Monday, April 15, 2013

Get me back to South Kensington

Hello again everyone,

It's been a while.  Last quarter was unbelievably busy and hectic, and unfortunately I couldn't find the time to write another installment of “Leaving the Vine Behind.”  Luckily, studying in England means a 5 week ‘Easter’ (Spring) Break, and plenty of time to get back in touch with my millions of followers.

After an eventful winter term, I decided to spend most of my Easter Break back in San Diego, where I could recuperate  replenish my Vitamin D, and spend some long-awaited time with my family and old friends, and fill them in on some of the less-intelligent things Fraser did throughout the year.  Being back in SD also gave me an opportunity to reassess the differences between living in South Kensington, England and Carlsbad, CA.

First and foremost, it has been great spending the past few weeks with my family, as the homesickness started to ramp up the closer I got to end of term.  It has been especially wonderful spending time with my dogs Max and Abbey, who have not lost their uncanny ability of running head-first into solid wooden doors, a talent they in fact share with anyone who takes classes in the Royal School of Mines.

La Jolla Cove, San Diego, California
As far as quality of life at home: it is nice to have access to more resources than your typical immigrant-student.  Things like colanders, cutting boards, showers that are more than two feet wide, laundry machines that you don’t have to pay three quid to use, and Trader Joes all seem like Romney-esque luxuries now.  Another noticeable difference is the much more laid-back lifestyle of San Diegans with respect to Londoners.  Granted, South Kensington is its own microcosm of wealth, which lends to an exceptionally posh or arrogant way of treating life.  After spending seven months there, I am guilty of acting this way from time-to-time, as I have unknowingly been a complete arse on more than one occasion upon my return to the 760.  People in California smile much more, they say hello when you walk by, and sometimes even engage in friendly conversation.  It must be something about constant sunshine that makes people this way.

MEXICAN FOOD!!!!!!!!!!!

Honestly though, while I have access to things at home that make living much easier, and sometimes more pleasant, not more than a week had passed in San Deigo before I was ready to go back to the Sw7.  Simply put, compared to London, SD has nothing to do.  Yes the beach is lovely, as are La Jolla and the Zoo, but it doesn't take long for those to get old.  Meanwhile, London is a city that never sleeps, and because of its overwhelmingly cosmopolitan roots, there is always something new and exciting to be discovered, day or night.  In addition, while it is very convenient having access to a car in SD, I prefer the compact, bustling atmosphere of the city, and going places via walking or by public transportation, especially the tube.  It makes a simple or menial task like going to the shops or getting ice cream more of a trip, an adventure almost.  I see more on my Saturday morning walk to Harrods to pick up some cupcakes than I do driving around San Diego for a week, running errands. 

In short, San Diego is nice and I have had a great time seeing my family and friends, but I am counting the seconds before I am back home in South Kensington with my LG family...and Shyam, ready to see what else London has to offer.

Unfortunately, “The Dark Knight Rises” is just about to start on HBO, so I have to go.  Look out for more blogs once I’m back in London, which luckily is this upcoming Sunday!

I hope you enjoyed this brief installment of “Leaving the Vine Behind!”

Talk soon,


P.S. KYLE EGGLETON, are you happy now?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Berlin: A New City in the Old World

Hello again everyone,

As some of you already know, I spent much of the winter holiday traveling around continental Europe.  The first stop on the 10 day, 3 country trip was Berlin, Germany.  We arrived at Tegal Airport on Sunday morning, and spent the day familiarizing ourselves with the area around our hotel.  As we made our way through what was formerly British-controlled West Berlin, it was evident that the city had a colorful but not glamorous history, as much of it was outdated, run-down, and generally needed work. Though the streets were lined with modern shops and stores, they were housed in 1960s and 70s architecture.  The gloomy atmosphere was made worse by the noticeable absence of color throughout the city.  After spending much of the day in Christmas markets and at the infamous Berlin Zoo to try and brighten things up, my travel cohort and I made our way back to the area around our hotel to get dinner.

My first impression of Berlin was not great.  The people were quiet and stern, and the city as a whole lacked joy.  I was already starting to look forward to Wednesday, when we would leave Berlin and head to Dresden.  While day-dreaming about leaving though, I realized that I had left our train tickets to Dresden on my desk in London.  I began to panic as I realized that my only way out of Berlin was locked in an empty dorm room, in a big city, on an island hundreds of miles away.  The rest of the evening was spent making frantic phone calls to London, seeing if anyone was still in halls and able to mail the tickets to our hotel.  Luckily, Baz who lives across the hall from me, was still in Tizard and was able to send the tickets via international express mail to Berlin on Monday morning, in exchange for copious amounts of alcohol.  Unfortunately, he was fairly certain that the tickets would not arrive before we left early on Wednesday morning, forcing us to buy new tickets at the train station the next day. 

After very little sleep, Monday arrived, and with it a different Berlin.  We took part in a free walking tour of the city, allowing us to visit many of its interesting and iconic sights, including Museum Island, the Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  The 4 hour tour was excellent as it showed us a much more elegant and diverse side of the once depressing town.   Afterwards, we spent the evening in the city’s cultural center, enjoying our new Berlin before calling it a night.

