A London Holiday!

An American English teacher's experiences teaching in London

LND to BOS

The flight home from London is always more difficult because of that lack of a pesky tail wind. With a little help from Mother Nature, flying from Boston to London takes about five and a half hours. In the opposite direction, it takes about seven. This is especially complicated by the fact that on this particular flight, I sat right in the middle of about forty Welsh secondary schoolers on their way to my hometown for a holiday trip. 

Typically, when people ask me which students were more well behaved, I would lean toward the side of my British students; however, this was not the case yesterday. These kids, probably around Year 10, were rude, disrespectful, demanding, obnoxious, and over caffeinated. When they realized that they could call for a cabin crew member at any time, request a drink whenever they so pleased, and annoy the hell out of all those sitting around them, they really took advantage. I was almost thankful I was the one sitting next to a particularly irritating one as opposed to my seat mate, a thirty year old pharmaceuticals manufacturer, as I would have felt so bad for him. I nearly thanked a crew member when he finally let the row of hooligans in front of me have it for grinding cake into the carpet. 

Boston, be aware. You’ve been invaded by these foreign children who I’m sure will be reeking havoc everywhere. By the end of the flight, I was planning my speech to my own students to thank them for being so well-behaved by comparison. Oi, what a trip!

Final Farewell: Take Three

At the moment, Heathrow Airport is bearing a strong resemblance to some sort of hospital setting. The walls are very white, there is a loud beeping that has occasionally gone off, and it is a place where families and friends tend to gather. For me, it is once again the site of my departure. 

I woke up this morning quite early to finish packing my last minute items from yesterday and get breakfast with Nicole. Thankfully, I did not have to eat out as much during this trip because Nicole’s flat had access to a kitchen, and I would always eat breakfast at home, but for this morning we wanted to pick someone to get a bite to eat. While the original spot we chose, The Breakfast Club in Soho, had a line out the door, we stumbled upon a Plan B just down the road. The Cotton Cafe was a little locally owned spot serving breakfast and lunch. I ordered a Vegetarian Breakfast with came with an egg, toast vegetarian sausage, beans, tomato, mushrooms, and free tea. While I did not eat the beans, the rest of the meal was just what I needed.

We walked back home to Marylebone as there was not a cloud in the sky and it is a beautiful 50°F (11°C). Sorting out the rest of my suitcase upon my return, Nicole and I realized that we had gone a week without taking a single picture together. This was remedied outside the Baker Street Tube Stop, and off I went back to the end of the Piccadilly Line.

Let’s just say that I’m already planning my next trip for this summer, perhaps. While one of my goals for this trip was to spend a bit more time outside of the city, I came to realize that it is the city itself that I enjoy the most. When I traveled to other parts of Europe, it was London that I wanted to go home to. While in the other parts of England was enjoyable, I  appreciate the expanse of London’s landscape and the opportunities that it provides. This is a far cry from my perspective on cities five years ago, but it’s best to learn where you feel most comfortable while you can. I’m thankful for the friends I have in the UK and the best host and flatmate a girl could ask for. Bon voyage, London. Until next time!

My last full day in the city was quite busy, certainly unexpectedly so. I woke up early to catch the train to The British Museum, a museum I have surprisingly not been to yet. Essentially, I really only went to see the gorgeous ceiling in the museum’s entry way, but I did stop off to see the Rosetta Stone. The crowd of tourists with cameras in front of it made me laugh. 

I then took a 10 minute walk to Covent Garden to have a look around, and on my way I passed both the University College of London (UCL) and the Royal Ballet. Located right in the Covent Garden area, The Royal Ballet is surrounded by pretty streets and home to The Young Dancer, a statue by Enzo Plazzota. During this time, the weather took a slight turn for the worse and the overcast clouds began producing that spitting rain that is more inconveniently annoying than truly detrimental. To avoid it, I popped into a few stores down in the Covent Garden area along with the market that is under the cover of a glass roof.

