Farewell to London

How sweet the morning air is! See how that one little cloud floats like a pink feather from some gigantic flamingo. Now the red rim of the sun pushes itself over the London cloud-bank. It shines on a good many folk, but on none, I dare bet, who are on a stranger errand than you and I. How small we feel with our petty ambitions and strivings in the presence of the great elemental forces of Nature!

Arthur Conan Doyle

This week marks the end of my study abroad at the London School of Economics.

London is the largest city that I’ve ever lived in. Public transportation here is, compared to my American experiences, a dream. The Tube, though pricey, runs (mostly) on time and is remarkably clean and quiet. It’s bit crowded during rush hour, but that’s to be expected.

The cultural and historical experience of London is breathtaking. After visiting the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Westminster Abbey, the Churchill War Rooms, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum, the Sherlock Holmes Museum (at 221b Baker Street, naturally), Greenwich, … Many of these attractions are free to enter, requesting only an optional donation, and the depth of history and culture available to explore is a treasure.

The London School of Economics, my school-away-from-school, is a bit different business school because, well, it’s not a business school. My courses, primarily focused on management, have been more theory-based and lecture-based than business school. Research-based argument is prized. The student body is almost entirely international — I remember one seminar where out of 15 students, we had 14 countries and 6 continents represented.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of studying abroad is the initial loneliness. Arriving at a new city, new school, and new country, I knew no one. This quickly passed as I made friends and began to explore the city, thanks to the warm welcome I received from classmates and Londoners alike. But the feeling itself was instructive: both in terms of reminding me to be welcoming to others and in bringing to mind just how large this planet is, filled with billions of humans, each of whom has his or her own life and story. I am just one of a multitude.

One beneficial aspect of studying abroad is seeing America and Americans through other eyes. I remember sitting in a café, quietly reading along with the other patrons, when a pair of boisterous Americans noisily sat down and proceeded to conduct a loud conversation, much to everyone else’s annoyance. I caught myself thinking “Americans!”

The vaunted British reserve does contrast with the all-smiles American friendliness and smiles that I grew up with as a Midwesterner. I’ve certainly puzzled more than my share of shopkeepers and baristas with my cheery “Thank you and have a great day!” I’ve also learned that “Cheers” is not just a toast but rather approximates something more akin to a mystical blend of “Thanks” and “You’re welcome.”

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity (thanks to Ross Global Initiatives) to spend 10 weeks in London. As my time here comes to a close, I feel more mature, somehow, in a way that’s hard to exactly quantify. Studying abroad felt different than traveling. I was a citizen of London, even if only for a time, and not just a tourist passing through. That identity, and the experiences I gained, will hopefully remain with me and inform me in future, giving me a broader, more global perspective.

If you’d like, take a look at my photos from around London: