Walking around Central London, you’ll notice cars driving on the left hand side of the road, construction workers reconstructing the sidewalk and maybe an ambulance from the hospital nearby. If you wander onto Gower Street toward the British Museum, you’ll notice a gold plaque on house 35 that reads “Eckerd College London Study Centre”.
11 students from different majors will live and learn in this house for fall semester 2019. They share three bathrooms, a living room, study, dining room, laundry room and kitchen.
One of these students, sophomore Katrina McInnis, global human development and environmental studies major, was first interested in the program after a conversation with her mom.
“Then I threw my myself into the applications, like last minute and I am really glad I did,” McInnis said.
McInnis came to London four years ago with her family. They visited major tourists sites, such as Buckingham Palace and the London Eye.
Many of those staying in the centre have been to United Kingdom before, whether it be on a Winter Term class or with loved ones. This group includes this semester’s London Study Centre Director Grace Lager, Instructor of Communication, who is also staying here with her husband and two children, ages two and eight.
“I wouldn’t want it to be any other way,” Lager said. “There is no way I would want to do this without them. It does have some challenges, four people sharing one room can be tough at times. But I think the bigger challenge is trying to homeschool my son and working.”
During her time as a student at Eckerd, Lager heard of but never went to the London Study Centre, instead she applied for other study abroad classes. When Lager was Director of Alumni Relations, she led a two week trip for alumni around Christmas time in 2007. She then became interested in teaching Eckerd students in London.
“It is an amazing, unique opportunity to live abroad with a group of students from back home and to use the city as a learning lab for your courses,” Lager said.
The house staff share similar stories as Lager and McInnis. For ten years, Chef Abdelilah Nabil, who people call Billy, from Rabat, Morocco has cooked for Eckerd’s London students.
“It is a very good experience because every three months you meet new people, very exciting,” Nabil said. “There was a group in here before and we would go out a few times. It was a very good crowd.”
This semester he cooks dinner on weekdays and buys the students food for breakfast. Nabil said that if students get bored with the food, they can talk to him and he’ll change the menu.
Through his time working at the centre, he has cooked for many vegetarians, vegans and those with allergies.
“Just this morning I heard somebody in the U.K. with an allergy passed away,” Nabil sad. “The chicken was coated in milk and they didn’t realize, you know, it’s crazy. You have to read every single thing.”
Anyone traveling to a new place needs to be sensible, according to Nabil.
“When you go out you have to be vigilant, it’s not that everyone is beautiful and it’s paradise,” Nabil said. “There is no paradise anywhere. Especially sensible here, as they say, you shouldn’t take sweeties from any one.”
But there is also the need to explore. House Manager Maria Golvnea from Suceava, Romania said that this is an opportunity that should be taken advantage of.
“So many places,” Golvnea said. “Castles, museums, especially because they are free, temporary exhibitions, the British Library because it is so close. I don’t know, there are so many things.”
Both Nabil and Lager recommended Camden Town. Nabil said the market can get quite funky on the weekends and Lager said she enjoyed walking along the canals.
“Somebody gave me this advice a long time ago before I came to London,” Lager said. “There is so much to do and see here that it is easy to get overwhelmed, so figure out a focus. Whether you want to explore art, science, history and it doesn’t mean you don’t do other things, but just have that interest to guide you.”
For her, that interest is family oriented sites. Lager’s children have enjoyed the science museums, the Lego Store and the playgrounds.
“They have really awesome playgrounds here. They are so cool because you look up and there’s the London Eye or there’s Big Ben,” Lager said. ”I have done a lot and there is so much more I want to do, but it is already hard for me to say what my favorite thing is, whether it is the theatre or exploring the medieval alleyways or Oxford or seeing London through the eyes of my kids... It’s all awesome.”
As for students, many have enjoyed getting a pint at a pub and finding different coffee shops to finish their classwork. While she visited big tourist spots her first time in London, McInnis now enjoys wandering around the city and talking to various locals. She also said any prospective London Study Centre students should go for it.
“For me, it was a process. Because my faith is really important to me, I was in this place where I wanted God to use me whenever I am, so it worked out coming here,” McInnis said. “It helps you empathize too, because with everything that is going on here with Brexit and all that. I don’t know a lot about it, just being here, talking to the people from here, I am learning more.”