Sooooo suffice it to say that my last couple of weeks in London turned into much more of a whirlwind than I expected. The next few posts were written over the past few days but I’m only getting around to posting them now… I’ve been traveling in Barcelona and now Leigh and I are in Paris for the next couple of days! Here’s a big update on the last days of my internship and the end of my class (hooray!) …
My internship ended Wednesday of last week (July 14th), more than a week and a half before my overseas study program officially ended. Incidentally, this was the same day that our 10+ page summer research paper was due… fun times! (More info on the class/paper/final exam further down.) On my last day there was cake and celebration, as well as gifts, but none of it really had to do with me – my desk neighbor turned “old” (30!), and the whole office sang him songs and brought him lovely little cakes from Marks & Spencer down the street (the British grocery-store chain equivalent of Kroger). Such are the results of working in an office where everyone is so young, they think turning 30 is over the hill! Little gems of British humor abounded, such as “When did you first become aware that you were going to turn 30?” “Oh – I suppose I’ve always just had a feeling.” Two of my female coworkers (one of them my “boss”) took me out for coffee after I finished work at 4 – however, it seemed that the neighborhood coffeeshops were closed, so we went to the neighborhood pub and ordered cappuccinos. It felt deliciously ridiculous drinking fancy coffee drinks at the bar! Sarah and Lucy sat with me for an hour asking questions about my family and my plans for the next school year, and before they left they handed me little departure/thank-you gifts of an official House of Commons pen and booklet of Cockney phrases… they were wonderfully sweet and I appreciated the thought and the time they took to wish me farewell.
My internship experience had its ups and downs, but reflection tells me that my overall experience was a positive one. Over six weeks I worked with two different public policy organizations, one focused on chronic pain and the other on self-sufficiency for patients with long-term conditions. I have a feeling that my internship with the CPPC would have been different if my boss hadn’t been (somewhat ironically) suffering from a chronic health condition herself that kept her out of the office for nearly half of my time there. In her absence I couldn’t do much other than monitor current events and type up the minutes from the recent Executive Committee meeting. While my CPPC internship was stagnating I picked up my second internship from the EPP, one of the organizations who shared the same floor with the CPPC. Originally I was excited about the opportunity since I was assigned to work with their PR Director, but I was relegated to updating a massive spreadsheet of contact details which took me the remainder of my 3 weeks to finish. Of course in the end all I wanted was to be helpful (how much responsibility can they really give some random American kid who shows up for 6 weeks in the middle of summer and then leaves again?), but I would have liked the opportunity to do more than flex my muscles in Excel. Plus, while everyone in the office was young and friendly, I was disappointed by my inability to bond with them – somehow our daily interactions remained at the polite-yet-awkward new acquaintance stage no matter how much I resolved to stop being so awkward.
Despite some of those small disappointments,I was still left with a feeling of accomplishment and privilege. Most of that wasn’t even from my personal internship experience, but some of it was! My boss was impressed with my ability to write professional minutes (small victories, yeah?) and I finally conquered that damn mess of a spreadsheet. My coworkers didn’t seem to hate me, and I savored the (semi-false) sense of adulthood and independence associated with waking up in the morning, putting on some business casual clothes and taking the subway to work with the rest of the commuters. During the first week of my internship I got to sit in on an Executive Committee meeting with the CPPC, and in my last week I got special security access into Westminster to attend the reinstatement of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Chronic Pain and attend a debate in the House of Lords. It was really amazing to listen to Lords and MPs argue behind the scenes about political agendas and busy diaries, and to imagine that just behind the view of the camera on CSPAN, I was sitting in the background watching!
One of the aspects of my internship experience that I will never forget was my access to Parliament (albeit only by association). Many of my closest friends in London (who also happened to be my roommates and flatmates) worked directly for MPs, which meant they were given security badges which allowed them access to nearly all of Westminster, Parliament, and Portcullis House (where all of the MPs have their offices and where most of the real work takes place). Since they were allowed to take chaperoned guests with them, I often took the opportunity to leech off their luck and run around Westminster with them (what can I say, I was totally jealous!). Eating next to MPs in Portcullis House (where all the meals are gourmet and subsidized beyond words), drinking in the pub beneath the House of Lords next to researchers, getting a tour of Westminster, both Houses, and Portcullis House remain some of my most amazing experiences in London. Sidenote: I also got to see the St. Mary Undercroft Chapel, an insanely ornate, gilded chapel underneath Westminster Hall that was lost for centuries and only recently re-discovered after it had been plastered over and used as a stable for horses. The chapel is only accessible to pass-holders, and I was so excited to get a tour! My own internship might not have had great perks, but I certainly took advantage of everyone else’s! ;)
Of course, my program also involved an academic component – a 6-week class on diversity which I have already complained about on this blog, and a 3500+ word research paper on a topic of our choosing. The paper was due Wednesday as week before our program ended, while the last week of our stay in London was dedicated to our final exams (a written one for our class, and an oral one for our paper). The written exam seemed to go fine – my housemates and I divided up the readings and wrote outlines The Paper Chase-style. (Of course, only time will tell how much good it did me!) For my paper I chose to write on pharmaceutical lobbying and its relationship with the English National Health Service, a choice inspired largely by my internship experience with a non-profit, non-lobbying public policy health group that happened to be funded almost entirely by pharmaceutical companies. While I procrastinated horribly and wasn’t totally pleased with the final product, my advisors seemed pleased and I didn’t feel the need to persuade them otherwise. My “oral exam” was basically an informal thesis defense, and consisted mainly of me summarizing my research and explaining why I though the topic was interesting – not such a hard test! Something makes me feel like the whole academic aspect was deceptively easy, so I’m steeling myself for those UK-style grades (where a 70/100 is an exceptional grade and the equivalent of a solid A in the States! Ouch).
