Equality in Paris, France

In France, transgender men and women have been allowed to legally change their gender since 2009, and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013. This made France the thirteenth country to legalize same-sex marriage, although even prior to this France was considered one of the most LGBT friendly countries in the world. As per this standard, in 2009 France became the first country in the world to declassify transgenderism as a mental illness.

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During my stay in Paris with a few friends from the group, I spent a lot of time walking around the city. It was filled with beautiful sights, but one of the most beautiful parts of Paris was the people. It truly is a city of romance, and love flowed like the Seine. I spotted couple after couple walking along the crowded streets, snuggling in corner booths, and happily swinging held hands. And fitting comfortably among the oodles of lovers, without fear of judgement, were LGBT couples, noticed no more than the rest.

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The LGBT couples that I saw in Paris stood out to me, because they didn’t stand out at all. Nobody gave them a second glance, and the mild caution that I had sensed from LGBT couples in some of our other stops was nonexistent. The equality in Paris was the epitome of my dreams for the world, where there need be no fear of judgement. France even has a very successful law against hate crime, where one can receive up to 12 months in prison for non-violent offenses. Similarly, if a physical assault or murder occurs, and is classified as a hate crime, the sentence for the convicted goes up significantly.

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Most of the places that we have visited on our study abroad have legalized same sex marriage, but they have not necessarily had the same level of acceptance as France. It has been wonderful to know that the people of UK and Ireland believe that same sex marriage should be legal, but their fight for equality doesn’t end with legality. Many still face discrimination, and often they are not as well protected by hate crime laws. In France, there are much fewer battles left to be won, in terms of both legal and social LGBT equality. The country has always been one of the most progressive in terms of the battles for LGBT rights, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the first to win the war. I believe in a world where true equality is possible, and I got a taste of that dream on the streets of Paris, France.

Written by Mallory Slavis

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London Neighborhood: Brixton

Brixton was definitely not a place for tourists. I stuck out like a sore thumb because I did not know where I was or where I was headed. Everyone else knew exactly where they needed to go, and because I was just wandering aimlessly, I’m sure that I made some people a little irritated. Most of the people I saw looked of  working class, and there were a lot of Black people.

I was interested in seeing how Black people from London act compared to my friends at home. I listened to their lovely accents as I listen in on their conversations. Their English accents sounded slightly different from the English accents I heard in the city centre. This accent was more thick and heavy.

I walked around and I saw stores selling ethnic food, particularly Indian. I then saw that I was approaching a market. The market was inside a big building. As I got near the market, I immediately smelled raw meat. As soon as I entered I saw an assortment of seafood. There were shrimp, crab, and a whole lot of fish! I heard a commotion of conversation and I heard vendors yelling over the crowd, trying to sell their product.

Further down, I saw watermelon, plantains, beets, mangos, pork, lamb and sweets. I even saw some cool shopping stores on the inside that were filled with trendy clothes and accessories. Everything was a little pricier than I was expecting, though. Compared to Borough Market, where a meal cost around 8 pounds, 8 pounds could not here.

I decided to explore the market a bit further, and I stumbled upon perfumes, colognes, hand-made jewelry, and purses. You could get everything you ever needed right in this building! It must be really convenient to be able to have such an amazing variety of food from different cultures in your neighborhood. I am envious of those that live in Brixton!

I decided to leave the market lest I would be tempted to buy another necklace that I did not need. I continued to walk aimlessly around the neighborhood. The weather was nice and windy. It was very refreshing to not smell raw meat anymore like I did at the market. I looked around and observed the building architecture. It was not too different from that of Camden town, where I am residing. The people again were racing past me as I tried to enjoy a nice and slow walk down the streets of Brixton.

I noticed some very beautiful murals on the sides of buildings. Sadly, my phone died and I could not get any pictures. They were all very colorful.

I decided to head back to my hotel after about 10 minutes of more walking. I am glad I got to see was London was like away from the city centre. Brixton seemed like another world almost, one with mostly people from the Middle East or Africa. I was delighted to discover that London was such a melting pot of culture, and every culture seemed just as welcome here as the next. I found a new reason to appreciate London today and I hope that appreciation grows the more time I spend here!

London Neighborhood: Palmers Green

After an hour-long journey on the tube and bus, it was clear we were no longer in London – we finally made it to Palmers Green, one of London’s many suburbs. We disembarked on a main road in the center of the community. This busy road was lined with chain stores such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Boots, and lots of foot traffic. People were going to and from their homes in order to pick something up from the store or grab a bite to eat.

