On My [Digital] Bookshelf

If there’s one thing I love to do to unwind or escape, it’s reading.  I’ve been an avid reader for about as long as I can remember, and it’s always been my way to escape from everything going on around me and delve into another kind of reality.  It’s a running joke in my family that the reason I’m so directionally challenged is because I never looked up from my book when we were driving in the car, so I had no frame of reference when I got my license.  Usually, I’m a quick reader - I call it “binge reading” - since I can get so immersed in a story that I simply have to know what happens next.  When I was a senior in high school, I went on a trip to Quebec, and we drove for over 10 hours in a coach bus all the way to Canada.  I got through two entire books that weekend.  On my flight back home from Paris two summers ago, I read The Kite Runner in its entirety, barely looking up for lunch (not that it was that good…).  Books have a way of pulling me in and not letting go until I’ve gotten to the last page, and it’s such a thrilling experience for me.

 

I have to read a lot for classes, so by the end of the day during the term, the last thing I want to do is read.  When I was home on break, however, I read a ton!

 

I started with Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult.  She’s one of those authors that I can only binge read because her writing is incredibly compelling.  This book starts with a girl named Jenna Metcalf whose mother disappeared when she was a baby.  She lives with her grandmother and has spent years searching for her mother, Alice, who apparently vanished without a trace.  She enlists the help of a disgraced psychic named Serenity Jones, as well as a detective named Virgil.  Not only do we hear Jenna’s search for her mother, but we also get to hear her mother’s story, Serenity’s, and Virgil’s stories as well - this is a signature technique that Jodi Picoult uses.  Alice used to work with elephants and study the grieving process, so that was an interesting storyline, as well.  I literally flew through this book on our first day of vacation - that was how good it was.  The end, however, took me by complete surprise, and I remember sitting there with my mouth hanging open, I was so shocked!  I always say each book is better than the last, but it’s true every time.  HIGHLY recommend!

 

I love historical fiction, so a friend recommended Ken Follett’s novels.  He just completed a trilogy, which he calls The Century Trilogy.  It’s aptly named, because each book traces a generation of the same group of families throughout the twentieth century.  Fall of Giants is the first book, so it begins in 1912 or so, as Europe is heading for the Great War.  Each of these families - English, American, Russian, German, and Welsh - becomes intertwined in some way, despite their class differences and countries or origin, so it was fascinating to read each of their perspectives on the events leading up to, during, and after the Great War.  It’s romance, politics, history, and so much more, all together in this master story.  This was another binge-read for me, even though his books are massive - we’re talking 900 pages here!  I also had a ton of free time when we were on vacation, but I couldn’t put it down.  If you love history, like I do, get this book.  DO IT.  I’ve moved on to the next book in the trilogy, Winter of the World, which is about the children of the characters in Fall of Giants, and this one deals with the Great Depression and World War II.  I’m about 400 pages in, but it’s taking me longer to read this one because I’m back in school right now, not because it’s any less compelling.

 

I also finally finished Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s newest book, A Path Appears.  That one took me longer because I like to take my time with non-fiction, but I loved it and was incredibly inspired by their ideas, as always.  I read Half the Sky, which is about global issues facing women and girls and WOW was it incredible!  I had never considered the impact that simple operations, for example, could make, or even the ripple effect that women and girls have on their communities.  A Path Appears is almost like the next step you take after reading Half the Sky, because it is about what you can do to help resolve these issues.  It first examines the organisation and initiatives that are already hard at work around the world, and then examines the sociology and science surrounding philanthropy itself, as well as how to make the best difference you can.  This was easily the most inspiring book I’ve read in a long time.

 

Oh and if you’re wondering why I said “digital bookshelf” it is because I am a proud Kindle owner.  I love paper books (I read the actual paper copy of Fall of Giants), but being able to read on both my iPad and my Kindle is just so convenient.  This is especially true for a study-abroad student who has limited room in her suitcase!  I’ve had a Kindle since they first came out, and upgraded a few years ago, and I still say it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

 

Any books you recommend?  I’m always open to suggestions!

LONDON! Week 3

Well, it was another busy week here in London, but I got to get away from the city thanks to an Adventure Weekend that my study abroad program coordinated in the Lake District!  More about that later, though.

