About Me

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I'm just a stressed-out-perfectionist-not-so-average-cupcake-making-graduate-student-from-Kansas trying to find my place in this world.
Current Adventure: Interning for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

UK Road Trip

London moves quickly—so quickly that I have not even been able to make time blog but a couple times. I would like to say that I’ll be better for the rest of my time here, but I highly doubt it. Work has piled up all the way to my ears. In the next three weeks, I need to write two ten-pagers for my “Gender in History” class, finish up my research and write upwards of 50 pages on the UN Genocide Convention of 1948, lead a walk on the development of the area around Queen Anne’s Gate, and take a final exam for my History of London class. No big deal, right? This term is so back loaded with work, it is unbelievable. Mostly it’s just unbelievable that I knew that this was coming—I had the syllabi—but the term just caught up with me and now, I am swamped. Whoops.

However, even with all of the impending work, I’ve managed to have to fun. Starting November 4th, my mom, her friend Natalie, and I have been adventuring throughout the UK, Ireland, and Poland. And by adventuring, I really do mean adventuring. Mom and Natalie arrived at Heathrow airport on Friday, November 4th. We spent the weekend exploring London. On the agenda was a classic British pub dinner, an evening Jack the Ripper tour, a tour of London by an open-air double decker bus, Wicked, and dinner in Chinatown. Tuesday morning, (with Kasia!!) we made our way over to King’s Cross/St. Pancras train station to pick up a rental car—a brand-spanking-new black Vauxhall Corsa. It was pretty. But since I can barely cross the roads here without getting hit, I was a little bit concerned about my mom driving on the opposite side of the road all the way from London up to Scotland and then back down again. But needless to say, she did great. The roads here in the UK have a lot of roundabouts on them, which we utilized often to put us in the right direction once again.

Our first stop was Cambridge for lunch and a daytime tour. It was proper English weather—dark, gloomy, rainy, and windy—but we made the most of it, enjoying steaming bowls of soup and delicious bread. Unfortunately, during our delicious lunch, we also got slapped with a 50 pound parking ticket. It put a damper on the day. We made our way from Cambridge to Bridlington. In Smith-adventuring-style, we did not pay for the GPS, so instead we just mapquested everything before we left. Mapquest likes to tell you that something will take 2-3 hours…but instead, it takes 9. So, we got to Brid quite late at night. Bridlington is a small town located on the beaches of the North Sea. Supposedly, our bed and breakfast had a “seaside” view, but we determined that we’d definitely need some binoculars and a room on the other side of the building for that to be true. It was still a nice stay, and it included our first proper English breakfast (complete with black pudding . . . made out of blood!). We walked along the shoreline for a couple hours, collecting pretty rocks, before we got back in our little Vauxhall and headed for our next stop: Edinburgh.

The drive from Bridlington to Edinburgh was beautiful. Most of the time, we drove alongside the sea, at times dipping in to drive among sheep farmers’ paddocks. Of course, because our hand-dandy friend Mapquest let us down so many times, it took us until 7PM to drive what was supposed to be just a couple hours drive to Edinburgh. Kasia had a late evening flight, which gave us just enough time to eat dinner with my high school classmate Joyce Chan (reunited after three years!), before getting Kasia to the airport. Afterwards, we dropped Joyce off at her flat, which is right across the road from where my mom used to study (small world), and headed on over to Mom’s friend Juliet’s house.

Oh. My. Word. Juliet is a trip. Probably the funniest person I have ever met. From the second we walked in the door, we were laughing and talking and drinking. Natalie—Mom’s friend who was traveling with us—was in search of a good, British bloke . . . and much to our surprise, Juliet had just the person in mind: Ross McPherson! A good, ol’ Scottish sheep farmer, who also owns a bed and breakfast in the highlands. Perfect. So, Juliet pulls out the photo albums to show us his pictures, leaving them in strategic points around the house so that we can admire him over the next couple of days. Sadly enough, we never made it to see Ross, but he and Natalie are going to establish email contact and then who knows what’s next? Juliet had another suggestion for Natalie’s bloke: her husband’s friend, Luigi. Luigi is Italian, over 50 (Ross is still a little young . . . ), and well-off. But Natalie was smitten at first-sight of Mr. McPherrrson, so he must be the one.

Juliet took us around Edinburgh the next day, showing us all the old haunts where she and my mom hung out during midwifery school, telling me (according to my mom) one-too-many stories about the mischief they would get up to—including one time, where my mom volunteered Juliet to go on a vacation to Greece with the bartender at their favorite pub. Juliet went and had the pictures to prove it! The bartender now lives right down the street from her.

