I had always wanted to visit London, but never had due to its long distance away. My January Term course, Enlightenment and its Institutions, however, gave me the chance to finally see the city and all of its many museums and galleries.
And there truly are many of these cultural institutions. Although my course only included trips to the British Museum, the Sir John Soane Museum, and Dr Samuel Johnson's House, the Idea of the Portrait class had trips almost every day to some art gallery or another, be it the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, or the Victoria and Albert Museum. "We learned to give respect to each painter, trying to understand the message conveyed through each portrait before dismissing it as just another piece of painting," said Mick Jermsurawong, NYUAD Class of 2015.
Meanwhile, the Politics in Modern Europe class had visits to the House of Commons and the offices of the European Commission. "Politics in Modern Europe was an incredible course," said Luka Vaslij, NYUAD Class of 2015, "one which not only introduced us to the political and historical arena of Europe as a whole, but also gracefully incorporated the complexity of the British parliamentary and electoral process."
The metropolitan lifestyle and ease of travel is characteristic of many of the European capitals, and adjusting to the lifestyle of Berlin next semester will be much easier after my experience in London.
My class met every day to discuss various definitions of the Enlightenment, from Kant to Foucalt, from our professor's interpretation to our own, which formed the basis of our first essay. Our second project was a group presentation on a particular institution of the Enlightenment. My group chose pubs and coffeehouses and we discussed how these establishments provided the social means of gathering intellectuals together to eventually precipitate the Enlightenment. For our final project, my group made a video in the style of — and as a response to — the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA) Animate on 21st-Century Enlightenment made by Matthew Taylor, the head of the RSA (who we met and had a talk with).
To help us gather information and ideas, we had many trips to museums and also enjoyed visits to Oxford and Cambridge. These two ancient institutions of learning are as majestic as they are famous. The Cambridge trip was a joint outing with the other two J-Term in London classes, during which we had a discussion with Kings College Professor Peter de Bolla regarding the concept of a concept (which is far less lofty and meta than it seems at first). At Oxford, my class met with the Master of Baliol as well as Professor of Physics David Deutsch, known as the father of quantum computing, where we had informative and deep talks about the futures of Oxford and artificial intelligence.
During my free time, I watched Wicked with a group of friends at the West End, which I highly recommend. Naturally, we also went to see a whole bunch of touristy icons like Big Ben, St Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, and so on. Some of the less common, yet equally interesting places I visited include the "Thin House" in South Kensington, an extremely unusually shaped building that certainly lives up to its name; and the Highgate Cemetery, home to the graves of Karl Marx and Douglas Adams (among many others). I also spent a good few hours racing around Mayfair and Turnpike Lane in search of specific walls containing Banksy's (in)famous street art. Of course, my trip to London would not have been complete without a visit to the National Gallery.
Here is probably a good place to mention how easy it was to get lost during my first few days in London. The city has this strange system of naming entire regions by the same street name with various synonyms for "street," for example, Bedford Ave (or Way, or Square). While charming, on a truncated map on a small phone often all you see is a "Bedford…" on the map and then you still have no idea where you exactly are. Though, being lost on foot in London is an easy way to get to know the city.
We were extremely lucky not to experience London's typical winter weather. It rained only once and snowed three times during the month. Several of us had never experienced snow before and so can hardly be blamed for the impromptu snow fights that may or may not have occurred. Luckily, the snow cleared out in time for those of us leaving London — you could almost say a winter in London is not complete without a flight cancellation brought about by snow.
Looking back, January was a month well spent exploring the many cultural attractions of London with 30 other NYUAD students. The metropolitan lifestyle and ease of travel is characteristic of many of the European capitals, and adjusting to the lifestyle of Berlin next semester will be much easier after my experience in London.