Neva Fark’s semester abroad proved to be educational in many respects. Here, Neva, who graduated in 2016, tells us about an experience that made a long-lasting impression on her.
London’s reputation as a dynamic international European city with a long and rich economic, political, social and cultural history and traditions—as well as being home to 8 million people from all corners of the island nation, continental Europe, and the rest of the world—attracted me as the ideal place to pursue a semester abroad. I wanted to find out whether or not its reputation was deserved.
During my stay, I learnt a lot – pleasant as well as heart-breaking things, but all of these impressions were highly educational. In London, you really can get everything you want: this is not only true of food, but also of cultural events like plays and films, of sport and leisure activities, of high-tech gadgets and all sorts of luxury brands. When walking through Harrods ladies’ fashion department, you feel as if you’re wandering through a museum rather than a department store where things are meant to be ‚affordable‘.
Once I got used to the product prices in pounds, I realized that food at supermarkets is more or less equally expensive as in Switzerland, but if I wanted to make some pocket money by taking a job in the service sector, I would get paid less than half the salary I would earn back home. For a student room close to my University in Zone 1, the rent was more than double the amount I paid in Switzerland. And the tube is too expensive anyway, so I walked everywhere. No wonder I saw so many homeless people in the streets of London every day, if a salary in unskilled jobs is so low but prices for food and accommodation anywhere close to the city centre are so ridiculously high. On my way to school from the Marylebone students‘ accommodation to Regent Campus near Oxford Circus, I saw the same four homeless people every day. I always gave them a pound or two, or sometimes got them something to eat from the supermarket. They were always very grateful, but I felt like my actions were just a drop in the ocean.
One rainy evening after a long day of essay writing in Regent’s computer room, I was walking home fast because I was cold and wanted to get inside as quickly as possible. It was already dark outside and extravagant Christmas light installations lit up the streets. When I rushed around the corner, I almost fell over an elderly lady who was sitting on a pile of newspapers and a plastic bag in the pouring rain, a scarf wrapped around her head and a paper cup with change in it in her hand. I felt so sorry for her and wanted to give her a few pounds, but I did not have any money on me, only my bank card. So I decided to invite her for a hot soup at the nearby Pret A Manger. At first, she didn’t quite understand, but eventually she followed me. We both got our soups and sat down at a table. I tried to make some conversation and find out a little bit more about her, but I soon learned that she couldn’t really speak English, apart from a few words like ‚please‘ or ‚thank you‘. So we just sat there drinking our hot soups in silence but the atmosphere was still a very nice one. When she had eaten, she waited for me to finish, took my hands with both of her cold hands and shook them in gratitude, then she left and disappeared into the darkness.
While I was lying awake in my warm bed some time later, I wondered how and where she would spend the night. Compared to her I felt so privileged, but at the same time I did not think I was leading a luxurious life here either. I was living on a tight budget and I could only afford the three months’ rent for a central London room because I had worked full time during semester holidays in Switzerland and because I received financial support from my parents.I felt as if I was leading a life between two worlds. Even though I was living in a nice area, I was not leading the life of rich person in London, but I was still much better off than many people working in poorly paid jobs in this city, or with no jobs at all.
Then I realized that the element of luxury could not be found in my lifestyle, but in the prospect of a promising future. I realized that education is the best investment in one’s future. I am glad I made this investment and don’t regret a single penny I spent on it. I can only advise everyone to do the same.
Neva Fark’s blog on her semester abroad is one of six that were awarded a prize on the ZHAW International Day 2016. Neva completed her BA in Applied Languages in summer 2016. Read more about the semester abroad options here.