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Time for tea

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, March 31, 2011

LONDON — On any given Tuesday afternoon, Notre Dame students studying abroad in London can only be found in one place — the London Undergraduate Program Library.

But they are not there to use the abundance of books or to find a quiet place to study. In fact, the library is anything but quiet.

Students, teachers and administrators gather each Tuesday around noon for “tea time,” during which the London study abroad community socializes and enjoys hot tea and an assortment of cookies.

Alice Tyrell, the librarian at the Notre Dame London Centre who is known by students as “Miss Alice,” has been hosting tea time for five years.

Originally, she began tea time as a way to get to know students so they would be more comfortable asking her questions about research.

“I wanted students to get used to coming into the library and make it really easy for people to ask me questions,” Tyrell said. “That’s why we do it in the library.”

Over the years, Tyrell said tea time also developed into an opportunity for students to socialize with each other and with faculty. Though attendance varies by semester, Tyrell said tea time seems “really popular” this spring, with about 60 students attending each Tuesday afternoon.

Since the London program’s creation over 25 years ago, it has developed traditions such as tea time and has moved into a building once used as an exclusive gentlemen’s club for members of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The program has grown since its beginning and now accommodates 130 students each semester.

Junior Nick Arnold said the sense of community felt at Notre Dame carries over to the London program.

“Its size is a strength, not a weakness,” he said. “With a large group of students, we are able to meet entirely new people, while at the same time continuing to hang out with previous friends.”

The long history of the program also provides a chance for previous students to recommend where to go for nightlife or to eat.

Junior Manali Patel said many students received emails with recommendations prior to their semester abroad. As a result, many Notre Dame students tend to frequent the same locations on the same nights, which contributes to the program’s sense of community.

“Everyone interacts with each other more because you’re in a smaller group,” Patel said.

But some students said this sense of community does not come without a trade-off.

“It’s nice to know that you have friends you can go out with and you always have something to do with somebody,” Patel said. “But compared to other [study abroad] programs, I wish that I could meet other people.”

Junior Nick Bortolotti said aside from temporarily meeting British people in pubs, he finds it difficult to branch out while abroad.

“The fact that we don’t go to a local university here means that we’re constantly surrounded by Notre Dame kids,” he said. “I expected it to be easier to interact with locals.”

However, students and administrators countered the stereotype that studying in London is exactly like studying at Notre Dame.

Greg Kucich, director of the London program, said the program is an “international hub” for the University because the London program works to not only integrate Notre Dame students with British culture, but also to bring Notre Dame’s presence to London.

He said classes in the London program are similar to Notre Dame in terms of their high academic standard, but classes draw on the cultural resources of London to offer different learning opportunities.

Specifically, Kucich said classes are not scheduled on Fridays to give students the opportunity to travel and the majority of classes are designed to include field trips to relevant locations across London.

“This is one of the most exciting and distinctive features of the London Program — its capacity to engage students internationally with the vibrant cultural life of London,” he said.

Patel said she often explores London for class.

“We go to tons of galleries. We go on walks to look at architecture. We go to gardens,” she said. “Places I never would find [on my own.]”

In addition to the opportunity to interact with British and European culture, studying in London also offers a different residential life compared to Notre Dame.

Because the drinking age is 18 years old in London, students are allowed to consume and possess alcohol their rooms, Ric Whaite, one of two rectors living in the residence halls, said.

The residences themselves, which are apartment-style and co-ed, also contrast with the single-sex dorms at Notre Dame. As a result, parietals do not apply in the London program, Whaite said.

But, Whaite said, the different rules have not created problems.

“I don’t consider our experience as a program with a residential life component in London to experience greater issues thanks to the perceived liberality of our policies,” he said.

Bortolotti said the different residential life policies have been beneficial to his abroad experience.

“I think it contributes to a more relaxed social interaction because you’re not constantly worried about intervention for alcohol or presence of the opposite sex,” he said. “I haven’t heard anybody complain about it. I think it’s definitely a good thing.”

Because of such differences, and the very nature of living in London, Arnold said the London program would always differ from studying on campus at Notre Dame.

“All in all, the London program will never be ‘just Notre Dame,’ because the atmosphere of London encourages students to go beyond the way they live and study in South Bend,” he said.