Well, I’ve been in Wales for about a week now and I’ve seen and experienced a lot of things thus far. It’s been a ride, that’s for sure and its only week 2! Last week I went into town with a neighbor of mine, who is a native of Wales. She was my guide and companion for this journey. We decided to walk into town, which is about a 20-30 minute walk from where we are staying. On the way I notice a lot of things. One thing that I especially noticed was the amount of green in my surroundings, the fact that almost every 5-10 minutes there was a luscious green park in bloom. Another thing I notice is the amount of students walking about. I found out that 70, 000 out of the 200, 000 people in Cardiff are students and that it’s a very student oriented area. I was incredibly amazed. The air is much fresher and although the weather is a bit dodgy in terms of weather, it was a beautiful day. A lot of the buildings have a Victorian gothic architecture, which makes the view of your surroundings very pleasant, some are even part of the universities. I did notice that all the signs are in English and Welsh and my guide explained to me that although almost all natives of Wales speak English, but because of the law they must have signs in both English and Welsh. Apparently its done to preserve the language and still taught at schools. (Fun fact I am actually taking a course to learn Welsh).
Once we reached town we headed to the shopping centre, which makes our malls look like house in comparison, the plethora of smells came at me at once. There was delicious smells of grills, bakeries, and coffee shops, but there were also smells of perfumes and pubs perverting the air. On occasion one could smell the unpleasant odor of vomit from the nightlife of the day before. It wasn’t unexpected considering the nightlife here is much different from back home.
My guide took me round town showed me where the best places for food and shopping for students was, along with the UK original chain stores. She explained to me what things were okay to say and what things weren’t. For instance don’t say pants because pants in the UK means underwear, say trousers. I already knew this, but had already heard other fellow American’s made that mistake. People in the UK in general (London and Wales) seem to dress in dark colors, it rare to see someone in eye-catching colors, so when walking into a department store the fact is very prevalent. I gradually began to notice as the day went on, but seeing as I already dress in dark colors and fall in quite well with my fellow Welsh and UK natives, my guide and flat mates have even dubbed me honorary British.
That night was also a once in a lifetime experience. For those of you who don’t know right now the rugby world cup is going on and rugby in Wales is a big thing. The Wales vs. Uruguay game was actually played in Cardiff just a couple of miles from the center of town. Anyways, this night Wales was playing England and the tension was high, all of the pubs were packed to the max, but the atmosphere was incredible. All of those people coming together as a single entity to enjoy a good game of rugby. At this point I was taught the Welsh anthem and even joined in when everyone started singing along with the opening ceremonies. It was vibrant and chaotic and beautiful, it like Slimbach says, “There’s a certain wonder, delight, and exhilaration that comes with having all our senses placed on full alert” (Slimbach, p.186). It was amazing and the game was doubly so. The game was intense and me, my flat mates and Wales supporters were holding our breath the entire game, until we beat England by 3 points and won the game. The entire pub went up in cheers, you could even here other pubs along the street erupt into cheers, it was absolutely amazing! It was at this moment that I felt like I was finally part of the community and no longer felt like an outsider. Definitely one of the best experiences thus far, I’m sure there is more to come.
Since the day I arrived in Cardiff I have been keeping a journal that I record my personal experiences, whether good or bad, as a way to collect my thoughts and look back on what I have learned. It is as Slimbach says, “Detailed observational notes like these are an important part of cultural discovery. They allow for continuous dialogues—internal and with community members—related to aspects of local life that confuse, intrigue, or even offend us” (Slimbach, p.185). I have already looked back and reflected on how much I have learned and how I can already see some slow change beginning to occur. When I first came here I wasn’t feeling homesick and I’m still not home sick, but I was worried about acclimating with my flatmates/classmates. For the majority of them this is their first year of university and first time away from home. I’m a bit older than they are, but my fears were put to ease as the days went by. I have created a very strong group of communitas, whether or not we are going through the same things. The key factor that ties us all together is that we are away from home and from friends; this is a new experience and environment for each of us. This brings us together and creates a support for each and every one of us. Not to mention that where they help me with getting accustomed to the community and culture, I help them with getting through first year experiences I have already overcome. It’s as Slimbach says, “ The genius of slow-moving travel is the way it orchestrates surprise and serendipity” (Slimbach, p.184). The system works and I can see myself as well as those around me growing each everyday. Although the days may have started out slow and a bit scary, they are now quickening and leading to great many opportunities.
