Global May Britain: Introduction to the History, Politics and Culture of Great Britain
My STEP Experience involved a month-long trip to London along with 39 of my peers and two excellent English professors. While on this trip we were exposed to British culture both inside and outside the classroom. This experience was also enhanced by addition field trips both within the UK and outside.
As a girl who has been born and raised in Ohio I did not really have a good idea of what lay beyond the borders of my state, much less what was across the ocean. Once we landed in London I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, I am on a completely different continent,” and just kept picturing where Great Britain was on a globe. It took a while to wrap my head around that concept. In addition to just the different in geography I hadn’t thought about the different customs, government and laws this nation would have. I knew they would be different, but it wasn’t until I was exposed to them that they became real. I find myself to be a pretty understanding person though, so I could easily accept most of the differences and found myself comparing them to American customs. This trip has opened my eyes to what the world has to offer and now I may not just be content with staying in my own Midwestern bubble.
It is hard to pinpoint specific events that caused my transformation; I think each and every moment of this trip contributed to it. On the first day of class, however, was when I was woken up to how different their law enforcement was compared to ours. A retired police officer came in and talked to our class about safety in London. During his presentation he stated that he has never fired a firearm in all of his years as a bobby. To me that was so weird! I had already fired guns many times because my step-dad collects them. This fact got me thinking on whether it was better that their normal officers don’t have weapons and that their civilians can’t own them, there is no arguing that they have less crime due to this. But it also made me be grateful that we have that freedom in America and that freedom isn’t really something the British will ever experience. Although they may not see it as a particular loss. From that point on I knew that the men with giant machine guns were protecting something very important (maybe like the Queen or something) when you passed them on the street.
Another custom that was particularly new was the royal event that took place in Edinburgh while we were there for the weekend. We had traveled there as a whole group and were given admission to the Queen’s Gallery near the Holyrood Palace. A bunch of us made our way down the Royal Mile (stopping to try some local cuisine of haggis along the way) when we were distracted by the large gathering of people and the sound of bagpipes. At the time we didn’t really know what our admission was for so we thought we were going to be able to tour the Palace. After joining the crowd one of the guys in our group was asking the employees of the grounds what was going on. It turns out the Lord High Commissioner, representative of the Queen, was coming into Edinburgh for an important conference the Church was having. We were at a royal welcoming; now that is something you do not see in America. I do know that this is probably similar to a high ranking government official giving a speech somewhere in the US, but for some reason it feels different when it is royalty. The royals in this country are loved by their people in a way our president can never be loved in our nation. Even if they are just figureheads they are held in the highest respect. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if it was the Queen, although we were told that it involved tanks and the closing off of the entire Royal Mile. Needless to say, we did not get to see the inside of the Palace.
Another experience that blew my mind concerning the Queen happened on our trip to see Windsor and Eton. On this excursion we learned the Queen called Windsor Castle home and Buckingham Palace the office. Maybe since it is considered her home she gets some liberties that she wouldn’t at the office. Now Windsor is a little town, not just a castle so there are people, both natives and tourists alike, that walked around the area all of the time. When the Queen is home this does not change. There is also a giant park in the Castle’s backyard that where both her son’s live and there is a public portion as well. When the Queen is feeling in a driving mood she can go out the back gates of the Castle and drive in the park. The public portion! With only one guard in the passenger seat. Not only is it amazing that she is still driving at her age, but that she is allowed within the public eye without much security. There is no way the president would be allowed to do that, he is constant surrounded by the Secret Service. I think this speaks to how loved the Queen has and how much trust there is in the people as well. I find it difficult to comprehend that there are people living in such close distance to the Queen. This is probably why it is so expensive to live in this town as well. In addition to this, it was really interesting that the Castle is fully functioning with people working and living within its walls. It is something out of a fairytale. I just want to know how someone comes to get a job within the castle walls!
I think that this transformation concerning the expansion on global understanding is important in many aspects of my life. I think it is important to understand the different cultures around the world, rather than just assuming the American way is the best way. If we look to other ways of life we could learn a lot and it could help both politically and on a personal level. Professionally and academically I have come to understand even Midwesterners like me could go on to live and study in a different country and that they have just as much to offer as the universities in the states. We even met a boy from Milwaukee during our tour of Eton! I would find to be a great honor to be able to work or study under with some of the people over in that country. Hopefully I will have that chance sometime in my future!