September 2nd I arrived in London having traveled from my hometown of New York City. That left me three weeks to settle in prior to starting my MSc in Social Research Methods, which would serve as a methodologically rigorous extension of my undergraduate studies in political science.
I was already sweating by the time I exited the airport on to the train platform from a combination of nervous excitement and struggle to manage my multiple pieces of luggage. Desperate to create extra space in my bags, I wore my winter boots and a seasonally inappropriate amount of layers. Fortunately, the Gatwick Express into central London was comfortable-equipped with free wifi and plenty of extra seating for my fleet of suitcases. Navigating the public transportation with my various pieces of luggage in tow, I felt like a mother duck leading my ducklings downstream.
The escalator down to the Northern Line platform was vertigo inducing. A small group of middle-aged business-people, Costa coffee cups in hand, led the way just a few meters ahead of me on the platform. Two school children, dressed in Harry-Potter-like uniforms, their knapsacks bouncing up and down, skirted past me on the right.
But then the floodgates opened. Hordes of people came pouring down the escalators, overwhelming the metro platform: rush-hour in the London underground. So many people. People of all shapes and sizes speaking countless languages. Each passing individual conjured up a different question. To my left, her shoulder nearly bumping mine, stood an elderly woman, cane in one hand, the other grasping the arm of a young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties just like myself. Was he her grandson…or a carer? I began to wonder about the elder-care system in the UK, which naturally led me to healthcare. From there my mind wandered down myriad paths exploring different social policy topics: public transportation, immigrant integration, law and order, the latter surely having been primed by the two police officers I had passed at the top of the escalator.
I was yet to settle down, let alone begin classes, and I had already found myself conducting impromptu social research. The classroom walls were breaking down, seminar discussions spilling out on to the city streets and into the underground. I had arrived in London, my living laboratory for the next year.