 

On Monday, I had quite a bit of reading to do for my Politics in Europe class so I spent the morning in the library, which was actually quite peaceful.  This week, we talked about voting behaviors and different historical splits.  My lecturer for the week discussed voting psychology and ergonomics and whether or not different voting formats affect the way people vote.  Lots of dense reading, but I didn't mind, since the library is such a central place and I don't feel alone haha.  I had a lecture that afternoon for my Democracy and Democratisation class, and this week we discussed the different waves of democratic transitions and whether they can really be historically categorized.  That evening was the first meeting of the Women Leaders of Tomorrow society and wow was it fun!  What I love about it is that it's not one of those ultra-feminist groups that's a little too extreme for me - it's more like a version of The Smart Girls Group (the startup I work for) right here in London.  This society is working to create a community of driven women for support and mentorship so it was a really fun event.  They had booked a classroom in the new academic building, but didn't expect a popularity of over 150 of us to show up, but it was so encouraging!  There are going to be some great events this year and I can't wait!

 

On Tuesday, I spent the morning working on my newsletter for Smart Girls Group and I got a few things done for the Fordham Political Review, as well. Then I had my marathon of classes: Politics in Europe lecture from 12-1, Islamic Empires lecture from 1-2, and Politics in Europe seminar from 2-3!  LSE doesn't give you any time in between classes for whatever reason so I had to sprint across campus for my last class…and was still late unfortunately, but I'll find a shortcut haha.  I could listen to my Islamic Empires professor lecture for hours!  He has this incredible passion for the subject and gets so into what he's talking about that you're naturally on the edge of your seat and so wrapped up in the story of these three empires, that the hour just flies by.  I'm actually sad it's over when it is!  After my classes were over, I got a little more reading done before I headed out to Kensington.  My roommate from freshman year is studying abroad at Fordham's business school campus in London and it was her birthday on Thursday, so we bonded by going to her gym for an insane Tabata class and relaxing yoga, and then dinner at Whole Foods.  Seriously, I was soooo sore that night!  It was so good to catch up with her and I love how we've remained friends, long after we've vacated Jogues 435.  

 

On Wednesday, I was absolutely wiped from the previous night, so I slept in a bit and went for a nice walk in the morning.  It's still pretty mild here so the air felt lovely in the morning, and I got a chance to do some exploring.  I had my Islamic Empires class from 11-12, where we had a map quiz and learned a bit more about the geography of the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires.  Did you know that "Punjab" (like the Punjab region) means "place of five rivers" because it's the intersection of…well…5 rivers?  It's amazing how literal some geographical terms can be, isn't it?  After class, I did a little reading in the library before I treated myself to lunch at a Chinese restaurant near me.  I had a cold last week and I had read about the health benefits of congee (which is basically rice that's been cooked for over four hours to make a porridge/broth of sorts and is often fed to the sick because it's nourishing and healing) so I had a nice big bowl of that for lunch and it was excellent!  It's not that it was flavorful or anything, just warm and very comforting.  Definitely an excellent choice!  From there, I went to Charing Cross Road to Foyles, my favorite bookstore.  There are so many independent and interesting bookstores in London, and they're all very reasonably priced, so I actually enjoy going in them, unlike the ones in New York :).  Foyles is six stories and I could just spend hours there and keep adding to my never-ending "To Read" list!  I had wanted to get started on one of the books my Islamic Empires professor recommended, so I picked up a copy of "My Name is Red" by Orhan Pamuk, which is a murder mystery set in the Ottoman Empire in the 1550's and is absolutely excellent.  I'm also now a student member of Foyles so I get 10% off every purchase now!  From there, I went to a lecture by the Teaching and Learning Center on "Effective Reading Strategies" which was quite helpful.  The woman giving the lecture had some great tips on managing the immense amounts of reading we have, and on how to actually retain the information for an exam in 8 months.  

 

I had been meaning to go back to Westminster Abbey ever since I had heard that they celebrate some sort of mass every day and that it's free and open to the public, so I took the train there that evening.  It was a short mass - an evening prayer - but so surreal to be saying mass right in a church that's such a big part of British history.  Also, the Church of England allows women to be priests so I appreciated the mass even more haha.  I had just enough time when I got back to quickly change and head off to running club, and it was so fun!  Granted, it was luring so we all got drenched, but we ran over a few bridges and along the river which was beautiful even in the rain.  

