For anyone wondering, the Chinese church I went to ended up being very, very small, though I hear the Cantonese congregation is much bigger. It was oddly Anglican in style (and by Anglican I mean it was very similar to the service we attended in Westminster, with the clergy in formal robes and the congregation quoting prayers together. Though I suppose that could also be Catholic of Episcopalian. Very not-Baptist, anyways.) The sermon was really solid and challenging, about doing whatever it takes to follow Christ. The aunties there were very welcoming, and spoke to me in a comforting form of British Chinglish. We sang 快乐歌, which just about every Chinese church (in the US, China, and now London) I’ve been to sings. It’s a very strange but welcome comfort that worship music is so consistent all over the world.
I’ve been back from London for about two weeks now. Two friends from my program were on my flights all the way to D.C., so my return home was much better than my uneventful flight to the UK (note: flying by yourself is REALLY boring, especially if you have two 6-hr layovers and a 6-hr flight). I walked onto the plane and saw my friend Chrissy stuffing her backpack into an overhead bin; she looked at me and exclaimed, “Why are YOU going to Ottawa??” haha Even better than having familiar faces on the flight was that we were assigned seats right next to each other. God is awesome :)
Below’s just a little trip summary I typed up last week. It was originally part of a thank-you letter I sent to the couple who, by founding their scholarship fund, made my trip possible. Thanks to everyone for their prayers and for keeping in touch during my London trip!
For me, my month in London was unlike any other trip I have ever taken. I have studied abroad before, and have also taught summer camps overseas, but none of those trips were quite like “The Culture of London” program. The program was not so much one of intense studying or “contributing to society” as much as it was an encouragement to discuss culture and history and explore the city (and in doing so, discovering new places and personal insights). Our program was unquestionably hands-on; excursions to theatre, musicals, and art galleries were considered just as valuable cultural teachers as classroom time. I spent a month in flux between student and tourist, trying to figure out exactly how to make four weeks (and four thousand dollars of tuition and fees) worthwhile. As I look back on my experience, I see how much personal discovery and growth this trip brought. In my times exploring London alone, I learned to embrace the anonymity a large city provides, using what could be lonely moments as times for personal reflection. I learned that I am capable, by God’s grace, of navigating a complex, diverse city by myself, and that I greatly enjoy the independence of being “on my own”. In London, I got to see first-hand the vastness and richness of the English literary and musical traditions; I learned not to view that richness as competition or an impossible standard, but to enjoy the privilege of being a music and literature major taking part in the study of such depth and variety. I learned how to take ownership of my plans, to overcome the fear of disagreeing with the majority and breaking off from the group for some of my own exploring. I also learned, however, the delight of shared experience; I shared the joys and discomforts of living in London not only with thirty-one other UVa students but also with fellow tourists and native Londoners. I found London’s people to be diverse, welcoming, and proud of their historical and culturally rich city. It was eye-opening simply walking down the street, seeing multitudes of various ethnicities, religions, ages, and styles, imagining what their individual stories might be like. It was a month of exploration, newfound independence, as well as dependence –dependence on God. For every moment of confident independence there were also plenty of moments where I had no idea where I was, as well as times where I felt shy and overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar things around me. I am grateful for the chance to practice confidence and learn humility at the same time.