In the fall of 2019 I studied abroad through Tufts-in-London at Central Saint Martins for Fine Art. I’ve lived in Florida for my entire life and studying abroad was my first time out of the country. Since it’s a Tufts program, my financial aid transferred to cover tuition; all my courses were guaranteed to count towards my major; we had an amazing London-based program director named Meredith who was available to text or email if we had any questions; I was also given a living stipend by Tufts during my time there, which was enough to pay for food and general activities.
I lived in North Acton, which is about a thirty-minute commute from the school. My dorm, the Costume Store, was right next to the Central Line of the public transit system (The Tube), which was super convenient for getting to school and around different parts of London. The dorm was flat-style, so 8 of us would share a kitchen and common space, but each had our own room and bathroom! I got a short-term membership at the nearby gym using the Tufts stipend, and there was a climbing gym that my friend and I would go to once a week (they had £5 student nights!). There were two supermarkets, Tesco and a Sainsbury’s, right under the dorm, so grocery shopping was no problem, and there was also a lovely farmers market on Sundays a short Tube ride away!
Central Saint Martins has about 4,000 students spread throughout different departments. Within the Fine Art department, there are 4 large shared studio spaces that are occupied throughout the school year by 2nd and 3rd year students (juniors and seniors by US college terms). These 4 studios were 2D, 3D, 4D, and XD. You are assigned to a studio based on your portfolio work, but you can make any work you like in any of these pathways; all workshops were available to fine art students regardless of which studio they work in! The difference between these 4 studios was explained to me like this: 2D is best for people who are concerned with representing images, 3D is best for those who are interested in what it means to be in a space, 4D is about the passage of time (and manipulating it), and XD is for those looking to expand the definition of art and art spaces. I was placed in the 3D studio and it was absolutely the right one for me. In addition to being assigned to studios, we were also assigned into a tutor group; each pathway had about 4 tutors (kind of like professors). These tutor groups were our ‘class’, except we didn’t meet every day, instead we might meet once or twice a week for a specialized tutorial, or maybe a critique. We also had individual meetings with our tutors, and we could sign up for workshops outside of that! I did a multi-day casting workshop where I learned a lot and got to practice casting different materials for free. I also went to a workshop about building an artist website from scratch. I made two sculptural performance pieces while I was there, utilizing the students in my studio for feedback and critique, and the workshops for advice on the construction of the performance materials. In my time at Central Saint Martins, I got very close with my studio mates and my tutor especially, and I’m in touch with them to this day!
Outside of my time spent at Central Saint Martins, I made sure to get in a little bit of travel! One thing that’s great about London is how easy it is to travel to other places! I took weekend and day trips to Dorking, Brighton, and Kent, where I wanted to do some hiking through the famed English countryside (where I met many lovely cows!). I walked the 5 miles from Kent to Margate, where I caught the exhibition of the 2019 Turner Prize finalists! The Turner Prize is named after the English painter J. M. W. Turner; it’s an annual prize presented to a British visual artist, but the 2019 exhibition would go on to make history when the four finalists split the £40,000 prize among themselves. My friends and I also went to Venice for a weekend to see the 2019 Venice Biennale, a famed international exhibition of poignant contemporary work from around the world. My last and favorite trip was solo— I went to Iceland in the dead of winter, during which they have only 4 hours of sunlight. This may sound like a poor vacation choice, but over the prior summer I had discovered the work of Ragnar Kjartansson, a video and performance artist, who lives and works in Reykjavík. I wanted to learn more about his practice, and I’d already read all the books on his work in Central Saint Martin’s enormous art library— so I emailed his studio manager to ask if it would be possible to visit the studio in December. She said yes, though Ragnar wouldn’t be around then. I met her in the studio, and she made me a lovely cup of espresso while we chatted about Ragnar’s work and her experiences working with him. I also loved exploring the streets of Reykjavík by myself, despite the cold, and found myself at a bar that was hosting a women in comedy open mic, where I met some kind, hilarious women who, upon hearing where I was from, wanted to hear all my stories of the infamous Florida Man. On the day before I was supposed to fly back to London, Iceland was hit with the worst winter storm it had seen in 15 years! The roads were all closed, and many had avalanche warnings. It was terrifying and thrilling, but throughout the time I was checking in with my study abroad director, Meredith, and she was reassuring me that it would all work out. My flight ended up not being cancelled and I got back to London safe and sound, despite the warnings of one Icelandic man I had been talking to the night before who said that “there is absolutely no chance the airport will be open!” Turns out locals don’t always know everything!