At the start of the New Year, I set out across the Atlantic for my first (and hopefully not last) journey to Europe. For the next three months, I’ll be studying journalism at the University of South Wales in Cardiff. During that time (and after my studies have finished), I’ll also have the opportunity to travel around to different countries, seek new experiences, meet new people, and hopefully broaden my perspective. From time to time, I’ll share my thoughts here. I can’t promise they’ll always be insightful, but I’ll do my best.
A few observations over the past couple days:
1. We live in a small world.
I was reminded of this when I bumped into two fellow USW exchange students — of which there are only seven, including me, and these being the only other two from Canada — in the middle of Bristol. What are the odds?
UPDATE: Even better, three out of the four Cardiff Devils hockey players I’m profiling for a video documentary have ties to Waterloo Region. One player grew up in Elmira, another played for the Kitchener Rangers, and another’s dad grew up in Kitchener. Small world.
2. Despite our cultural differences, we have much more in common than we have separating one another.
My roommates are from Romania and Bulgaria — two Eastern European countries a world apart from Canada. In conversations with them about our backgrounds, and in talking about our differences, it has been equally eye-opening to see just how similar we are in many ways. We watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music, and miss the same home-cooked meals. In light of all the xenophobia stirred by recent events in Paris and ongoing events in New York and Missouri, it’s a thought worth remembering.
3. There’s a lot to learn outside of the North American way of life.
It was brought to my attention this past week how many native-English speakers take it as their right to expect others to be able to speak the same language as them, without making any effort to learn languages other than their own. I’m grateful to have grown up in a French Immersion school system, as well as to have been able to learn the basics of German last year, but I know I could do much better.
Coming to the United Kingdom and living in the Welsh capital city has also made me realize just how much of a wealth of space I’ve enjoyed in Canada. Single-detached homes with front- and backyards don’t seem to exist much around here. It’s something I won’t take for granted when I return.
My three favourite photographs of the past week (and the stories behind them):
1. Cardiff Bay.
I’ll admit to taking advantage of the many filters Instagram has to offer, but this particular photograph needed none. This was the panorama that enticed me to come to Cardiff in the first place, and seeing it in person for the first time was a special moment: I had finally arrived. It was all real. That red building is the Pierhead Building, and its clock tower is unofficially called the “Big Ben of Wales.” An interesting fact about Cardiff Bay is that, despite being situated at the mouth of the Bristol Channel and Atlantic Ocean, it is entirely freshwater. The city built a complex barrage system to separate the bay from the saltwater and choppy waves on the other side.
2. The coloured houses of Cliftonwood, Bristol.
The place where I stayed in Bristol was directly behind these famous coloured houses (although out of the frame). Also of note: the ones pictured are only a fraction of the coloured houses in the neighbourhood. Picture an entire neighbourhood where every house is a different colour and you’ll get the idea.
3. Banksy’s “The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum.”
The main reason I wanted to see Bristol was to visit the birthplace of Banksy and see his famous work. Before going, I had jotted down the locations of a number of his pieces in order to find them, but I happened upon this one by pure coincidence, and before I had found any of his other works in the city. The chance encounter made it my most memorable Banksy find.
That’s all for now. More to come in the weeks ahead.