What It’s Like to Study Abroad During Political Crises

London is truly an amazing city. It’s a city of gray skies, royalty, amazing theater and art, beautiful sights, endless food options, and some of the best chocolate ever. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have just spent the past 6 months one of the most wonderful city in the world.

As much as I’ve missed Cornell, being in London was a change I welcomed in my life. For 6 months, not only did I have no prelims to worry about or toe-numbing weather to be caught in, but I also got to be free in a new environment.

Upon returning home, there were still so many things still pouring in my head. Was it the best time of my life? Yes, I’d like to think so. It felt completely like a dream. I spent a majority of my time outside of studying just exploring the city I called home, meeting the people who offered to show me what a lovely place London can be and helped me make it a home and learning about their brilliant culture. Did I miss home? Yes, I did. More so as the days went on, but I made sure to keep up with American news outlets and with politics so I would know what to expect when I came home. In addition, I was sure to keep up with UK politics so I would know how my peers reacted around me. Did I feel in danger at any time? For the most part, no. Despite living in a city subjected to three terror attacks in the span of three months, I had felt safer than ever because I knew that despite being a stranger to this land, London was looking out for me. I felt safe, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t cause for concern.

One of the best things I felt I could do to digest the realities of my time in London and wake up from this dream was to write it all down: how did it really feel to be in London while their government and American government were dealing with new crises and situation?

1. The British are much more aware about American culture and politics than you may think.

Even as I was just learning about who exactly Theresa May was and what the Members of Parliament (MPs) did, (and exactly why there were MPs in London but Scottish MPs still in Edinburgh who weren’t part of the English Parliament...) my flatmates were already in the know. I’m imagining this has more to do with the United States’ current position as a global superpower, but I was surprised to find my flatmates protesting against Trump’s policies and other cabinet members’ positions when I had no grounds for comparison. Of course, their knowledge on American politics made it easier for me to bond with them and further explain the way events would play out--especially when during the Women’s March in London and during the protests on Trump’s travel ban.

2. You will be expected to be the point person for the American perspective.

Even for those who may not be as aware of American politics, you may still be expected to offer explanations or opinions regarding American politics. For the most part, I was never the one to bring up our current President in conversation. But if he would come up, I’d be met with frequent eye rolls, complaints, and worries about the future--the same as I’d experienced back at home. Even though I considered myself as being in a safe, liberal environment, I couldn’t explain the politics or respond further in political conversation than “I’m not sure, but I can tell you I didn’t vote for him.” I attribute this trait to my acclimation to the politics of my hometown, where politics is very divisive-- I spend most of my time listening to others’ opinions defending Trump rather than trying to argue against it.

3. Although in a different country, you get to see your country through a foreign lens.

Seeing American politics through another country's point of view is an interesting experience. Not only is there the degree of separation, but you get to see how American politics affects the world, not just you. Trump’s presidency did not just mean politically correct culture was dead in America, but that it was dead in places others wanted to see it. Trump’s stance on the travel ban was not just about America’s stance on the refugee crisis, but it also encouraged the European dialogue on ordeal, and whether the current method was commendable or unacceptable. It not only became about Trump, it also became about Theresa May and their “special relationship,” specifically how she still has not yet publicly denounced Trump.

4. You became an honorary member of your host country by engaging in their concerns.

As I stated before, during my time abroad I became engaged in British government practices. I learned about the Parliament, the duties of the Prime Minister, the previous PMs, the Royal Family, and a lot of other information I did not know of before. Most importantly, I learned about Brexit and the General Election in depth. I remember being approached on the street in Oxford and asked if I had registered to vote. Though I was glad to have left England before the election could take place, part of me still regrets not being able to vote and contribute to the Labour Party’s cause. Perhaps if I had voted with the other over-18 population in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn would’ve become PM or an Independent Party seat would be given over to Parliament. I’ll never know.

5. You’ll be a point person for your family and friends as to how bad global crises are.

Despite feeling completely safe on my East London campus, I still received text messages and phone calls from family members and friends who’d seen the news, reacted, and wanted to know if I was okay. The Manchester attacks happened four hours away from London, and the Westminster and London Bridge attacks were less than 20 minutes away from me by tube. Not only was I okay and safe from harm, I was nowhere near any of the attacks. Though not devoid of sympathy for the victims, I felt completely detached from the attacks. I can only attribute this to feeling the same way I do at home--when violence breaks out or a shooting happens, what is the first thing we do if we aren’t in the immediate area? Message our loved ones and carry on with our lives. And this is exactly what I did-- I kept calm and carried on with my finals, my writing, and my adventures. I didn’t worry because London gave me protocols to use in the event of danger. London had trained and efficient police officers who knew how to calm crowds and assure the safety of each of its citizens. I’d love to have that same feeling of safety because I couldn’t guarantee that feeling would stay with me once I returned back to New York.

6. Despite how hectic things were getting, part of you will miss being in your home country and wish there was more you could do to help.

After I had returned to New York, I felt like I was returning to an alien nation all over again. Once again, I had new customs to adjust myself to, a new home, and new adventures to live day by day. Except none of it was new--I had experienced them all before. They had only become foreign to me over time. As cliche as it was, London really did feel like home, even more so than New York did. Even as I was flying back on my plane, I kept the desire to come back once again, and see those resilient people I had come to know through happiness and through crises. I had to return home and let go of situations that weren’t mine. Gone were terrorist attacks and General Elections, in were the Presidency and the American politics of today. In the end, I figured I would miss London, but now it is New York that needs me to stand up for her.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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