After four months of British accents and unique words (“rubbish” seemed to be an everyday favorite, often in reference to the local football team), I was overjoyed when I walked through the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and heard the PA system announcing the baggage carousel for London-Heathrow with a familiar Minnesotan accent: “bay-gage claim.” Smiling, I waited for my bag and met my family for the first time since January.
Since then, I have spent a few days at home and a few days back on campus – it was finals week back at Notre Dame, so although I did get to see plenty of friends again, many of them were stressed about upcoming exams. I went through countless stories about my semester abroad, and in the process, I realized it is easy to get a bit frustrated coming home and not being fully able to explain the value of living abroad. The first question I have gotten from friends and family this past week – “how was London??” – isn’t easy to answer, because there isn’t an answer. Explaining what it was like to take a class in natural language processing with a British researcher requires four months of stories just to scratch the surface. There were awkward moments when our entire class didn’t understand a question because of a phrase or term we had never heard before, but there were also moments I realized how valuable these disparities could be – natural language includes far more than American English, and we would be at a disadvantage not being able to apply what we learned to British English, at the very least.
Outside of the academic realm, there are far more examples. I can’t fully explain the enormous social value of football to a Londoner; I didn’t understand it myself until I spent Wednesday evenings playing in a 6v6 league in London and meeting the two 60-year-old men who started the league over 20 years ago. With only the occasional substitution, they have played on the same pitch with the same core group this entire time, and if there happens to be a Tottenham game later that evening, they all go to the same pub in Islington to watch the match together. The sport is a social institution in London, more so than any activity I can think of back home.
In the same vein, when I say I will miss London – I will, but again there is far too much detail to explain exactly why. I’ll miss the small-sided football matches on Wednesday evenings, where the locals graciously welcomed me to their game; I’ll miss the casual pub culture where I could get surprisingly good food and talk with strangers about sports, politics, and everything else over a pint; mostly, though, I’ll miss the opportunities and excitement associated with living in a big city. There was far too much to see in four months, and I would be eager to go back. But first, I get to take what I’ve seen, take what I’ve learned, and try to explain it to friends back on campus and elsewhere (as long as I don’t start saying “rubbish,” I think they will welcome me back). Until next time, London.
Cheers from Minnesota,