Whenever London is graced with a touch of sunshine, I usually opt for walking instead of using public transportation. Here, the weather is infamously gloomy, but this only highlights those special sunny moments.
I’m originally from a drought-ridden chaparral region of Southern California, where I had no good reason to cherish the sun. But after living in Iceland and now living in London, I realized that the warmth is a real slice of heaven. I now see why, when two clouds part, people flood into London’s parks and gardens, trying to grab their own dose of vitamin D.
I’m living in England as part of an entirely new freshman study abroad program called Global Edge, which presents a group of 57 newly admitted freshmen with the opportunity to spend their first semester as UC Berkeley students in the United Kingdom, thousands of miles away from the Berkeley campus.
This is not my first European rodeo, and my prior experiences abroad might color how I am perceiving my time here in London. For my senior year of high school, I made a switch to online school so that I could live abroad with extended family. I spent two months in Granada, Spain, with my paternal grandmother; two months in a student flat in Cadiz, Spain; a couple of months back in California with my parents; and then five months in Reykjavik, Iceland, with my maternal grandmother.
Though it was initially difficult to meet people near my age without an obvious means, such as school or work, I think this struggle was ultimately beneficial and resulted in friendships that are important to me.
Some friends were from the places I was in, or oftentimes, they were foreigners like myself. Through them I could learn more about their countries of origin, with them I could really enjoy the places I was in, and from them I came to realize that people define experiences more than settings do.
London is an extraordinary place to be, and I’m fortunate that Global Edge provides me this opportunity to live so centrally in a metropolitan city that would otherwise be unattainable to the likes of me — a low-budget college student. While I relish city life and find our classes here very interesting, I think Global Edge is missing a certain component that is valuable to a study abroad experience — that is, forming connections with people of different nations and cultures.
Unlike students of typical study abroad programs, we Global Edge students are all taking classes exclusively with one another at a study center in Bloomsbury. We are not attending a British university with other British students or even with people studying abroad from other countries. Rather, this is UC Berkeley transplanted in another continent. As a consequence, we are not placed in a position that facilitates meeting other Londoners or students studying abroad.
My friends in Global Edge are amazing and undoubtedly great fun to explore London with, but we all could enjoy mingling with people outside Global Edge more often, and if my Global Edge friends and I had more friends in London, we might feel more attached to the city. It would be a shame to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away from Berkeley, only to spend our time here solely with other students of UC Berkeley. The best part of getting to know Londoners would be that we’d develop a more fundamental understanding of the city. Though one component that makes London great is the occasional sunny day, its other, more essential component is those individuals who bring life to the city.