Greetings, fellow humans. I’m writing to you on a quaint Sunday afternoon, prior to heading out on a cathartic Thames river run. Last night I discovered the borough of Hackney after spending several hours at ‘Night Tales’, an overtly hipster (and therefore beloved) open night market where the music is bumpin’, the food is delicious, and drinks are to be had!
It might be fair to say that this week has felt the longest since I’ve arrived in London. After a weekend reuniting with friends from Columbia in the delightful city of Amsterdam (more on that momentarily), I dove into preparation for a presentation on the effects and contradictions of identity documents for Turkish-Cypriots and Palestinians. I also drafted an essay on Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and his three greatest priorities: crusading, upholding his honourable reputacíon, and acquiring new territories. Such is the life of a university student – punctuated by weekly assignments.
In addition to completing mid-term assignments, I also began my first week of work. Twice a week I travel to boroughs far away from Westminster and lead an after-school debate club for students aged 10-14. Some of my friends have asked why I’m involved in so much mentoring. I would say it’s probably the combination of many factors. I’m the oldest of five children, the youngest of whom is nine years old. I also fundamentally believe that we have an obligation to give back to the communities in which we live. And, throughout my life I’ve been fortunate enough to receive mentoring from people who I still consider role models. On Thursdays, I travel to a school in the borough of Lewisham and Fridays I work in the borough of Newham. The students wear uniforms decorated with their school’s seal. They ask me a million questions about New York City and speak all at once on a myriad of topics – they’re loud and rambunctious, they’re engaged and enthusiastic, their judgement is unclouded, and most importantly, they’re hopeful. They remind me why life on this earth is such a gift.
I mentioned that I spent last weekend in Amsterdam. After attending my Friday morning class, I headed to London St. Pancras to catch a train. I expected the journey to be peaceful, but wasn’t prepared for the profound sense of homecoming I felt as I passed under the English channel and resurfaced in my motherland, France, as we made our way eastwards to Brussels. Suddenly my journey to Amsterdam became all the more cherished. I also found it interesting that, as we passed from England to France, to Belgium, and finally to the Netherlands, the languages spoken by the conductors changed according to the primary language spoken in a particular country. In Belgium for example, announcements were first made in French, followed by Dutch, German and English. Upon hearing the announcement in French, I would try to detect whether certain phrases or sentiments were lost in translation when made in English. In French there were elements of politeness and formality that simply did not carry though into the conductor’s English translation. Yay for bilingualism!
A mere four hours later, I arrived in Amsterdam. After months apart from each other, I reunited with some of my dearest friends from Columbia, Sam who is studying in Paris for the year, along with Devin and Ethan who are both in Dublin for the fall term. It was surreal and soothing to see them again. We met in Amsterdam on Friday evening and enjoyed a mediocre Italian meal in the centre of the city. Afterwards, we walked to the Red Light District (a bizarre place indeed that deserves a separate and comprehensive analysis, which I will not be undertaking here). We made our way in and about the magnificent canals, and returned to our hostel for the night. The next morning we breathed in the crisp morning air and headed to the Albert Cuypmarkt, the Netherlands’ largest flea market.
An hour or two later we returned to our hostel. I went on an obligatory run through Vondelpark, where I came across ‘The Fish’, a sculpture by Pablo Picasso and the hidden treasures of autumn in Amsterdam. Afterwards, my friends and I met up for dinner, doing our best not be run over by the endless swarms of cyclists. Our evening was rather uneventful. The next morning we had a wholesome breakfast in our hostel and soon parted ways to return to our respective cities.
Amsterdam seems to feed off the energy of its visitors to the point of adopting a new identity as home to an amalgam of languages and cultures. The city is also famously known for its lax regulations regarding marijuana smoking. As expected, there were Coffee shops (smoking houses) littered throughout the city, but like the Red Light District, these places were highly regulated. Consequently, I left Amsterdam with the impression that it was a perplexing place. My visit wasn’t long enough to gain a full sense of the city’s inner workings, so I will likely return in springtime for a cycle, a visit to the Rijksmuseum (which costs 15 Euro, hence my decision not to go this time around) and to admire the tulips in full bloom.
And with that, it’s goodbye for now. Have a fulfilling week!