The flight, while very long and uncomfortable, was pretty cool at times. By day, I got to see glaciers for the first time. By night, I saw the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). It was far more beautiful and strange than I had imagined or seen it portrayed in film. The wavering, green, glowing streaks looked so unreal and, at moments, would evaporate suddenly, leaving me almost thinking I must be imagining it. Watching the lights throughout the night made it very difficult to sleep. So by the time I arrived, I was far too exhausted to have the emotional and excited moment I expected to have.
With losing 2 nights of sleep, one for my friends/family having a send off party and the other from the time change/flight, I was incredibly jet lagged for the next several days. Today has been the first day that I’ve began to feel normal. Jet lag feels like you’ve been cracked between the eyes with a hammer and slipped just enough of a drug to make you goofy, but not ridiculous. I’ve been slowly acclimating.
My first week has been all about adjusting to the changes, of which there are a surprising amount. At first you might not think much would be different. Although many of the differences aren’t major, it’s the subtleness and the number of those little differences that can leave you out of sorts. My first embarrassing moment was trying to get into the taxi driver’s seat. I knew about that, but I was just on auto pilot. Can’t be on auto pilot here. Another was ordering a “house coffee” in a coffee shop. There’s no such thing as drip coffee in a coffee shop. Possibly not at home either. Everyone uses cafetieres (french press). Yet another was not understanding the coinage, etc. etc. It’s important to be aware and thinking at all times, at this stage.
Equally important is asking questions and exploring. I’ve been spending a lot of time just walking around the city seeing what I come across. There’s lots of urban parks, libraries with ancient artifacts, and cheap, yummy, vegan food all over the place (if you venture off the tourist drags). I stood in a building that was nearly 1,000 years old (Temple Church of the Knights Templar). Yesterday, I watched a football match in a neighborhood footy pub. Just up the street from my school is The People’s Supermarket which is a local coop grocery, like back home! The location of the school in Camden just couldn’t be more ideal. It’s central and has a lot of cool places to go that aren’t annoying tourist traps and there are two Underground stations nearby. The bus and tube system, while admittedly really complicated to understand, is great! Even when the train is broken down, delays rarely breach 30min. With the oyster card all zone pass, I can zip back and forth all over the city. Of course, I checked out a few kitschy tourist attractions too, or at least I walked around looking at them and plan to enjoy the wax museums this weekend (I used to love those when I was a kid).
While walking around, it dawned on me after a bit that I hadn’t seen a single homeless person all week. Being aware of what that means when that happens in the U.S. (people get arrested and “swept” out into concentrated pockets of poverty), I was concerned. After asking around, many folks said that while there is homeless people, there are not many because the state takes care of folks and when people fall through the cracks, there’s squatted housing they can stay in which are actually quite nice. Being from Portland where we have wall to wall homeless folks in all of our neighborhoods, it was a very surprising difference.
Another surprising difference was education. In my interview (I got the job btw!), I was talking about my work in helping disadvantaged folks get an education. He stopped me and informed me that education is not a problem for sexual minority youth in London. My jaw dropped. As student body president at my school, I had seen many statistics showing GBLTQ youth struggle with getting an education because of lack of support from family and bullying in highschool. In London, statistically they are top students. Youth Work in the UK is a separate degree from Social Work. They look at how children are disadvantaged and provide essential support. For GBLTQ kids, they need surrogate parents and social support. Bullying in school is dealt with by giving lectures at all the local schools. Financial access to education is just flat out not a problem. The state pays for education and cost of living. This internship is going to be an incredible educational journey. I have so much to learn from them.
This program in general is way more rad than I had even realized. Just get a load of these class titles: “Black & Brown London Post-Colonial Literature” “Modern British History: WWII, Punk & Politics, The Thatcher Years.” I couldn’t have imagined better topics for me to study. Not much to tell about them yet, as classes have been primarily based around orientation and getting started.
Tonight, I’m going to a reggae show in Brixton (and running late so I must be going!).
Here’s a few fun facts I’ve discovered:
The “Ministry Of Truth” is a real thing, George Orwell worked there, and the building is just as creepy as you’d imagine it.
Just before shops close, most things are 50% off.
Everyone drinks coffee in London and they’ve no idea that anyone thinks they don’t.
Cussing at work is perfectly acceptable.
Internet service is embarrassingly bad for a major city.
Public transportation is insanely expensive. $11 for a one way ticket on the Tube. But everyone takes it anyway because it’s WAY better than a car.
Toilets are primed like an old pump.
I was in London the morning they announced on the radio Elton John is getting legally married to his long time partner, just after equal marriage rights passed.
Racism against Irish people is socially acceptable and slurs like “take the mick out of you” are still in common use. But don’t worry, Irish-Americans don’t count as Irish.
The gap in “mind the gap” is no joke. It’s anywhere from 2”-12” across and up to a 6” step up to reach the platform.
Don’t use the stairs when everyone else is waiting for the elevator. It’s not as clever as you think it is. Unless you’re in enough shape to pull off a no-return trip up 15 flights of steep stairs.
Many houses still use old-fashioned skeleton keys.
In the UK, “chili” is a spice-less stew with peas, carrots, tomatoes, and beans.
Instead of raccoons, people secure their trash from foxes.