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Pre-Departure Blog, 5/1/2018
Just four more days until I’m in London! I just finished finals a little over a week ago, so I’ve hit the ground running since I got home. I’ve been doing a lot: unpacking my things from school, packing for six weeks for London, doing a ton of last minute shopping, seeing family and friends, and I’ve been reading one of the books that Professor Matthews assigned us. Today, I’m going to exchange my currency for pounds. it’s becoming to real! It seems like yesterday when I was asking my old English professor to critique my application, until I was in Shapiro trying not to scream when I got my acceptance letter. Now, my flight is in three days and the excitement has multiplied. Time really flies!
I’m extremely excited to go to London mainly because I went in 2016 for a school trip, and I fell in love with it. Although I was only there for a week, I was engulfed in this immaculate, diverse, busy capital and I promised myself that I would come back for longer. In fact, one of the reasons I chose the University of Michigan was their study abroad resources. U-M has soooo many resources and I was sure that I could achieve this goal with the help of this amazing university. When I was applying to study abroad programs in the fall, I almost applied for the academic year program in London, but my mom convinced me that that’s too long. She felt as though CGIS: Contemporary London, UK was perfect for me: it’s focused on social justice, based in London, and it’s only six weeks. For some reason, I don’t feel like six weeks is enough time, but we’ll see. I rarely get homesick, and time flies when you’re having fun, so I have a feeling these six weeks are going to pass in the blink of an eye.
I’m excited to explore multiculturalism and social action in the context of this extremely diverse city. I feel as though my identities will be embraced in this city; however, I don’t expect things to be that way. I know I will encounter racism in Europe; it’s almost inevitable. I wonder how many other people of color are going to be in my cohort. Regardless, I’m going to celebrate my identities in this city and I’m sure that I’ll find my community there for the time being! I’m so ready to become a Briton for six weeks! ☺
Mid-program Blog, 5/22/2018
We're halfway done? I cannot believe three weeks has already flown by. I just moved in yesterday, and now we're almost done? Wow. Although I'm homesick, I love London and I'm not looking forward to leaving. I'm beginning to fall in love with this amazing city (and I'm FINALLY learning my way around it)... why do I have to go?
So much has happened since I’ve been here. Within a few days of being here, I got the flu. Lucky for me, I got it the night before my first day of class! Awesome! I got well in a few days, and some friends & I went to Berlin for the weekend. It was…interesting, to say the least. My trip started with me having to repurchase a plane ticket because my original flight was booked for June 23rd, for some odd reason; I then had 15 minutes to make it through security and across the airport to my gate, or else I'd miss my flight and lose even more money. I ended up making it by the skin of my teeth. When we got there, people were staring at us (we were three women of color, and usually the only ones around for the majority of the trip), customer service was horrible, and overall, it's a pretty bland and grey city. However, the food was amazing, the street art is insane and we got some pretty good pics if you ask me. Overall, I probably wouldn't go back, but I'm grateful for the experience.
While in London, a couple friends and I went shopping, went to the London bridge, went to this AMAZING Thai food restaurant, and went to Camden market. Some days, I decided to go solo and explore Spitalfields market, Brick Lane, Storeditch, Kentish town, and Borough market. I absolutely LOVE the fact that there’s so much to do here! There’s never a boring day in this city. Also, there’s so many restaurants from different cultures here!
Classes are great. I’m studying Multicultural London, which is taught by Christopher Matthews, and Social Action in Contemporary London, which is taught by Lorraine Gutierrez. In Matthew’s class, we’re finishing up White Teeth by Zadie Smith, a novel following several characters trying to establish their identities as immigrants in this diverse, yet confusing society. I’m really enjoying it so far, and I’m looking forward to starting The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla next week. In Gutierrez’s class, we have different readings each week, usually centered around different communities in London and how social justice is achieved. So far, my favorite class is Gutierrez’s. Both of them are amazing professors though! They’re so friendly and helpful, and they seem pretty passionate about the topics we discuss. My classmates seem to be enjoying the coursework. Everyone is so friendly, and I couldn’t ask for a better cohort. Everyone is ready to go home, however. I’m probably the only one who isn’t homesick… yet. We’ve all been traveling together and getting to know each other, and they’re cool people! However, I wish our group was a little more diverse. There are only six people of color on the trip, and only four males. I’ll make the best of it, though.