We met up with another one of my mom’s old friends—Deidre—at a lovely restaurant, which was all decked out for Christmas, covered in lights and trees, for some tea and mince pies. Afterwards, I headed to Bobby’s Pub (where my mom and Juliet used to hang out) for some drinks with Joyce and a fried Mars Bar (like a Milky Way). It was quite interesting and might have been worth the horrible stomach aches we had afterwards.

I’ve fallen in love with Edinburgh, too. It’s got everything that I love about London: the shops, the convenience, the fun things to do, the diversity of people without the craziness of London. Seems like it might be a nice place to live one day. . . then I could get myself a Scottish bloke.

We spent the next day driving up around the Loch Tay and Loch Lomond, seeing a couple of whisky distilleries before ending up at Deidre’s house. Now, Deidre is from Northern Ireland, and her husband, John, is from Scotland. So their children are almost impossible to understand! The youngest, Killian, was an absolute riot. We enjoyed a beautiful salmon dinner with them and some whisky afterwards.

The next morning, we left them in Hamilton, Scotland, and headed back down to England, where we stayed with the family my mom used to nanny for back in the 80s in Gloucestershire. They live in an old manor called Ashcroft, and the walls are, I kid you not, more than a foot thick. It was Mom’s birthday, so we had a surprise little party for her, including absolutely delicious chocolate cake and candles (my part of the surprise). We were treated to yet another sumptuous dinner of fish pie (so good, despite how the name instantly makes you skeptical) and some sloe gin (gin made with sloe berries and kept for years—thick like syrup and just as yummy). Georgina keeps a diary whenever she is at this house, and so, she was able to turn to the exact spot that my mom was there, and read to us about her. They raise alpacas on their property, so the next morning, we got to walk around and see the alpacas and all of their gorgeous property (most of which is let out on long-term leases to sheep farmers or for small crops).

And of course, later that afternoon, we were on our way to yet another old friend of Mom’s. This time, we went to Bath, but we were only there for dinner, because then we were off to Windsor. We stayed that night at the cutest bed and breakfast with the sweetest hosts (Dee and Steve), who made us a beautiful breakfast, let us pay in change (I had more than 50 pounds on the bottom of my purse!), and showed us the way to the castle. We spent the morning at the castle and I got the guard to smile (again!). We thought we had left ourselves plenty of time to get our rental car back to the garage in London, but we pulled in with, literally, only one minute to spare.

The next morning, Natalie and Mom were off to Dublin, where they stayed for three days, taking—from what I’m told—a hilarious tour from Dublin to Galway Bay and the Cliffs of Moher. They got back about 7PM, and because of their genius tour guide (AKA me), we were on the bus back to the exact same airport at 2 the next morning for a flight to Krakow, Poland.

Poland was different from anywhere else we had visited. It was cold. It was dark and gloomy. But there is something really special about Poland that I love. Maybe it’s just because I’ve become such good friends with Kasia and Ewa, so learning about where they are from is fascinating. We stayed in a very nice hotel in the city center of Krakow and had a wonderful Polish dinner of kielbasa (of course), pierogi, cabbage, etc. Mom and Natalie went to Auschwitz/Birkenau, but since I had already visited the concentration camp two winters ago with Ewa, I chose to spend the day with Ewa. We ate good food, walked around the city, found a guy selling bracelets made out of forks, and caught up. Ewa took us to a really lovely dinner in the city center, and then helped us get back to the airport early the next morning.

Packing was quite the chore for Mom and Natalie, but they did it. And then they left me the next morning.

Traveling reveals certain things about people, and can make best friends or enemies out of people, and so it was really special to travel abroad with my mom—just the two of us—for the first time. I loved getting to know her old friends and learn about what her life was like in the UK. So it was, all in all, the best vacation ever.

Friday, October 21, 2011

In Love With London

I am in love with London. Seriously, I’m never coming home. But we do have an extra bed in our flat, so feel free to visit me and send care packages to:

Emma Smith
Hampden House
2 Weymouth Street
London, UK

Just kidding. Well, kind of about the coming home part and definitely not kidding about the mail part. Send me mail. Please?

I don’t know if I can accurately describe how much fun I’m having, but I will try. I only have class one day a week, so I spend Monday night doing all the reading and homework for my two classes on Tuesday, go to class on Tuesday, and then our professor takes us all out for dinner (on the program’s bill) and gives us lots of wine and cider (again on the program’s bill—thanks for the scholarship, Dartmouth!). Then, Wednesday through the next Monday night, I have fun. Lots and lots of fun.

