The week of the 25th promised to be extremely busy. Monday and Tuesday would bring an exam of three hours each, and Friday was the deadline for our 10,000 word ‘dissertations’ – all of which meant the weekend of the 23rd – 24th would be reserved for studying and writing. I set a goal of reaching three thousand words by Sunday night as well as being fully prepared for my first exam on Monday. I am happy to report that I achieved both goals, though I was afraid that three thousand words wouldn’t be enough. I had done all the requisite research and felt mostly prepared to put forth a decent paper. At the same time I have never been happy with my writing or have felt fully comfortable with my work. And, with two days taken up by exams, I had seven thousand words to get through in two and a half days, as well as a round or two of revision. Needless to say it would be a tight deadline.
Exams went well, or as well as they could all things considered. British exams are different than exam in the States in that the student responds to a series of prompts and writes for literally three hours straight. The exams are then double-marked by the lecturer and an independent member of the department. Marks are issued on a 0 to 70 scale, though an exceptional piece can get above a 70. We’ll see how my sort out.
The dissertation is a different story. I am happy to say that I achieved 10,000 words in three days, and I actually went over a bit. I am still not happy with how it has turned out, and I did not get a chance to do as much revision as I would have liked, but the writing process itself went very smoothly. For my dissertation I looked at British foreign policy and how (or if) globalization (however you define it…) has fundamentally changed the nature of foreign policy. It may seem obvious to many, but I argued that globalization has fundamentally changed the international system based on growing interconnectedness of societies. New communications and transportation technologies have shrunk both time and space, and though globalization is not a new phenomenon (think the Phoenicians and sailing technology doing the same thing as the airplane), the pace at which the world has changed because of these technologies is a fundamental change. Of course, since globalization is grounded in liberal economics and capitalism, there are always winners and losers. Again, nothing new here. The difference is the end of the Cold War and the loss of relative stability in the international system. With time and space eroding national borders, non-state actors are increasingly relevant, and their access to globalized technologies and relatively inexpensive Cold War weapons has shifted the paradigm. Though British (and American) foreign policy makers have recognized these shifts, the machinery and motion of government, in terms of concrete policy decisions, has not followed suit. The British, for example, are building two aircraft carriers whilst recognizing they face no state-based threat. Aircraft carriers, and the power they ostensibly project, are of little use in the streets of Kandahar.
If I only could have written as concisely in my dissertation…
Friday quickly got out of control. Besides turning in the dissertation, I also had to pack up everything and move my extra baggage to the Hansard offices, pick up a gift for Gary, attend a farewell dinner (which ended up talking a lot longer than I anticipated), and drop by the Monkey Puzzle to present Gary with his gift (an engraved mug we all chipped in on ‘To Gary – For keeping our minds and mugs full – Your Summer Scholars 2011’). Then there were goodbyes to everyone in the program leaving town the next day. I think I forgot to breath for most of the day.
It was surreal to see the program end so abruptly. We had spent two and a half months living and learning together, and the last week was a marathon. We had little time to decompress as a group between the time we began taking exams and when we finished dinner Friday night. The first of us left London at 5 a.m. the next day, and the majority of us were exhausted from the week, so there really was no going-out and celebrating. A few of us managed to pop over to the MP to hand Gary his gift, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Still, I felt there was a lack of closure to the program – even at dinner there wasn’t much beyond a ‘thanks’ from the Hansard staff.
While others were boarding planes for America, on Saturday I boarded a bus to Paris – a nine hour ride! I can honestly say I will never take the Eurostar bus again, especially when the train gets there in two and a half hours. I did get to see the cliffs of Dover, though.
Paris is indescribable. Though I was there for a little over 48 hours, we managed to see the majority of the main attractions, including the Eiffel Tower at dusk/night. Such a beautiful, fun city. I would never want to live there, however. It is a wonderful place to visit, but I did not find the French particularly endearing, and certain parts of the city (likely the only places I would be able to afford at this point) are not places I would want to return to. It is also a very dirty city in some regards – there was a lot of trash and apparently the people find the city to be their toilette.
I had originally planned on staying an extra day and seeing the Normandy coast and d-day sites, but by the time I managed to look into booking hostels and tours, it quickly became apparent that it would be an expensive day. Considering the amount of money I have spent this summer, I thought the best thing for me to do at this point would be return to London where I had inexpensive, open-ended lodging, and instead visit Wales – thus fulfilling a promise I made to the Plaid staff. I’m glad I did! Cardiff is quite the scenic seaside city, complete with a thousand-year old castle and the Welsh National Assembly, among the other sites. I spent the day roaming the city and taking it all in – of course, like all the places I’ve visited this summer, I simply didn’t have enough time to visit everything I wanted to!
Then it was back to London, to save some money and visit a couple of places I had neglected during the course of the program, and to wait for my flight home. It has been a solid few days in London – just me wandering the city as I pleased, with nowhere to be and no one to report to. Just the way I want to remember London. I had a few more brews with Gary and chatted a bit more about life over the last few days, laying some solid plans for myself along the way.
And then, just like that, it was time to go. Time to say goodbye to a City and a people I’ve come to love, with promises to return soon. Though I look forward to returning home and back to ‘real’ life, and that reality is staring me in the face as I write this on the plane ride home, I’ve also come to find that I felt at home in London too. Who knows where life will lead, and if one of those places will be back to London for a little longer stay.
This program has taught me a lot. I’ve learned the practical stuff about the machinery of British government, and I’ve learned to read between the lines. I’ve also learned a lot (more) about people, and myself. Though the program was difficult at times, and I was often frustrated, I also have no regrets. I’ve learned everything I sought to, I’ve accomplished all the goals I’ve set for myself, and I’ve done it well. As Frank says, “Lyrics here”. My return home after successfully completing this program – a year and some change after I first conceived the idea back in Cusco, Peru – feels a lot like the end of an era for me. I’m returning home to start my final semester and finally put this chapter of my life – put on hold and set back by the Army – behind me. It feels good to turn the page. It is time to get back to the business of living. And for that, I am eternally grateful for my time in London.
And with that, this Cheesehead has left London. This Cheesehead has returned home.