PALs 2019-2020 Q&A with Eugenie St John Sutton, CAS '21
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December 14, 2020
Catherine Parr, Wharton '21
Eugene St John Sutton, a senior studying mathematical economics and french, spent a summer in Tours, France through Penn Summer Abroad and an academic year studying abroad at the London School of Economics. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Eugenie is serving as a Penn Abroad Leader, which is Penn Abroad’s student advisory board focused on special projects and supporting fellow students interested in global experiences. We sat down with Eugenie to discuss her language studies in France, friendships in London, and recommendations for anyone visiting the city.
Can you give me a quick overview of which Penn Abroad programs you have done?
I went to London School of Economics (LSE) for the whole year, and I also did the Penn in Tours program in Tours, France in between my sophomore and junior year.
Can you tell me more about the Penn in Tours program?
Penn in Tours is a program through the French department at Penn in which students travel to Tours, a city in the north of France, and are immersed in the culture. I took two courses: Politics and Modern Media and Ancient French History; both were taught in French. You live in France for 6-8 weeks. I traveled from Tours around the south of France on the weekends.
French is my minor. I started studying French when I was in high school. In France, I reached fluency. I remember I was taking a taxi from the train station to the airport when I was leaving France, in Paris, and I was talking to my taxi driver about the weather and how hot it was. It was the middle of this massive heatwave and he asked, “Where are you going when you get to the airport? Are you going on holiday?” I said, “No, I’m going home to London.” He was like “oh, you aren’t French?!” It was the best compliment.
I recommend the program to anyone who wants to live in France and have a valuable cultural experience. You learn so much. The teachers are fantastic. I also had the opportunity to travel all over France. I had been to France before but I had never traveled there without my family. My parents speak French, so it was my first time really relying on my own french speaking skills. I had so much fun.
Can you tell me more about your time at LSE? You’re from London, right?
Yes, I’m from London. My parents are from South Kensington in London. I grew up between London and Philadelphia. My father worked between two hospitals, one in London and one at Penn doing research. I was educated in Philadelphia from the age of 12. I go home to London every summer, but I thought I’d really like to do a year at home meeting people my own age. I hadn’t been educated in the UK for so long and I knew after university I wanted to go work in London, so having a full year to be at home, see family and friends and meet new people, was my motivation for going there. Also, I study mathematical economics so I chose LSE because there I could concentrate in specific mathematical economic subjects and do research.
Can you tell me about why you chose to stay for a whole year?
My sister went to Penn. She studied abroad for a whole year. The programs at Oxford and LSE are only for a whole year. I could have chosen a different program in London. I could have gone to UCL or King’s or something like that. I really wanted to go to LSE, and I heard from family members who had gone abroad that when you go for one semester, it’s really fun (it’s never a bad idea to go abroad), but as soon as you get adjusted and into the swing of things, you have to go home. I don’t regret going for a year at all.
I think it’s hard coming back after a year and readjusting to Penn, but I really recommend a year abroad. It is so freeing to be away from Penn for a whole year. I love Penn and I’ve enjoyed my experiences here a lot, but it can be a bubble. Having a year abroad gives you so much freedom to travel and take classes at a local art studio or something. It takes time to adjust, so it was nice to be able to have that full year to learn about life at LSE and put down roots. It also made my friendships so much more solid.
How did you make most of your friendships at LSE?
LSE is really good because they have accommodations. It was part of my abroad contract with Penn that I had to live in LSE accommodation. I did a lot of research on which houses were the best to live in. My sister went to Oxford and she explained to me that what happens a lot in England is that there is a student bar in your accommodation. It’s really beneficial for meeting people. So I chose an accommodation that had a bar. It was also the one with all first-years, so it’s all people that wouldn’t have known anyone previously, so I made most of my friends from living in accommodations. I also joined a lot of societies when I was there.
I’ll actually be living with two girls I’d never known before studying at LSE when I move back to London for work after graduation. They’re some of my best friends now.
Did you get a chance to travel around Europe?
I had plans to travel over the spring Easter holiday. At LSE, you have three terms: two are longer and the last one is a review period. Because term time is incredibly intense and it’s a lot of really hard work, I thought going away on the weekends was not really feasible. If I had planned ahead I’m sure I would have been able to, but because there’s so much going on at LSE with the people you live with and there are events every weekend, I didn’t feel the need to travel during the term time. Over Christmas I came home to Philadelphia. Before coronavirus, I was planning to go to Croatia and Greece over the Easter holiday. I’d never been there before but I had to cancel the trip, so that’s been rescheduled for after graduation.
How did COVID affect your experience? Did you come home to Philadelphia earlier or did you stay there?
I stayed. In March, LSE’s plan was to shut down and have people come back at the end for exams. In England, exams don’t finish until late June, so we all had our leases signed until mid-to-late June. We all thought we would come back after staying a month at home, but that obviously didn’t happen. I stayed with my sister at her apartment in London. The biggest ways COVID impacted my experience were that I couldn’t travel and we didn’t get a big goodbye ceremony. We didn’t get to do a lot of things that were planned for the end of the year.
Are you thinking about doing any more Penn Abroad programs before you graduate?
I don’t think I’ll have time, but if I were younger I would definitely do a Penn Global Seminar.
Do you have any other fun stories that you think summarize your experience at LSE?
Every Wednesday, the Athletics Union has a BYO. You go to this one street that has every Indian curry place in London. It’s so good and it’s dirt cheap, so you go there for dinner and then go out to the pub with everyone from school. I had so much fun.
I do have a bunch of crazy celebrity stories. My accommodation was right across the street from the Tate Modern, and the way you have to walk from Bankside to campus is past the river, across the bridge, and up to the campus. I saw these production vans and they were shooting a Burberry campaign and there were a few people from Love Island working as models on the shoot. Oh and I went to London Fashion Week which was really cool! The Tommy Hilfiger show was shot in the Tate Modern. The red carpet was right outside our house. All of the celebrities, including Anna Wintour, parked in our car park. My friend and I saw Harry Styles, who was very nice. I even facetimed Lewis Capaldi once!
Do you have a favorite restaurant you want to recommend?
I loved Wahaca, which is a Mexican restaurant that’s really cheap, especially for London. London is really expensive for everything, but this was dirt cheap, really good Mexican food. So whenever my friend and I had a really long day in the library, we would go there for a break.
What was the best thing you packed?
A heavy-duty rain jacket, because I am the first one to defend the UK and say “oh, it doesn’t rain that much,” but when it rains, it pours in London. The first two months I got there were the rainiest months on record, and even on the days when they said it wasn’t going to rain, it did. I would sit through lectures drenched to my skin, and then once you get semi-dry you have to walk home in the rain. So yeah, bring a heavy-duty rain jacket.
If you could have given yourself advice before you left, what would it be?
If I could give any advice, I would say to have a really good relationship with your department at Penn, and start submitting courses for approval in XCAT as soon as you can. I have a really good relationship with my economics advisor but there were things that even she didn’t have the power over, so having a good relationship and being really prepared with XCAT before you go is really important.
The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.