I would like to sincerely apologize for being out of the picture in the past year. It was due to a very good reason. I just spent the past year living in London attending a grad school to pursue a masters in anthropology.
I didn’t go to London just to earn a masters in anthropology. I went there to ‘reinvent’ myself, broaden my knowledge of the world, gain a greater appreciation of the world surrounding me, and most importantly, meet new people who are now my closest friends and will be my travel companions in the future. In my courses, I studied how people interact with mass media, technology, photography, products, and companies. The courses and activities in which I was involved this past year gave me lots of food for thought – Do I want to pursue a PhD to be more involved in research? Do I want to continue photography or reconsider filmmaking? Do I want to work with people with hearing loss? Do I want to be a journalist? Do I want to work in the travel industry?
While studying and writing papers for school, I ventured throughout London and the UK. Oxford, Cambridge, Dover, Brighton, Worcester, and Southampton are all little trips I made by simply taking trains and buses. Taking these trips gave me the realization of the ease of traveling within the country and led me to think about the logistics of traveling in the US. One day, I wrote on Facebook, “The UK’s public transportation put New England’s public transportation to shame.” My country does have a network of trains and buses, and New England is one of the areas in the country with the best system. However, it is not the best in the world.
When organizing trips with friends to other cities in the UK, booking a bus or a train was as simple as clicking the button of a mouse. You can find a number of buses and trains taking you directly from one destination to another without a lot of hassle. I’d be in Oxford within an hour by train from London or in Brighton within two hours by bus from London. This is not the case in the US. If you want to travel to Savannah from Atlanta by train, you have to go all the way up to DC and then come back down. Greyhound has a bus service, but it takes nearly five hours and there are only five time slots. Not to mention, the price is not cheap compared to the price of taking a National Express, UK’s major bus coach service. At one point, I looked into taking a bus from Boston to North Adams, MA, and while there was a way to get there, there was only one time slot and not to mention, the bus stop is inconveniently located far from the town center, so far that I’d have to take cab. Experiencing the differences of public transportation gave me thoughts of wanting to advocate for a better system in the US. This is a difference that traveling can make in one person’s life – understanding the issues that our own country has and learning how we can solve the problems.
Aside from gaining a greater appreciation of the UK’s public transportation system, I continued to appreciate the charms of old architecture as I did during my travels to Italy and France. It was more than just about gaining appreciation of the designs of Tudors and building with brick facades, but also gaining an understanding of where the designs in New England exactly came from. I found architecture in New England, in particular in Boston, and in the UK to be very similar. It is obvious that the settlers from the UK from hundreds of years ago brought their culture to New England.
On top of traveling to various destinations, I considered myself to be part of many destinations in the world everyday as I was represented an international student in London. Believe or not, London is an empire for international students to study there. Not one of my flatmates was from the UK. They were from Poland, Germany, China, Australia, and the Netherlands. Many of my classmates were from other parts of the world, including Sweden, China, Korea, Canada, and Jamaica. I was immersed in learning about everyone’s home life, cultures and values. I learned that most homes in China do not have an oven. Universities in Sweden only have pass and fail grades. Germans and Netherlanders value common goods. I was also enriched in learning to cook different cuisines – Swedish cinnamon rolls, dumplings, and Russian soup.
Aside from being surrounded by students from all parts of the world, I was also part of a cosmopolitan life. Everywhere I walked, there were Japanese restaurants with luscious Sushi, Chinese restaurants serving hot pots, Belgian restaurants serving mussels, American chain stores including Apple Store, GAP, and Urban Outfitters, and a Chinatown nestled in middle of the city adorned with beautiful lanterns and Chinese decorations. One stranger walking by me could be from Saudi Arabi while another could be from Australia. While standing on the subway and looking at everyone’s physical appearance, it was evident that London is rich in diversity. As much as I wanted to escape my culture, seeing McDonalds and Starbucks on every corner gave me a sense of appreciation that many people around the world treasure my own culture. I also gained an understanding of why people adored my culture – It is the creativity and ideas that we develop and innovate that many people admire.
Everywhere I walked, there were many cultural activities ranging from museums to theaters. I am not going to deny that I saw ten Broadway shows, including Mamma Mia, Priscilla Queen of Dessert, Dirty Dancing and Legally Blonde.
In the past year, I formed a very close friendship with a particular woman from China, Sophia. She was my classmate, study partner, chef partner, and partner-in-crime. I will be heading to her home in China in a few weeks. I will be writing a separate post about how our friendship came to be where it is today.
I could go on and write many more posts about the lessons and morals that I’ve learned in the past year, but I am going to end here for now, and perhaps write more in the next few weeks. I just need to finish writing my dissertation and hunt for jobs as my masters program ends next month.