I’ve gotten plugged into an awesome church—All Soul’s Church—which has just been the biggest blessing. I’ve made so many British friends, who have been instrumental in my navigating life in London so easily. All Soul’s is Church of England, so I was skeptical about them at first, mostly because I’m used to really energetic Southern Baptist churches, but this church is so amazing. They have more than 1,000 people at each service, and everyone is really friendly and welcoming. I found my niche almost immediately, which is great since time is not a luxury during my short stay here in London. I spend so much time at church. Wednesday nights I’m there from 5:45 (for coffee with the college girls) until 10:00PM when the student Bible study and dinner ends. Then, I head to the Horse and Groom, which is a pub right down the street, for a pint of cider with all my friends from church until at least midnight. Then, on Sundays I go to both morning services because they are just so energetic and inspiring to listen to, go to lunch with the 20s and 30s group from church, and then head back for the evening service at 6:30. Then, there is free coffee, music, and cake for the college students until about 11:00PM, when we head to the pub for a pint of cider. I was definitely not expecting to find college students in London who were just so excited about Jesus, but I did, and it’s awesome.

School is good, too. You know, for that one day a week I have to go. We’re currently in midterms, so I will have a kindabusy weekend studying for those. We also have walking tours every Thursday afternoon, which I love. Yesterday our walk took us through the East End (traditionally the poorest area of London), down Brick Lane (home to rows and rows of Indian restaurants and Jewish “beigel” bakeries), through Spittalfields (the up and coming artsy district), and ending in Hoxton Square, which was the first public square in London. We had two breaks during the walk: one to get hot chocolate from a teeny tiny little Belgium chocolate shop ($6 well spent) and the other to get bagels from a bagel bakery. Both were delicious and as usual, we ended in a pub to warm up with some cider before heading back to the West End, where we live.

I’ve seen Kasia (my Polish friend from high school for those of you who don’t know her) twice already. Two weekends ago, I took the train to Leamington Spa where she lives (about a two hour train ride) to hang out for the day. Since we hadn’t seen each other in two years, we really just ended up having lunch and then chatting on the couch with a pint of cookie dough ice cream. Last weekend, she and her roommate, Louisa, came to London to stay with me. We had a grand time, and found a really nice Mexican restaurant on the Thames and then saw the musical Dreamboats and Petticoats. In order to get the tickets that we did—front-row Mezzanine, seriously discounted—I stood in line at a ticket office in Leicester Square from about 8AM to 10AM. It was a fun experience, but really, I just felt like I was intruding on seniors’ night out—it was a musical comprised entirely of 50s music (kind of like Mama Mia!, in that there was very little plot, but lots of cool music), and all the elderly people (seriously, we were the only people there sans gray hair) were singing and dancing along. So adorable.

Lots of other fun things have been going on, too. For example, I met a guy at church—Pele—who is a producer’s assistant for the show Jerusalem, a contemporary British drama. He let me and Zoe come see the final dress rehearsal. It was fabulous, even though there was a lot of strong (very, very, very strong language) and most of the British jokes went right over our heads. The next week, my friends and I all went to Ice Bar London, which is a bar made completely out of ice (the walls, the tables, the chairs, the bar, the cups, everything) for our friend Hannah’s birthday.

My favorite part of my week here in London is going to the senior centre on Wednesday morning to volunteer. Mostly, I just hang out and talk with the seniors there, but I’m also helping a nearby museum record oral histories and put together an exhibit on the seniors who come to this senior centre. Last week, I took Zoe and our friend Hannah with me, and we did manicures for all the ladies (and some men!). In a couple weeks, a lot of my group will be coming with me and they are going to do an acapella concert (I will not be performing, in case you wondering).

My research is going well. Sometimes it’s hard to make myself go out to the archives (about an hour ride on the tube) since there’s so much to do in London and so much fun to be had, but I still manage to do it. I’m still trying to synthesize all the information I’ve found and discern why what I’m finding is important, what my argument really is, etc. I had a moment of panic the other day when I realized that our program is more than one third over and I still have so much to write for this research paper. However, I think that everyone who pursues a project on this scale is also a little bit overwhelmed at times. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes—so far, though, so good.

Just two short weeks from today, my mom will be here! I’m so incredibly excited. I’m having a blast planning our trip, and it’s going to involve four countries, eighteen days, many, many reunions with friends, and tickets to see Wicked (my friend’s cousin plays Glinda, so we have to see it!). The rest of the details, though, you’ll have to find in one of my future blog posts!

Much love from London!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Welcome to Blighty!