Ishtar Gate
Tuesday was spent on Museum Island, with our time split between “The Neus Museum” and “The Pergamon.”  The Neus Museum had various artifacts from Germany’s history, in addition to artifacts Germany acquired during its many historical endeavors.  The highlight of this museum was its Egyptian Exhibition, and more specifically, the Nefertiti Exhibit, which had on display the 3,300 year old painted bust of the royal Egyptian, Nefertiti, herself.  My personal favorite part of the day though, was our time spent in the Pergamon.  It is home to one of the most well-renowned artifacts from ancient history, and one of the original 7 wonders of the world: the Ishtar Gate, otherwise known as the 8th gate to the ancient city of Babylon.  The sheer size of the gate is a testament to the historical significance of the once great Mesopotamian empire.  The museum was also home to the 2,200 year old Pergamon Altar, and the 1800 year old Market Gate of Miletus.

It was an early start on Wednesday as we were on the first train to Dresden.  When we checked out of the hotel at about 7:00 am, the desk clerk handed us a package, saying that it had arrived just minutes earlier.  We opened it, and to our amusement, pulled out a set of train tickets to Dresden (Baz, if you are reading this, you are a massive legend.  Please tell me when you want to make a trip to Sainsbury’s for your reward).  By chance, the seats we reserved on Monday just happened to be next to the seats I had reserved weeks in advance.  This was a pleasant surprise as the two-by-two seating arrangement meant we had a section all to ourselves.  The unpleasant surprise was when we got on the train to find a drunk vagrant passed-out in our seats.  The individual was most likely a geophysicist as he was clearly illiterate, suffering from alcoholism, belligerent, unclean, and incredibly pungent. I suppose this was Berlin's way of saying goodbye.

Berlin’s history gives it a great amount of intrigue and character, but has also left it beaten down and in desperate need of a new identity.  I left the city with mixed feelings but eager to move on and experience new places throughout the rest of the trip.

Be on the lookout for the next blog entry, as it will recount the portion of our trip spent in Dresden, Germany, followed by Prague and then Paris. 

Thank you for reading!


Monday, November 26, 2012

In Bruges

Hello again everyone,

As I alluded to in my last post, I recently took a trip to Bruges, Belgium and am glad to say that my first trip to the continent was a success.  The day started off with a 5:30 wake-up to be ready for the bus at 6:30.  While waking up when it is still dark outside is a difficult task (made more difficult on just 3 hours of sleep), I knew chocolate and waffles were waiting on the otherside.  But before I could enjoy the spoils of Belgian dining, I had to take the five hour trip from London to Dover, through the Chunnel into Calais, France, then through the north of France and Belgium, into Bruges.

The first leg of the trip was quite nice as I managed to sleep for the 2 hours we were in Britain.  The Chunnel was neat, although for some reason I expected us to be in a glass train, in a glass tunnel, in the sea, not in a train, in a tunnel below the sea bed.  None the less it was a short 35 minute train ride that ended on French ground.  I spent the rest of the journey watching the film “In Bruges”—seemingly fitting—and acting as a human bed to the person sitting next to me as they slept, drooled, and snored on me all the way to Belgium (the drooling and snoring might be a bit exaggerated, but nonetheless, you owe me, Miranda).

We arrived in Bruges at about 1:30 local time and after a 20 minute walk to the town center, quickly found a chips stand and began to feast.  I apologize to those in the States reading this.  By chips I means fries, but if I don’t use the local lingo, after reading this a certain unnamed geophysics student on my floor will put their pet rock away and spend the next month correcting my English; although I fear this will happen anyways.  Wait, what am I thinking?  Geophysics students can’t read.

Back to the chips, or should I say the potato basket of heaven.  I don’t know how the Belgians do it, but their fries are truly amazing and something everyone should have at least once.  After savoring every last bite of potato goodness, we moved on to the waffles stand across the town center.  There, I enjoyed the deliciousness that accompanies eating a Belgian waffle…in Belgium…covered in Belgian chocolate, aka the triple whammy.  By now you should be catching on to the fact that this was a predominantly food oriented trip.  Can you guess what I did next?  You’re wrong.  Instead, I went to the closest, most crowded chocolate shop I could find and bought enough chocolate to feed a small army of children for a month, justifiably so.  If any of you have ever tasted Belgian dark chocolate, you will fully understand my actions.  From there, a group of us just wandered the town, passing in and out of shops, tasting food and being tourists until it was time for us to leave.  It was great being able to wander around and admire the city, seeing the different architecture and appreciating a place that is much simpler and more relaxed than anywhere else I have been.

We left Belgium at about 5:30 local time and headed back to the UK, making a quick stop at a French hypermarket for cheap snacks and bulk packages of chocolate covered waffles.  After another 6 hours of being a human bed, we arrived back in South Kensington and the hustle and bustle that is London.  

