Friday I woke up early again to work out with my Dad and say goodbye. I headed down to Southwark for my meeting at a coffee shop, Scooter Caffe. Usually I wouldn’t spend time here to talk about my meeting spots, but this coffee shop was truly an English pub that happened to serve coffee and tea during the day. The décor was rustic, the room was dim, and the music was a medley of American ballads from the 50’s and 60’s. I was meeting with someone from Medact, a charity organization that partners with medical practitioners to address health issues in the NHS and with greater UK health organizations. Medact works at both the highest and lowest levels, trying to influence policy, interacting with practitioners throughout the UK, and hosting demonstrations within communities.
My conversation with the woman from Medact was fascinating. At first we simply went through the interview questions I had prepared, but as the conversation became more organic we talked more about the impact of attitudes and perceptions on the changes the UK has seen recently. We mainly talked about the two most prominent examples of the UK government actively increasing the informal barriers that migrants face in accessing healthcare – forcing them to pay upfront for NHS services and entering into a data-sharing scheme between NHS Digital and the Home Office. These two decisions are highly controversial in the UK, and Medact is one of the organizations at the forefront of the opposition. I really enjoyed this meeting because I was able to speak candidly with the woman, and she asked many questions about living in America, as well. I enjoyed how many overlaps there were between my meeting with PHE, because it demonstrated to me that the private and public sector aren’t always as far apart as they feel.
Following the meeting (my longest one of the week!) I walked from Lower Marsh over to Tate Britain. I spent almost 3 full hours at the museum, totally entranced by the diverse collection it houses. I wrote down some of my favorites and some things for me to check out: Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley, all David Hockney, and Atkinson Grimshaw’s Liverpool quay by moonlight. After the museum I headed to Covent Garden to meet my friend from BU’s younger sister who is doing the BU Study Abroad program, and had a delicious lunch at a place called 26 Grains. After a chat I walked back to the Sanderson, where I had stayed with my Dad and where my bags were stored.
I picked up my bags and went to check into my second hotel, the Holiday Inn South Kensington, which was surprisingly pleasant. I worked on some internship applications and rejoiced in the fact that I had completed all of my interviews!
That evening I went to dinner with my two friends from BU. We had some trouble getting a spot at any restaurant (it was a busy Friday night) but we ended up having amazing pizza at Rossopomodoro, and were seated next to the actor Josh Gad. I recognized him right away, and even though he’s definitely more well known for his role in animated films, he’s one of those actors that you know you know. We went out around the Oxford Circus area again, dancing to American music in a sea of Brits. Even though I love listening to the classic American dance hits, I really do love British music (especially rap) and hope that the next time I’m in London I can avoid places that rely on American radio to get the crowd going. It was a fun night and I retired to the lovely Holiday Inn!
Saturday we had an OUTSTANDING brunch at a place called Dirty Bones in Kensington. We had mac and cheese balls, lemon-drizzled donuts, truffle cheese fries, and our own respective dishes (I had the veggie burger). It was so tasty and the restaurant itself was cool, modeled after “NYC music clubs” with vintage décor and a funky DJ booth. It was pretty enjoyable until our waiter made a comment about how much food we ordered. He proceeded to say we “ate enough calories for the week” and that he “wasn’t even going to offer the dessert menu.” To put it in perspective – there were 3 mac and cheese balls probably the size of a golf ball, so we all had one. Same thing for the donuts. And the fries came in a small dish, which we didn’t even finish. AND none of us even finished our own entrees! We laughed a bit at first, but when I told him he was hurting our feelings by continually talking about how much we ate and he answered with “you knew what you were getting into” we were all fed up. I’m trying to forget about his unpleasantness because the meal really was good, but it’s just a perfect example of abrasive humor that needs to be kept in check.
We then made our way over to the east side of the city to see a photography exhibition, Barbican Centre. The tube was under a lot of construction, so it took a long time to get there. Once we did we had to wait for tickets then wait to enter the exhibition, but got to explore another exhibition and check out the loaded gift shop. The Barbican Centre itself is known for its brutalist architecture, and walking around and seeing everything the campus has to offer was really interesting.
The photography exhibit was amazing – focused on “photography at the margins” it looked at communities that had been marginalized by their respective histories. It had photographers from all over the world, and included pieces throughout several historical periods, sharing the stories and experiences of very unique communities. Again, I had some favorites: Bruce Davidson, Philippe Chancel, and really everything from “Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins.” I REALLY enjoyed this exhibit because I am so passionate about photography, and feel that it is such a powerful tool to represent someone’s unique perspective. It also struck me how many of the pieces and collections focused on America. Even pieces on a group of gangs of Paris in the 80’s drew a lot from American culture – wearing U.S. military clothing, naming themselves the Panthers after the Black Panthers, and listening to American rockabilly music. Thinking about my thesis I of course reflect on how the U.S. treats migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and our lack of universal healthcare in any capacity. However, this exhibition reinforced for me that America will never lose its grip. Right now I am actively stopping myself from ranting about how everyone’s critical of America but yet idolizes everything we do.
At night we had dinner at a delicious Mediterranean place in South Kensington and headed over to a historical-themed bar called Cahoots. It was a fun last night, and even as I sit on the plane about to take off I can’t believe I’m heading back to Boston. The trip went by so quickly, and I planned for so long for it all to happen, I can’t believe it’s all over. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to travel to Brussels and London and speak with such influential individuals and organizations. I am so proud to be a part of Boston University and hope that my thesis project can reflect my ambitions, as I really would like to contribute a new piece of knowledge to the greater conversation on migrant integration. Now it’s time to buckle down and finish writing!