Amanda Johnson’s world is about to expand by 4,325 miles. The senior political science and sociology double major will travel to London in September to begin graduate school at University College London.
Johnson plans to study social and cultural anthropology. This area of study is not offered at very many universities; UCL’s program is one of the biggest in the world, and absolutely the biggest in the U.K., Johnson said. The university’s academics is not the only reason Johnson chose to study there, however.
“One of my bucket list items has always been to study in the U.K., so I thought that going there for a grad degree would be a really neat experience,” Johnson said. “I’ve had a traveler’s heart for as long as I can remember.”
Anthropology is the study of people and human behaviors, and the program at UCL will allow Johnson to focus on a more specific area of this incredibly broad field.
Johnson said that she plans to focus on the democratization and development of third world countries. She will add a research emphasis to her degree so she can someday possibly be an analyst for the U.S. state department, the UN or a non-governmental organization.
“They have libraries like nobody’s business where I can do extensive research,” she said.
To give an idea of how prestigious UCL is as a university, their collaborative university partner is Yale. And just as American Ivy League schools are expensive, so are esteemed British schools. Johnson has applied for scholarships, but is willing to live on loans to make her dream of studying abroad come true.
“This university is just incredibly prestigious. It’s currently ranked number 7 in the U.K., so I’m just thankful that I got in. I’m not really worried about getting any scholarships,” she said.
While in London, Johnson plans to work to support herself, in addition to asking for some financial support from her father.
“He’s very excited for me to go to London, and I know how to play the Daddy card,” she said.
Johnson is no stranger to working on campus, and she wishes to explore that option at UCL. She has worked as an English 100 writing workshop leader, a CAS writing tutor and a Student Success student academic mentor during her time at Western. She has also served as Parliamentarian for SGA’s senate and founder and president of University Democrat. She plans to be just as involved on the UCL campus.
Johnson said that she’d like to tutor, do secretarial work for departments or participate in an assistanceship program.
“I’d like to make around 50 pounds a week for going-out purposes,” Johnson said.
Johnson recognizes that London has a reputation for being a “party” city, and she plans to take advantage of that.
“There is a bit of a party scene there. You know, that’s the stigma of going to London and partying,” she said. “It’s not the same idea of partying here; after you get off work or it’s late in the evening, you go out with your ‘mates’ and you have a few drinks. That’s just kind of standard. It’s very much part of the culture. “
Johnson has lived in London before, albeit briefly. She spent 6 weeks studying in London in the summer of 2011.
“I fell in love with the city; it’s the best city in the world,” she said.
Johnson cites several pieces of evidence for this claim, including the city’s safety. She says that the most dangerous thing a student has to worry about is pickpocketers.
The cleanliness of the city really separates it from American cities, Johnson said.
“It’s so amazingly clean. Of course, I was out this late, so I would know, but at 3 a.m. every night they have hundreds of street cleaners that come out and clean up all the trash every day. You know, people have a lot more respect for the city there.”
UCL is spread all over this clean city, while the main building is located directly behind the British Museum in central London. Johnson plans to live on campus, but residence halls in the U.K. are a bit different than in America. She will have her own bedroom and bathroom, but will share a fully-furnished kitchen with a whole wing of residents and a living area with the whole building.
Johnson lived in a similar dorm during her summer experience in London, so she knows approximately what to expect. She is looking forward to having her own bathroom this time around. A communal, co-ed restroom was an issue she had to face last summer.
“It was seriously two toilet stalls and three shower stalls that were separated by a curtain, and there were times that I was showering next to some guy with just a curtain separating us. I got used to that, but I feel like, having my own bathroom, I’ll be able to transition a little better,” Johnson said.
Johnson has lived on campus during her time at Western, so she has plenty of experience with dorm life. She knows that this experience will be different, however.
“Europeans have a different idea of space, so it’ll be a lot smaller,” Johnson said. “I will probably have problems with it at first.”
Johnson has an enormous wardrobe, which is easily evidenced by anyone that has seen her around campus. She is always clad in a layered, colorful outfit and several accessories. She credits two walk-in closets and multiple dressers and bins to this stylish wardrobe.
“I’m going to have to condense significantly,” she said. “I just have to realize that my wardrobe can’t be as colorful as I want it to be. And, oh my gosh, shoes. I don’t even want to think about shoes.”
Johnson plans to ship some of her belongings, like bedding and coats, to the U.K. before her departure.
“I am six months away from leaving, and I’m already making lists,” she said.
Style is important to Johnson, and it is very important to the average Londoner as well.
“Suit is standard. I think I saw one person in sweatpants the entire time I was in London,” she said. “Even the hobos are well-dressed. Even they are in some sort of suit.”
Johnson credits this stylishness to a difference in the culture and also a difference in manners.
“British people are so much more polite, it’s not even funny.”
When first in London, Johnson tested the stereotype of polite Britons by purposefully bumping into several people on the street.”
“It was very obvious that I did something rude, but they’re like ‘So sorry, love.’ When I was in a pub, I did that to two gentlemen, and they offered to buy me drinks! ‘Oh, so sorry, love. Can I get you a drink?’”
Johnson said that this polite nature is surely linked the much more communal British culture.
“You walk in to the pubs there, and the goal is to go meet new people. It’s not like closed-off booths; tables are pushed together. You’re going to meet new people every time you go out.”
While Johnson’s knowledge of British culture comes partially from her personal experiences in London, she also credits the Harry Potter series as starting her fascination with the country. The fact that the studios where the movie adaptations were filmed are to open soon is absolutely an additional reason that Johnson is excited for her experience abroad.
“They have Severus Snape’s robes on display! I will need to see this!” she said.
Johnson does seem to love all facets of British culture, but she will miss some things about life in America. Number one? Mexican food.
“There was one (restaurant) called La Mexicana; I’m pretty sure it was run by Russians. I ordered a tequila sunrise, and I’m pretty sure it was vodka,” she said.
There is a Chipotle in London where she can get her burrito fix: she discovered a hole-in-the-wall franchise location last summer.
“I GPS-ed it and turned like twenty Londoners on to Chipotle.”
Johnson will also miss some personal milestones like friends’ weddings while overseas. Most importantly, her mother will turn 50.
“I’ll miss her fiftieth birthday, which I’m really sad about. I’ve been planning this party for like three years,” she said.
Johnson said that the opportunities that she’s gaining by going to London definitely outweighs the personal events she’ll miss while gone.
“I’ve never been away from home for longer than that 6 weeks I studied abroad, so I’m really interested to test myself and see what kind of person I grow in to.”
Johnson works hard for Western, shown here going over a bill she authored at an SGA senate meeting. Photo by Jason Brown