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An Ode to Experiential Learning

February 11, 2018

On my first day of class here at IES Abroad London, I was instructed to go outside and eavesdrop. The class was Playwriting Workshop, and the task was as follows: we had exactly 20 minutes to find some people having a conversation. They could be in a coffee shop, or at a bus stop, or on a park bench—these could be any people having any conversation. All we had to do was identify our targets and, quietly and discretely, write down at least six lines of their dialogue. We would then return to the classroom and read those lines aloud. We would give no descriptions of these people or their setting. No context at all. All that mattered was their words. After hearing these dialogues, the rest of the class would then have to figure out this context based on these words. Considering solely conversation topic, word choice, and syntax, we would have to figure out who these people were.

Hurrying out of the classroom, we began splitting up to find our subjects. I slipped into the first coffee shop I saw, which was empty except for two men in the back. They were sitting across from each other, having what looked to be a very serious discussion. Jackpot. I sat down a couple tables away from them and began quietly scribbling down the gist of their conversation. It turned out that they were negotiating a very intense business deal. Back in class, we heard dialogues between old friends gossiping about people from university, bankers on their lunch break, teenagers discussing the pros and cons of Snapchat.

This was, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and fun assignments I have ever been a part of in my life. Now, whenever I happen to overhear a conversation between strangers, I think about how much you can learn about somebody from just their words.

Last week in my architecture class, we got locked inside of a church. In this class, every meeting consists of some sort of walk in a neighborhood of London to see the many different styles of architecture that make up this city. This particular walk started went from the Museum of London to Brick Lane. Towards the end of our walk, we stopped at Christ Church in Spitalfields, a church designed by a man named Nicholas Hawksmoor, who studied under legendary British architect Christopher Wren. We managed to make it before the church’s alleged 16:00 closing time…or so we thought. As we were discussing the church’s basilical layout, a man came through the doors and looked at the group of us, surprised. He explained that the church had closed early and that he had just gone around outside and locked up everything, not realizing we were inside. Though the situation was easily amended by this man kindly unlocking the front door and gate for us, it makes for a pretty good story. How many times has your architecture class accidentally trespassed?

There are countless exciting aspects of studying abroad—being immersed in a new culture, making new friends, travelling, seeing the world. But the studying part of studying abroad is just as exciting. IES Abroad has demonstrated to me that learning best occurs through experience. Each and every one of my classes class takes advantage of the fact that London is overflowing with learning opportunities. There is something truly magical about experience-based learning. Studying Baroque architecture in the classroom and then going to see St. Paul’s Cathedral. Reading Mrs. Dalloway and then walking the route Clarissa Dalloway walks in the novel. Looking at a picture of the National Theatre and then watching set construction going on backstage. I have gone to the British Museum, I’ve wandered along the streets of Covent Garden, I’ve explored the British Library, and I’ve seen three incredible plays. This week, I’m attending a student acting showcase in Leicester Square, I’m going to experience the architecture of Greenwich, and I’m seeing a West End production of Shakespeare's masterpiece, Julius Caesar. All of this—for class. And we’re not even halfway through the semester.

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