IN A NUTSHELL
London: Studying Abroad
In January 2013, I embarked to London and spent three months among the Brits. Technically, because my geographic focus in International Studies is Sub-saharan Africa, I was supposed to study in Africa, but certain circumstances and confusion led me to London instead with a program called AHA offered through University of Oregon. While I wasn’t directly learning about Africa, my time in London and throughout Europe taught me a lot about cultures, politics, and the complex world system in which countries operate economically, politically, and socially. As England was one of the main colonizers of the African continent, it was a very interesting experience to live in and observe the remnants of the colonizer mindset as well as the present-day implications of neocolonialism. In addition, my misconception that most Western societies operated fairly similar was completely shattered and reformed to understand the truth that though a country may speak the same language, the culture will be completely different to the United States.
While in London, I took some very interesting classes that I believe gave me a very peculiar hands-on learning experience. My favorite class was called “Celtic Myths and Legends” and focused on the language, culture, and literature of the ancient Celts, who inhabited modern-day Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. My favorite historical fiction writer creates her stories through a Celtic lens, so I was already very interested in the topic before the class even started. What made this class different than ones I have taken in Eugene was the fact that after discussing, for example, a Celtic garment and its significance, the class was able to pop over to the British Museum and see it in real life. Similarly, in my other English class entitled, “Beyond Downton Abbey: The Rich, The Poor, and Servants in British Literature,” we discussed the class structures and hierarchy that existed throughout the recent centuries in Britain and were able to observe how those systems still operate today, seen in current attitudes towards “the help” and other lower-paying jobs in society. As mad as I have been in the past while learning about England and its role in the destruction of many countries it has colonized, I still fell in love with being there. Hating the decisions of England’s leaders in the past does not mean one needs to hate the people of London today. I spoke before about the danger of a single story, and I used to think that mindset only applied to “developing” countries because that is what the majority of my studies have been on. I only recently realized that it is also important to not have a single story in your mind about the “bad guy” either. People from all over the world live in London, and even though systems of influence still operate between Europe and other countries and continents, society today is so different than it was during the time of colonialism.
London is truly a melting pot of so many people, and also serves as a very intriguing case-study on tourism as well. One of my personal annoyances is acting tourist-y, so I tried really hard to incorporate myself into daily life in London. My home-stay was in Greater London, so I took the Tube (London Underground) to class in the city each day, I learned the acceptable terms for chips and fries, and found a dance studio where I could participate weekly with other Londoners. My host mom was from Germany, which gave me yet another lens of London and culture. The best moment was when someone in the city asked me directions. There is something really cool about being mistaken for a local, because it means one has pushed past the cultural barriers and has broadened their comfort zone enough to incorporate her/himself into a society different than their own. This relates back to the ethics of visiting other countries and cultures: a respect for everyone and a willingness to go outside of one’s own cultural box.
During my study abroad program, we were given a 10-day break as well as open three-day weekends. I used this time for as much travel as I could possibly afford and make happen. Friends from my program and I went to Amsterdam one of the weekends, where I was astounded by the sustainable bike-riding trends, the beauty of the canals, and the fact that crime rates are extremely low after a decriminalization of drugs in the country. When it came time for our mid-term break, I desperately wanted to visit the Irish countryside, but no one in my group wanted to go. So, instead I went alone, and ended up having the most amazing experience backpacking alone through the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. This experience really solidified my love of traveling in any context as well as confirmed my belief in the kindness of strangers (When I was left without a place to stay one weekend, employees at a hotel in a suburb of Dublin called around to try to find me a place to sleep!). I was also able to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; and Rome, Italy. From the accumulation of my three months in Europe, I learned that if you respect where you are and are friendly, people will respect you and will be friendly back. It taught me that people are people, and travel is the best way to realize this and broaden one’s mind.