Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Excerpts from an actual letter, to a friend

Thought of sharing this with those who might be interested in studying in the U.K and on a more general level, applies to anyone living away from home for the first time.
Being in London has been exceptionally difficult. Not because of the students, not because of my university, not because of the women and men in pearl green woolover sweaters, suede suits or sharp jackets, but the people I see every day on the streets (more on that later). I live near Russell Square, in a place called Cartwright Gardens, which is a half hour walk from the University. The halls are mostly made up of undergrads and even though they are a lot of fun, they have a lot more time than we do, during term time. The postgrads are very isolated individuals- our schedules are all different and we hardly ever see each other so fostering friendships becomes near impossible. We all know each other, but it’s mostly light-hearted conversation (which is good too), but not as much interaction as I might have liked.

R and some other Masters students in the U.K. tell me that this typifies the British education system and, in many ways, is the reflection of the ethos that encompasses it.
What has made me even more confused after coming here is that I don’t even know what my primary identity should be- journalist, academic, policy analyst, human rights worker and for all these years, I was so sure that I wanted to be a journalist first and everything else later. The International Press certainly needs more people with a holistic understanding of the media and people who can think incisively but also synthesize all that information. I feel like a misfit both amongst journalists and academics. For the former, I am too intellectual and for the latter, I am much too pragmatic. It’s a role that I’ve really enjoyed so far and not had to choose from.
As completely geeky as this sounds, I enjoy intellectual rigor immensely and going to classes, listening to lectures about the environment, public health, history, geography, anthropology, the environment, as well as public policy has been nothing short of an enriching experience. Even though I feel like I should be working from next year, I know I want to go back and be a research scholar. The rigorous practice of actually writing ethnography will drive me insane, but it’ll do two very important things for me- know how to do rigorous research and defend it, write and impress an academic audience. It will also give me more credibility to work in International Organisations and being a specialist always helps. Also, I don’t feel like I’m completely done with school.
The thing is, one of my childhood dreams has been to go to _ journalism school and I don’t know how I will factor both of them in. Fun fact: did you know that a PhD in the U.K takes three years but most people fund their own PhDs. That’s a complete no-go for me, and unless I get funded, I’d probably have to. I guess I’d probably want my primary job to be that of a researcher and public policy analyst and that would free up some time for writing. I don’t think I can not write. On really dark days, playing with words is all I really know.
Working with X is actually one of the redeeming features of the week. Every day, I see ordinary people -people like you and I-wearing tattered clothes, with paint on their faces and pencils tucked behind their ears, sweating it out. There’s this boy I see every day, he’s about eighteen and if given a choice, he’d probably want to go to college as well. He often stops me on the street and asks me about what I study and I think he’s quite a bright spark- and then I think about all the people back home, who should get an education and are not, it makes me very sad. And the lack of humanity is also very disconcerting. I hope I don’t grow into one of those people who shuts everything out and never does anything constructive by way of ensuring that kids are educated and well looked after. And working with children of refugees actually makes one understand how destitute these kids really are, unsheltered, unprotected, not knowing what tomorrow holds for them. Some children have never known their own homes, being carried from one shelter to another; they come from countries like Ghana, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, The Ivory Coast.
Many of their parents have been intellectuals in their own country, they have spoken out against dictatorial regimes, they have condemned massacres, some of them will be executed as soon as they set foot on their home soil again. Most of these people are Asylum Seekers i.e. those who have not even been granted Refugee Status. Some are condemned because of their homosexuality and others, because of their religion.
As I write this, two people outside my window are stacking up multicoloured books and strewing flowers on the pavement. Thank you for making me actually write this- it helped me put things into perspective.


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