Top 5 (but really 7) things about my UK trip
Hey, blog-reading family. It’s great to have you taking time to read these silly words I typed and arranged (again). This time, I wrote mainly out of an internal obligation to cap off this writing experiment. Also, I couldn’t blame jet lag or not being home long enough anymore as excuses not to write.
I guess the purpose of this blog (if it has one) was twofold. One, I wanted to write more than I usually did (which was rarely ever) in a trip that served as a great chance to reflect on my life and day-to-day experiences. Two, I wanted to write daily. One of those goals was a success, as I found out that this trip had quite bit of reading and academic essay writing, the least fun form of writing. But yeah, ideals are meant to be chased, not always attained, right? #sisyphus
Any who, I sort of made a blood oath internet pact (had to prick my finger on a keyboard corner) in my least favorite things of the U.K post that there would be a top 5/10 of my UK trip. It’ll be a top 5 because ain’t nobody got time to read (or write) a 10 item list that doesn’t have any GIFs. So, here you go, optimists. Eat up.
These two things below were very vital and self-actualizing (oooh, what a word) aspects of my trip, but they stayed in the HMs because they are a part of any international trip. They’re less country-specific but were still huge pluses of my trip.
I feel like the point of any abroad trip or really any experience during college is to learn how to take care of yourself. That’s really what distinguishes privileged kids from privileged adults, not so much a certain integer. Add being in a new place that’s thousands of miles from your family and friends and you’re on maturity steroids. If you get stressed, lost, or sick (*raises hand violently*), you got to be handle that ish on your own (or at least know where and who to ask for help). Being faced with those everyday challenges in a new place without a support structure (thanks, privilege) really helped refine my skills to take care of and think for myself like: buying groceries, getting the right medicine, checking maps before you leave the dorm because your stupid self didn’t get a phone plan with data and now has to rely on Wi-Fi at all times. After this trip, I can say with a degree of confidence that I can take care of myself. It only took 21 years. But it’s still great.
I’ll keep this brief (not really). Traveling abroad necessitates planning. Flight bookings, flight times, packing for 6 weeks, hostel bookings, catching the right train, not walking through Cambridge at 2 am, and large amounts of disposable income being disposed very rapidly force you to up your planning game. I received a much needed boost in that department, and I’m thankful for the practical benefits I’ve accrued from it.
Now to the numbered section:
5 -Public Transportation
Coming from the (Dirty) South (represent), public transportation fascinates me. The closest thing the expansive, minimally public-funded South has to public transportation are city buses that are anything but efficient. Even when I stayed in DC for a month last summer, the Metro system captivated me with metal carriages full of people being electromagnetically pulled and pushed underneath an entire bustling city. For about three days. Then, trains smelled weird, delayed due to tracks falling apart, and full of weary, frustrated people whose stress you could feel pushing back on you.
In the UK, however, timetables for trains and buses are readily available online, actually follow the times they post consistently, and very easy to learn and find. Traveling through England and Scotland (especially with a Britrail pass—seriously, get one if you’re going to England or Scotland for a good while, you can only order them outside of the UK) was made pretty cheap and relatively stress-free (there were still delays but less of them and you were always made aware of it). Plus, there’s just something awesome about sitting in a train and taking in the beautiful green hills and old cityscapes as you whisk by them in a streak. All in all, I enjoyed a nice public transport system for a change.
4 – Diversity
Traveling across an ocean helped me realize something: the world is big. “Gee, that liberal arts education is paying off,” you might be thinking. What I mean, though, is that it’s really easy to forget just how large our world is physically. I know I (and a good number of people) tend to bury this sense of scale of our world (and hell, our universe) in the back-of-the-brain pits of abstract knowledge, where the Pythagorean Theorem and Spanish conjugations are playing chess (who am I kidding, it’s probably checkers). Earth is a physically massive rock spinning in space, and our countries, mountains, homes, jobs, and routines all follow a scale of size. So does our perspective on such things. When my perception widened to try and take in the physical size of the world, I had to perceive how large variety is in the world. And that was present as soon as I got on the plane with conversations in French, German, Spanish, and so many different languages happening at the same time. It was present in Cambridge as well along with all of the different kinds of food there: Japanese (actual Japanese food, not just a restaurant that says Asian food on it), Sri Lankan, Belgian, Mexican (probably not the most authentic), British (gotta love meat, fish, and bread), Scottish, Thai, and much more than what I probably saw. So, contrary to stereotype, the food in the UK is diverse, and good food is plentiful. But, yes, traditionally British food is very bland and heavy.
All the different kinds of people, experiencing similar things in a shared location, really astounded me. It’s nice to be reminded that the world and even America is much larger than the Eastern seaboard and the South (the only places I really knew before this trip). There’s so much out in the world with so many people who feel the similar things I feel, go through different hardships, and agree that airport lines suck the life out of you and traveling helps you see how far and diverse beauty and the perceptions of it encompass this huge space rock.
