During the month of May, I traveled to London to learn about the politics, history and culture of Great Britain. As part of Global May study abroad, I stayed in a suburb outside London with other fellow Buckeyes. We took the tube to class during the week like typical Londoners and lived in apartment-style accommodations. During our class time, we shared our experiences as well as learned about sites we visited during our daily afternoon excursions.
During my time in London, I learned a lot about myself as well as the world around me. Everyone has a common assumption of what a place will be like before they go there. For me, I had imagined it as being like every movie I had ever watched , book I had read, and picture I had ever seen. My stay in London led me to the realization that Great Britain was much different than I had ever imagined. Much of this difference came not only from the contributions of Great Britain’s rich history but also from the British people. It was the places, the tours, the evenings wandering around, the countless tube and train journeys, and the Londoners that shaped the Great Britain that I now know.
My understanding of myself and my ability to foster change through my own personal experiences was illuminated during my STEP project. I realized how important my journeys were in being able to educate students that I will one day teach in my own classroom. Being able to impart something much more personal rather than just words from a textbook has a higher probability of impacting students to learn about the world around them. I have become a more confident and independent person as well. During my time in England, I traveled around on my own a few times. This was something that I would have never done before. There is some sort of clearer perception of your surroundings that you are able to obtain when just explore by yourself. You blend more into the environment and locals find you more approachable. I learned a lot from them about their daily lives and was able to get to know other travelers from around the world as well.
All of the sites we visited contributed to this transformation of my outlook. The Tower of London was the first location that truly opened my eyes to the importance of learning firsthand about Britain’s rich history. We were there the second day of our trip and were taken on a guided tour. It was astounding to have read about William the Conqueror, the execution of Anne Boleyn, and the princes hidden in the tower and then actually walk through the castle walls. It was a far more impactful learning experience than I have ever had, and I realized the importance of travel when educating others. Westminster Abbey was another place where I had a similar experience. The history is so rich that being able to stand within the stone walls is incredible. I found myself clinging more to the details of things I had actually seen rather than just read or been lectured on in past history classes. One learns so much more when they are fully engulfed in the past of a place.
On a whole, I also understood London as a diverse global city throughout my experiences. I noticed how those who had ancestors who lived there for hundreds of years mixed with newer immigrants freely. This truly international community has led to the culturally vibrant London of today. It was interesting to be in London during such a pivotal political period in Great Britain’s history. I was able to formulate my own opinions without having to hear about all sides through the news. London truly would not be the same without the diversity that makes it so great.
There were numerous factors that contributed to my transformational outlook on London and Great Britain as a whole. My understanding of culture has been greatly enhanced through my discussion with local British people and the information explained to us by local tour guides. Not only did they tell us about Westminster Abbey, Brixton, Brick Lane, and the British Museum, but they also shared part of their daily lives with us. One tour guide spoke to us about the importance of Protestantism in her life. Our tour guide from the British Museum talked with us about Britain’s legacy of imperialism and what would be left of Britain if historical artifacts were returned to their homelands. Another tour guide asked us important questions in Brixton about immigration and culture: What was our idea of “Britishness”? Do we like the idea of Brixton’s definitiveness as its own neighborhood or should everything be blended together? He challenged our thoughts on London’s multicultural environment. These are the things that I will remember about British culture. I will remember the people that asked us the difficult questions and shared their own perspective on what London is to them. This, in turn, helped me to come to the realization of what London is to me. It sharpened my cultural awareness and gave substance to some of my opinions.
The realization of travel as an enriching learning experience and the recognition of London as a global city will have a significant impact on both my academic and professional goals. My time studying abroad has given me knowledge and encounters that will not be replicated again. This amazing opportunity has also contributed to the stories and lessons I will impart on my students as a future teacher. I hope to invoke the same sense of adventure that this trip has stirred in me. Academically, my perspective has been broadened to encompass other cultures of the world. I now understand the importance of education through exploration. I loved the historic sites but I also loved the people that made London different from anywhere I had ever been before. All of the diversity made the streets livelier, the food spicier, and the people more welcoming. Because of all of the people that define London today, its vibrance is illuminating to anyone that travels there.
While reflecting on my time in Great Britain I came across a quote by V.S. Naipaul that accurately defines much of how I now feel. “I came to London. It had become the center of my world…And I was lost.” While living there for four weeks, London had, indeed, become the center of my world. I was fully immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the city. Most of all, I was able to view it from my own eyes and not the perspective of some historians, novelists, movies, tour books, or others’ tales. I, myself, had become lost in this electrifying city, both old and new. Because of this, my perspective of Great Britain is forever changed, and I look forward to what else can be learned from taking the time and care to get to know a place so well. There is a lot to be learned from exploring the world, and I have a lot more left to see.