A Preview to a Global Semester

Athena Pajer

Millikin to London: it’s an extreme change. London’s population is about 8.136 million. That’s about 113 times the size of Decatur.

London is the largest city in Europe and, for years throughout history, was the largest city in the world. Its public transit is so widespread that few people own a car at all. It’s expensive to live here, but it’s thrilling.

Somebody, somewhere, is doing something significant in London. You can always find a public demonstration, live music, a group gathering, a class—you name it.

Millikin is like that in a lot of ways. The UC cafeteria during lunch has some of the same unspoken rules as a busy underground station: pay attention to where you’re going or get run over, speak up and listen close because it’s loud, and hurry up or you’ll miss class.

Then again, not only does London equal 113 Decaturs, it also equals about 4,500 Millikins.

Twenty-two Millikin students, including myself, will have spent ten days in London by the time this message reaches the Dec. We will be here for fourteen more weeks. Already, we are nervous that fourteen weeks won’t be enough time at all.

Fourteen weeks doesn’t seem like enough time for me to write what I want. I came to London expecting to write back about performances, the student experience, and my own adventures (just that would have tested the time limit), but there are other stories worth chasing, here.

London is special. Though it’s located in a place many know as Great Britain, it simply is not a British city. It’s a global one. Walking down the street, that couple walking by you is likely not speaking English. Your favorite restaurant might not be—and probably won’t be—British cuisine. There are simply too many other options (Indian, Korean, French, Chinese, Mediterranean and Japanese, to name a few).

London is even more of a melting pot than Chicago or New York. People of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds live, work, and socialize in overlapping, intertwining circles. A lot of this has to do with tourism. London holds second place for the most tourist-heavy city in the world. Over 20 million people visit London every year. Londoners are used to international people.

According to a 2011 census, over 36.7% of those living in London were born in a different country.

This means there’s no issue that doesn’t strike close to home for someone. Students at Millikin and Citizens of Decatur might not care much about the tumult in Hong Kong, for instance, but you only need to walk six blocks off Leicester Square, one of London’s top attractions, into Chinatown to see “Liberate Hong Kong” spray-painted on the walls. That’s just one example I witnessed on my third day in the city.

However, every day, new drama rises about an act that spells terrible consequences for this beautiful, international city: Brexit.

Brexit is one of those situations that seems far away for Millikin students, but it’s crucial. Just as it’s the most important time for us to unite, it will likely become incredibly difficult to do so.

If there’s a worldwide narrative including the most important moments in all of history, there is a chapter set in London being written right now. It’ll begin with the crushing of a stereotype: Popular culture and other influences perpetuate the idea that Londoners are closed-off, cold, and unwilling to engage in conversations with strangers, but reality is different.

I’ve noticed many Londoners are in their element when they speak with someone from thousands of miles away. I’ve seen many landmarks during this first week, but I appreciated meeting the people even more.

What happens in the rest of the chapter: I have no idea. I just know it will take a student a lot of effort to do the event justice.

Many of the other students in this program agree with me. Many of these students, including myself, already feel deep appreciation for this city and strong anticipation for what comes next. Many of our preconceptions about London have crumbled and so have our imagined societal barriers.

That enthusiasm will be important for me and the rest of us to retain throughout our 14 weeks left of studying. We’ll need to remember that as the decision on Brexit approaches.

We will be in the United Kingdom when the chips fall on October 31.