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After  a while, we decided to go down a residential road to get a glimpse of where and how people really lived. The houses seemed to be duplex-style buildings that were all connected. Each residence had one or two cars in front of it; a few had small gardens or toys scattered on the driveway, indicating family homes.

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We then left the residential area and went on a smaller business-slash-retail street. Here, the shops were smaller and possibly family-owned. We walked by a lot of beauty and hair salons, as well as all kinds of restaurants including Chinese, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European. There were a few people walking their dogs or pushing strollers down this road. Everyone seemed so different but it appeared as if the people in the suburbs got along quite well. The diversity was treated as just another benefit to living in Palmers Green.

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Just an hour out of London, life seemed so different. The pace was slower and more relaxed, compared to the rush of the city center. Here in Palmers Green, you weren’t just an anonymous face in a sea of people but rather a neighbor and a friend.

Written by Michelle Zhang and Abbi Herrold

Side Trip to Paris!

For a few of our free days, some students chose to go to Paris.

I’ve always dreamt of Paris and getting to see the Eiffel Tower, but I never thought the day would actually come. Having three free days in Paris was more than I could have ever wished for. 

Our last day there, we started with breakfast at a patisserie down the street from the hotel. I had a croissant fresh from the oven. With it being my first someplace where English isn’t the first language, I found it a little challenging communicating with someone who spoke very little English, and trying to enunciate the names of the food correctly.
We then took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe for more picture opportunities. It was a beautiful monument with intricate and distinct architect. It wasn’t too crowded there that morning, so we got to see everything up close. 

Later, we decided to split up so some of us could see museums and others could shop for souvenirs. We went to a couple places along the Seine river, some by Notre Dame, and others close to the Louvre. It was nice getting to see all these incredible places one last time before we left. 

After shopping we decided to stop for a late lunch and coffee. We went to a little food stand near the Eiffel Tower, and I tried a croque-monsieur sandwich; which is a baked/fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich. We then found a shopping plaza, and stopped by to have a coffee. 

Our last stop before leaving for the airport was the Eiffel Tower so we could get pictures in front of it. We found a nice spot behind the tower and found someone to take our picture. 


The whole trip was so surreal. Getting to see one of my dreams come true, when a year ago none of it seemed possible, was an unbelievable experience. I’m so glad the opportunity to go presented itself to me, and I hope to come back in the future.

Written by Raelyn Greene

Let’s Go Punting!

Walking up to my room for the first time at St. John’s College in Cambridge, I could sense its history. From the worn stone and wooden steps with divots where scholars have stepped for hundreds of years, to the cloudy glass windows that need a bit of elbow grease before finally swinging open.

Cambridge has over 800 years of rich history, and all of us were able to experience it through punting which is a unique part of Cambridge history all its own. Punting is done on college campuses across the UK, but is most popular at Cambridge. As we boarded the punt to take our tour down the river, the punter introduced himself as Nathan and proceeded to tell us all about Cambridge.
The River Cam runs through the city of Cambridge which, if you can guess, was named after the Cam Bridge. Speaking of bridges, the River Cam has 9 bridges that cross it, and they all have a unique story. These are my personal favorites: the Kitchen Bridge leads to, you guessed it, the kitchens; the Claire Bridge is the oldest; and the wooden bridge, which is sometimes called the mathematics bridge, is based on the physics of an egg by distributing force to the outer beams rather than the central beam of the bridge allowing for further reinforcement.

Unlike most universities, Cambridge does not have a designated campus. The 31 colleges of Cambridge are scattered across the city. Out of those 31 colleges, only 3 of them are women’s colleges. Furthermore, women were not even accepted into Cambridge until 1988! Since then, women have raised the overall GPA of the university by about 15 percent!

Oxford University has been the rival to Cambridge University for centuries. Cambridge has produced more Nobel Peace prize winners with over 90 to date, yet Oxford has produced the most British prime ministers. Oxford punting is done on the front of the punt, but Cambridge punting is done from the back simply for the sake of being different.

