All posts by Annika Grassl

I am an enthusiastic advocate for People with Disabilities. I am currently a Public Relations and Law, Politics, and Society major at Drake University.

Feeling at Home

This weekend I attended the British Arrow Awards. It was great to see the commercials I loved while in the UK in the artistic setting of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

My favorite commercials that won awards were adverts for Virgin Atlantic airlines, Marks & Spencers department store, and of course Netflix because who doesn’t love Ricky Gervais.

laughing along with my family and friends while watching these adverts was a great way to wrap up my semester abroad.

It has been an eventful year; here’s to looking forward to what 2016 has to offer.


Hello, can you hear me?

The popular lyrics to Adele’s hit stuck with me during my travels around the UK and continental Europe.

My first introduction to British English was to the Cockney accent of central London. And yes, I do love the harsh snarkiness of that video.

Then half term began and I was inundated with different accents. From Cornwall to Scouse in Liverpool, English in Dublin, and Edinburgh. In Irish schools, children are all taught Gaeilge, which is also known as Irish Gaelic. I found this cool video showing school children singing Royals by Lorde in their traditional language.

Through my travels of the UK, by far the accent I had the hardest understanding was in Belfast, Northern Ireland. However, I truly enjoyed navigating the bus system and other activities here because of the friendly nature of the locals. With the exception of Cornwall and Liverpool this was one of the few opportunities I had to really interact with locals in a meaningful conversation.  While in other cities I was simple a tourist and here, exploring the socio-political history and current landscape I was truly immersed in the culture.

My final introduction to accents was in Zurich, where I was serenaded by school children singing christmas carols in German. Oh Tannenbaum was originally written in German and there is nothing that warms your heart more than singing along with a bunch of rosy faced German speaking Swiss nationals while singing christmas carols in the language it was intended for.

During my time abroad I became more aware of my own (very midwestern) accent. It was a great experience to have the opportunity to interact with so many others with unique accents. To read more in – depth on the accents I encountered on my travels visit the British Library website here.



Unofficial Rules of riding the Tube

Now that I have had a couple days to acclimate myself into life in the United States again I think it is important to reflect on a few things I have learned. The following six tips are the unofficial rules of riding the Tube in London.  
1. Do NOT make eye contact with anyone — ever!

Being in close proximity to a number of strangers is awkward. The best way to avoid having to acknowledge others is to avoid eye contact at all costs. There are many ways to avoid eye contact with your fellow passengers. 

– Read – a book, a newspaper, a brochure, the back of a wrapper. Anything can occupy you for a long ride

– play with your phone or tablet – since you are likely underground you won’t have strive or wifi, but there are plenty of things to occupy yourself

– study your shoes – they are very interesting…

– listen to music with your headphones and stare off into space above everyone’s head

– study the tube map – conveniently located above other people’s head

– close your eyes and feign sleeping – this can be done string up or sitting down. But (this is really important) do NOT fatal asleep. You could accidentally miss your stop or worse yet, lean over and touch someone (violating rule #2)
2. Do NOT touch others unless absolutely necessary. This including touching their bags or parcels. Try to keep a 6 inch bubble around you. If you accidentally brush against someone, say “sorry” but for goodness sake don’t make it worse by violating rule #1 when you say it. On crowded trains you will need to touch other passengers. Dont acknowledge them. When space opens up quickly return to maintaining the 6 inch bubble.
3. Do NOT speak to fellow passengers. They don’t want to interact with you. They wish they were alone on the train. Talking to them only reminds them that you exist. Attempting conversation also tends to violate rule #1. It you have a companion on the train speak only when necessary and use a hushed tones. 
4. Hold on to the handrail. Be sure not to accidentally touch someone else’s hand on the rail. Yes, it is awkward to reach your arm in front of someone’s face. But it is much more awkward if your don’t. The train will lurch at some point, you could go flying and that could cause your to break bother rules # 1, 2, 3.  
5. Do NOT eat on the tube. This applies to all food and drink with the exception of water. Don’t try to sneak it. Others can see and will be silently judging you.
6. Mind the gap when departing the train. You will be reminded of this many times, but it is very important.

