Last winter term, I took a two week trip to Cuba and found myself immersed in a culture as foreign to me as the language. I felt like I was in a different world, not just a different country. This semester, myself and 15 other Eckerd students are staying in the heart of London, just a block from the British Museum and a quick 15 minute tube ride from Buckingham Palace. Even though Eckerd is more than eight times farther away from London than it is Havana, I feel at home.
I’m from the northern suburbs of Chicago, and one of the first things I noticed on my incredibly expensive cab ride from the airport into the city was how much it looked like home. It was cold and grey, the roads looked the same (even if the cars were driving on the wrong side of the road) and the air had the same acrid smell of car exhaust.
The longer I’ve been here, the more subtle differences I’ve noticed. The people speak more quietly, the favorite color of clothing is any shade of black or grey and strangers are less likely to make eye contact in the streets. Save for the new accent and these inconsequential differences, the Eckerd College London Study Centre had might as well be built in a labyrinthine city in the American northeast, like Boston.
It is impossible to talk about living in London without talking about politics; the city is as divided as our country. My second day here, I spoke with a man who was a dual citizen of the UK and Somalia, and he laughed about how he would be banned from America. He was a cell phone service salesperson who studied development in Africa. Another man I spoke to told me that liberal snowflakes needed to support their president, so both sides of the political spectrum are present in this city.
It is as tense a political moment in the UK as it is in the US. The British Parliament is fighting to either trigger or delay Brexit, the referendum over which was nearly as close as the US presidential election. Young people in the UK strongly voted to remain in the European Union and its trade block, voicing their desires to remain a globally involved country. The older generations voted to leave the EU and adopt a more closed and unilateral approach to trade and foreign policy.
The importance of this tense division within the entire country is that the British recognize that the US and the UK are not as united as their names imply. Fortunately for myself and the Eckerd students with me in London, the people of the UK are certainly willing to differentiate the politics of the US from its citizens.
I’ve spoken with UK citizens who are critical of President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and have been friendly towards me, and I’ve also spoken with UK citizens who wholeheartedly support Trump’s executive orders. I have yet to meet a single person who criticizes me because of where I come from, and I’m not alone.
“I haven’t met anyone that dislikes me because I’m an American. I’ve met people that dislike me because Trump is the President of the United States now, and they don’t agree with what he’s doing,” sophomore Jen Dunfee said.
The people of the United Kingdom offer sage advice. If I’ve learned one thing since arriving to London, it’s that it is important to learn as much as you can about a thing before judging it, be it a person, a place, or someone’s political beliefs. So far, in withholding judgement on the differences that the city of London has with Eckerd, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. I’m excited for the coming weeks.