I still feel as though this program is perfect for me. I’m very passionate about social justice, and as time goes by, I’m realizing that London is the perfect city to study multiculturalism and social action in because it’s so diverse, and has a rich history. It’s so interesting to actually see and engage with the multiple communities that we learn about in class. Also, six weeks is MORE than enough time. Although I’m not homesick yet, If I had to stay here for longer than six weeks, I think I’d go crazy.
London has been good to me. I thought I’d encounter racism and discrimination, but so far I’ve been accepted and I’ve been able to find a community here. I feel as though I belong here. My identities haven’t really impacted my experience here because I fit in. I feel embraced here, so I haven’t really been made conscious of my identities like I would somewhere else. There’s a place for everyone, and almost every identity is present and represented. I’m shocked…this is unlike any place I’ve been to, especially in the United States.
In other news, I've been doing a LOT of shopping since I've been in London. The Primark employees probably know my name by now. I've been examining the fashion trends here, and I really love the style that people have; it's unlike anything I've seen in the U.S., and I've been inspired to shop til I drop!
Sleep this week has been....eh. Maybe I'm still getting adjusted, even after 3 weeks? Or maybe it's because I take naps during the day, which I was advised not to do because it messes up your sleeping schedule. Regardless, I am restless, and since I'm staying in London this weekend, I'll be catching some Z's.
Post-Program Blog, 6/17/2018
Is it really over? I can't believe that our study abroad program is coming to a close! I've grown so much over the past six weeks and I've learned so much about myself, my place in the world, about a myriad of new cultures, and about community action and social change. Although I'm definitely going to miss the hustle and bustle that London holds, I'm ready to go home and relax for a bit. Honestly, this city can be exhausting because there's so much to see, do, and take in. I'm grateful that I was able to experience all that London has to offer, and I can't wait to get back, relax, and reflect on this amazing experience.
I spent this weekend in London with my friends Angel and Shireen. We went to Piccadilly Square, Storeditch, Camden market, Spitalfields market, and we did some shopping on Brick Lane. I also tried oysters for the first (and last) time (it was disgusting). We also hung out around their neighborhood, did some shopping and ate some amazing Nigerian food. I'm going to miss them so much; it's great that I was able to hang out with them throughout my six weeks here. I haven't seen them since 2015! I love that I have friends here who were able to show me around the city and take me to the less touristy areas so I could experience authentic London culture. London culture is...a myriad of things. I guess true London culture is what exists beyond traditional London culture -- there’s more to this city than Fish & Chips, tea, and big red buses. London culture is the multiple cultures that exist outside of central London, which I had the privilege to experience. I went to East London where there is a large West African population, Brick Lane where there is a large Bangladeshi population, and the fact that we lived in Tufnell Park -- a regular London neighborhood -- emerged me in what everyday life would be like in London, without the hustle & bustle of busy city life.
Overall, this program was everything I expected and more. I was looking forward to engaging with and learning about the communities around me through the excursions, but looking back, although the excursions did a good job at this, I learned the most just by living in the city and going about life as a Briton. I feel a lot more well rounded and well versed about living with and learning about different kinds of people.
As far as my identities, I expected that my identities would be embraced. Not only were my identities embraced.. but they were celebrated! I was surprised to see festivals, restaurants, and events celebrating African culture, and there are so many ways to experience it here! I didn’t experience any overt racism, which is a surprise and a huge contrast from the United States. It’s an interesting realization -- the UK is more accepting than the U.S., from my experience.
This week, I've been trying to cram everything into a few days, and it's been difficult considering I still have work to do. Finding a way to balance my final projects and making the most of London in the last week is definitely challenging, but I think my strategy of finishing work at night is working (even if it means being sleep deprived).
London has been a life-changing experience. Spending such a long time in another country really forces you to grow and think about yourself, your identities, and your place in the world as a whole, and I'll come home with a different perspective on the world. After reading the books we were assigned in class, I could relate to a lot of the characters who were immigrants. I came to realize that London is a place where my identities could flourish because there’s a place for each and every one of them. As complex as they are, spending six weeks in a place like London has made me think about my place in America as well, and I can’t help but notice that the U.S. isn’t diverse at all. Through reflection, I noticed that my identities are a little too much for America to handle; London can handle them all. I could see myself living here, and hopefully I’ll be back! I’m forever grateful for this experience. Until next time!