The only reason this is lower on the list of favorite things is because although England tends to be a hub for international travelers (maybe not for long, thanks #brexit), this realization probably happens on most international trips.
3 – Architecture and Art
Three years ago in one of my first Davidson classes (jesus, I’m gonna be a senior, help), I heard my first academic lectures on architecture and art, specifically on how they represented the ideas and zeitgeist of certain eras in Western history. I didn’t get it. Yeah, these churches are tall, pointy, and nice-looking, and the paintings are kind of cool. I didn’t see how they were “important” to the literary works and philosophical ideas we were just discussing last class. It’s still difficult for me to grasp those high-minded, PhD. thought connections fully. Two things helped me appreciate Gothic, Neoclassical, and modern architecture as well as Pre-Raphaelite, Classical, Medieval, Impressionist, and all the other kinds of paintings (except for modern abstract art; that has yet to connect with me meaningfully). First, for whatever reason, these things are much more impressive when you see them up close and physically, not on a laptop screen. It helps you notice all the little details, color choices, different symbols in the stone work, and how large or tiny some of these things are (especially the cathedrals and castles, holy crap). Second, I appreciate both types of art most when I realize a simple fact : people made these. Someone/some people started with a blank canvas or an empty plot of land, had an idea or design they fleshed out over and over again, and spent several years of their life, others’ lives, and health on these lasting works. As an amateur artist, that’s what blows me away the most. I now understand how a lot of painting decisions in the Romantic era were decisions based on the rigid works and philosophies of art of the artists devoted to the Classical school of thought. Basically, a lot of artistic innovation was a group of newer artists giving the finger (artistically, of course; probably literally, too) to the more established artists. Art and architecture are imbued with so much ego, personality, and ideas because people crafted them. People who ate food, drank wine, got sick, hung out with other artists, and lived in the spaces we (the people who’ve been in the UK) now occupy built these complex, impressive monuments that we can now enjoy hundreds of years later. Having that realization alone in England alone as well as physically taking in these works in relation to my person.
2 – Landscape
Do I really need to elaborate that England and Scotland’s countrysides are pretty? Even when the weather’s dreary, the country looks a somber kind of beautiful. Seriously, google “cloudy Scotland” or “dreary England.”
Or read any poetry by Wordsworth or really any English or Scottish writer. Only so many words can do the look of the countryside right.
1 – History
What a weird number one pick, right? History’s so abstract, common to every place, and plain nerdy. But, hey. Being a nerd’s pretty dope in my book; ideally, it means someone knows something passionately and devotes herself/himself to that something. I can’t make the claim that I’m a total nerd about British history or that my most memorable moments abroad we’re in all the (free) museums I stood in with a mixture of intrigue and gradual fatigue. I’m not that good of a student or that well-versed a scholar. What I’m trying to say is that history lives in Britain, Scotland, and Ireland (I promise I’ll visit you someday). And this is probably true for most any other place besides the relatively new United States of America. I’ve lived in a place not only with an incredible amount of urban sprawl and deteriorating infrastructure and overall problematic traditions (oh, hey Knoxville and the rest of the South) but a country and specific culture that’s been around for not even 300 years. Because the European settlers and American government wiped out and erased almost all Native Americans and their culture from our nation. On the other side of the pond where some settlers (Puritans and Quakers) emigrated for the New (to them) World, people really embrace and utilize history as part of their current culture. Though maybe that was because I was in Cambridge, where schools date back until the 1300s. Anyway, people actively thrive off history there whether it’s” knowing and valuing your family name and lineage/clan (I don’t even know where all I’m from; the only certain place is Italy so far); acknowledging how past class structures inform and influence class structures (update: they’re still there and slightly less stratified!); or, being proud of what it means to be British (something to do with politeness, bawdy humor, and intellect) or Scottish (something with low-key holding a grudge against the British, kilts, and red hair). Obviously, there’s more to it than I know, but I could really tell how ingrained history is in present people and UK society. Every person’s family most likely lived in that same country or place for centuries, castles and old regal estates are everywhere, and boy, that tourism sure has to reinforce how old that place is (looking at you expensive castle and library tours). History is a living, breathing organism in the UK, which reminds everyone that history is omnipresent in all places. So many (now dead) people have walked, breathed, ate, defecated, performed, lied, sat on a bench while sweating and cursing at the weather, and really lived in the same places we now occupy. History plays such a crucial role for the present (shout out to George Santayana and that oft-misattributed quote about ignorance of history and repeating it) even if we try to bury it.
Now, that I’m back home, it’s time to start digging.
Thank you for reading this far, my dear friends and family. I hope it’s been enjoyable and you’ve been able to laugh with or at me. I will continue to write, even though the Davidson school year will sap all available time. Stay tuned for the next chapter of life.
Much love, peace, and blessings,