 

Thursday started off early since I had a 9:00 class (my earliest!) but it was for my From Empires to Independence class so I didn't mind at all.  Plus, it got me going early so I got a lot done in the morning.  One of my writers for Smart Girls Group lives in London and goes to LSE's rival, King's College, so we finally got the chance to meet over hot chocolate at a lovely cafe right near campus.  She was my first writer for Smart Mail, and it's been over seven months!  We chatted for a bit and then had to get back to work so it was back to the library for me!  I got some reading done for this week in my Democracy class since I knew I would be away all weekend and I got organized which is always relaxing for me haha.  Then I had a lecture for From Empires to Independence on Japanese modernization in the 20th century and it was fascinating!  I couldn't write fast enough to capture all that my professor was saying - that's how good he is.  I had another back to back so I had to sprint to my Democracy seminar, but the TA running it is very nice and understanding so it's not a problem.  Then came the highlight of my day which was a lecture entitled: "Nixon, Kissinger, and the Shah: The United States and Iran in the Cold War."  The lecturer has just published a book on the subject and I can't wait to read it.  I had no idea that the Shah and Nixon had such a bond - they even met up in Mexico when they were both in disgrace…  Definitely a great way to end my week!

 

And now….Adventure Weekend!!!

 

My study abroad program coordinated an Adventure Weekend in Keswick, which is in the Lake District, for all of the UK students and I had been looking forward to a little country air for a while.  We left on Friday, nice and early in the morning.  The tube ride to Notting Hill Gate was quick and easy and finding the office was as well.  It's on Pembridge Lane which I think is mentioned in the Parent Trap lol.  I got there pretty early but I met a few people and didn't feel rushed at all.  People started coming one by one until there were well over a hundred of us standing around in the back garden!  I found some people I had met from orientation and we chatted until we got our coach allocations (Pink Floyd, The Who, Rolling Stones, and of course, the Beatles) and I was the only one on the bus who didn't have a seatmate which bugged me at first, but I was immediately grateful for.  Across the row from me were these two nice girls, Hope and Tirsa and they had just met so it was easy for me to break into their conversation (I remembered what schools were in a consortium with Smith, Wellesley, etc.) and we were instant friends!  Seriously, we talked for about two hours!  Tirsa is from Greenwich Village, goes to Bryn Mawr where she studies Fine Arts.  Hope is from Jersey and goes to Johns Hopkins where she's studying political science but in London, she goes to Kings and is studying War Studies!  How cool is that????  She wants to go into national security law, loves west wing, Pan Am, and all of my favorite shows!  We took a break from chatting and I read my book for Islamic Empires for a while before the first stop.  

 

From there, it was certainly an adventure!  Around 4:30, we hit traffic because of an accident and were at a standstill for about two hours so I retreated to my solo seat, curled up with my scarf as a blanket and watched two episodes of Pan Am to escape.  Tirsa and Hope and I intermittently chatted, listened to music, read, etc. and it felt like it would never end!  I actually didn't mind because I had a 1.5 liter bottle of water, my own water bottle, and was totally relaxed for some reason, despite being a little stiff.  It was quiet and I just stared out the window listening to my entire library on shuffle, which was quite peaceful.

 

For legal reasons, we had to make another stop to give the driver a break but it was nice to stretch my legs finally.  Once we got back on, I started reading since I didn't feel like looking at my iPad anymore, so I got really into my book and I love it!  I totally lost myself in it, which I haven't done in so long, and I can't wait to go chat with my professor about it.  We finally pulled into Glaramara around 10:30 (4 hours behind schedule!  lol) and I was starving!  We pulled our suitcases out in the pouring rain and ran inside to a nice warm meal.  I had fillet of salmon with mixed vegetables and wow did it taste good!  The hotel/hostel was different  but it's nice and warm and the rain falling outside is quite pleasant so I liked it. 

