Hi, Vassar! I hope you’re all enjoying settling into spring break for a well-deserved midterms reward. Up until now I’ve mostly blogged about my international travels from my study abroad experience in London, but now I want to spend some time telling all y’all about how much I love living in the city! For variety’s sake, here’s a “listicle” about my favorite parts of living in London.
1. How easy it is to access culture!
In London, the transit is cheap and most museums are free. In the few months I’ve been in the UK, I’ve seen more exhibits, art shows and performances than I have in all my years of college combined. The access to cultural experiences is fantastic in London. Not only is the city a center for the arts, but it works hard to make those experiences accessible. All the largest museums are free, and those that aren’t either have discount tickets or events that let you experience it for free. For example, instead of paying about fifteen bucks to walk around Westminster Abbey, I went to an open Evensong service for free. I not only got to see the Abbey, but also got to hear the choir and participate in some very British cultural rituals. Performances, too, are easy for students to access; I saw the Royal Shakespeare Comany’s Henry IV Part I with a five-pound student ticket. I even get to sit in a real seat in the stalls instead of standing or behind a pole like some theaters.
2. The infrastructure.
Today in Washington, D.C. and Maryland, where I’m from, the entire metro system is down for over 24 hours due to maintenance and safety issues. This isn’t really a surprising failure from one of the most annoying transit systems I’ve ever encountered—but it couldn’t be more opposite from the kind of transit I’m used to in London. In London, the buses are always on time, the tube is pretty dependable, and the overground trains are typically affordable. There’s space for me to sit more often than not. I can always figure out how to get home from an unfamiliar place. Since the fares for all types of London public transport come off one refillable contactless card (called Oyster), getting around the city couldn’t be easier, and Vassar refills my Oyster card every month or so. Not only am I in a city with great cultural access, but my actual physical access to those spaces is so easy and I love it!
3. The uniquely British brisk cheerfulness
At first I was going to label this item “friendliness,” but that’s not quite right. The British (in my personal experience here) aren’t exactly friendly so much as they are indomitably cheerful in a brisk, impeccably polite, going-about-your-business kind of way. It can be hard to start a conversation, but you are guaranteed spotless civility, orderly queues, and clipped “cheers” for holding doors. This kind of orderliness and positivity was especially helpful in my first few weeks. Instead of being yelled at for being a confused tourist (looking at you, Paris metro), I found everyone infinitely patient and infallibly courteous. I was actually shocked when my constant repetition of “sorry!/Sorry, oops/Sorry, I don’t know/Wait, sorry …” in my first few days of total incompetence were met not with eye rolls but with actual responses like “No problem” and “cheers.” You know, treating me like a human being who was flustered, confused, and in need of help. I want to extend a general thanks to all the cashiers, tube employees, and classmates who politely helped me flail my way through London while I learned to count British coins, buy unrefrigerated eggs, and use a tube station like a normal person instead of milling about in the way. Thanks for making me feel welcome when I felt lost. Your nod and brisk “cheers!” reassured me that I was doing okay.
My next blog will be my last as my time in London comes to an end, but I will have a lot to report! Our awesome director is stuffing our last days full of outings and activities so we can wring every last drop of London out of the weeks we have left. Talk to you then!