With one wholesome week under my belt, it seems appropriate to update you on my wonderful new life in the great city of London. Rather than studying for midterm examinations like most of my peers back at Columbia, this week was the British version of orientation, otherwise known as ‘Freshers’ week.’ It largely consisted of departmental meetings, introductory lectures, and copious amounts of socializing. I met professors and my fellow anthropology undergraduates, joined several societies (more on that in a moment), took care of a few administrative tasks, went clubbing, and escaped to Windsor Great Park for a relaxing week-end retreat at Cumberland Lodge.
There is far too much for me to jam into one simple blog post, but I will do my best to highlight the important details!
First, the drinking culture in the UK/Europe is far more lax than in the United States, which makes for a very different social scene. Alcohol is served at academic department gatherings, at “pre-drinks” (the social event that takes place prior to departing for a night out at the club) and in pubs with little hooplah. There is no anxiety associated with the purchase of alcohol, nor is there an emphasis on its role in the social setting. I knew this already having grown up in a French home, but I always considered my upbringing an exception. It is now the norm.
Second, London is a truly majestic city. Everywhere one turns there is a statue/monument or some other symbolic display of homage to the Royal family. I find this particularly interesting, especially after living in New York City for two years. London’s cultural richness is blatantly displayed throughout the city, whereas in New York the historical elements are couched in the commercial and modernized structures. As I run through the city discovering the Royal Parks and the Thames, I can’t help but feel the deep presence of history — The Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge, The London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster, The National Portrait Gallery, Buckingham Palace, The Tate Modern, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge — are all places I have strolled/run by in my first week. This is partly due to my extremely central/ideal location, but also because these truly important places are littered throughout.
This past weekend I took a trip to Cumberland Lodge, an educational facility funded by The Crown Estate to encourage student intellectualism. We stayed in Great Windsor Park, which is also home to Windsor Castle (home of HM the Queen) whenever she isn’t at Buckingham Palace. A group of 50 General Course students were warmly hosted by the lodge caretakers (myself included!) We ate delicious meals, heard talks from some of LSE’s and the UK’s most prominent thinkers (i.e. the official Royal historian, Hugo Vickers and Professor of Social Policy at LSE, Tim Newburn). One afternoon four of my friends and I were able to snag some bicycles and cycled around the park. We hid them in a bush at one point because they weren’t allowed on the long path that leads to Windsor Castle (known as The Mall) and walked the rest of the way. Wit
h only about 1/2 an hour to spare once we finally arrived to Windsor Castle, we explored the grounds and the town of Windsor itself. We attempted to enter the castle, but were quickly stopped by the guards carrying threatening guns! We walked back to the secret bush where we hid our bicycles, hoping they hadn’t been taken. On our way back we saw herds of deer; one stood very close to our collection of bicycles, standing impressively before us as if to emphasize the imperial nature of our environment.
I nearly met the one and only, Queen Elizabeth at Sunday Chapel service. Unfortunately, she wasn’t in attendance…The Royal Chapel was quaint, as are many British locales. Since I am not particularly religious, I always have trouble connecting to the texts read during service, leaving me quite uninterested. Nevertheless, I’m quite glad I chose to attend the service.
Lastly, in regard to some more philosophical matters — I have discovered that I identify far more strongly with non-Americans. That is to say, though I am both French and American, I find that I am able to connect more deeply to my French heritage while I am in London, than my American one. I think this is rather sensible given that I am on my mother continent. Luckily, I have met lovely people from France, Germany, Dominican Republic, India, the UK etc. with whom
I hope to continue cultivating meaningful relationships. Ultimately, I am overjoyed with my decision to spend a year abroad. I think it’s crucial to displace oneself and experience immersion elsewhere.