Joining an Organisation in Britain

12063390_10208198634709448_1231667122822101904_n.jpgI have chosen to take a little different approach to this assignment. The traditional approach would have been a discussion of my involvement in local organizations and the mates (friends) I have made through my involvement. However, I have chosen to take a different approach. My post will thus include a two part discussion. One of the discussions will be of my attendance to organisation meetings. The second will be of my creation of lasting friendships while here in London. 

Through my internship at Handicap International I have had the opportunity to network with a number of organizations. At these meetings the same organizations have been present as members.

The first presentation was by Sense international. The organisation tries to bring expertise on deaf blindness to countries to strengthen programs. The challenge found was the social stigma families feel about going to the authorities about abuse of deaf blind children. The organisation is creating interventions, social protections for children in place through understanding of deaf blindness and community support. The second presentation was by Plan international, which has work based on child rights ( based on convention on the rights of the child).

While my professional development is interesting, the point of me joining an organisation is to make friends here in Britain that I will be able to stay close with after my return to the United States. By far the person I have grown closest to is my dear friend Sarah Curtis who is a first year student at London South Bank Uni. We met on the first day of lecture when she sat down to the American (I clearly looked like it at the time) sitting in the middle of the front row of the lecture theatre.

We soon began talking; she was interested to hear what I thought of the U.K. I also, having a couple years of higher education experience under my belt shared some of my accumulated knowledge about how to exceed in this new educational environment with her.

I think I was drawn to Sarah first because she reminds me of one of my best friends and sorority sisters at home in Iowa. With the same spunky personality, blonde hair, and glasses these two women are almost identical to one another except for the fact they are separated from an ocean and have only met through stories I tell one of the other. I think this says a lot about the kinds of people I find myself socializing with that out of all of the students in my lecture I chose the one most similar to my friends in the states to connect with.

In conversation with Sarah about this assignemnt, she was delighted to be a part of it. She explained, “i thought annika was very interesting person and it was amazing to meet someone from different background and country to me.” Then went on to say, “i have gained confidence from annika. And she was a life saver to me during my hard period during my life. I hope we become friends for life as she means alot to me and doesn’t feel right that she be on the other side of the world again very soon which i really don’t want her to go.” She concluded our conversation by explaining, “She opened my eyes to people in US as i have heard of some very bad things that happened over there but rarely hear about good so she has shown me the good aspects to US. I never wanted to study aboard but after meeting annika that has all changed and i am reconsidering that opinion.” Going into life as a student in London I had no expectation of gaining the amount and quality of experiences I have, and I am beyond proud to have a friend like Sarah by my side through this journey. I hope to be able to return her hospitality if she decides to study in the United States.

Excuse me while I go write a sappy thank you letter to lots of different people for the impact they have had on me this semester.

Taking a Minute to step Back

This past week I took the time to take a step back from the hectic hustle and bustle of my London life to take a breathe. By slowing down, I was able to take in my lovely surroundings and take a look at what I have learned from my time here in the United Kingdom.

As has become custom with me, sometimes I just get on a train to get out of the city for a while. This week’s adventure included a lovely visit to Coventry. This lovely city is home to the University of Warwick. where I met with a charming gentleman who is one of the tutors (what professors are called in the UK) of the public policy taught courses. The campus itself was spotted with modern art sculptures in open courtyards that were connected to other academic areas by long winding sidewalks. The greenery was a nice breath of fresh air compared to the hustle and bustle of the crowded streets of central London. The people I met on campus were all friendly, but much like Londoners did not know where something was unless it was somewhere they frequented. However, I felt at home on the enclosed campus environment watching people bike through silent streets or stroll in small groups along sidewalks.

After an enlightening meeting with the tutor and a graduate programmes administrator I hopped on a bus to the city centre. It was exciting to share my new found passion for international development with someone who was interested to learn about my interest in public policy as well. My new found interest in international development have come from observing and working alongside those I work with at my internship.

Having a sense of renewed confidence in my future prospects I bounced off the steps of the bus and made my way to one of the three cathedrals in Coventry. St. Michel’s cathedral was almost completely destroyed during the bombings of World War II. The biggest blitz that Coventry took fire from were 14-15 November 1940 and 8-9 April 1941. During this time, St. Michael’s Cathedral was almost completely destroyed. The only remaining structures are the spire and outer walls. The result of the history that the city center has seen creates an almost hauntingly spiritual experience. When walking around and through the ruins of the Cathedral, I couldn’t help but catch my breathe at the sheer size of the structure that still stood and what it must have been like in full force.

