Administrators dedicate new London Program building
First the building housed a hospital for women and children in the early 20th century. Then it was a gloomy, dilapidated building in the background of a Sherlock Holmes film. Now it is home to more than 130 Notre Dame students studying abroad in London during the spring semester. University President Fr. John Jenkins and University administrators officially dedicated Conway Hall during a ceremony in London on Friday. The dedication marked the beginning of the building’s second semester as the new residential space for students studying abroad in the capital of the United Kingdom. Since the building officially opened in August 2011, London Program Director Greg Kucich said it has been “a major center for Notre Dame’s international operations in London.” The building had been abandoned and was “an eyesore” when Notre Dame began its renovations, Kucich said. When its first residents moved into the flats last fall, that eyesore was completely transformed. “There was an incredible process of renovating the building over less than a year period actually, a major renovation project to turn it into the very efficient and elegant building that it is now,” Kucich said. “I think you get the impression when you go in there that it looks like a four-star hotel.” The University previously rented accommodations for its students in London, but Kucich said owning a unique property was financially beneficial because of high rental costs in London. Conway Hall’s location set the building apart from other properties, he said. The building is located near Waterloo Station in the middle of the South Bank neighborhood, and students only need to walk about 15 minutes to reach the London Center in Trafalgar Square for their classes. “That not only provides students with a wonderful walk across the bridge every day, but it also integrates the two facilities really nicely so we can do academic events and cultural events at Conway Hall, as well as in the London Center,” he said. “Notre Dame becomes like a colossus with one foot in Trafalgar Square and another foot in South Bank, striding the Thames.” Conway Hall is also located next to one of the campuses of King’s College in London, and students have access to the college’s student union, gym and library facilities. “One of the challenges of the London program traditionally has been for students to move outside of the Notre Dame friend-work of living together, taking classes together, which has its benefits but has its limitations too because as an international student, one really wants to become immersed in local contacts and meet new people,” Kucich said. This opportunity to link with King’s College in this way is accomplishing or fulfilling one of the principle goals for this program, which has been a challenge for many years now. So we are overjoyed at the connection we have now with a British university and its environment.” Students living in Conway Hall are equipped with kitchen and living spaces, and the building also includes small study areas, a chapel and a student activities center for larger gatherings. “You develop community within individual flats and among different flats as well when students get together through meals,” Kucich said. “Along with that … arranging for dinners in your flats means going out in London and shopping in London and going to markets and engaging with London life, rather than just going to a dining hall the way you would at Notre Dame.” Junior Dylan Tramontin said the apartment-style living in Conway Hall helped her get to know the other members of her study abroad program. “I love how it encourages a sense of community, even more so than the dorms,” Tramontin said. Tramontin and junior Kailey Grant, who live together in a flat with eight other girls, said they especially enjoy cooking with their roommates and gathering for meals around their large dinner table. “I love our weekly flat dinners,” Grant said. Conway Hall accommodates a total of 268 students, according to a University press release. Kucich said 132 of those students are Notre Dame undergraduates participating in the London program, six are Notre Dame undergraduates studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies through the University of London and 22 are Notre Dame law students. Students from other universities occupy the remaining spots. At the dedication ceremony, Jenkins said the building strengthens Notre Dame’s historical ties to London. “Notre Dame has had a presence in London since 1968, when our first students came here to study law,” Jenkins said. “Since that time, we have been able to expand our international presence here, enabling the Colleges of Arts and Letters, Business Administration and Engineering to develop their own programs in London as well.” Kucich said the building opens new doors for the expanding international programs at Notre Dame. “The number one issue is Notre Dame’s commitment to expanding and strengthening its international centers, in London in particular because this is the flagship international study abroad program, but also around the world,” he said.