At the end of the day, Cambridge is clearly the better of the two as it is the top university in the UK and second in the world only to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Written by Victoria VanEtten

Day 35 : Vauxhall Neighborhood Visit

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Our time in London thus far has been one of exploration, finding the little parts of the city that speak to us and being catered to by vendors and businesses who thrive off the presence of tourists and visitors to the country. With that being said, it was important for us to step off the beaten path and into the neighborhood inhabited by the people living here, in order to assess what London lives, breathes, and feels like.

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Finding our way to Vauxhall went off without too much difficulty, although it was further from King’s Cross than many of our group had dared to venture before. A few minutes of planning and reading the underground map saw us on our way, on a tube bound for Vauxhall. A handful of minutes later, we stepped off the tube into the constant rushing air that flows from the surface of London into the expansive underground system, and we made our ascent up the steps into our new environment. 


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The skies looked the same as we ventured into Vauxhall from the crowded city center of London. The difference was immediately noticeable. We bottle necked from compact city streets next to rushing water to this open space with fresh air next to a slow flowing river.

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It has a different vibe than the rest of London. It is less about the fast paced uptown but more casual and laid-back simple lifestyle. Vauxhall is definitely a neighborhood on its way up. Every corner we turned, we saw construction work.  So much so that is almost felt as if every thing that was not already a site was being turned into one. I think this is just creating more room for people in Vauxhall and more opportunities for people already living there. There is certainly a simple but happening nightlife in the area, especially given the number of gay bar, pubs and restaurants. This is not what you see typically more of around mainstream streets of London.  It had a small-town residential vibe with a welcoming, encouraging and growing space for people from all walks of life. It was interesting to see a side of London most visitors probably don’t get to see being surrounded about the luscious London lifestyle.


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Vauxhall is a place of gentrification. Every street corner has a different environment. It is a community, an office, and a riverside flat combined into one neighborhood. One cannot say that Vauxhall has one common theme. There is a little something for everyone here. A place where things are constantly growing and changing. A place to get away from the hustle of central London. A place where one can call home and another can call work. It is a unique place that can remind one of us of home in Hong Kong and another of home in Chicago. Vauxhall has something for everyone.

Written by Andrew Moody, Christie Fordon and Unnati Upadhyay

London Neighborhood: Islington

While in London, our group is staying in the northeast part of the city, in a neighborhood called Islington. Much of our time has been spent traveling south into the heart of London but we took an afternoon to explore the area we are calling home for ten days. Much like the city as a whole, Islington is a melting pot of diversity and home to a variety of atmospheres.

When we first stepped off the train at King’s Cross, we were thrown into a bustling square. Taxis, buses, and travelers whizzed by in every direction. But if you make the short walk to our dorms, you will already have crossed over into a quieter region of student housing, parks, and more residential areas.

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A bustling scene outside of St. Pancras and King’s Cross train stations

 

Moving further north into Islington, we entered an area that made us question the stereotypes we had heard about Islington being an affluent neighborhood. A market ran down the center of the street, with vendors selling fresh seafood, plants, produce, luggage, rugs, and much more. Behind the market stalls were tiny store fronts that ranged from Asian grocery stores to frozen yogurt parlors. However, there were nearly as many abandoned stores as there were occupied. Residents of nearly every skin tone and style of dress, from yarmulkes to hijabs, passed by us. Even with people milling about and business taking place, there was a striking quietness about the area. At one point, we walked past a restaurant and could hear the scrape of silverware on a plate!

After traveling through Chapel Market, we crossed the street and came upon a much more populated shopping district. At this point, it became clear how this could be perceived as a more well-to-do neighborhood. The streets were filled with boutiques, French-inspired cafes, artisan bakeries, posh restaurants, and landscaped parks. We took particular joy exploring these little pockets of green that were sprinkled every few blocks. The parks were clearly well loved and utilized spaces. The people of Islington were spending their afternoon reading, chatting with a friend, lounging in the grass, or playing with dogs.

Though nestled within London, Islington didn’t have the same urban feel. The residents were predominately white and middle aged. Most could be seen eating with friends on a restaurant patio, moving between shops, or relaxing on a park bench. We also saw quite a few children (all smartly dressed and well behaved) and infants being pushed in expensive ergonomic strollers. The bustling, touristy atmosphere of central London was entirely absent. This was clearly someone’s home—a neighborhood where a family can be raised and the spoils of success enjoyed. We both agreed to split the $1.3 million price tag for the two bedroom flat near our favorite park.guide to islingWritten by Andrew Smith and Carolina Vogel