With my skin still shivering I made my way, in a daze, to Playwright’s pub. Here, I was charmed by the Christmas decorations and homely decor. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the fish and chips I ordered. I decided to go with this classic British cuisine to top off a lovely day exploring one of the hidden treasures of the London area. While Coventry is only a half hour train ride from London, it feels much closer related to one of the older cities in southern England with all of the history integrated into modern surroundings in the cityscape.


On my way back to the train station I came across what may just be the happiest scene I have come across in weeks – a Christmas market next to Primark. For those of you who don’t know; Primark is better than Target (where I frequently much too often in the states) and I am a lover of all Christmas markets. With the smell of barbequed meats, roasted nuts, and candy floss (cotton candy) in the air I began my exploration of the market. To my amazement I only came away from this little detour having spent under 20 pounds. However, that money went to some very interesting purchases. I found fudge that was infused with a variety of different…. beverages. Then I found myself speaking with the owner of the stall who wants to expand to the United States, so I gave him my business card. Never being one to miss a networking opportunity.

This weekend I was able to put priorities on hold in order to take a break, step back, and evaluate some of the things I learned during my time in London.



International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today marks the twenty-third International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The theme of events today was Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities. Around the world today people celebrated in a variety of ways, from peaceful marched in support of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), to inspiring stories shared and discussed on social media.

I was fortunate enough to participate in lively conversations on Twitter through both my personal account and the newly launched @asksourceHI account that was launched today as yet another platform for Handicap International to use to share the valuable resources that we publish on the  source website.


I was so proud to have worked on the CRPD with Senator Harkin in the Senate, while this is still a strong conversation topic today. While the day was very exciting and exhausting, I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to participate in yet another global initiative that helps to promote, protect. and enhance the rights of people with a variety of disabilities around the world.

Touring the Themes

While my mom was in town visiting we took a lovely tour of the River Themes. We hopped on the City Cruises boat at Westminster Pier and enjoyed the hour and a half journey to Greenwich. The winds in the river not only show the history of this majestic city, but its place in international history as well. The image below illustrates the route of our journey and the many landmarks that we had the opportunity to view from the river with live commentary explaining the significance of each location and some of the history behind various symbolic London destinations.  Map

I could have interviewed one of the many charming sailors who could be seen strolling the docks preparing for incoming tours or to take others out on the river. However, I did not think to sit down with one of these charming gentleman in their heavy duty foul weather great. That being said, I found this video about the River Themes instead. I regret that I was unable to think ahead to get an interview with one of the men, but my sailing instincts were in high gear being on a dock again in such close proximity to ship captains once again.

While I have lived in London for over three months now it is always refreshing to see your own city through the eyes of a visitor. Getting stuck in the routine of going to my internship, classes, and other obligations sometimes distracts me from taking the time to explore what makes this city so unique.

Along the river cruise we saw the orb, which is London City Hall. The architectural design of this building allows visitors to feel more connected to the historic connection that London has with the river. From commerce to tourism, the river has proven a vital asset for the city over many years and changing international and national relevance.

City Hall

We were also treated to a lovely view of the London Eye ferris wheel. From my perch on the boat I was able take in the sheer magnitude of the 135 metres 443 feet) high London icon. Here are 10 unusual facts about the London EyeEye


We also had the unique opportunity to view St. Paul’s Cathedral from the river. St. Paul

Seeing as Thanksgiving is coming up this next week in the United States I thought it was fitting that we also had the opportunity to see where the Mayflower was constructed. Now the location is commemorated with a pub. While it is hard to see in the picture I snapped while passing by, the exact location is where the small white building with the sloped roof and two lampposts outside now stands. Mayflower


One item I did not get a photo of was the HMS Belfast. This is the fird piece of the Imperial War Museum – Along-side the museum itself and the Churchill War Rooms. This magnificent war ship is one of three still in existence that war a part of D – Day in World War II. In addition to that unique piece of trivia, here are seven other fun facts about the HMS Belfast.

Of course, being on the Themes we had the opportunity to view the Tower Bridge in all of its intended glory. I would bet you five pounds that John Wolfe Barry and Horace Jones, the architects of the bridge, would not have guessed in 1886 when construction began that more than 40,000 people cross the bridge each day over 100 years after the bridges completion in 1894. More interesting facts can be found hereTower Bridge