Through my walk into town and my night at the pub watching the Rugby World Cup, I have observed the community around me as well as integrating myself into it. I’ve seen and watching the people around me bustling about their lives unbeknownst to them that I was a foreigner. Being here in Cardiff is as Slimbach said the “first step”. He also writes that “Our actual entrance into the community requires that we venture out to observe everyday life, interact with strangers, and slowly absorb an alternative reality” (Slimbach, p.182). The walk to classes everyday, the say in town, and cheering together with friends and strangers alike when the home rugby team won, are these not all part of this process. I truly feel as though I have finally crossed that threshold that made neither here or there, I have become, slowly but surely, part of this new community.
My travelogue that I picked, you may recall the writer was an American who moved to London and had lived there for the past 11 years. He finally decided that it was time for a change because he had never stepped foot out of London in the 11 years he had lived there. So, his idea go explore the entirety of the United Kingdom by walking/busing/taking the train along it’s coast. He did just that, he walked through rain and he stayed, at some points shady, hotels. He saw and experienced a lot, things he knew he would never have experienced and seen had he stayed in London. He met a lot of interesting people on the way as well. Some of them gross and disgusting, but others were decent and helped him along the way. I think that his journey was what I would describe his mid-life crisis or rather the solution to overcoming a point of his life that seemed to keep him down. Him going on this trip frees him from the nonsense that had plagued his life. What I really find funny, as well as interesting, is that throughout the journey and even though he’s lived in London (the UK) for 11 years, he still found himself falling into old American habits. It’s almost as if even after 11 years he hasn’t quite assimilated and is reminded again to himself that came from somewhere else, he was once a foreigner. It’s at these points, where I can relate the best because even though I’ve been in Cardiff for about two weeks it already feels as if I’ve been here all my life. However, the way I speak and the phrases I use or sometimes the way I react to things brings me back to reality that I don’t quite belong here. I’m not saying that in a bad way, I’m just saying that once we get past the liminoid stage it’s easy to fall into pace and adapt to those around you without even noticing it. I also felt a connection with him in term of separation. He wasn’t held back by or even thought that being away from home was burdensome, he thought it was liberating. In that way I can agree, I feel that this separation from home, from the things I knew, to be liberating rather than burdensome. Yes I miss my family and friends, but its nice to be apart and it really puts things in perspective. I think even in this short period of time there’s already been a change in the way I think about things. I mean reading my travelogue was definitely a bit difficult at times just because his journey took place in a time much different from now. This took place around the 1980’s and at the time there were political issues and strain between Great Britain and Argentina, so you kind of have that in the background, but I liked the style of it. It was like you were right there with him seeing, hearing, and smelling everything he was. It was almost how one would right a journal explain each day and the challenges you faced. I’m really glad that, that is the case because as I’ve mentioned earlier I am keeping a journal as well of my daily experiences, so hopefully that will help me as well.
I feel that this represents my “walk” the best because even though I had a guide, I really didn’t know where I was going. To be honest I wasn’t very worried or rushed to get to town, I knew I’d get there eventually and really just appreciated the scenery and people around me. It allowed me to immerse myself in my
surroundings and just talk to my guide and ask her questions. It was really nice because I didn’t have to hurry or run about trying to get there, we just made our made nice and easy and eventually after 20-30 minutes we got there. It was a pleasant surprise to see and experience more things once we got to our destination. I also feel like this picture quote goes hand in hand as well, because often we are to busy with looking ahead and figuring out the future to really just enjoy what’s right in front of us. I really feel that this walk also incorporated that type of mindset, which made the experience all that more pleasing and easier to immerse yourself into the community and surroundings. I became one of the people.