A Day in English London

One of the most attractive parts of the International Study Centre (ISC) Herstmonceux packages is the travelling. Field studies are an integral part of courses; classes run from Monday to Thursday as the weekends are dedicated to field trips.

Take, for example, my modernist British poetry and drama class yesterday. We went to London bright and early in the morning to go on a walking tour of Oscar Wilde’s London. One of my favourite authors for less conventional reasons, it was pretty exciting to go around seeing the sites of the hotels that he stayed at, the exact place where he bought his green carnations and his cigarettes, and so on and so forth. Fortunately for lazy girls like me, there was never very far to walk — Oscar Wilde was much lazier and never seemed to go anywhere unless in a hansom carriage.

And, of course, we did a bus tour of London itself as part of cultural studies — optional field trips (unlike class ones) which are included in the school fee anyway, so why not? After all, when you get to do certain wonderful things like watching Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the reconstructed Globe Theatre where it would’ve been performed before, it seems silly to throw up that opportunity!

Yup, that’s right: we got Standing Yard tickets to one of Shakespeare’s most well-known comedies (and one I studied before, adding to my joy)! Standing Yard tickets are exactly what they mean: we stood in the central yard for the full three hours, minus the fifteen-minute intermission where we sank gratefully to the floor, probably like people would’ve done in the past, except I think maybe we weren’t as crowded as they would’ve been. After all, these days it would be known as a safety hazard. But it was an excellent performance and I enjoyed it so much, as did most other people, it seems. I’m not sure if it’s easier to understand Shakespearean English when it’s performed live, or if I’ve just got better at grasping it through prolonged staring at it — I really didn’t fancy Shakespeare at all before — but at any rate, I actually understood most of it and was therefore very happy.

English literature makes me happy in general. I’m very glad to study it and also quite proud when other people recognise how cool it is too. For example, I was telling a friend about the Mexican-American war which I never knew about until we did All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. (Frankly, I know very little about American history prior to the Cold War.) He was impressed by the maps I was showing him to explain my point. “You learned that in English?”

Oh, yes, and not just that, but I also learned that the most significant factor in a child’s mental development and wiring of the brain from a neuroscientific (or at least biological; I don’t know if it’s neuroscientific) perspective is just love. Love, more than listening to Mozart or speaking to a baby in Shakespeare, is what helps a child’s development. An absence of love actually means the brain will be wired differently. At least, that’s what I understood my prof to be saying — I haven’t personally read the research into that, but if I’ve got it correct, then that is a pretty awesome fact. I mean, it’s something you probably guessed just by thinking about it, but it’s cool to have the research to back it up. It feeds into one of my most important philosophies about life, which makes me doubly happy.

In fact, most of what I learn outside of school comes from fiction: for example, that toys talk at night and faeries come to visit them. It’s funny how children can work out what is factually true and what’s imagined. It also means my knowledge is rather patchy and random at best, but I have so much fun, it really doesn’t matter. As you can see, I’m an advocate of doing what you love. The risk is that I have no clue what I’m going to do with it practically, but I personally find following my interests worth the risk. I believe in things working out eventually.

And I honestly believe that there is value in every academic and non-academic discipline (within reason: harming others or yourself as a consequence of your professed “study” is not cool by me), so I really enjoy listening to other people talk about their studies. Since every subject is important and since everyone has different interests, I think it is amazing when people do what they want and we all come together to talk about them. I may not take to organic chem like a duck to water, but I’m very pleased when people make an effort to explain things from their perspective without glossing over it. English lit floats my boat, but everything together moves our world.

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