After killing some time, I met a friend at the Seven Stars Pub down on Fleet Street. With pubs such as this one, the other impostors should not even bother serving their rubbish excuses for traditional British watering holes. Located on the bar in front of me was a water and food bowl for the pub’s cat named Tom Paine. Naturally, he wore a Elizabethan ruff collar. Starving, I had not eaten since early that morning, so I ordered a turkey escalope dish from the menu. It was very delicious, and came with a cabbage salad and large hunk of bread.  

From there we went onto the Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, a pub whose lighting never rises above the level of dim. It has multiple levels and winding staircases. We sat downstairs, underground in a pub nook next to a crowd of men in suits who were clearly afterwork regulars. Upon exiting, we walked by Samuel Johnson’s home, who along with other literary figures, was rumored to be a regular at the Cheese. 

Meeting Nicole and her friend Mary for dinner, we went back to South Kensington for dinner at my favorite Kensington Creperie. The food is well priced, and there is certainly an option for everyone on the menu. We ordered two savory crepes to spit - spinach and cheese and ham and egg - and then each ordered our own sweet crepe. My toffee and banana crepe with vanilla ice cream was just what I needed to cap off my trip. 

A few bottles of wine from Tesco Express (classic) later, and we were ready to turn in for the night. Cheers, London

Something that I have realized when I travel is that the act of going somewhere new for the first time makes me very anxious. Once I’ve traveled the route once, I’m good to go; however, it’s that first trip that makes the nervous. This can apply to planes, trains, and automobiles, but I like to arrive extra early and budget in disaster solution time. I would rather wait in the place I know I’m supposed to be than to hope I make it to the place where I should be. Let’s just say that this method certainly paid off on Wednesday. 

I woke up early to catch the National Rail to Bath, which is about an hour and half journey from Paddington Station. When I arrived at the station, I went to the automated ticket stall to print out my pre-purchased tickets. Yet, something did not feel right when only one ticket and a receipt dropped out of the slot. I went to a human teller to ask, and they told me to go back, check the machine again, and pray that the ticket was still waiting for me. As you can probably guess, I had no such luck, and was forced to re-puchased by return trip ticket. Upset and already anxious, it was not the best start to the day. Additionally, as Britain is mostly under water these days, my train was delayed during the journey for about 30 minutes due to issues on the tracks. 

On my way out to Bath, I spent much of my time trying to forget the conversion rate on that re-purchased ticket, and looking out my window. Once outside the city limits, the expansive, muddy fields were a prominent feature in between the row houses. I could not help but notice the dampness that seemed to pervade this area, almost as if it has been permanently absorbed into the moss covered houses of the London suburbs. It’s a far cry from the picket fenced houses back home. 

Once in Bath, I had a nice wander around the small town, stopped into the famous baths, and browsed the small card and gift shops. Many of the shops were chain stores that are also found in London, but the crowds are less overwhelming and aggressive in this smaller setting. 

I then hopped a 10 minute trail to Bristol (setting of Skins!), and walked into town. Much larger, more urban, and grungier than Bath, Bristol is comparable to a city like Portland. It is quite hilly, and after browsing through a small market, I trekked up to the top of a neighborhood called Clifton to see a large suspension bridge lit up at night. It was not until I walked across it that I realized how high up I actually was, as the cars seemed impossibly far below me. 

Catching the train home, I arrived at Paddington Station to see that the ticket stalls had been thrown open - I would not have even needed that stupid return ticket! TFL will be hearing from me, mark my words. 

This is a compilation post of the past two days - let’s go. Yesterday we went to two markets in the morning and early afternoon. However, this was my first time going to any market on a Monday, and the atmosphere is certainly much calmer and more relaxed than the bustling crowds I was anticipating. We traveled out to Liverpool Street to Spitafields Market, which is typically a fashion, artistry, and small crafts market and certainly a favorite of mine in the city. We got a bit lost on our way over, stumbling across the delightfully named St. Mary Axe along the way; however, once we did reach the market, many of the stalls were empty so we browsed the shops which surround the market instead. Much to my chagrin, the Misha Barton store while I was surprised to spot the last time I visited the market has since closed - travesty. 

We made our way to London Bridge where we hopped down to Borough Market. Again, many of the stalls were closed for the day, so we focused our efforts at the main stalls at the entrance to the market. We both ordered pad thai and split an order of thai coconut pancakes, which somehow resemble oysters. Both were delicious, and we looked up the recipe for the coconut “oysters” once we got home. 