I’m sorry that I’m already a few days behind on blogging, but the last week (well, year) has been a whirlwind of activity. I left for London in the middle of the afternoon on Friday, the 16th. I arrived in London around 10AM on the 17th, but I did not get through customs until closer to noon. Because I look oh-so-suspicious, I was treated to a very thorough pat down in the Kansas City airport and an intense interrogation at customs in London. The customs officer and I actually ended up having a long conversation about my genocide research before he let me through. I spent a couple minutes wandering around the arrivals area (my luggage arrived just fine) before I found Mom’s friend, Bronwyn.

I stayed for two days at Bronwyn’s house with her husband, two sons, and their dog—Milo. They treated me so well! I had many cups of tea with them, a ride in their 89 Land Rover along the Thames, and a truly British meal of fish and chips and a pint of ale at a pub that was built in the 13th century. So delicious. The waiter was cute, too. I had not slept for more than 40 hours by the time that I got to sleep that night, so I slept like a baby. I even slept through my alarm, and Bronwyn had to come and wake me up in the morning. They fed me a sturdy British breakfast before we were off on public transportation to my flat.

To get to my flat from Weybridge Village where the Borghesi family lives, we just had to take a train for a few stops into Waterloo Station, where we jumped on the tube (no small feat with two bags, each weighing about fifty pounds) for several stops. There are two stops around my flat—Regents Park, which is on the Bakerloo (or Brown) line and Great Portland Street, which is a much larger station and the intersection of four different lines. We went to the Regents Park stop and then walked about five minutes to my flat.

My flat is gorgeous. I share it with seven other girls, all of whom I really like. We have four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a large living area (complete with fireplace), and a kitchen. The flat is long, with all of the rooms being located off of a single corridor. I share my room with Zoe Friedland, who is actually a senior at Dartmouth. I got lucky, because Zoe and I really click. We have the only room with hardwood floors, the rest of the floors are carpeted. The bottom floor of our building is a Starbucks!

While I was pretty much over my jetlag by the time we all arrived, the rest of them were not. So, we had an early dinner at Nando’s—a Peruvian chicken joint—before heading to bed.

Since Monday morning, I have been to the British Museum (which has everything—mostly things that the British stole over the years from their colonies. Still pretty cool, though); gone grocery shopping and unpacked; watched Dr. Faustus at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre (we had to stand for all three hours of the performance!); been to several pubs and tried many different types of ciders, ales, and lagers; worked my first shift at the Holborn Community Center, which is a senior center about one and a half miles from my flat where I’ll be volunteering this term; and I have now completed my first real day of research.

The highlight of my week was definitely volunteering at the senior centre (look, I’m spelling like a Brit, already). The seniors there are so sweet, and they call me “ducky.” There’s one little old Scottish man named George who tried for two hours to make his magic trick work, but by the end, he had just managed to light a balloon on fire and get himself in trouble. He spent the rest of the time doting on the little old ladies. I’m going to be working every Monday and Wednesday morning, serving morning tea, helping the seniors learn how to use the computers, and leading games like Bingo and Bunco. I became friends quickly with the cooks. Rose is a 65-year-old grandmother from Sierra Leone and Annie is 25 and from Nigeria. She has one daughter. Annie and I have plans to go out next week.

My first day of research went well, too. It was exhilarating to be sitting with all of the professional researchers and being able to call up my own documents and have them delivered to my assigned seat. I looked at papers from Raphael Lemkin (the man who coined the term “genocide” and lobbied the United Nations for the Convention on Genocide that occurred in 1948 after the Holocaust. Since the focus of my research is on how the British responded to this idea of “genocide,” I looked first at his letters to members of Parliament. Just for background information, I also looked at the notes and memos left by members of the Foreign Office who were present at the UN Genocide Convention and their recommendations to the British Home Office on how to deal with it. From secondary research, I'm already familiar with the general conversation between the two offices, but I thought that looking at the official documents would help me build a strong foundation. What was really exciting is that I found so many letters from organizations and individual constituents lobbying their members of Parliament to do something about the "UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" mixed in with the official memos! I was hoping to find evidence of public interest in the case, but I was not sure that it would actually exist. So exciting!! I’ll be working the next few weeks at the National Archives, which are quite far away from my flat. It took me about an hour this morning to get here on the underground, and then I had to go through an hour-long registration process to get my “Reader’s Ticket,” which will be valid for the next three years. After I finish up here at the National Archives, I’ll be working closer to home in the Metropolitan Archives and the British Library.

That last paragraph probably bored you, so congratulations if you made it to this one! Zoe and I are making dinner tonight at home tonight—ravioli and salad. Yum.

Lots of love from London!