As I recall the turn of events of my arrival into the country of England and the city of London, I would say that that was when my orientation began from the exercises that we are expected to accomplish to feel like we have a sense of the place that we are going to call home for an extended amount of time. When I made it through customs and went to claim my baggage, I my first encounter was with a ticket salesman for the Heathrow Express train (Heathrow is the airport that I flew into) he was a very welcoming gentleman who was more than pleased to point me in the right direction and which tubes (subways) I should take in order to get to my hotel. Luckily I had the good sense to exchange money before I left the United States so I was able to pay without a problem and in exchange I was given a couple of strange coins that I had never seen before and it may be one of my favorite things about the monetary system here in the United Kingdom. This would be the fact that the one and two pounds are in coins instead of paper money, which to me makes it a lot easier and you don’t have useless one pound notes taking up space in your wallet. I like the monetary system here, it is easy to distinguish which coin is which as well as which note is which because all notes are different sizes and most obviously very different colors.
Here in London, I have found that people are very approachable, if I ever have trouble finding a place or just have a quick question I have never heard someone tell me that they cannot help me, even if they do not speak English very well, which was the case when I was trying to locate my hotel after arriving at my final tube stop. That being said, I am currently residing in the area of London known as Mile End, which got its name because it is exactly one mile from the boarder of London. I would say that there is not a huge amount of safety concerns and as I have talked to people they told me that you just have to be aware of your surroundings and the situations that you might find yourself in. In other words, you have to have common sense and I know it’s not very common, but when you’re in a new place it is smart to be extra vigilant. There is very little crime in the England and you will rarely ever hear gunshots because the laws against firearms are so strict. The thing that people need to lookout for are pickpocketing and that is just another instance where you need to be aware of your surroundings as well as being aware of your personal items. People say that you should carry your wallet in your front pockets instead of your back because you are more aware and less apt for it to be stolen. When it comes to your bag snatching, it is best not to set it down and if you must then keep it as close to your person as you can.
Another aspect to take into consideration whilst walking around in London, or any city at that matter, is not to carry too many valuables. We were instructed during our orientation not to carry around the family jewels with us because those are precious items and it would be a shame if they were lost or stolen, but overall I would say I feel very safe walking around in London. To go along with the culture of London, as I said it was safe, there is a huge variety of cultures prevalent throughout the city, which makes it possible to sample some of many cultural cuisines while visiting. One place that is frequented by my peers is a restaurant called Nandos, which I had the pleasure of visiting with my flat mates last week. My mates told me that it is the best place to bring a girl on a first date because it is something that everyone knows and the guys refer to it as “cheeky Nandos” when they are going to take a girl there. Some of the other things that I have noticed about food or shopping is the fact that most people go for a shop every day. Meaning that they frequent the local market every day in order to get the ingredients necessary to prepare their dinners or just to get some takeaway. While walking down the street you will always smell some kind of food, either it will be a chicken joint, which are surprisingly popular here, or maybe a kabob shop.
As I took my walk, there were a lot of things that stood out to me, sometimes I get confused about which side of the sidewalk to walk on, but people will usually go around me if I’m not walking with the correct flow of traffic. I see a lot of homeless people and they are always in the same places day after day, which makes me wonder if they are just putting up a front because they seem to be in fairly good health and clothed properly as well. Traffic is the thing that I would tell people to be weary of because they will run you over without the blink of an eye. I would suggest that at first it is in ones best interest not to try j-walking because you are not yet used to the way that things go here as well as the fact that the cross walks are not a straight shot across the road, they usually have two different crossing points whilst in the center of the road. The walk that I took was able to teach me a lot about the city as well as the people that I was walking with as I took many walks with a variety of people including someone that I had just met for the first time. The walk taught me that the city of London is different but similar to that of New York City. People can be cut throat in traffic because they want to get where they’re going as quickly as they can which may result in casualties. I like to think that each time I walk out into the streets of London that I am taught how to survive in this strange place a little more each time as I walk onto a very busy street, which is Mile End Road and that is where the school is located.
There is a culture of kindness here in London that you hold the doors for people and that when someone tries to hand you a piece of paper of a newspaper you may either accept like Slimbach notes that as being new to a culture you will accept things that are given to you, or you may politely and every time you decline something the person extending the offer will either apologize or say thank you and it is a new concept that I quite enjoy. People are very polite and proper and maybe coming from the United States it makes us as Americans seem very cut and dry and maybe even mean or arrogant.
When I took my walk, I would think about my travelogue as it was a witty endeavor that seemed a little like a mid-life crisis for a man that was tired of doing the same things when he went to England. The author’s wife was from England so every time they went he would go and visit the family and never see London for what it really was. This travelogue was about the things that people should see and do while in London as well as the quirky and somewhat odd things that people do as well as the ways in which they live their lives. There was a chapter in the book entirely about Liverpool and the Beatles as this was the area in England that they grew up and a taxi driver that claimed to have John Lennon as a best man at his wedding. The author was taken for a ride by someone who he thought was famous only to be letdown by a friend who knew the history of the band that the man claimed to be a part of and the taxi driver was in fact not a member. This book really brought to light that London is a city that you can spend an innumerable amount of time in and still never see it for all of its glory and that was what I really took away from the travelogue. To relate the travelogue back to the class, this adventure that the author embarked on was a rite of passage in his own sense because he was leaving his old status and emerging as a new person after embarking on the trip. After experiencing London and all that it had to offer he would not be able to return to the person that he was beforehand just visiting the family every time he was in England.
This picture helps to sum up the walk that I embark on almost every single day, as this is the park that I live right next to and the park that I walk through to go to the Mile End Climbing Wall. This picture describes the walk that I am taking on this study abroad experience as I am crossing a bridge to a new place and even though I may go back to the other side of the bridge, I will never see it in the same light as I had before. This picture helps to remind me of the new communities that I have become a part of as a student of Queen Mary University of London, as well as a member of the QMUL Rock Climbing Club and the friendships that I have already started to make along the way.