Culture Shock On Top of Culture Shock
I have been in London for a little over seventy-two hours, and have spent even less time at Goldsmiths College. My first few hours in the city were certainly not the best; grumpy, hungry and exhausted, I was more than prepared to go to sleep, but the intrepid and energetic Lisa Brawley marched us off to explore the shores of the Thames, complete with a stop at Borough Market for lunch and then at a café outside of the Tate Museum for tea and coffee. The rest of the weekend passed in a blur…Let’s face it, I was tired and overwhelmed and really just felt like going back home. In the preceding week and a half, I had experienced three entirely different cultures, two American and one English. I had spent my entire summer at home in Tampa, surrounded by cars, suburbs, fishing, and frozen yogurt. Before leaving for London, I visited Vassar for a week, where my experience was significantly influenced by intellectual debates, non-heteronormativity, and mason jars.
In London, I don’t really have any of the aforementioned things that make me feel comfortable or at home—or at least, I don’t yet. There’s nothing in particular that I can hold onto to define my experience, no familiar points of reference. I have to learn how to navigate public transportation, decipher the spidery map of the train routes, figure out how to mail letters, and adopt an entirely new routine. More than anything, this discomfort serves as a reminder of just how much of a foreigner I am.
However, one of the benefits of doing this program through Vassar is that I have a group of people that essentially serve as travel companions, and it’s been nice to figure things out with people who are equally as disoriented as I am. For the first few days, we mainly did activities as a group. Thus far, my favorite excursion has been to visit the city of Dalston, which lies twenty-five minutes by train directly to north of New Cross.
Although initially the purpose of this visit was to purchase cell phones and SIM cards at the glorious Carphone Warehouse, it became more of an exploration of the hidden gems tucked away behind nondescript storefronts. After waiting in line for far too long to figure out my cell phone plan and SIM card, I met up with the rest of the group at the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, an impossibly charming café constructed on the edge of an expansive garden. The garden/café is removed from the road, so it’s easy to overlook, especially if you’re oblivious to the massive mural painted on a high-rise adjacent to it.
Once inside, I can honestly say that the garden took my breath away. The words I would use to best describe it would probably be “quaint” and “whimsical”; it’s an eclectic composite of artwork and architecture, complimented by the overgrown flower and vegetable beds. One can sit close to the café under the awning, in the garden itself, or in a serene converted greenhouse complete with books, magazines, and markers. Maybe I am just so infatuated with Dalston Eastern Curve Garden because nothing like it exists in my hometown, but I think that this is a special respite from the bustle of city life. It really is an oasis—surrounded on all sides by tall buildings and construction—and it’s easy to forget that you aren’t in a much more rural area when inside the garden. I definitely plan on going back as soon as I find the time; I can already tell that it’s going to be an ideal study spot, as well as somewhere to spend a lazy afternoon. I think that my visit to the garden is what really solidified the reality of this trip for me, as well as got me really excited for what lies ahead. Places like the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, which could be classified as just another coffee shop, was something that was new and different enough to pique my interest.
Candidly, my first few days in London were relatively miserable. I don’t cope with change and disorganization well, and I’m not particularly good at going with the flow. But as I’m starting to figure things out, I’m quickly growing accustomed to the drastically new lifestyle that I’m going to have to adopt while I’m here. Upon initially arriving, I felt disappointed in the London that I saw. It’s nowhere near as pristine nor idyllic as it is perceived in the States, and I was naively expecting something out of a romanticized British novel from the nineteenth century. But the more time I spend here, I’m realizing that I’m truly glad that London isn’t so perfect. I came here to learn and get out of my comfort zone, and above all to explore the city that I’ve been dreaming about for so long—and that’s what I plan on doing. Every day is starting to be more exciting than the last, and I am quite confident that my time here will fly by far too quickly.