After a momentary rest, I headed out on my own to High Street Kensington to browse the shops again. High Street Kensington has smaller versions of all the main London stops - Topshop, H&M, Miss Selfridges, Uniqlo, and Zara - but the sidewalks are less crowded than streets such as Oxford or Regent. Besides, it’s where I used to spend time on the weekend, so I thought I would visit the old neighborhood again. Unfortunately, I must report that this has not been the shopping extravaganza that I anticipated. While this is London Fashion Week, it’s also during that changeover period between winter and spring when the sales have ended, and the fashion world is not quite sure what season it is supposed to be showcasing. I’ve purchased a few nice items, but I haven’t been thrilled with the styles in store. My bank account breathes a sigh of relief as we speak. 

Today, Nicole and I made two sets of reservations. The first was to visit Kensington Palace, which has been on my to-do list for two years now. Over the past two trips, the Palace was under renovations, so I was unable to get a peek inside. This time around, I am pleased to say we were more than successful, and the exhibits themselves were very unique. They had a certain avant garde, almost macabre feel to them at times. Both interactive and beautifully designed, some of the rooms looked more like artistic theater sets than historic interior design. It would be a great museum to bring elementary school age children someday. Seven year old me would have loved it: twenty-two year old me certainly did too. 

With some time to kill, strategically between rain showers, we walked through Hyde Park to see the Diana Fountain Memorial, and then headed back “home” into South Kensington where we went into the cute South Kensington Bookshop to escape a sudden deluge. As it is the week of half term, we walked by the Natural History Museum, which had a queue about a half mile long. Those poor kids must have been soaked in the rain…oops!

Post-South Ken, we headed off to St. Paul’s where we had reservations at Bea’s of Bloomsbury, which also has two other locations. We sat upstairs in the glass building and were served small sandwiches on baguettes, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and a assortment of sweets including brownies and a cupcake each. We both chose black vanilla tea to accompany our meal, and it was absolutely delicious. This was my second trip to Bea’s, and it is well worth every penny. Compared to the price of other afternoon teas, it certain surpasses my expectations. 

After re-grouping for a short while, Nicole and I headed down to the West End in hopes of winning two £20 tickets to see The Book of Mormon through a lottery system. If you arrive at 5PM, you have an opportunity to fill out a card, drop it in a bin, and if you return at 5:30PM, you may hear your name called as a winner. Unfortunately, while we did not win, our back-up plan was to see Once the Musical at The Phoenix. I had wanted to see this show in Boston, and was so upset when I missed my opportunity. I am a massive fan of the original movie and soundtrack, and was so pleased when it became such a success. We had excellent seats in the Dress Circle, and the show itself was so natural. Fantastic cast, fantastic songs, and some great lighting moments too. Certainly a high point of the trip for me!

P.S. Nicole and I recounted all the horrible outfits I wore to school dances over the years last night, and I can’t say I’ve laughed (at my own expense) so hard in a very long time. If you knew me at the age when I wore the bathing suit and jean bucket hat, I commend you!

Fashion Faux Pas

Number of iPads Used as Cameras - 2
Number of Pigeon Encounters - 2
Number of Miles Walked - 8

Today I stopped into the Tate Modern, and coincidentally watched preparations for the Topshop fashion show as it is London’s Fashion Week from the 14th-18th. Then I took a very long walk along the Thames, beginning at Victoria, passing the Houses of Parliament, down over the Southbank, walking over the Tower Bridge, and then looping back around the other side of the river to walk past all those sights again, but add in St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Somerset House; however, that is not the important bit. 

The important bit is that as I walked down the sidewalk past the Somerset House which is the hub of the Fashion Week shows. Walking along, a car passed me whose passenger leaned out the road to call out in a loud shot, “You’re a babe!” accompanied by a cheeky grin. 

