Three weeks in – so here are my thoughts on 10 important things that stand out from my experience.
- The London borough (kind of like a suburb) I live in is Southwark. After my first week of saying it like it’s spelled (south + wark), a local finally told me that is common knowledge to pronounce it suth + ick. Oops. Hi neighbors! I’m not from here. Can you tell?
- Residential areas are a maze of houses squished together that are NEVER along roads in basic North/South/East/West directions. But after living in my flat for three weeks, I can honestly say that I can see differences between the houses on my walk to the Peckham Library. These bricks over here are slightly more orange than those bricks over there. And this house has dark grey shutters, while the shutters next door are obviously charcoal. THAT house is the only one with the bright pink flowers and the bicycle out front, very different from the house with two bicycles and no pink flowers. Poor, flower deprived house…at least you’re unique with your charcoal shutters and bright orange bricks. 😉
- Cramped living quarters don’t leave a lot of room for the sprawling green space I’m used to. But you will catch glimpses of plant life, layer upon layer, spilling over in some of the gardens around here. I originally thought I had a better understanding of the natural world because I grew up with an extravagance of it, when really the lack of green here seems to make people cherish it even more. The potted plants on rooftops and balconies, ivy growing on more walls than I can count, a community garden near the library that grows fresh produce for the neighborhood. It’s refreshing!
- Today’s weather: it’s sunny, then raining, then sunny, back to rainy, almost sunny, JUST KIDDING it’s still raining! When most of the city walks or uses public transportation to get anywhere, you quickly learn how dependent you are on the natural world. I’m used to the frigid, tundra like winters of Northern Minnesota that hurts your lungs. London is technically warmer, but the wet that comes with the cold seeps into your bones and chills you from the inside out. This is probably why so many people here, myself already, develop an addiction to hot beverages.
- When you come to a curb at a crosswalk, you can just look down and see pleasantly painted words that tell you which way to look so that you don’t get hit by traffic when you cross! Seriously, EVERY SINGLE CROSSWALK has “Look Right” and “Look Left” signs. You may wait at these convenient crosswalks until the light tells you it’s safe. However, 99.9% of Londoners ignore this and frequently zig-zag across the street in the middle of the traffic, and rarely at the crosswalk with the friendly directions. Vehicles simply accept that pedestrians very often have the right of way, but they will be sure to honk at you if they think you don’t. It’s like a game, but slightly more detrimental if you lose.
- Every Thursday, I get to ride a bright red Double Decker bus to work. How cool is that?! I walk to the bus stop and wait for the bus with correct number to show up. I have to wave at my bus when it drives up or else the bus driver will pass me if they don’t think anyone will get on (learned that one from experience!) I can sit (the front of the top deck is the best view!) or stand (trying not to fall on top of other unsuspecting commuters), press one of the many STOP buttons when my stop is the next one, and then get off the bus when the doors open. Then I wait for my next bus! I can emphasize the cyclical pattern of this whole ordeal by singing “The Circle of Life” at any point in this process.
- As a literacy teacher, it’s okay that I don’t have a total grasp of British English. It is actually a good conversation piece. I can simply tell the seven year old student I’m working with: “Oh, you say toh–MAH-toh? I say toh-MAY-toh.” But we don’t call the whole thing off! We just keep calm and carry on practicing our phonemes (phonics lingo for the 44 sounds in the English language.) It’s also very likely that the student I’m working with is learning English as an additional language, so she or he probably doesn’t have a traditional British accent either.
- I get to work in a beautiful Victorian era school. Seriously, it’s a gorgeous conglomeration of high ceilings, fireplaces, wooden floors and big windows. But if I need to find the copy machine? I’m wandering the halls for ages, up and down staircases, literally running into the head teacher who then graciously walks me to my destination (as if knowing where the 4th door on the right side of 3rd floor hallway by the Year 2 classrooms is natural instinct.) Although a moment of dire need for the loo may tempt me to wish I was back in my one-story, orange-carpeted 1970s elementary school simply because the bathrooms were in a logical place…I snap back to reality and remind myself that I GET to teach here. Next to a cobblestone street. With a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Literacy Centre on the fifth floor.
- Religion is thriving in London and I love how religious diversity is respected in my neighborhood. While helping my supervisor fill out paperwork for our students, I was shocked to see that the school database listed the religious background of each student. My supervisor was taken aback by my surprise, explaining that it’s important for the cafeteria to be able to plan ahead for dietary needs, for teachers to know when students are fasting and may need to step out of class to rest, or to know if a child doesn’t feel comfortable celebrating Halloween. Why can’t the United States do this? As one of my dear friends would say, “That would make too much sense.”
- It’s overwhelming to go to museums, galleries, monuments, cathedrals, and palaces…so I’m taking it slow. There is a lot of pleasure to be found in bringing tea and a book to the park, since it makes me feel at home. I feel very blessed and privileged to be here, but I’m not a tourist. I get to be an ordinary person showing God’s love through pretty ordinary things for the next year. Of course I want to see and do things I can’t experience in Minnesota. But most of what I’ll be doing is breathing, eating, sleeping, working, walking, running errands, and enjoying the company of other people. May I have the strength, courage, and patience to do so. 🙂