Iuliia Arrives in England
After a short four-hour flight–which I found to be very nice compared to over 20 hours to America–I arrived to London. I was really glad to finally be here, as the travelling took me a week longer than I anticipated. The British visa centre issued me a visa for a trip to the past; they put the year 2016 instead of 2017 on my visa. So when I arrived at the airport in Moscow to fly to the UK, I was stopped! I had to spend a week in Moscow living with friends and in the hotels trying to get a new visa. Staying in Moscow where the temperature was around minus 30 degrees Celsius was not very pleasant, so when I stepped out of the airport in London, I felt like it was summer, even though the temperature was barely above zero.
Felsted School is located in a little village about 60 miles from London. With its old-fashioned buildings covered with moss, this place throws you a couple centuries back. The school itself is over 450 years old, and some of its original buildings are still there.
One of the main differences from Athenian is that Felsted is a Christian school, which means that 2-3 times a week everyone has to go to the school’s Chapel. It is an interesting experience for me, considering that I do not relate myself to the English Protestant Church nor go to church several times a week in general. The school’s assembly is also held in the Chapel, and it has a very different atmosphere from our morning meetings that used to be in the Main Hall. Assemblies are formal, and I cannot imagine students standing up, going to the podium and saying whatever is on their mind. During the assemblies, we are talked to about different topics. One of the things discussed both in the assemblies and outside of them was the recent inauguration. Most people watched it, some said they cried – I don’t know whether those were the tears of joy or not. It was surprising to hear people talking and caring about it even when I am so far away from America. Being a Russian from a school in the United States added to the usual ‘if I like Putin’ question a new ‘what do I think about Trump’ one.
Felsted is a boarding school with several boarding houses, each with its unique atmosphere. My experience of living in the dormitories is quite pleasant. I live in the newest dorm built only in 2014, after the old one burned down. There are three floors. Each floor has a kitchen, where there are always toasts, tea and coffee for everyone and fridges to store your own food. I live in a single room, and each room comes with a private bathroom. Moreover, there is a daily cleaning and laundry service!
Because of the school’s proximity to Europe, most international students come from European countries. At first, I felt like everyone knew how to speak German and Italian because there are so many students here from those countries.
The school offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is quite popular, so all my classes are IB classes. I noticed that students here do not try to take the harder math classes. In my IB High Level Math class there are only three people including me. I have learned to appreciate Athenian seminars. In my history class we are studying World War I and I was asked what history I took at my school. I found it hard to explain that last semester I took a class about LGBT history and that now I am taking a class about food.
This weekend we had an Exeat, which is similar to a long weekend at Athenian, only that you are allowed to stay at school. I had to go to a different dorm for the weekend, where I shared a room with a Round Square exchange from Argentina, Juliana. Juliana goes to the same school with Lucas, whom I met last year when he came for exchange to Athenian. I realized one more time that the world is small. Normally we have school on Saturdays, but because of the Exeat we had a free day, so I went to London. It took me two hours to get there, but it was well worth it.
Overall, my exchange has been a great experience so far.
Iuliia says Good-bye to England
Though I feel like I arrived to England just yesterday, in a couple of weeks it’s going to be a time to leave. I know it’s going to be harder than I initially expected. Despite all of the differences, I got used to my life here. I think that saying goodbye to the people that have become part of my everyday life will be the hardest thing to do. Though there is still some time left, I’m already feeling sad at the thought of leaving. At the same time, I miss Athenian. My time here taught me to really appreciate Athenian’s no-uniform policy, more relaxed atmosphere and the ability to call everyone by the first name – I realized it helps to build closer and more equal relationships.
One of the highlights of my experience here was a week I spent in London during the school break. I had plenty of time to not only visit the main attractions, but to feel what it’s like to live there.
After the other two exchanges left in early February, I am now the only exchange student at the school. Still, I can see how Round Square connects people through programs other than exchanges. Last week I talked to a girl who knew Athenian because of the Round Square International Service project she completed this summer. I guess, the world is small.
I definitely recommend going on exchange to anyone who has an opportunity to go. It is a great opportunity to experience a different culture, get out of the Athenian bubble, and make some very good friends. The main advice I would give would be not to expect anything and have an open mind; your experience is going to be very different from what you expect anyway. While some research about the school might be a good idea, don’t think you have a good idea of what the school is like. You will never know until you get there.