STEP Reflection: Global May Great Britain

Maura Jacobs

Study Abroad: Global May Great Britain

This project was a study abroad trip to London, England for the month of May. It was through a class called The History, Culture, and Politics of Great Britain. It included two hours of class and an excursion four days a week for the month. We stayed in London in a dorm, traveled to Glasgow with the class, and I traveled to Wales for one weekend. We saw all of the main tourist attractions in London as well as many museums.

I had never spent much time in a major city until my trip to London. In the class, we focused on what makes London so unique from other major cities. It was really interesting to learn about how London is considered a global city because of all of its ties to other cities and countries. It was also incredible to me to see the amount of tolerance between all of the different cultures and people in London. I think seeing this tolerance gave me a great sense of hope for our country’s ability to move towards becoming more tolerant as well. It’s interesting because there were two terrorist attacks in England within the one month that I was there. The attack in Manchester occurred halfway through the trip and the attack on the Tower Bridge happened the day that I left. It’s so interesting to me to see how we handle terrorist attacks versus how people in London handled it. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there was more of a sense of calm. People were still going about their lives, obviously with heightened caution, but there wasn’t the full on panic that I would have expected if this had happened in America. I’d love for that kind of calm to be present in America. I think there’s a big difference between being vigilant and trying to stop terrorism and the frenzy that we oftentimes get worked up into when an attack occurs.

As I said before, I had never been in a city as large as London before my trip. Going into this, I was worried about getting lost or not being able to go anywhere for fear of getting lost. Even at home in Columbus, I’ve managed to get myself pretty lost. It turned out, one of my favorite parts of the trip was figuring out my own way, sometimes alone and sometimes with other students in the group. It was really great that by the end of the trip I felt completely confident in taking the tube and getting to where I needed to be.

I had a vague idea that there was a great deal of immigration to the UK throughout the years but the more we discussed immigration, I began noticing so much more diversity and cultural influence on the city. It was something we focused on heavily in the class because it is such an important part of the UK’s history. We toured different traditionally immigrant neighborhoods including Shoreditch and Brixton. The easiest place to see the influence of immigration is in the food. There was an amazing number of small businesses each touting their own very specific regional food. Even in the neighborhoods that were known to be one specific culture, there was some diversity. In London in general you could see the mixing of many different cultures through the food stands and restaurants lining the streets.

What struck me more than just the number of the restaurants was the popularity of these foods. I like to think that I’m a tolerant person, but I have to admit that the very first thing I think of when I hear “Middle East” is terrorism. There’s no way around that association at this because it has been drilled into our heads here in America. In London though I was able to see how people can, for the most part, separate those two ideas. I found it absolutely amazing to see all of these restaurants and food trucks being enjoyed by Londoners of all types.  I think it really speaks to their tolerance as a people, though through our classroom discussions I know that London is sort of an outlier in terms of feelings towards immigration. Whether the rest of the UK feels the same way and is as tolerant or not, seeing a city as influential as London stand up and say that they supported people of all cultures gave me a huge sense of optimism for our country.

Finally, I also mentioned that this trip helped give me a greater sense of independence. In Columbus I live off campus but I usually stay in the campus area for everything. In London I loved the challenge of finding my way around using the tube or the bus, usually with limited use of google maps. There was one time during the first week that I decided to go back to the dorm we were staying in on my own from Trafalgar Square, which I know now is an easy trip to make but was a big deal to me at the time. There was another point later on during the last week of the trip that a family came up to me and asked me for directions on the tube. It was so great to go from unsure and nervous to being able to give directions to someone else. It was a really big deal for me because even in Columbus I describe myself as “geographically challenged”.

I’m graduating in fall this year. Somehow it worked out that I could graduate early which thrilled my parents and initially I was excited too. However the more that I thought about it, the less happy about this change in my plan I was. I’m big on planning everything out and this had not been part of my plan. I’ve also been struggling to figure out exactly what to do after graduation. I know that I want to go into nursing and I’ve obviously been researching and trying to plan, but I thought I had another six months to figure this all out until I realized I was going to graduate early. I think what this trip really helped me with was being okay with not having an exact plan for the next five years, like I usually like to do.

As the trip went on and I began to feel more of the independence I also got less worried about the day to day plans. I stopped worrying so much about how we would get places or when we would have time to get dinner or how we could cram everything into one day. This is something that I’ve really been trying to continue since I’ve gotten home. I think that I really need to focus more on just enjoying what’s going on in in day to day life and not so much on planning everything out. Knowing that I can be completely independent, even in a foreign country, definitely gives me a sense of confidence for the future and makes graduating early much less stressful.

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