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Year Abroad applications from our second years have been piling in these last couple of weeks but we’ve still had time to have a multi-year community lunch and catch up with third year student Yasmin Underwood.

But first, last Saturday we took students on a day trip to London to see two exhibitions as part of our Cultural Programme. The first exhibition was at the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize Gallery – a gallery where winning artworks are displayed. The competition is open for unrepresented artists and is an important platform into gaining commercial recognition for one’s artwork. The gallery was opened early exclusively for us and we received a guided tour by one of the curators. Overall Winner of the Prize this year was self-taught artist Sophie Peters, a LANS alumnus, and we were guided through her section of the exhibition first. Peters’ artworks have a variety of themes which resonated with our students, from plastic overuse to surveillance in society to questions of identity. Students were inspired by Peters’ art, first year student Sam Attafuah said visiting the exhibition made her “want to paint… I think a lot of people stop themselves because they don’t see [art] in their future, whereas when you see someone you can relate to, like Sophie, it makes you think, ‘why not?’”

The other winners included sculptures intended to explore how different materials interact, including a giant spring, half of which was set in amber. The curator explained to us in detail about how the temperatures of the materials had to be exact to achieve the desired effect, which gave a valuable insight into the artistic process.

Students at the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize Gallery

Our next stop was at the Imperial War Museum, where we went to view the ‘What Remains’ exhibition. The exhibition explores why cultural heritage is attacked during war. As we explored the artefacts, important questions were raised. We ponded whether buildings of cultural relevance are a legitimate target in warfare and whether nations should rebuild their cultural heritage after an attack at the expense of a different, future culture? It was morbidly fascinating to learn about the destruction of cultural – and even religious – icons and how their destruction could sever the cultural ties between individuals and their nations.

Students at the ‘What Remains’ exhibition in the Imperial War Museum.

This Wednesday, we hosted a community lunch in the LANS hub. Students across year groups and staff gathered to buffet on sandwiches and other snacks – Dr Ilija Rašović especially enjoyed the lamb kibbeh. It provided a chance for students to get to know each other a little more and for staff to disseminate exciting news.

Firstly, Dean Diana Spencer talked a little about the upcoming strikes and how best to deal with them as a student. The lunch provided a useful opportunity for students to understand more about the rationale behind the strikes and for lecturers to explain their personal feelings. The strikes tie well with our Deliberative Democracy initiative, which uses in-depth discussion to explore the question, ‘Should we protest?’. Students can use their personal experience of the upcoming weeks to reflect on attitudes to protesting and perhaps add pathos to these discussions.

Next, Dr Steffen Prauser talked us through plans for this year’s Summer School – a week where LANS students approach Conflict Studies, the interdisciplinary study of warfare, in France. This year, we’ll be travelling to the Teaching & Sports Centre in Fontainebleau, with day trips to the Army Museum and Memorial de la Shoah in Paris. The summer school provides a wonderful opportunity for students to engage with a different culture alongside other LANS students across the years.

L’Auberge espagnole

Last week, our second year students submitted their Year Abroad applications – and to celebrate Dr Steffen Prauser launched their French Film Club. They played the French-Spanish film ‘L’Auberge espagnole’ which is about a French student studying in Barcelona. The film provided an opportunity to experience film from a different culture in a different language and students wondered how similar or dissimilar their experience next year will be.

We also caught up with third year student Yasmin Underwood, who’s studying in Washington, D.C this year. She sent us a reflective piece about her time in the States, expressing that while a year away from home can be emotionally turbulent, it can also provide plenty of opportunities. Here’s what she had to say:

“We regret to inform you that your order for one Year Abroad, Best Year of Your LifeTM is still pending.”

Yasmin Underwood

To all of you 1st and 2nd years, perhaps not what you might have liked to hear. My apologies. To my fellow 3rd years, maybe you can relate on some level, or maybe I’m alone in this one. But I rush to reassure that ‘not the best’, doesn’t have to mean bad. So far my year abroad has been measured by moments, some wonderful, some not so much.

Have I had opportunities? Trust me, I have them spilling out of my ears.

Have I met new people? Too many to count.

Have I engaged in self-discovery of sorts? I have had cause to journal at least twice.

I would only stress that when it comes to a year abroad, you will still be you, only somewhere else. Your problems will still be problems, only set against the backdrop of somewhere drastically (or merely slightly) different. I think that this can get lost in the rollercoaster of excitement and anticipation, and may lead to the disappointment of feeling that you’re perhaps not ‘doing’ your year abroad quite right. Those endless opportunities have presented a timely challenge in my fight against my ruthless and often self-sabotaging tendency to overcommit.

Of those many people, perhaps only a couple have I truly found connection with. And self-discovery is seldom a pain-free process, sadly. Not quite what it says on the tin.

But I am learning to live in the discomfort of unfamiliarity. I am learning to embrace the quieter moments and the lonelier ones. I have accepted that only by committing to the discomfort, only by seeking it out, will I stand a chance of befriending it. Will it end up being the ‘Best Year of My Life’? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll get back to you on that one. For now, I’ll bumble along doing year abroad the best way I know how, trusting that ‘good’ will grow from ‘challenging’.

Next week promises to be a busy one, with a variety of Cultural Programme and LANS Society events. We hope you enjoy the rest of your week!