Semester in London: Just reached down in London Town

SPM blogger David Marino describes his first few experiences in London

As I walked up the stairs of the London Underground station, a throng of Londoners scurried downhill, their long day at work seemingly not confining their desire to get home. Their determination nearly dislodged the newspaper I had tucked into my left hand.

It was my second full day in the U.K.’s bustling capital, but the first day I felt like I had really experienced London. The day before had primarily been spent settling into my new Camden flat, meeting my two roommates (both American and from the University of Pittsburgh) and attending orientation for my program.  Now, I navigated the London tube, helplessly trying to get to Heathrow International Airport.  

I had arrived in London without any luggage, just an iPhone and a backpack stuffed primarily with a Macbook, assorted chargers and a $3.99 used edition of A People's History of the United States (I, unfortunately, do not own the British equivalent but hope to by the end of my time here.) 

I had had to switch flights after a flight delay made my original plan untenable (strangely enough because of Hurricane Harvey impacting Philadelphia). Unfortunately, my luggage arrived a day after me, so I was stuck wearing my Red Sox shirt for far longer than I would have liked (especially given the cheating scandal that broke while I sat at the Logan Airport.)

A few things immediately struck me about London. Number one: the excitement of it all. No matter where you seemed to go in the capital, no matter what time, people always seemed to be running somewhere. Who knows where. Hell, a lot of the moving bodies could be tourists. 

But it didn’t matter if they were English or not, no matter how you cut it there is an incredible amount of people here, and they are all doing interesting and varied things. People say NYC is the city that never sleeps; I would tend to agree, but London seems to be its older British cousin. And coming from suburban Massachusetts where I occasionally feel like nothing meaningful ever happens, it’s an amazing place to be.

Another thing that struck me: the absolute international nature of the city. In my first week, I got lost on the way to the tube and stumbled upon the Iraqi embassy. Anyone who knows me knows that my main interest is in Middle Eastern politics, so I was pretty delighted to see the flag of the Republic of Iraq flying in the London wind.               

This is not to mention all the different cultures that are represented in businesses all over London, particularly in restaurants. My weakness for Mediterranean food has resulted in me eating at both Lebanese and Iraqi restaurants so far. Falafel never tasted so good.

British class 

Often times, when I thought about studying abroad, the educational nature of it was not something I thought about too much (I feel a lot of students probably feel the same way). But while being in another country is important, it wouldn’t be college if there were no classes.

My courses are with CAPA, an education network that partners with colleges across the country to let students study (as well as intern) abroad. Along with London, they have programs in Sydney, Buenos Aires, Shanghai and Florence, among other locations. 

I am taking courses on the European Union, Islam in London and International Political Economy; topics that I find extremely interesting but that I won’t speak about as much in this blog. Since like another person’s fantasy football team, I’m not sure they are as fascinating to people who aren’t myself.

But the the internship part of the program is what really made me go with CAPA for my study abroad trip; while other London programs seemed interesting, this was the only one that would give me the opportunity to be able to do a journalism internship abroad. 

And I definitely got what I wanted; my internship is at the Croydon Citizen, a nonprofit news magazine based in South London, where I will work on posting content to their website, as well as doing a lot of my own independent reporting.  

The Citizen represents a lot of what I think journalism should be — long-form and informative, with an unquestioned connection to the community that reads it. It goes a step further through most of its content is from regular residents, in a citizen’s newspaper format. More prevalent in the social media age than ever, reporting stories is a universal phenomenon that can be written or read by anyone, whether or not they have a journalism degree. 

Making calls is the bread and butter of journalism, and I got right on it. On the first call I made, I had a funny interaction that probably won’t be my last as an American working in the U.K.

Interviewee: “I take it you’re not from North London?” 

Me: “No, actually North America.” 

Interviewee: “(Laughs) Okay. I love the accent.” 

Terror nearby 

I woke up on Friday in a sweat, wondering what time it was. My phone had died, and the only thing I could hear is the faint yells of London from my window.

Groggy, I retrieved my converter from the floor (you can’t use American plugs here without one) and plugged my iPhone in. I was greeted to a plethora of missed phone calls from every member of my immediate family and also two from CAPA. I realized it was 1 p.m., and that while I had slept in, London had kept going, and in a most horrible way

A bomb encased in a grocery bag harnessed in a bucket had exploded on a London train in West London, leaving 29 people injured. Luckily, no one was killed, but the device also seemed to not detonate in the way it was supposed to; who knows what horrors could have been unleashed had it done so. 

The attack didn’t surprise me; these things happen, no matter what part of the world you are in; the Boston Bombing occurred 30 minutes from my home in Massachusetts. I was just glad everyone’s injuries were relatively minor, and no one was hurt or seriously killed.

But from the perspective of my family, it was horrendous, exactly the type of thing I hoped wouldn't happen here if only to let my mom sleep at night. Additionally, authorities were treating it as an act of terrorism. If the point of terrorism is to inflict horror among several people, weren’t those who did this succeeding by bringing the horror across the Atlantic?  

I actually had to take the London Underground a few hours after; Londoners usually aren't known to be the most talkative bunch, but they hardly seemed to be affected or bothered by what happened. At the time, no suspect had even been apprehended (police later made several arrests), but people just went on with their lives. The tube was still full as ever.

I love the attitude of keep calm and carry on. When the Bridge attacks occurred in June, one man was seen getting away from the scene with pint in-hand

I’ve had the opportunity to have British beer, and it’s really good; it should never go to waste because of the actions of a few criminals with horrific ideologies. The world can learn a lot from London; don't let terrorism beat you psychologically. 


Reach the blogger at David.J.Marino@asu.edu or follow @Marinodavidjr on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this blog are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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