Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Conclusion of Emily in London Summer 09!

This concludes my blog of my recollections of my study abroad program in Summer 2009. Overall, I found it to be a very educational and eye-opening experience. One thing I think is interesting is that people think that because England uses the same language as the United States that it is very similar, and it is not. There are many, many differences. And also just because NYC is also a world capital does not make it similar. We do not find it acceptable in New York for the bars to close at 11. There are a million other details which are different enough to cause a person to feel disoriented. There were obviously things that were fabulous, beautiful, and amazing. But traveling can be tiring, and thriving in a different country, even one with the same language, is not that easy. It takes perseverance and problem solving skills. It takes trusting oneself and figuring out things on your own. It takes confidence in jumping in there and figuring it out, even if you've never been on that subway system before, and people are driving on the wrong side of the road, and they actually think mayonnaise goes with pizza. It is character building to spend a month in another country, and is not something easily done for people weak in spirit and mind. A million little details can be so disorienting, that even though I felt relatively comfortable and happy by the last week there, I actually had the impulse to hug the customs agent at JFK when he said "Welcome back!"

There are many things I did not like about NYC and the US in general before I left, but being gone for a month, those things felt like my problems. Our conflicts as a nation, our failures as a city, feel like part of my life - and so in some way it was comforting to see those again too. The Mets are losing, but they represent my city, a city which has for better or worse made me into the grown up I am. So they are not winning, it does not matter. So its dirty, and loud in NYC, and people in the US can be obnoxious - I love it all, and I love being home like I never did before. You can never appreciate a place until you leave it, and then come back and take a second look.

Many people thought I would adjust easily to London after having lived in NYC for the last 4 years. They are really not the same. I really feel that NYC is more democratic, or at least feels that way. Its a little rougher. We don't videotape everything everywhere. We don't have a queen. There are many comparisons to be made, and many counterparts (Bloomingdale's - Harrod's, Central Park - Hyde Park?, British Museum - Metropolitan Museum of Art). But somehow the people seem very different. Not to mention the food being better and cheaper. I think NY is more democratic in the way that you can get by for cheap here and still have great food and a good neighborhood to live in. The social structure in London seems to want to punish you for not being well off. The only food you can afford if you are not well off is terrible, and what kind of city does that end up feeling like? A harsh one, an unforgiving one, an elitist slightly fascist one. Yes, in some way it felt very homey and like something that had influenced the start of our country... In another way I thought if I lived there I too might be fascinated by Australia and California the way may Londoners seemed to be. Weather is bad. Food is bad. People are rude. Cars run you over on the street (cars in NY stop for pedestrians generally in my experience). Yet they all seem to think very highly of themselves for living there. I swear New Yorkers don't act like that. Perhaps its different living in a place and visiting. Perhaps it was spending time in Ireland which gave me a different viewpoint. But for all the beautiful cultural and historical riches, for all the ways many things from London influenced our own national identity in many ways, and for as important and enriching those things are to learn about, I can't imagine wanting to spend a vast amount of time there.

Overall, to me London lacked the soul NYC has. So elitist, so expensive, so unforgiving - and then four seasons in one day everyday. I would really love to go back to Edinburgh or Dublin. People there were so nice, and the cities were so charming. But London? A couple people actually referred to us as a colony. They looked offended when they realized I was American. For as educational and important as visiting there was, there might be some piece of its alleged charm I missed out on.

I know, however, that I will think back on this experience as important in my life and in my career working in libraries and museums.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty one-sided blog regarding the people, weather, driving habits and the general state of a great city and country namely London, UK. As you said it takes a strong and may I add open minded person to travel abroad and appreciate the culture they find themselves in, you appear to have found pratically all negatives (despite the wonderful cultural institutions)in your experience.
    In addition, (oh btw, I am an ex-pat Brit living in NY for the last 20 years so I know both cities and countries quite well)London is only a small part of a nation with very varied and ecletic mix of tradition, geography, sub culture and people.
    Please return when you have a little more experience of life and travelling allowing you to give a more broad and fair critique of your travels in other countries.