When people hear you’re headed for London, they will warn you about two things; bland food and freezing weather. With these disclaimers set forth, they will then go on to gush about the greatness of the rest of the city, sometimes even dubbing it “the best in the world”. But the factor no one mentioned- and what I have come to appreciate most about living here- is the diversity this city thrives on.
In a typical day, I get up and head to my favorite coffee shop to get some morning caffeine. Depending on who is working, I will interact with staff who are French, British, or American.
Coffee in hand, I head to Migrant Voice to start a day of volunteering. Here, I work alongside volunteers from Pakistan, Germany, and other areas of England, writing articles and discussing current events pertaining to migration. The staff I work for here come from Lebanon, Denmark, and New Zealand.
During my time with this organization I have had the privilege to meet people from all over the world who have come to London for their own reasons. Two standout cases of this have been Hassan and Jamima, individuals who arrived as political asylum seekers to London and who were kind enough to share with me their stories. Hassan, who is originally from Iraq, discussed with me his accomplishments in photography and electrical engineering, and how the city has provided for him a home in which to teach and explore. Jamima, who is originally from the Philippines, shared with me her work with the charity Kanlungan and how London has helped her feel empowered to speak her mind. More on these stories can be read here and here
With the morning complete at Migrant Voice, I head to class. Here, I learn alongside American students and am taught by a German professor. He tells us of his marriage to an Italian woman, and raising British children here in England.
After class, I need to pick up some school supplies. I head to the small stationary shop around the corner from my flat, which is owned by an Indian family, and purchase a new notebook before heading home for the day.
And that is just who I interact with directly- let alone the conversations and accents that pass me on the street, tube, grocery store, or pretty much anywhere else in this city.
As my time in London now comes to a close, long gone is the vision of having to live off roasted meat and potatoes, while it rains constantly and the Beatles play on repeat. While strong in its British tradition, present day London is a city of culture from all over the world, made up of people who want to share what this amazing city has to offer and contribute in return. There has not been a single day in this city where I have not come into contact with people from at least three different countries, something I cannot come close to being able to say of my home back in California.
This change is an experience of diversity I am extremely grateful for. I find it to be such a special thing because of how normal it is here to be from a different place, speak a different language, or be rooted in a different culture. This is not to say that London is perfect or that discrimination and prejudice don’t exist here. Of course they do, and there is always room for improvement in these areas. But the diversity I believe to be embedded creates a city that is overall more tolerant and encouraging of different types of people and the positive contributions to culture and society we all have the potential to bring.
While I have come to disprove the original warning that the city does not have good food (just visit Brick Lane on a Sunday), it is true that by mid-December London has become very cold. If you don't mind throwing on a jacket however, it might just be the most interesting and wonderful city in the world, a place in which people from across the globe can call a home.