The Magic of London

This week, University of Minnesota student Erin Magner shares her experience studying abroad this summer in London. An avid Anglophile and Harry Potter fan, Erin describes how exploring London reawakened childhood memories and sparked a renewed interest in English culture and history.

When I was a little girl, I loved reading. Harry Potter was my favorite series, and often I imagined myself attending Hogwarts and exploring England alongside my friends. I read all about the UK and its history and culture. I was fascinated by King Henry VIII, his six wives, and the mystery and intrigue that flourished in his royal court. I read and read, learning as much as I could, and I loved everything I was learning. I guess you could say I was an Anglophile at the ripe old age of seven.

As I got older, I read less and less. These passions became memories, and for several years I didn’t give any of it too much thought. This past year, my second of four years pursuing a degree in marketing, I decided I wanted to study abroad. I had never been outside the US before, and I was eager for a new experience. As I searched through all of the programs my school offered, one in particular caught my eye. It was a three-week economics-focused course in London. I thought back to my younger days when I would have given anything to visit the country I “researched” in my free time. This felt like the program for me.

We arrived in London on a cloudy Saturday morning. My eighteen classmates and I were relative strangers, both to the city and to each other, but we quickly got to know one another as we moved into our flats. From my window on the fourth floor (which, if you count the flights of stairs we had to climb, was actually the sixth floor), I could see both The Shard and St. Paul’s Cathedral. I saw the Betsey Trotwood, our street’s traditional English pub, painted the palest shade of periwinkle. I could see double-decker buses and red telephone booths, tube stations and buildings that were older than my home country. I saw the London of my childhood dreams come to life.

My mantra during the three weeks that my new friends and I spent in London became, “I want to see everything.” Each day we met in the morning for class about 20 minutes away from our flat in Farringdon, and then each afternoon we ventured out to sites across London. We explored Canary Wharf, Camden Town, Silicon Roundabout, Brick Lane, countless museums, and many historical sites. I saw shows on the West End, wandered around Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square at night, and walked the banks of the Thames with my friends on a sunny afternoon, exploring the local cuisine. Each day, I felt closer to the city and to the people with whom I was sharing this unforgettable experience.

The second week of our stay we visited the Tower of London. This was one of the sites I had been looking forward to seeing the most. The amount of history contained in those walls (in some cases, literally etched into the walls) was beyond anything I had ever seen, and I loved it. I spent hours there, walking from building to building, studying the carvings, viewing the crown jewels, and being transported to the world of 16th century London. It amazed me that I could see messages carved by prisoners, depicting events I had only read about in books. I saw King Henry VIII’s suit of armor, the site of Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536, and the room that the young Princes disappeared from in 1483. I walked around the tower in awe, realizing that I was retracing some of history’s most significant events, and this had a profound effect on me. I felt so connected to this world that I had only imagined, and here I was, seeing it with my own eyes. I was so in awe that it made me feel like I was seven years old again.

The rest of our time in London went by in the blink of an eye. I had seen and experienced more than I had ever imagined I could, but it still did not seem like enough. I had fallen in love with the city of London, and I did not want to leave it or my classmates. Three weeks of adventuring through a new place had bonded us together, and a big part of what made it so special was experiencing everything with them. As much as I wanted to stay, all good things must eventually come to an end.

The day I arrived back home in Minnesota, I pulled those Harry Potter books off their shelf and began to read. I felt connected to the UK’s history and to my own as well. I remembered that seven-year-old who dreamed of London’s busy streets, quaint buildings, and vast wealth of historic sites, and I knew I had come full circle. I am so grateful I chose to study abroad and that this was the program I chose. I cannot wait to visit London again as soon as I possibly can.~Erin Magner, UMN Abroad: Trade & Brexit

Still waiting for your Hogwarts letter? Take the initiative and explore the great Wizarding sites of London! Research your study abroad options at http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/.