In June of 2019, my father and I completed the Great College Tour, on which we drove from Wisconsin to Massachusetts and visited nine colleges in seven days. During the 20 hours we spent in the city of Boston, we visited the Boston Public Market for dinner and the Quincy Market. Surrounded by so many historical buildings, I remember the glass Sephora building next to Faneuil Hall making me uncomfortable. It was weird to see modern-day architecture and culture stand next to historic buildings.
As I now study abroad in London, I am reminded of the same feeling: from the banks of the Thames, you can see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London on one side and the Shard on the other. These juxtapositions extend beyond monuments and architecture to culture.
I arrived on Sept. 17, two days before Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. This was enough time to recover from jet lag for an afternoon and spend the following day purchasing groceries and a phone plan. As a result of the bank holiday, grocery stores and restaurants were closed as hundreds of thousands attended the funeral.
Attending the funeral with some study-abroad students from Bates, Dartmouth and Tufts, the five of us began our pilgrimage at 8:30 a.m., taking the London Underground into the center of the city. When we emerged, we began to walk toward the funeral procession. Somewhere along the way, we grabbed coffee (no, they did not make iced coffee) and we were shuffled into the group proceeding to Hyde Park. Sitting on our jackets on the ground, we waited an hour before the funeral’s 11 a.m. start.
It’s hard to qualitatively describe the number of people in attendance. Think of the New York City Pride Parade, but everyone is wearing black and … at a funeral. My friends and I journeyed for the purpose of witnessing a historical event. So while we excitedly whispered among ourselves, we were shushed by people who truly were there out of reverence for the deceased monarch. After about 30 minutes of listening to hymns and scriptures, we decided to avoid the departing rush and return to campus.
Despite most shops being closed, the Queen Mary University gym was still open, and every screen was playing the televised funeral. Campus felt quiet.
The following Saturday, I had some time to kill before my evening plans and decided to take myself to the Tower of London: a tourist destination. After picking up a few postcards for friends at home, I proceeded to a nearby Pret a Manger for a baguette and coffee (and no, they did not make iced coffee). On this walk, I found myself on the opposite side of the street from a procession of hundreds of animalistically-costumed individuals being corralled by a man with a megaphone.
Nothing shatters the pretentious European study-abroad experience quite like that. Like the pairing of Sephora and Faneuil Hall, while history stands still, the people who live here still live here and culture keeps happening.