During my last couple of days in London after I finished my examinations, I made it a point to visit some of the museums I had managed to neglect over the past couple of months. Don’t ask me how I managed to avoid them up to that point. I am a museum junkie – huge buildings full of interesting historical stuff and quirky information, usually involving food and free admission… I mean, how much better does it get?! London has an over-abundance of free world-class museums (think the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, British Museum, National Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, Natural History Museum, Science Museum… you get the picture). Somehow despite my best intentions I managed to put off visiting many of these places until the last moment, so I had to hurry it up and visit them in quick succession.
On Wednesday afternoon I visited the National Gallery after my viva voce (Arcadia’s special term for our oral exams following our research papers). The building is beautifully grand and is situated right off of Trafalgar Square, though I didn’t get a chance to visit its sister institution the National Portrait Gallery. The artwork in the National Gallery is lovely, though it can a bit repetitive for peons like me who aren’t trained to notice the differences in details among classical portraiture – basically it just looked like a bunch of beautiful Reniassance-typeish classical paintings, and that was fine with me! They have a really interesting exhibit at the moment titled “Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries” where they are displaying some of their more infamous finds. Some of the paintings are “masterpieces” the museum paid a fortune for only to find out decades later they were intricate frauds, while others represent paintings seemingly “useless” paintings which turned out to be masterpieces in themselves! My favorite examples were those canvases which had been altered throughout their history and were discovered only during the cleaning process – many of the paintings were displayed next to x-rays which revealed completely different images underneath! Some of the images were quite haunting, as if a ghost had been trapped inside a portrait. It was a very creative way to demonstrate changing ideas of beauty and identity throughout history.
Thursday I ventured out to the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), two of the tripartite museum sisterhood rounded out by the Science Museum in south-central London. I didn’t make it to the Science Museum that day (sorry!) but perhaps on another visit ;). I adore natural history museums – the Natural History Museum in Chicago is one of my favorite museums in the world – and the Natural History Museum in London certainly didn’t disappoint. Like its competitor in Chicago, the Natural History Museum in London opens into a gallery filled by a giant dinosaur skeleton whose scientific name I can never remember. The skeleton in London is actually a cast made of the original fossil, but it still serves its purpose as an impressive and educational tool. (For example: scientists used to think that those particular dinosaurs dragged their tails along the ground, but now hypothesize that they held them aloft in the air and used their thin, pointed ends like whips? Now you know!) Wandering around the museum there are also gems like the world’s oldest and most complete primate fossil Ida, and a cross-section of a petrified redwood. On this particular day however a brief survey of the museum was enough to satisfy me – I moved on to the V&A, my soul mate in the form of a museum.
The V&A is a museum of visual and creative arts, and ranges in subject matter from fashion and textiles to sculpture to architecture to photography. While I was there one of their special exhibits was a display of clothing that belonged to Grace Kelly, accompanied by various pieces of memorabilia from her life, including her Oscar statuette from The Country Girl. I just peeked at it through the glass since it was ticketed (Paying for museums?! In London?! No way), but it did look cool! I ate a second lunch in the museum’s café (yes, it looked that good!) and browed through their gift shop, which contained just as varied of an assortment of artsy visual goodness. Some of my favorite collections in the museum were the sculpture hall, the fashion and clothing.
Because typing it out would be overkill, here is a brief overview of my last day in London/ day of craziness and obvious need to plan even more than I normally do:
– Woke up at 7:45, showered, packed and organized my room
– Went to the internet café down the street (15 minutes away) with Maddie to print off my boarding passes and other travel information… spent half an hour trying to organize it before attempting to print it and freezing the whole computer. Saving the files didn’t work, and neither did using two other computers. The woman in charge was nice enough not to charge me for any of it.
– Realized what time it was and booked it to High Street Kensington (20 minutes away) to exchange a dress at H&M
– Realized again how late it was (nearly 10:30) and ran down High Street Kensington trying to find a place that would cash my rather massive bag of English coinage. Several failed attempts led to a fast-paced walk to Tesco (20 minutes away) to use their coin-to-cash machine. After issuing a voucher which I had to exchange for cash at customer service, customer service had to give me coins because they didn’t have any cash…. WHAT?!
– Realized again how late it was and nearly ran to the Royal Mail outlet (30 minutes away) to pick up the international charger I had ordered and had failed to pick up any other day
– Ran back home, cleaned out my apartment, finished packing, and lugged my suitcase, backpack, and purse down four flights of stairs and up the street to Earl’s Court tube station, where I grabbed a train to Victoria Station and deposited my suitcase at storage. An hour or so and two or three line changes later I was at Heathrow, printing my boarding passes and rearranging my backpack so it would fit within the carry-no requirements and I wouldn’t have to check it.
Synopsis: Crazy morning! Lots of sweating. Lots of running around in a frenzy followed by periods of waiting. Coming up soon: traveling, Barcelona, and Paris!