This year, I am fortunate enough to be spending the fall semester in London. In this cosmopolitan, architecturally elaborate, and unbelievably friendly city, there is never a shortage of things to do! From museums to cafes, to historical sites, there’s a breadth of knowledge and fun available for anyone seeking it. And virtually everything is accessible by public transportation!
I have been here for just over a week so I’ve gotten only a rudimentary look at the city and its surroundings. It has all been fascinating nonetheless. Let me guide you through my time here thus far!
The brisk London air at Heathrow International Airport greeted me upon arrival on 7 September. One of my favorite characteristics of London is that it’s always sweater weather. Good thing I stocked up!
My taxi drove me to West Hampstead, a charming little city nestled far enough from the city to stay sane but close enough that I can see the London Eye from my room. I’m living in a homestay with a lovely family during my time here. The homestay arrangements are an excellent aspect of the Hollins Abroad program; they give students a candid look at the lifestyle here. One thing I’ve observed about Londoners so far is that they are quite politically active. In America, I seldom had a political or sociocultural discussion with my friends. Here, however, it is completely normal to have a vigorous debate at the dinner table. Especially since this is such a crucial time in U.K. history as Scotland tries to gain its independence!
I’ve gained a great deal of knowledge from my homestay family about the British education system, its political landscape, socioeconomics, and etc. To me, one of the most productive things you can do while abroad is just talk to people—so I find my homestay to be blissful!
The group spent the first few days doing shamelessly touristy stuff like taking night tours of the city. The taxi tour took us through central locations like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and of course the London Bridge.
Here’s a picture of me looking at the London Bridge on a full moon night! It really was a sight to behold.
The next day the group went to visit the British Museum, where a tour guide led us through parts of the Egyptian exhibition. I found the guide to be quite entertaining because he had that stereotypically British humor that I’m so fond of. I’m looking forward to going back to the museum to see many of its other displays, including the pieces on Islamic art and history.
Finally, the group visited the Windsor Castle, a royal residence built in the 11th century. I did not take many pictures while I was here because this was such a surreal experience for me. While being totally ensconced in my handy audio guide, I thoroughly worked my way through the many breathtaking rooms in the castle. Each of the rooms was so elaborate and intricately built and decorated, that one can easily spend hours examining its detail and beauty (as I did).
I finished my trip off by having a nice latte at a whimsical café next to the train station. In the meantime, I reflected on my experience that day. The Windsor Castle and all of its artifacts are undoubtedly marvelous and awesome. Nonetheless, the Castle is a stark symbol of the gross inequality of its age.
Indubitably, there is a great amount of inequality in America today. And, as I am realizing from debating with my host family and partaking in class discussions, even the U.K. (as a “welfare state”) is not quite the egalitarian utopia some Americans make it out to be. Nonetheless, in terms of the greater human experience, the world is arguably a much better place now than it was in 1066. In this world, it is possible for a middle class, first generation Afghan-American immigrant to enjoy the benefits of visiting a whole new country, taking in invaluable knowledge free of cost, and even drinking a latte from time to time. =cD
And although this experience itself is available to only the very privileged of our age, at least that group of people is bigger now than it was in the 11th century.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I don’t have any classes today and I there’s a world-class city for me to discover! Below are pictures from Camden Square Market.