In May 2016, STEP gave me an amazing chance to study abroad in Great Britain. For four weeks, I lived in central London and studied British history, politics, and culture while taking the Arts and Sciences 2798.03 class Global May Britain. Four times a week, I and other thirty-nine students from the US had morning lectures at Anglo-American Educational Services Study Center and then afternoon excursions at various famous historical and cultural sites in London. I also traveled to a couple of big British cities like Liverpool and Edinburgh and made a lot of new fiends.
This month abroad has changed my perception of diversity and European cultures a lot. Before going to London, I imagined Great Britain as a pretty conservative thousand-years-old country with strict etiquette and traditions represented by predominantly white nation. However, from the very first day British cities were impressing me with their huge diversity and proving that my images of old and wealthy European countries were outdated. I have realized that social and cultural diversity is more than just a feature of big American cities – this is the image of a perfect world recognized by many developed countries nowadays.
As soon as I arrived to Heathrow airport in London, I realized how wrong I was when imagining Britain as a predominantly white country. In the airport, in the underground, on the streets, and even in the supermarket, I was surrounded by people of all colors, clothes, and languages. Kilburn, where I lived in London, was a mostly Muslim area with busy street markets and friendly people. Our class had a walking tour around bright and vibrant Brixton – the home of thousands of Afro-Caribbean emigrants since early 20th century; and of course, London Chinatown located in Soho was my favorite place to walk, have food, and enjoy the busy night life. London and other big cities I visited during my stay in Britain turned out to be as bright and diverse as New York and other huge cities in the US.
I learned a lot about British history, politics, and culture at our lectures and excursions in London. We were talking about the rise of British Colonial Empire, the kings and queens, and development of quintessentially British traditions. However, we also discussed the multiple waves of emigration to London and all British Isles, the age of slavery, and racial riots in the 20th century. We read a lot of literature describing the life and struggles of separate ethnic groups in different periods of British history. At our classes, I have realized that Britain also has spent a lot of time and effort to build a diverse and harmonic society.
However, the greatest surprise for me was to learn at our excursion to London Tower that although all generations of kings and queens till today had pledged to protect the Anglican church, Prince Charles who was supposed to become the next British king was going to pledge to all churches and religions in Great Britain. For centuries, the monarch has been the head of Anglican church and this important tradition will be saved, but the twenty-first century monarchs realize the necessity to recognize other religions as well. It is fascinating to see how in Great Britain old traditions are mixed with new ideas to create a harmonic and diverse society.
When going to study abroad in London, I hoped to see a different life-style and immerse myself in a different culture because I thought this would help me better understand my patients especially foreigners when I become a doctor in the future. However, this trip to Great Britain has taught me much more than just to understand foreign cultures – it has created an absolutely new picture of a perfect world for me. Now I believe that every place can be bright, diverse, and welcoming for everyone while saving its unique traditions and features. In the future, where ever I go and whatever I do I want to create such environment around me and I believe that my new foreign friends will help me with this.
I also have a blog describing my adventures in London https://u.osu.edu/wiseadvicefromchristina/