David Myles ’14 - I am writing to you as I look out onto the London skyline, witnessing the eclectic and ever expanding buildings that so accurately mirror the city below. I have been in London for almost a week, and to say that I am a victim of culture shock would be an understatement. I am a victim of a thunderbolt, an overwhelming cultural explosion. Within three hours of touching down at Heathrow airport, I navigated the London Tube, wandered around for a half hour attempting to find my temporary hotel, and lost count of the number of languages I heard, all while maneuvering my 50 pound suitcase through Friday morning rush hour traffic.
Let me backtrack a bit. Thanks to the Rudolph Award for Summer Study in Europe, I am taking a three-week class in International Journalism at the London School of Economics. This is the 25th year for the LSE summer school, with over 6000 students from 120 nationalities attending this summer alone. If London is the cultural epicenter of the world (which it most certainly is), then the LSE summer school is its academic equivalent. My class is three hours a day, Monday through Friday, with a lecture and guest speaker each day, followed by a one-hour seminar in the afternoon with nine other students.
There are eight women in my seminar, hailing from Seattle, Italy, Spain, Indonesia, Taiwan, Sweden, South Africa, and Portugal, with the only other man being a Texan from Vanderbilt. Despite any language or cultural barriers, after three years at Wabash College, this gender difference has thrown me for a loop. One of my professors, Charlie Beckett, the director of The POLIS institute, the LSE’s media think-tank, said on the first day that 90 percent of his graduate students are female. Due to this fact and the LSE’s urban location, I am currently experiencing the absolute polar opposite of Wabash College.
I do not, however, say this begrudgingly. What the LSE and Wabash have in common are their stellar academic reputations, and I can honestly say that I am prepared to handle the workload of what Professor Beckett calls, “A taste of a graduate level class.” I have about 20 pages of required reading each night, with several optional readings as well. In fact, I have a 1500 word essay due next Friday, and, quite frankly, I am actually excited to sit down and write it. I will probably eat those words this time next week, but that is what Wabash has taught me: to embrace the work and realize how beneficial (and dare I say fun) thinking critically about the world can be.
Yet this is where the similarities end. For instance, air conditioning is a foreign concept across the pond. It is usually rather cool in Great Britain and thus there is no need for massive cooling systems. Yet it has been, to the Brits at least, blistering hot. This negative aside, my dorm is rather phenomenal, thanks to the random chance that I was assigned to a newly refurbished floor that is intended for post-grads during the school year.
Probably the most interesting issue I have encountered so far is overhearing people of other nationalities making fun of America. While my innate patriotism does surface, I realize just how easy it is to pick at the United States, especially in regards to our brash and often excessive behavior. It is humbling for sure, and while this may only be my sixth day in London, I can say that my view of the world and different cultures has started to change. I am even laughing as I write these words because I realize how pretentious I was to think I had any clear view of the world before coming to the United Kingdom. Sure I have taken an immersion class that went to Paris last summer, but when you are on your own and not being led by a professor, you realize just how insignificant you truly are.
I want to thank the Rudolph family for their generous donation, without which I would not be here. I also want to thank the Study Abroad Committee and Wabash College as a whole for adequately preparing me for this adventure. That is all for now. Check back next week, as I will detail my first non-jetlagged weekend in London. It is sure to be a doozy.