Honestly, I miss Bruges already.  The city is quiet; quaint and old but in a charming way, and once I run out of chocolate, I look forward to going back and getting more.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Academic Life at Imperial College London

Hello Again Everyone,

First off, if you are a chemical engineering student, stop reading this and get back to work.

Now that everyone else is here, let's begin.  It has been a hectic few weeks here in London as I get used to the radically different academic system at Imperial.  I knew it would be unique from the standard American university, but I didn't realize that there is such a different approach to accomplishing the same end-goal.  Having given a brief glimpse into what academic life is like in the first blog, here is a more in-depth description.

The main changes are class structure and subjects of study.  Being an exchange student, my schedule is a bit atypical from what a standard first, second, or third year ME student would have.  It differs from course to course, but undergraduates here are generally in lecture much more often than in the State (except for people studying maths; for some reason they are always around the hall, sitting at the kitchen table coloring…sometimes inside the lines).  Instead of taking 3-4 classes per quarter, students take up to 12 year-long courses.  Because of the increased number of classes, lecture is held less often—usually once a week instead of twice or three times a week—and tutorial or discussion is fortnightly.  Ha Li.

Also, students do not choose the classes they take.  Instead, the undergraduate office for each department provides them with a timetable of classes for the year.  All the students have to do is show up.  As a result, any particular person will have every class with all of the other students in their year and department.  Essentially, you see the same people every day, every class, for all 4 years of study.  In addition, all classes are relevant to a student’s degree, meaning there are no compulsory general education courses such as psychology, writing, or art.  For example, because Imperial has no GE courses, people then studying geophysics have no deviation from their daily course work of staring at rocks and catching butterflies.  For engineering students, this type of structure has its pros and cons.  While it is convenient to be able to focus solely on mechanical engineering, I would like to take a break from derivatives once a week and study something like music or literature.

Another major difference is understanding how students are performing academically.  Although there is more time spent in the classroom, it is difficult to judge whether the information is being retained or not.  Unlike UCI, where each class typically has a quiz once a week and two midterms and a final exam within a 10 week period, courses here have one exam in May and no quizzes or progress tests.  In addition, there are no set office hours for professors or TAs, which is a minor inconvenience.  Academic success is now much more reliant on students being proactive, independent learners.  As I talk with people in my hall or around campus, I get the sense that Imperial students are a highly motivated, driven group of people.  Although I kid about maths and geophysics majors, there is no denying that everyone at Imperial has been working long days, nights, and weekends to make sure they are not only managing the workload, but excelling academically.

Although studying here will be more demanding than usual, I look forward to the academic year.  Being abroad at a university as intense as Imperial is an excellent opportunity to grow and mature as a student.

Thank you for reading.  If you are a student studying in the US, I suggest spending time abroad and immersing yourself in another country’s academic system.  As a preview, the next few blogs will include a description of my upcoming trip to Bruges, Belgium and some of the extracurricular life at ICL.

Thank you again,


Thursday, October 11, 2012

First Two Weeks in London

Let me start off this blog by making a statement that might be obvious to some people: London and San Diego are not the same place, nor do they have many similarities.  While I still love SD and think it is one of the greatest cities in America, London has quickly become a place that I can consider home.

There are certainly a few adjustments that I have had to make though, both culturally and academically.  As far as school goes, it couldn't be more different.  There is no fighting for enrollment spots in classes, the department just tells you what you are taking and everybody gets the classes they need.  In addition, your notes are provided by the professor at the beginning of the term, most classes are yearlong , the final exam counts for 80-95% of your grade, and lecture is held only once a week.  The learning process here is much more independent and involves more time spent studying outside of the classroom as lecture is held less frequently.  It really is up to the students of they want to succeed.  Though there are some vast differences, it has been relatively simple to adapt as the process is made to benefit the students most.

Everyday life in London is a whole other challenge though.  Simple tasks like knowing where you are or even crossing the street are seemingly complicated acts.  Luckily, I was placed in a great residence hall at Imperial with even better floor-mates.  They have gone above-and-beyond in welcoming me and helping me fit in.  Some of the things they've done to make Imperial home include chipping-in to get me a card, cake, and present for my birthday.  The other day, one of them narrowly kept me from being run over by a double-decker bus on the way to the pub.  (I’m still learning that cars come from the other direction here).  Without my floor-mates, I don’t think I would have survived these past two weeks.  The residence hall has also held great welcome-week events including things like a boat party on the River Thames, a bus tour of London, nights spent at some of the city’s best clubs, and a trip to Her Majesty’s Theatre to see “Phantom of the Opera.”  I was a bit skeptical of what my time in the dorm would be like when I first arrived, but those doubts quickly disappeared...along with my voice (fresher's week was a little nuts). 

All in all, my first impression of London is a great one.  I can’t wait to spend the next ten months here, discovering the small details that make this city so great, and becoming a member of a truly international culture.

On a side note, thank you to my friends and family, especially my parents, for supporting me and helping me get to where I am.  I could not have done this alone and I can’t wait to see you in July.  To all of my fellow study abroad students in the UK from the UC system, good luck at your respective universities and if you happen to be in London, let me know.

Thank you for reading, there will be more to come.