It’s been nearly a month since I arrived in London (again). This time, it was for the long (medium…short-ish) haul. Since the last update, I have had approximately two weeks of classes, finally experienced some of London’s infamous obnoxious weather and become comparably much more involved in university life. Thankfully the homesickness hasn’t set in, otherwise it’d be a tough 3 months to slog through. For some on my flat, this is a completely new experience; living away from home (only 2 hours train ride away, for some!), speaking in a different language on a daily basis, and adjusting to different education systems have cast a shadow on all the fun they are having as new students to UCL. I am sure I would feel the same feelings if I were to go on exchange to Japan, or some other foreign country, but perhaps I have chosen a place that is not so far removed from what I am used to. (After all, COLONY to EMPIRE’S CAPITAL, right?)
From all the progress reports I have read at USYD and with what people in other departments have told me about their own respective classes, I had the idea that students here studied… a lot. This is, after all, UCL, right? Perhaps it is endemic to the classes I take, but the above is certainly not the case for the statistics department. I would say 85-90% of my classes are populated with people from the following backgrounds, in order of decreasing proportion: international students from mainland China, international students from Hong Kong (who account for 85-90% of the classes), with 5-10% domestic/local students and the rest affiliates. Waiting outside lecture theatres, the main language one hears is Mandarin. This is followed by licks of Cantonese and then two American affiliates manage to find each other and speak (American) English. This is the opposite to what statistics is like at USYD. Granted, statistics at USYD is comparatively a weaker department and does not attract lectures that full up within 10 minutes of the lecture beginning. Although UCL claims to have students from 150 different countries, it does not specify the relative proportions of each… I hate to stereotype, but many internationals do not have much direction or drive in terms of their foreign education opportunities. Many are there just because they feel obliged, not engaging in classes at all. This is particularly evident in tutorials (of which I only have one…). This pattern is similar to what I have experienced in Australia, and students there are paying more than £15,000… Some of the Brits do know what’s going on and are focused on their goals, but this is rare.
It seems that although I may have the appearance of such an international student, I am not identified with them. Having met several Britons and Londoners, they all instinctively think that I am ‘from around London’ or ‘from around here – well, not originally – but you’re from England?’. Hearing these comments evokes a mix of feelings. One of the first things I think is, ‘Well, thank you!’. I came to London (England, the UK, Europe, this part of the world) to see if I could take on further studies, work or even live here. I think for many Aussies, and for anyone around the world for that matter, but Aussies especially, London and the UK has a certain intangible appeal. It was once the capital of ‘civilisation’ (the empire…) of the (Western) world and has so much more ‘history’ than Australia (Western history, because everyone discounts indigenous hunter gatherer culture, right? Right?). The comment makes me feel that I could be part of this culture and society and has had a positive impact on my settling-in here. However, I am somewhat disappointed that I could not be identified as an Australian by the English I spoke. I’ve always said that people say I have a slight American accent, but I think I do speak a rather Australian English. Apparently not. Oh well, I guess a neutral ‘English’ is fine for most intents and purposes. Time will tell whether I yearn for a coastal lifestyle, or am rather comfortable to live in a rainy and cold metropolis.
Part of the settling in has been living with my fellow flat mates. It is a truly wide mix of people, that, for the most part, come together well. I doubt the interests/habits part of the allocation process had much to do with it, but the fact that I have the people in my flat that I do, I think, is very lucky. It has only been a few weeks and everyone regards the flat as their family, which is endearing to say the least. Some of them will still be in London when I perhaps return for the UK round 2 (as it were…) and if not, I will have lifelong friends all over the world for a long time to come.
Until next time.