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AUTHOR

Anusuya Sivaram Anusuya Sivaram Anusuya Sivaram graduated from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service with a degree in International Economics. Anusuya was a 2009-2010 Berkley Center Undergraduate Fellow and spent the 2010/2011 academic year at the London School of Economics,...

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Junior Year Abroad Network 2010/2011


Junior Year Abroad Network

The Junior Year Abroad Network (JYAN) connects Georgetown students studying abroad in a variety of cultures. Students share reflections on religion, culture, politics, and society in their host countries, commenting on topics ranging from religious freedom and interfaith dialogue to secularization, globalization, democracy, and economics.

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Anusuya Sivaram on Multicultural Coexistence in London

December 7, 2010 | 3 COMMENTS

As a student in central London, the vibrancy of the city never ceases to amaze me. Not only does the action never pause, but the city’s rich multiculturalism is evident everywhere I go. A four minute walk west of my flat leads me to bustling Chinatown, where I can buy anything from a lacquered tea set to a pig uterus. Five minutes southwest leads me to Soho, often labeled the heart of the gay scene in London. Ten minutes to the north takes me to the British Museum, where I can see (but not touch) relics from literally everywhere the British army set foot—which is indeed, everywhere. A few tube stops away is Brick Lane, where I can eat a fiery curry and get my eyebrows done in the afternoon, and dance the night away to an underground British indie sensation. However, London’s diverse population isn'’t constrained to these artificial oases of difference. As opposed to other places I called home, when I go out, I see people in every size, color, shape, and flavor.

When I first arrived, I was struck by the number of new immigrants the city housed, —literally. The first meal my family shared in London was at an Indian restaurant in King’s Cross run by a Bangladeshi man. My father struck up a conversation with him, asking him about his family and his job. When asked if he was happy in London, there was no doubt in his mind —he was absolutely certain that London offered him more opportunities, more support, and more options than his native Bangladesh had. From welfare and health care, to business opportunities and cultural enclaves, London had everything he felt he needed to lead a rich and productive life. I asked him why he chose London, —there are plenty of other cities in the world that are closer to Bangladesh—, his answer surprised me. In his experience, and the experiences of his peers, London was more racially and culturally tolerant than cities in the Gulf or other European cities, and even more so than America.

In the two months since I had that conversation, his answer continues to surprises me less. Tolerance isn'’t what I experience here—, a celebration of everyone’s differences and abilities is a more accurate characterization of life in London. Universal health care and professors whose doors are always open provide support, albeit in very different ways. Trafalgar Square hosts celebrations for nearly every holiday in the world, and I can find a protest (and counterprotest) for a plethora of causes on London'’s streets. I can kiss my date in plain sight across from St. Paul'’s cathedral and nobody bats an eye. There are Hare Krishna groups passing out fliers to the twenty-somethings queued up for entry into the hottest gay bars in Soho, and Asian immigrants hawking beautiful handmade crosses in Portobello Market. London feels like home because it is everyone'’s home. There is room for every belief and every person—not just a grudging concession in the spirit of “tolerance,” but an active concession to encourage every lifestyle to thrive. Despite the bitter cold, I’m thriving here as well.

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COMMENT FROM BROOKE HEINICHEN– DECEMBER 19, 2010

I can see why London is the most multicultural city in Europe! Many immigrant populations would rather go there over Paris, for example, not only because of the language but because of London's welcoming atmosphere. If you have a chance, you should see the movie "Welcome" about an Iraqi immigrant trying to get through Europe. I wonder if the English are as paranoid as the French about what they might lose in their traditional society by integrating so many other cultures. European protectionism certainly puts American values of diversity in a new light.

COMMENT FROM CHRIS SZURGOT– DECEMBER 26, 2010

I have always known that London is a tolerant city, but I can now appreciate it in a completely different manner after a spending a semester in Buenos Aires. The metropolitan capital of Argentina is a fairly tolerant city, but tolerance is still quite far from complete acceptance. While people of many different races and religions call Argentina home, it remains over 90% caucasian and I have not witnessed the outright embracing of other cultures that you described. It sounds like London has made great strides in terms of acceptance and now celebrates its immigrant population. Argentina definitely has a thriving and expanding culture, but perhaps it could learn something from the UK’s welcoming attitude.

COMMENT FROM CAITLIN MAC NEAL– DECEMBER 16, 2010

Anasuya, your letter is refreshing. It'€™s so great to read about a city that is so culturally diverse and tolerant. Your experience of London seems like a great way to experience many cultures at once. In South Africa, I experienced different cultures separately. I spent time in different countries -€“ Lesotho and Zimbabwe -€“ where I could understand less than in the Westernized parts of the continent. I also experienced different cultures within South Africa: I spent time in a "colored"€™ community at a school in which I taught, I spent a weekend on a farm with a white Afrikaans-speaking family, and I experienced the youth culture in the South African dorm. Yet all of these experiences were separate, and are kept very isolated in South Africa today. I wish I could have experienced the ways in which these cultures collide. They have potential to mix and coexist, and I hope London can set the example for the rest of the world.


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