Danning is an international student from Beijing studying at the University of Buffalo. She then spent Spring semester 2012 studying abroad with CAPA International Education in London. She talked to us about her internship experience and classes in this global city and her thoughts on the London Underground during the year it celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Note: the photographs throughout the interview are Danning's.
CAPA WORLD: What is it about British culture that you enjoy?
DANNING ZHANG: When people hear about British culture, the first thing comes to their mind might be the royal family, the sexy accent, or the awesome soccer. For me, it’s their traditional afternoon tea. I like how British people treat their life seriously, yet with much tenderness and easiness. You can tell from their dry humor! They might seem overly polite or even a bit cold as you first approach them. However, they are amongst the nicest people on earth. Sometimes you just need to take a break from a busy afternoon and enjoy some delicious afternoon tea. Because this is life - a mixture of accomplishment and enjoyment, focus and relaxation. So, there it is, the famous yet friendly treat for life, and also our first welcome reception from CAPA International Education. A smile comes to my face every time I think about my time there in UK with CAPA.
CW: What was your favorite sight while studying in the United Kingdom?
DZ: People say, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” This is very true, because London truly has every wonderful thing you can have from the world. The London Eye, London Bridge, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Borough Market, River Thames, all the free museums, amazing musical plays, various cuisines…you name it! Outside London, there are even more marvelous places that you want to visit! Although it’s hard to pick one single place out of all the amazing places that I had been to, I picked Stonehenge on the complimentary group tour arranged by CAPA. We embraced the perfect combination of essences of nature and human creativity. It made me believe that the world is more than what you see and what you possess, and it is worth every expense to explore.
CW: How was your internship experience
DZ: Half of the time of my internship at London College of Accountancy was spent in my compact office doing administrative tasks, and another half was spent running around the school, learning hands-on about the field of education, and getting to know my colleagues. I was ambitious and excited to go every day; and I felt a sense of fulfillment as I walked back home in the cold wind. I learned the most from not only what I did, but the opportunity of learning new stuff from people with diverse cultural backgrounds. As a world traveler, I have always been aware of how important and fascinating such an opportunity means to me. Yet, without my internship in London, my journey wouldn't have been complete. What’s more, the CAPA Record of Achievement Award for Internships had given me a tremendous sense of achievement and memories that I can never forget.
CW: How were classes in the UK different from the US or elsewhere?
DZ: Our instructor Debi was the most creative, open-minded, resourceful person and she took full advantage of London’s abundant resources to make our classes as fun and informative as possible. For example, we visited the BBC for our field learning of the social policy class. We learned about how the major media functions while playing games. On some other occasions we visited museums and other sites and wrote about our observations and studies.
CW: What did you do for fun in London?
DZ: During my leisure time, I visited world-class museums, travelled to places that I had long dreamed of, went to bars at night, made friends with local people and tasted authentic food…but my most unforgettable memories were tied to the musicals that I watched. Legally Blonde, Mama Mia, Les Miserables, Singing in the Rain were all presented by the best casts in the lively center of the city. All the melodies and the lyrics, the stages and the lights - it was like I was living the life of my dreams, at prices below £20 after the group discounts enjoyed with my classmates!
CW: What do you miss the most about London since returning to the States?
DZ: The answer would be exclusively: my friends there! There were seven of us from University at Buffalo campus, and 14 from UB Singapore campus. We celebrated every holiday and each other’s birthdays together; we carried each other home when a few of us were stumbling; we shared so many memories together that we really bonded as a family. We call our group “Tribe21”. Some of us even found love during our journey together. Who could have bonded the same way?
CW: Where else in the UK did you travel?
DZ: I travelled to many places including Leeds, York, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Windsor, etc. The picture below was me and my best friend who was studying in the UK at the time travelling to Liverpool, visiting the pub where The Beatles used to play. The UK is definitely one of the best places for lovers of rock music, soccer, shopping, photography, etc. I recommend taking the train, because it’s so much fun and inexpensive too!
CW: What was the biggest surprise for you while you studied abroad?
DZ: Of course, each and every day was filled with happiness and excitement. It was like New York City, wherever you walk around the corner of the block, you might encounter a celebrity, a friendly stranger, or something else unexpected that can make your day. London was only more surprising. My personal favorite was the field trip with my class to the under-construction Olympic Stadium. I live very close the Beijing 2008 Olympic Stadium back home in Beijing, plus the fact that I volunteered in the games, so I have this sort of “Olympic attachment”. Visiting the stadium and learning about the organization of the great event gave us better understanding of the social policy sector that we were studying. And the emotions were fully reflected later on during the Olympic Games.
CW: This year is the 150th anniversary of London Underground. What do you have to say about that?
DZ: As you can see below, we take the train to parties, to internships, to classes, to all the destinations and dream places of our lives. The London Underground is a lot cleaner and more comfortable than NYC trains. You always see people reading books, giving their seats to those in need, and actually enjoying life even under the stress of work. Each station is uniquely decorated too. Some were painted with graffiti, some looked like they were the scenes of the movie The Matrix. In a word, the essence of living in London and taking the Underground is to be brave enough to explore the unknown, and not be scared to go the wrong way!
CW: What was the accommodation like?
DZ: We lived in Zone 2 (central zone) of the city, resided in a wonderful residential area with a clean, quiet, and upscale neighborhood. Other than the size of the rooms being a little small as characteristic in the city, everything else was a dream-come-true. The picture says it all.