* I’d like to note here that yes, I know we’re always students (of life) but this is meant more so in the realization you have once you’re back in class that academia really lends a level of validity to having full blown conversations with yourself in the middle of the night.
So, I made it. After one long (and thankfully dull) flight, two weeks pet sitting what might be the most charismatic cat, and several train rides I have settled into London. Settled in the sense that I have a comfortable amount of pillows on my bed, know where to get groceries on the cheap, and can confirm that McDonald’s is out here playing Americans (because yes, it is actually possible to make the burgers look like the picture - every time). Basically, I know how to stay fed which is really one of the best indicators that a new chapter can truly begin.
Food aside, I’ve been making it a priority to steadily get out and immerse myself in the local community. I have the privilege of living a few minutes away from Brixton which is lit. For starters, I was a little concerned that finding products for the melanated might be difficult. From where to re-up on hair conditioners because the weather is brutal towards curls or how to say adequately moisturized, I was partially convinced my family would need to send seasonal care packages just to keep me from being, well, ashy. However, Brixton has shown itself to be a real one, because almost immediately on sight, I’ve come across several well-stocked beauty supplies and more than one vendor providing shea butter relief. That’s in addition to the multi-cultural cuisine that shows itself around every corner — Jamaican curries, Chinese dumplings, Lebanese, Japanese, Italian, the list goes on. (Food might be a constant theme here!) As you can imagine, the swirl of languages, accents, and smells is beautiful.
Unsurprisingly, I’m quickly picking up just how much culture resides in Brixton. On my first walk around town, I came across the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) which is the first black cultural studies center in Britain. Before even entering, I experienced a sense of welcome. As I was standing outside and taking in the memorial created for the African and Caribbean men and women who served along British forces during WWI and WWII, an older man greeted me and expressed appreciation after witnessing me taking it all in. He turned out to be a friend of Neil Kenlock, the photographer whose photographs are currently being displayed at the BCA in an exhibit titled “Expectations.” This warm encounter made me even more excited to check out the center and see what was behind its doors.
Let me tell you, for anyone wanting to feel enveloped in a space dedicated to the preservation of Black history and providing comfort to the Black diaspora, BCA feels like the jackpot. From the cafe selling Jamaican cuisine to the shop, which features a robust selection of literature and pieces pertaining to Black heritage, serving as a backdrop to the Black women engaged in thoughtful discourse, it just feels good to be there. You just know this space is working for Black people, which can feel like a rarity even today.
Anywho, “Expectations” is a wonderful collection of photographs which are really a visual display of history. I’ll leave some photos here but honestly, if anyone is in the area and thinking about visiting, just do it. It’s a small space that you can easily spend an hour in because with so much context provided, you’re bound to have ideas, reflections, and questions that come up.
I’ve spent some time on my new borough and feel like I should mention the Underground (after all, it’s in the title). So the tube is really a world unto itself. Coming from the Bay, I’m used to a flight of stairs (maybe two), a couple platforms and that’s it. Here, there are several escalators, staircases, and tunnel outlets that take you to your platform of choice. As any person who is new to a place will tell you, it’s a good idea to google map out your travel and screenshot it so you have some sort of guidance. This is especially important on the Underground because there is no WiFi and there are a lot of ways you can go off in an unintended direction. It’s also helpful to be mindful of the maps which are graciously spread out because they have a tendency to expand the further you go, so your stop which you were fairly certain was on the Central Line can almost magically appear a couple maps later, letting a waive of relief wash over you.
Last thing on the tube for now, and this might be a little TMI. If you, like myself, ever find yourself wondering why the stuff coming out of your nose has turned a dark or even black color after a day using the trains it’s likely due to the low-key, highly concentrated pollution down there. I thought I was tapping into my hypochondriac tendencies when I noticed it but google—> reddit confirmed that this is a very real thing. Many people have experienced this revelation which they attribute to being in a space that doesn’t provide much of an outlet for fresh air. So all the stuff that trains and humans emit is just sitting there for you to inhale. Yum.
And now we get to the part which really covers why I’m in London in the first place. I’m a student again! And let me tell you, no matter how much you try to mentally prepare yourself for the transition, you’re still caught off guard. There’s the walking through communal spaces feeling like the new kid on the block (regardless if you’re a grown 24 yrs old, lol) and having a mix of excitement + sense of being overwhelmed written across your face. But that’s just a part of the fun.
The first few days at CSM were spent getting to know the other post-grad students in my program, creating groups for our main project that will span the first two terms, and aligning on the MA fashion designer we want to focus our collaborative project on. It was a whirlwind (and still kind of is) that really teaches you about yourself and your preferences in a very short amount of time. The remainder of the week was dedicated to getting to know our respective course leaders better (and vice versa) and working on our first assignment which was to interview each other.
One thing that is clear, and which I appreciate, is that CSM is all about getting you going stat. With so many resources and talented peers, there’s this spirit, if not expectation, that you hit the ground running and keep going. You’re given the run down on where to locate tools and how to operate them, and then told to go and make of it what you want. The professors and staff stress that they are there to help students get closer to realizing their goals and aspirations, but they expect the students to come with a sense of purpose that drives the relationship. It’s more than ideal for those who possess a strong level of self-awareness as well as those who may fluctuate between certainties and feeling lost. As I’ve just started (I am by no means a connoisseur of all things CSM and UAL) I’ll say this will surely be an ongoing experience filled with opportunities to learn, grow, and explore. But more on that later.
Well, you’ve made it to the end of this post which is more like an essay but hey, I have a lot to share so far and this barely scratches the surface. I’m excited to see how life unfolds in London and to keep y’all updated on it all.