Postcard from London
By Ashley Humber '11
On my last day at home, I woke up at an astonishingly early 9 a.m. in order to have my last morning coffee with my mom before leaving the country. I felt ready to leave Massachusetts behind for a semester and enjoy the dark and damp climate of the U.K., the biggest journey of my life to date. While saying goodbye to my family, though, I was suddenly very aware that I had never left the country before, and, Amherst being only a half hour drive from home, I wondered what possessed me to think that spending five months in London was a good idea.

By the time I landed in London, though, I was excited to put down my luggage and see the United Kingdom for myself. I had gotten over my nerves, and was thrilled to be in England. I already loved it, and was determined to see the Queen. I love a good constitutional monarchy and, though I’m not a huge fan of colonialism, I loved that I was going to be living in a real kingdom.

I attend Queen Mary, University of London, which has about 5,000 enrolled students. The size of the school has been difficult to adjust to, mainly because of the bureaucracy that comes along with it. Registration was terrible, and handing in papers is a ridiculous and stressful formal process that has nothing to do with the professors who assign them, but instead involves department cover sheets, drop-boxes and strict deadlines. I accidentally registered myself on the wrong Blackboard websites and the massive, dark library, in which I can never find what I am looking for, makes me actually miss Frost. None of my professors know my name, and academics seem formal and distant. I enrolled in a class on slavery and race in the United States, and was disappointed to find out that it is a survey lecture course. Though we are assigned interesting texts, there is little in-class discussion, a major change from the student participation-oriented classes that Amherst offers. I have a two-hour lecture on Brazil every Monday evening for which assignments consist mostly of “suggested” readings (which, let’s be honest, means “readings that won’t get done”), and the workload is a mere two papers per class for the semester. I have all of April off, and a reading week at the end of February. I didn’t think it could be possible, but it almost feels like I have too much free time.

On the bright side, London is full of interesting things to do which occupy my time while I’m not working or in class. I live down the road from Brick Lane, which has amazing South Asian restaurants, a really cool market and fun bars. There is an incredible amount of history here, and I have enjoyed being super touristy and visiting the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the museums (which are free!). London is incredibly diverse; I couldn’t even begin to count all of the languages I hear spoken every time I leave my flat. It’s so interesting learning about the various cultures to which I am exposed, from the way they dress, the way their politics work and even reading their gossip columns and learning about “WAGS” (wives and girlfriends of soccer players).

London has been treating me well. I have learned a lot, and have already adopted the native ways of wearing high heels for no particular reason. I have mastered defensive walking on Oxford Street, and learned the importance of standing aggressively at bars. I love the history that surrounds me, the centuries-old Jewish cemetery on campus and visiting buildings that are older than America. I have grown to appreciate dry air, and a tear of joy falls down my cheek every time I see the sun.

I do miss Amherst, however. I miss my friends, I miss the grass (which doesn’t seem to exist at my university), I miss not having a “cute” accent and I miss Val. Not the food itself, but having the meal already prepared for me was nice. Pretending it was free was a perk as well. Nevertheless, I’m sure London has a lot more in store for me, and I hope to get the most out of being young and in Europe for five months.

Issue 15, Submitted 2010-02-17 01:26:36