What an absolute whirlwind. I’ve been in England for four days and I think I’m just starting to feel settled. We spent the first two days lodged at a hotel in Central London to tour and be slowly integrated into the culture. It was wonderful! The sights of beautiful architecture, the smells of fish and chips wafting into the streets, and of course hearing a British accent coming from all directions was breath taking. I felt at ease, ready to jump into every attraction that came into sight.
However, then it was time to go to school. Driving to the school took around a half hour, a quick tube ride back to Central London would be no problem at all. However, the drive over reminded me of the separation from what the tourists see and what Londoners see. We passed through the area of Whitechapel, which as I recall from novels I had read was traditionally not a wealthy part of London. The school itself, Queen Mary is on its own campus with both beautiful traditional and modern buildings. I loved it at first sight. In this new setting, I went up to my new dorm room and started to move in. After trying to unpack some clothes I realized that there was a lot that I was going to have to do to feel more comfortable. The dingy sink I found in my closet was going to need a bleach scrubbing, there was a powdery stain on the carpet that needed to be cleaned up, the kitchen needed to be cleaned after the previous semester’s residents left food and dishes out, my bedding would need to all be bought, and the shower needed desperately needed to be scrubbed down. I felt awkward at first but I couldn’t place it- did I feel like there was going to be a big warm welcome in my new physical home? After a few days, everything has been bought and painfully lugged back a few tube stations to the dorm and I feel that this is my new home. But what of the other international students here? I am forever thankful to have come here with my best friend and to have lived together, but other students are alone in their flat; how creepy that must feel.
To be quite honest I expected myself to be more resilient- to be able to face new challenges head on but I don’t think that is a skill I have quite learned to manage. For example, on the first night I held the kitchen door open for too long and the fire door alarm went off. I didn’t even know what it was so I thought I had set the building on fire. I hadn’t done anything wrong but that loud alarm had shaken me to my core and I avoided the kitchen entirely after that. Only now am I starting to really feel comfortable with my surroundings. I’ve unpacked, showered, decorated, and can curl up in my own bed. Nothing is going to be the same as it was back home, but this feeling of being settled is a gift. It’s a base where I can feel comfortable to come back to after leaving on an adventure. I’m shaking off this feeling of doubt or reluctance and taking on a new attitude in the morning- one of adventure and open-mindedness. Just as Slimbach quotes in his examination of Janet Bennett “At one and the same time, we value our old belief system as well as adaptation to the new; we seek a way to survive within our former worldview, and yet recognize the necessity for a new perspective… It is not merely ‘not knowing what to do,’ but it is more a case of not being able to do what one has come to value doing” (2010, pg. 154). I need to start to seek out and embrace this new world without trying desperately to find equivalents to things or customs back in the States. But first, a good night’s sleep in my new (now comfortable) bed.
Slimbach, Richard (2012-03-12). Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Kindle Locations 2878-2881). Stylus Publishing. Kindle Edition.