Studying Abroad in the UK Week 1
I have been studying abroad in the UK for about a week now. It doesn’t feel like much of a cultural adjustment other than people looking at me weird when I ask for a takeout box to take the food I couldn’t finish, being hyper vigilant of my ain’ts and y’alls as someone who grew up in Texas, and feeling the need to always looks somewhat put together since it isn’t really socially acceptable to go out of the house having rolled out of bed in a hoodie, sweatpants, or athleisure. Some parts of the UK just feel like the northeastern part of the U.S., and I get why that region is called New England. I saw New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire and here I get old York, old Jersey, and old Hampshire. London also simply feels like a happier version of New York City. But the thing that has been sticking with me is the thought of what could have been both as an American as well as someone who is of South Asian descent.
As an American, the last few years have been chaotic. Ever since Trump started running for president in 2015 and eventually winning the election the following year, I have felt like I was in a carnival fun house. Since then, there has been a recession, the overturning of abortion rights, a very poorly handled pandemic, countless scandals, and just a general sense of constant chaos. I almost miss and fondly remember how in 2016 there were a bunch of killer clowns popping up everywhere to scare people and how everyone thought that was absurd and wild back then. Well…. Let’s just say that things get much stranger as time goes on.
Now, the UK isn’t perfect by any means. They have to deal with Bojo Jo Jo (or I guess had considering the time I have been posting this) and had Brexit happen, so I don’t exactly have rose toned glasses when looking at the UK despite not being properly educated in the details of the things that have been happening since. But they do have universal healthcare and many of their cities are pedestrian friendly. People over all seem more relaxed since it isn’t as hyper capitalistic as the U.S. And while I always knew that the way the U.S. is run is the exception rather than the norm, that many countries have better infrastructure, and *gasp* have governments that care about their people, there is something that has to be said about going to a place and feeling it out rather than reading about it or hearing people talk about it. I am not one to say that I didn’t realize how bad things are in the U.S. until I left for a brief amount of time, but I will say that I’ve been reevaluating my life because so much of my teens and young adult years was worrying about survival and getting my shit together rather than actually enjoying myself.
I could talk about the stresses of the education system and the pressure to get into a good college, worrying about getting a high paying job, not because I’m some money hungry person but because I’m worried about paying for school and having healthcare, or feeling like I’m a couple of bad financial decisions away from ruining myself. But that’s a topic for another time. Rather what I have been trying to focus on is how I never got to figure out what I really wanted or how I brushed off what I wanted as frivolous or impractical in order to focus on having a more stable future. Sometimes I wonder if I have very simple wants or if I never gave myself the opportunity to think beyond the simple things for something more exciting and more fulfilling.
Apart from that, it’s been refreshing to not feel like some socialist extremist with a tin foil hat on. Like I mentioned before on how the UK is more pedestrian friendly, has universal healthcare, have better regulations on food and aren’t as capitalistic as the U.S., now that I see it pan out in another country it feels like even more of a realistic solution. I know if you talk about implementing those things in the U.S., a good chunk of the people there (usually boomers projecting their Cold War indoctrination), will label you as an America hating communist or at best an impractical overly idealistic socialist. If there is one thing that going to a relatively conservative college in Texas has taught me is that often times, people look at my socialist ideas and positions as blindly idealistic. At the same time, I look at some of the people there and think it’s more idealistic to trust the current system and continue this trajectory thinking that things will die down and sort itself out eventually. And I can’t help but try to imagine what the U.S. would be like if they adopted more progressive policies and what kinds of parallels would they draw with the U.K. in its execution.
Additionally, as a South Asian person, I can’t help but think about what the Indian subcontinent would have been had colonization never occurred. There is a part of me that feels like I’m constantly surrounded by the legacy of the colonizer. Colonization has been in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember. I remember thinking that teatime was something everyone did because that’s one of the things that my brown family took from back home in Kolkata and was the result of British colonization. A lot of the British words for things such as calling apartments flats and calling elevators lifts hardly feel like a foreign concept because British English was the kind of English my mother spoke around me growing up since that was the English that she was taught as opposed to American English. And I remember asking questions from a young age about why we do the things we do in my household and my parents explaining that these are customs we got from colonization.
Over the years I educated myself more on the legacy of colonization and white supremacy to understand the implications of my South Asian identity. As I got older, I began educating myself the brutality of colonization, from the violence and looting to the repeated famines and economic leeching.* And as a result, now that I’m in the UK, I can’t help but think about the context and the unspoken history of all of the places and monuments I have been visiting. Something that has been in the back of my mind all my childhood moved to the front of my mind as student of Human Rights. And now rather than this being in my mind, it’s something that I’m consistently face to face with daily. The same goes for how I feel about being American. I remember debates around gun violence, the Affordable Care Act, and the Great Recession were happening among the adults around me. I didn’t understand much at the age of 8 but looking back, those arguments were the backdrop of my childhood. As I grew up, the fact and the statistics around other countries have a better quality of life was in the forefront of my mind. And now, I feel like to an extent I am face to face with it.
I’m still trying to figure out how I fit in all of this and how my perspective will change over the course of this study abroad program. There is a small degree of discomfort that I find myself leaning in on to understand better. Since it is small, I don’t see myself getting consumed by it rather I see it as an excellent opportunity to check in with myself and reflect on my experiences. It’s similar to how one would feel after a good work out. Sure, it hurts and you’re a little sore the next day, but it won’t last too long and it’s a sign that your muscles are tearing up to rebuild stronger. Not to be corny, but even though I’m not working out the muscles in my arms and legs (edit: This is a lie, I’m locked away in a tower and I have to climb up multiple flights of stairs to go in an out of my room. Every day is leg day), I am working out my mind and my heart to open myself up to new experiences and perspectives in order to have both a better relationship to myself and the people around me. Ultimately, I see becoming more aware of yourself, the world around you, and how both you and others relate to it as a crucial process in order to be more empathetic, empowered, and emotionally enriched which will lead to being more engaged with life as a whole.