Rambling – Part One: London

Lesson 1:  Cryptic phone calls can turn into international adventures. Just gonna put that one on the table to start. The process of organizing my first-ever trip overseas went roughly like this:

: “They [this awesome, fully-online program in Addiction Studies jointly-run by VCU, King’s College London, and Adelaide University] are going to London and they want to document their work. Could you go?”
Emma: “Um. YES?”

Email Preview: “Confirmation – Your Flight to LONDON, UK has been Reserved…”
Emma:  (passed out on floor)

It happened that fast. On May 22, I jumped in a van with some of the most lovely ladies ever and rode to Dulles International — about 8 hours later, we landed in London-Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom.

Mary and Me.

The whole point of this trip was to give the faculty at VCU, KCL, and Adelaide the opportunity to meet in-person and discuss the state of the program. The International Programme in Addiction Studies is a collaboration between 3 premier research universities, and in the short time it’s been around, it’s drawn hundreds of students from six different continents. IPAS really epitomizes some of the things we love at ALT Lab — connected learning, breaking physical boundaries, and great use of online tools.


Femke, Mary, and Kyle — IPAS’ current triumvirate of awesome.

While in London, I documented IPAS faculty at their working meetings and grabbed a ton of footage of instructors explaining their courses for trailers and orientation videos. It felt pretty special being present with 9 faculty who had only collaborated through screens prior to this meeting.

Without getting too heavy into detail, the trip was a big success — IPAS seems to be at a pivotal point in its growth, and as the programme scales larger and larger, it was good to see that some of the most crucial issues are being addressed. You don’t usually think about the infrastructure of academic programs, but this was a great experience in seeing how high-level planning is accomplished. This little videographer is excited to get to work and see how far IPAS can go.


Dinner at the Athaneum. 2 generations of IPAS, 1 extravagant dinner, unmeasurable spirit.

This was my first trip overseas, and amidst the barrage of fashionable Europeans, espresso drinks, adorable accents, and taxi-induced anxiety, what really stood out to me (apart from the crazy quickness with which IPAS folks jumped into their work and the indefatigable Mary Loos) was the process of assimilating into British culture. Granted, assimilating to the U.K. is about as easy as it gets for an American overseas (and 10 days in a new country isn’t enough to claim you’ve even remotely begun assimilating)… but there are still some distinct things Brits seem to approach in a fundamentally different way than we do.


A view of City Hall from the Tower of London

I was most surprised by the slower pace of the London — it’s an ancient city interspersed with fantastically modern buildings, but it still seems to hold traces of a trudging medieval way of life: workers taking long, drawn out lunches; the home-y interiors of the pubs that dot every block; open markets with no trace of chemicals or processing; the foggy curtain on winding streets which demands its walkers take a meandering, extended commute… or maybe it just seems that way to a post-Industrial American baby like me. I’m aware I have a tendency to romanticize things that are new and charming to me, so any Londoner reading this post will probably think I’m talking out of my (as they say overseas) arse.


Tell me where to find this in Central Virginia. Mouthwatering displays at Borough Market.

But I’ll stand by this: Aside from feeling the blunt of my smallness and insignificance next to structures that outdate me by 2500 years… Being in England showed me that accomplishing good work shouldn’t come at the cost of missing out on life. I think Europeans in general have mastered this idea of work and home being separate things, and it’s a divide we tend to ignore in the U.S. Seeing the lovely people of IPAS come together was wonderful, not only because it was an opportunity to accomplish significant work, but it was also an opportunity to strengthen bonds, break out of familiar settings and literally see how people work on the the other side. It might be easy to assume that online, we all exist on the same nationless, borderless plane where all the variables of the external world don’t affect our ability to share and produce content. In reality our cultures deeply impact the way we interact with things that aren’t bound by time and space — and maybe it’s the veil of the Internet that keeps us from seeing this clearly (for better or for worse). It’s a neat idea to see play out in front of you.


The moment we officially arrived in England. Cheers!

You can find more photos of my trip right over here. For future reference, check out my Instagram account for cultural revelations as they happen in real time.



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