It has been a while since my last blog and waiting in Chicago O’Hare Airport for my flight back to London presents a great chance for a little reflection. (For those of you unaware, I came home for a few days to visit family and tie up a couple of loose ends.) With my brief return home I have had a unique chance to think about my experiences in the U.K. and how different things are between here and there. This blog entry will focus on those that come immediately to mind while waiting to board the Aer Lingus overnight flight that will get me back to London sometime midmorning tomorrow. As cultural emersion is an important part of our Fulbright experiences, here is what I have discovered so far during my first six weeks there.
Left is Right
Having spent my entire life on the right side of wherever I was – school hallways, escalators, stairwells, doorways, streets, etc. – it has been interesting to navigate around London almost exclusively on the left side. On the escalator, you get onto the one on the left, stay to the right side of the stair you are standing on if stationary, and get moving if you find yourself on the left side. When walking around, stay to the left to avoid those awkward situations where two people almost collide as they fake each other out on which way they intend to pass the other. When going through a door, open it on the left and be prepared to push more often than pull. In simplest terms, stay to the left and you will most likely not be wrong.
Get Out of Line and Into the Queue
There is no getting in line in London. The best way I can describe a moment of waiting among others to either get into a room or onto the tube is that everyone pools together and when presented the opportunity to move, does so in an amazingly orderly fashion. As the tube doors open, the queue (as it is called) pleasantly parts allowing those disembarking to do so before coming back together and moving as a mass into the tram. When going into the theatre, same rules apply. Before entering a classroom, ditto. The patient wait is impressive as it allows people to move at their own speed and respect others doing the same. No one seems pushy (so far) and everyone seems to accept the fact that in due time they will get where they want to go.
Half Term is Break Time
Having only been in London for a little over a month it might seem strange to some that I came home for a brief visit. Much of my decision to do so was because schools are not in session this week across the U.K. This week marks the half term and all schools are shut down making it impossible for me to do a school visit or teach lessons at the Convent school. An earlier version of our Spring Break, students and teachers go on holiday after the first five weeks of school, giving both a chance to rest, relax, and get away from the testing that is apparently very important. (More on that below.) So, with no school to attend I decided to spend a few days myself resting and relaxing back home. I’ll be back in London early tomorrow and the school visits, audited classes, and lessons will be back in full swing.
Test, and Test Often
Testing is an important part of the U.K. education system and students spend much of their time in the classroom preparing for the different ones they take during their academic careers. Grades administered by teachers, referred to as marks, are not the most important factor in determining the success of a student in the class but rather how well they do on their exams. This could impact which Sixth Form College (essentially our Junior and Senior years of high school) they might attend and their scores at this level could impact which university they get accepted to. I intend to write more about this as my understanding of the system improves. From what I can gather initially, the teachers are not so much teaching to the test but rather helping students increase their knowledge and improve in the skills they will be tested on. That being said, I can sense the pressure these exams cause considering their importance to the futures of U.K. students.
Pub Life is Life as Usual
Much of what goes on socially in London concerns the local pub. It is where friends congregate for a drink after work, to watch an evening or weekend football, rugby, or cricket match, or to eat a nice roast on a Sunday afternoon among a wide array of other reasons to visit. I have found myself almost every evening I am not downtown hanging out at the Pavilion (see picture above), the local pub around the corner from where I am living. (They have an incredible Caribbean chicken sandwich I can’t get enough of and an IPA called London Glory I appear to have an affinity for.) I’ve watched a few Six Nations rugby matches there, seen the same locals every night at the same table probably having the same conversations about their favorite teams, favorite players, the issues surrounding the Brexit vote, and our most recent presidential election. A week ago, a few lads sat down at my table and we all began talking as if we had known each other for years. We exchanged numbers and will likely see one another there again soon. Pub life is much different than in the States in that it seems to be a simple part of daily life, nothing more nor less.
That’s enough for now. In twelve hours I’ll be back in London and immersing myself even more than I already have in U.K. culture. Until next time, Cheers!