Now, as I was chuckling, I began to work out that the car had approached me from behind. It was evening and beginning to get dark out, so there was certainly something missing from the equation. I had noted to Nicole this morning that the tights I picked out were driving me crazy: there is nothing worse that tights that just won’t stay put for more than a moment. Therefore, as I reached behind me to investigate, I discovered that my dress had neatly tucked itself up into my coat on one side. Couple that with the tights that were continuously falling down, and you have London Fashion Week’s newest style icon. Well done, Becca. 

As an unimportant side note, I also ate the most uninspiring mushroom soup that impressively had no flavor whatsoever. It was served with a side of “seasonal” vegetables, which was comical as they had certainly just microwaved them from the freezer, so really they should be considered a year round fair. The whole meal was so horrific that it immediately became entertaining. Zagat should check out The Shakespeare Taylor Walker Pub by Victoria. It’s doing amazing things these days…

Safe and Sound

Fanny Pack Count: 2
Number of Minor Delays: 2 
Glasses of Red Wine Spilled: 1

I arrived in Heathrow Terminal E safe and sound, but not without a few minor mishaps. During the night, I accidentally slapped a stewards behind as he was walking down the aisle with the cart. In an effort to get some sleep on the plane, I ordered a glass of red wine; however, that plan was to no avail because I spilled half of it on me while I was trying to retrieve my sleep mask from its pouch - so much for beauty sleep. Luckily, I had a particularly absorbent blanket over my lap which prevented the wine from staining my clothes. I just stained the tray table and surrounding carpet instead. Well done, Becca

I flew through customs, got on the Piccadilly Line, and texted Nicole to tell her that I was on my way. Since the Tube runs above ground for a bit leaving Heathrow, I finally had service to call and check my phone balance. The automated voice kindly informed me that I had £0.01 left on my phone. It was also at that moment that I realized that I never googled the directions to Nicole’s residence from the Tube stop. I knew it was quite close by, but I never checked into the specifics. Too tired to have any real anxiety about either of these issues, and with the assistance of a helpful security guard, both problems were solved without a hitch. 

After a trip to Sainsbury’s, which felt just like old times, it’s as if I’ve never left. 

Anonymous said: If you don't mind me asking, what classes did you take in London? And what university did you attend whilst in the UK?

I was technically associated with Roehampton University whilst I was in London; however, the set up of my program was very different from typical study abroad programs. I had one class, The History of British Education, that met every few weeks, but the majority of my responsibility was teaching in the classroom five days a week. I was observed and evaluated during the lessons I taught, and that determined my overall grade. It was very intensive and a lot of planning, but it really prepared me for teaching in real life. Thanks for the question!

The Foreseeable Future

Nearing this time about one year ago, I was packing to leave for London. Since then I have graduated from my university, secured a job as an English teacher at a local high school, and have been itching to plan my next trip. Fortunately, two of my favorite siblings will be in Europe this year - one in Berlin and one in London. The obvious conclusion is that a visit is in order! As an American teacher, I have a week’s break in February, which is part of the off-peak season for traveling. At this time, I think it would be ideal if I were to spend three days in London and three days in Berlin. 

London - This will be my third time in London, but as I’ve lived there, I won’t be going for the tourist attractions. I think it might be nice to take a day trip to Bath, because I’ve always wanted to visit, and it’s very pretty. I want to go back to my old haunts, really see the Tate Modern for once (I’ve only popped in for a quick spin), and catch up with my London friends. 

Berlin - I’ve never been to Germany, but I’ve been dying to visit! Berlin is supposed to be one of the hippest and most up-and-coming artistic cities in Europe, so I’m thrilled that I may have the opportunity to visit a close friend there. One of my best excursions was when I arrived in Prague without a plan or a guidebook. I have a feeling that the “no plan” plan would work out for Berlin as well. 

Teacher Interview Tips

In a really fortunate twist of fate, I was lucky enough to be hired as an English teacher at a local high school nearby to where I live. The teaching hiring process requires the utmost patience and persistence because while jobs can be posted as early as January, the actual interview process does not take place until early June. Crafting a proper cover letter is a task unto itself, but to be called for an interview indicates that the school is already interested in you for a position. They want to match a face to a resume and decide whether you would be a good fit for their school. I thought it may be helpful if I posted some of the typical questions I have been asked at the varying levels of interviews that I’ve been on. 

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