There were 5 of us placed here. The center has a 4:1 child to teacher ratio policy. They have 6 classrooms at this center and each classroom can hold up to 8 children at a time.
They are very sanitary in the Early Head Start Program. When you enter a classroom you must put booties on, wash and sanitize your hands, all before entering the room. If you are changing a diaper, whipping a nose or mouth of a child, you must wear gloves and you must change the gloves with each new child. During naptime each day the teachers bleach each toy that was played with that morning so that germs are not being spread. Children have their own cot for naptime with a blanket that gets sanitized each evening as well. Because the center has a play-based curriculum they want the floor and all of the toys to stay as clean and sanitary as possible.
The play-based curriculum means the children have time to explore and learn things on their own. The children are provided with breakfast, lunch, and a snack each day. After breakfast the kids have time to roam around the classroom and play. In the 2-3 year old classroom there was a mini lesson connected with an art project completed after their playtime. The teachers based their lessons on what the student’s interests were. One of the days I was there, they were learning about creatures in the sea and a little boy liked Octopi, so the teachers taught a lesson about Octopi. I loved that the children had so much say in what happened in the classroom.
The children were so responsible. Each child is given their own chair and spot at the table and their own plate. They encourage the children to eat on their own and have proper posture. After every meal they have the children brush their teeth.
The teachers don’t say “no” to the children. If a child is doing something wrong they redirect them. For instance, if a child is throwing blocks, you grab the block and ask them if they want to make a tower with you. I find it easy to quickly yell “No”; however, the children here are instructed to continue to be children. If a child is crying they ask what is wrong, and they allow them to finish crying. Children cry, so let them cry.
I am so incredibly thankful for the time I spent on the island. I cannot believe how much I learned about St. Croix, culture, history, and myself in just 18 days. I hope one day be able to return because there is still so much I need to learn.