 

Saturday was the big day full of activities!  After breakfast, we kind of sat around for a bit before we took a group picture and split intone activities.  Mind you, it was already a bit chilly and damp when I went to the equipment house for ghyll scrambling so I was a bit apprehensive...  First, we were given lamb skin onesies, then a pair of waterproof pants with suspenders, then a rain jacket, life vest, and helmet, along with a pair of wellies.  Here are some words to describe how I was feeling: sausage, Oompa Loompa, marshmallow, and penguin.  Definitely warm!  Once we were dressed, the instructors gave us a little intro and informed us that the river was just on the verge of being safe and unsafe since it had rained pretty heavily the previous day and that they don't normally wear life jackets.  Okay, I thought, this is how I'm going to die...in a river in the Lake District!  We waddled off to the entrance to the river and climbed in one by one.  After a splash initiation by the instructor which certainly woke us up, we were off!  Now, I thought this was going to be splashing around in a river and exploring and kind of playing.  Nope, we were CLIMBING in the river, scrambling over rocks, down banks, through tunnels, being tossed into pools, the whole nine yards and I was SOAKED.  It was so much fun, though!  The water was so clean and cold and absolutely lovely.  It was such an adrenaline rush and terrifying but such a great time and  I met so many people.  

 

When we got back, we peeled off our soaking wet gear and ran inside into the warmth which was such a relief!  It was a while before our next activity but I got to chatting with a girl who goes to Oberlin and designed a linguistics major for herself and she was really interesting.  It was so fun to just sit around and drink hot chocolate in the living room and chat with everyone- kind of like a ski lodge lol. 

 

It was finally time for my next activity which was dragon boating!  At first, I was slightly disappointed that I didn't get to do paddle boarding, but after this morning, I had absolutely no desire to get tossed in the water again so it was a relief haha.  They drove us to this landing and we boarded small launch boats to take us across the lake where the wind was calmer to our dragon boat which is like a giant canoe with a dragon head carved in front so it's kind of like a Viking boat.  After a brief paddling lesson, we were off!  I have to say, this was the most beautiful part of the trip: this enormous lake with mountains and hills all around us and it's gray and cold, but it's so pure and untouched and clean.  It was incredibly peaceful (even with the very choppy lake!) and paddling was so much fun...mostly because we weren't very good at it lol.  

 

When we got back, I sprinted to the showers and took the longest hot shower ever which was pure bliss, and changed into my dry leggings and big Choate shirt so I was quite happy haha.  We had about 2.5 hours until dinner so I hung around the living room and chatted with people before I took some time to myself in my room right before dinner.  I sat with a bunch of people I had met throughout the day including Tirsa, Hope, and Hope's friends.  After dinner (such a relief to finally eat lol) it was time for a pub quiz!  Spoiler alert: guess whose team won??  THIS GIRL!!!  Thank you high school bowl! We even got medals :)

 

After that was a dance party which was kind of like an awkward middle school dance, but still fun and a good way to end the day!

 

On Sunday, we had a short morning activity before we departed, and I hadn't taken any pictures yet, so I chose to go hiking.  There is probably nothing like the mountains and countryside of England, and it was absolutely breathtaking.  First of all, there are sheep everywhere so it's a funny sight when you're climbing up a hill and you come across about 20 baaing sheep haha.  We hiked for the longest time, over hills, across rivers, through fields, and it was quite the adventure.  From one of the summits, the wind was so strong that it almost knocked me off my feet!  Here are some pictures I took: 

 From there, we boarded coaches to the center of Keswick where we picked up the non-hikers and set off for London.  Luckily, there was no traffic so we made it back in the normal six hours :)  Such a fun weekend and a great way to escape and meet some new people!

 

Well, it was another beautiful week in London!  I've got a bit more work this week, but my reward for getting through it is Scotland this weekend, so it's all worth it!

Inspired to be,

Katherine :)

Sunday Musings

You know it's a quiet day here at Fordham Public Safety when you can read an entire book, start to finish, in the span of a shift and still have time left over!  My Kindle, though some say it is killing the print industry, is a godsend!  I've been doing a lot of reading this summer and have had a few "reading day" shifts where I'll just read an entire book, rather than work on my laptop the whole time.  You get tired of staring at a computer screen, right?  Especially now that I have my iPad, I've been very wired.

