Monday, November 10, 2014

London Bridge hasn't fallen down!

The morning I arrived in London was freezing especially as I waited in the cold for almost an hour before the bus came to take me to Southampton Central Station (I wasn't too early but the bus didn't come according to the printed time table...I guess I should have confirmed with the driver the day before!). It was my first time in the big city, to attend the orientation event of my Chevening scholarship. As usual, I couldn't firmly decide to whether drink tea or coffee, so I had neither and rushed to the conference hall. Once I approached the start of a bridge (which I thought must be London bridge and was wondering why it hasn't fallen down as my childhood song says) and saw the famous buildings and Big Ben I really felt, may for the first time, that I'm in England. I took out my camera, and as I'm a bit old-fashioned and not fond of selfies, I found a nice spot on the bridge, set my camera to the auto mode and took myself a nice picture. Later the view of Westminster Abbey and other buildings from Queen Elizabeth II Conference Hall was also stunning especially with the spills of sunshine we were lucky to have by midday.

Westminster Bridge leading to the House of Parliament & Big Ben 

The day was full of speeches, some boring and some interesting, mainly focusing on inspiring stories about leadership, how to make the best of your year in the UK, and what to do to stay on track. Most importantly we were promised an afternoon tea at 10 Downing st. if we win the photo competition aimed at promoting the Chevening. It's very tempting to go there and see from where Hugh Grant was ruling the country (in case you've seen the movie Love Actually)...only if I could take nice selfies.

Competition for current Chevening Scholars to show photos from their time in the UK
By the time when the 620 scholars from around 120 countries were split into groups for a feedback session, based on their regions, I was surprised to find that there are scholars from Israel. When I think of it now I'm not sure if I thought that because I don't perceive it as a developing country (they are very advanced when it comes to scientific research especially in biomedical engineering, my original field of study) or I just tend to forget about its existence.

This would have been my first time to actually meet Israels and I started thinking of how I'd react, recalling the different stands made by my favourite intellectuals who find themselves quite often in such situations in conferences and other occasions around the world. Luckily the British, who originally put us in this situation, grouped the Israels with scholars from Jordan (I'm not sure how smart that move was) and other African countries.

Throughout the day we were encouraged to immerse in the British culture and especially try the food, however the Egyptian scholars with other scholars from Lebanon, Libya and Algeria ended up having dinner in a Lebanese restaurant in Edgware road which is the furthermost you can get from British culture but this is another story.

I was expecting London to blow my mind but this just didn't happen. I know some cities need time to bond with you (though I loved Berlin from the first sight and failed to love Paris after being there for 2 times) but this first visit was just disappointing. I've been in Southampton for more than a month and never felt homesick but ironically by the end of my first day in London I was Southampton!

However this doesn't mean that I'm giving up on London, so till next time...