London Arts Alive Blends Travel, Study for Knox Students

March 28, 2013

London Arts AliveTwenty Knox College students recently spent more than three weeks in London, England, becoming immersed in the city's contemporary arts scene while also examining its historical, social, and political contexts.

The students participated in Knox's London Arts Alive program, which combines classroom learning with travel. They prepared for the December trip by taking a fall term course taught by Professor Robin Metz, director of the Program in Creative Writing at Knox. The coursework consisted of readings, films, and discussion -- all designed to allow students to start becoming acquainted with London culture while still on campus.

"I saw this as a great opportunity to not only go to London, but also, there's so much culture and history we could sink ourselves into," said junior Alyssa Gill, a theatre major from Berkeley, California. The course, she added, enabled her to see first-hand "the differences between American and London culture, especially in the context of theatre and the arts."

Once the Knox students arrived in London, their classroom studies took on a new dimension. One of the books they read during fall term, for example, was Mrs. Dalloway, by English writer Virginia Woolf.

"There were certain scenes from the book that took place in London," said Gill. "While we were on the ground (in London), we would walk around and Robin would point out those locations and we would stop and talk about it. It was really interesting to get that context of the area in which Virginia Woolf lived and see the area that kind of inspired her to write."

The group's schedule in England was jam-packed.

London Arts Alive
London Arts Alive

"In London, we attended some 55 events in 22 days," Metz said. That includes plays, museums, galleries, dance and music concerts, opera, ballet, discussions with guest speakers, and historical tours. The group also traveled to the English countryside, visiting Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Stonehenge, and Avebury. (Photo at top of page: Knox London Arts Alive students at Kenilworth Castle. Photos at right: Kenilworth Castle; Knox students at Stonehenge. Photo below left: Knox students view St. Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge.Photo at bottom of page: Student Grace Davis at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.)

Oscar Hallas, a Knox sophomore from Brooklyn, New York, said a typical day in London consisted of a tour in the morning, a museum trip in the afternoon, and a live theatrical production at night.

"I learned a lot about theatre itself," he said. "Seeing that volume, you don't really have a choice but to have it be on your mind a lot of the time. I think it has re-cemented my desire to try and do that with my life -- make theatre, whether it's acting or writing or whatever."

Even with all of the scheduled activities, students still had some free time to check out the city and explore their individual interests.

They were able to get around on their own thanks to Robin Metz and Elizabeth Carlin Metz, who holds the Smith V. Brand Endowed Chair in Theatre Arts at Knox. The Metzes gave the students a crash course on their new surroundings shortly after landing in London.

"They would really help us to navigate around, which was great because that was one of my biggest concerns," said Emalie Jacobs, a senior from St. Louis, Missouri, who is double-majoring in creative writing and Black Studies. "I'm horrible at map-reading, and I was convinced I was going to be lost the entire time. But it was super easy. They built a lot of confidence in us."

Robin Metz, who is also the Philip Sidney Post Professor of English, said that London Arts Alive attracts students from a variety of majors, including an array of arts-related fields.

"It's quintessentially a liberal arts course," he said. "We're not only looking at the (interdisciplinary nature) of all these arts expressions. We need to be following the politics, the social pressures, because they're all being expressed through the arts."

London Arts AliveIn addition, he said that by combining a 10-week academic term at Knox with the winter break, students who might not otherwise study abroad can have the opportunity for "a unique and wholly immersive international experience."

Metz started offering London Arts Alive in 1995. He has devised other Knox courses that blend classroom work with short-term travel, including a course that took students to Wales for in-depth study of Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas. 

While in England, the Knox group also explored the "incredible range of diverse cultures" in London and the city's arts scene, attending events that traced their roots to the Chinese, Russian, Spanish, and Middle Eastern cultures, among others, he said.

After returning from London, the students completed creative projects related to their experience. Gill, for example, wrote a play. Another student compiled an extensive scrapbook.

Gill said the London Arts Alive course "offered just the right amount of freedom," allowing her to learn about herself and about a different culture. "Particularly with regard to London, the freedom allowed me time to explore -- and that is exactly what I needed in order to grow."

Hallas said he now feels strongly connected to London and appreciates "the sense of history that permeates the whole place." At the same time, he added, London is "a busy, bustling city."

Like Gill and Jacobs, Hallas said he'd recommend London Arts Alive to other students.

"Going to a completely foreign place with this small group of students is a really strong bonding experience," he said. "I think some of my favorite people at Knox are people who I met on this trip."

"Also, the volume of arts that you're taking in the whole time is astounding," he added. "There were things that I liked and there were things that I didn't like, but there was nothing that bored me."

London Arts Alive