I have a habit of "devouring" books - something I've done since I was little.  I learned to read when I was very young and it's always been my rock.  I am never not reading something and when I latch onto a book, I read and read and read until I am completely enveloped in it and it's done.  I'm a fast and passionate reader so it makes a nice balance.  Devouring things is a bit of a theme in my life, as I like to just sit down and get something done; the feeling of something hanging over me drives me crazy!  If I have a huge paper assignment, for example, I'll set aside an entire afternoon and get the whole thing done in a chunk of time.  Of course, I'll edit it (Tutor Katie living up to her title!), but I like to get the whole thing off my chest at once.  In other words, I was the girl who read the new Harry Potter book in its entirety on the day it came out. :)

Today I read a book called Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline which is a parallel story of a modern girl in the foster care system and a girl in 1929 who was sent out to Minnesota on the Orphan Train from New York.  Her family was an Irish immigrant family and my own family (great grandparents) were immigrants from Cork, so I've always liked stories about immigrants.  The modern girl, Molly, and the now-elderly woman, Vivian, develop a bond from their shared stories and it's heartwarming without being cliche at all.  I also loved the Irish cultural references, like the claddagh symbol, which I wear on a ring.  The claddagh is a pair of hands holding a heart that's topped by a crown, symbolizing friendship (the hands), loyalty (the crown), and love (the heart):

My mom brought me back my ring from a trip to Ireland she took a few years ago and someone very dear to me told me it's "like Facebook for your finger" because it shows your attachment status, depending on what way you wear it.  Every time I think of this, I smile because it actually makes sense in a millennial sort of way.  If you wear it on your right hand, you aren't married, and the crown facing out means you are committed to someone, and the heart pointing out means that you are single.  It's the same on the left hand, with the heart signaling engagement and the crown signaling marriage.  I've always wondered if it's a big deal in Ireland but I suppose I'll just have to find out!

One of the many beauties of the iPad is the Maps app.  I can see places in this beautiful layout so I got distracted the other night and started playing around with it and searching through London.  My apartment in Holborn is near King's Cross (the station from Harry Potter), Piccadilly, across the bridge from the Globe, right near the London Bridge, near several gardens and museums, parks to run in, as well as about 6 Starbucks, a Lululemon, a Whole Foods, the British Museum, not too far from Westminster Abbey, and also not that far (but still kind of a hike) from Buckingham Palace!  I had been hitting a bit of a slump with my excitement about studying abroad.  Not that I'm not excited, because I'm absolutely ecstatic, but my fears were starting to creep up on me and it was starting to just kind of cloud the joy.  Then this happened.  FYI: the joy is completely back and I'm ready.  Six weeks from right this second, I will be in London, on my orientation which includes tours and shows and talks about the culture of Britain, etc. etc. and this is actually happening to me.  Also, I rediscovered my joy of being in London itself.  Before, I had been focusing on what countries I wanted to visit but then I realized the other night that I'm going to be in London and there are soooo many places I want to see there, as well.  Yes, I want to go to Scotland, Wales, Italy, Prague (which I know is not a country), Ireland, Spain, Paris, etc., but I can save longer distances for that entire month off I get for Easter or the occasional long weekend or something. I also want to know London.  I want to explore every inch of the city itself.  A friend told me that, when he was studying abroad, he would take the train to a new station once a week and wander around and get to know the neighborhood itself, apart from the touristy destinations.  Isn't that a great idea?  I want to take an afternoon a week and just explore another part of the city and get to know it.  I want to see Notting Hill, Buckingham Palace, all the touristy and non-touristy places alike and I want to be a Londoner.  Like I'm a New Yorker now, I want to be a Londoner too.  I want to embrace where I am and make roots in addition to traveling everywhere else.

I've had so many days, lately, when I've felt like I was bursting with how happy and content I am.  July was a rough month because all I could focus on was how badly I wanted to go home and how tired and overworked I felt.  It took a short phone call to my mom who had been getting the brunt of quite a few complaints, to flip the switch and pull myself together.  Actually, it was my mom herself who told me to pull myself together and that I was fine, which helped immensely.  We all have burdens and things aren't always idyllic, but this is where I need to be right now.  She helped me turn over a new leaf with the beginning of August and I feel so content and sure of myself now.  That being said, I only have 11 days to go home and I can't wait, as much as I've come to love it here!

Here's to turning over new leaves, devouring good books, and rediscovering the thrill of adventure!

Inspired to be,

Katherine