Before leaving the United States, I had imagined that studying in London would be a vivid, life-altering experience and I greatly hoped that I’d return home reenergized about life. I had not imagined that I would march past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament with 50,000 students from all over Great Britain to protest education cuts.
Many of you may have read about the violent protests at the Tory Headquarters toward the end of the March. Since I was not a part of the occupation of that building, I only know what I have heard, but the important matter is that 50,000 students care enough about their education and future that they woke up on Nov. 10 ready to fight back. The vast majority did so peacefully.
When I first heard about the education cuts from my British friends, I didn’t really understand the intensity of their frustration. Although an increase in the tuition cap from the current level of three thousand pounds a year to nine thousand pounds a year is immense, it sounds like a pretty sweet deal when you’re used to $40,000 a year!
The public spending cuts proposed by the coalition government — made up of the liberal democratic party and the conservative party — will not only severely decrease government funding of higher education, particularly the arts and humanities, but will go far beyond education, reducing government funding of all social services.
Since the announcement of the cuts, Londons’ rapid transit workers have already been on strike twice to protest decreases in funding that will reduce tube maintenance and will result in job losses for many tube workers that assist passengers with directions and problems.
The London Fire Brigade also threatened to go on strike on Nov. 5 during the Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night celebrations to protest the proposed reduction of fire services and the resulting job losses that would bring.
The cuts will also impact many of the cultural advantages of living in Great Britain, such as the National Theatre, which is largely funded by the British government and is comprised of three separate theatres that put on both classic and new productions. The government funding of the National Theatre keeps ticket prices very low, at the level of cinema tickets, and makes the theatre available to everyone.
I began to understand the devastating effects the cuts would have on British society at an Education Activist Network conference was arranged specifically to confront the education cuts. I realized that while minorities, immigrants, students and the poor were not at fault for the current economic recession, they would be hit the hardest — directly, because the organizations that support these individuals will be the most devastated, and indirectly, because during economic turmoil violent crimes tend to increase as frustrated citizens try to find scapegoats to explain difficulties they experience.
For this reason, when I marched on Wednesday I did so not simply as a student, but with the LGBT division of the National Union of Students, who were responsible for organizing the protest. The most significant gain from my experience abroad is understanding the necessity of solidarity within any social movement: through standing together, minorities and marginalized people can create a majority that will make a difference.
Deciding to study in London was probably the most important decision I have ever made and I only wish I would have had the foresight to come for a year rather than only one semester. It is hard to really quantify how any experience impacts you, but I feel like being in London has completely thrown my life upside down. I feel like I’m now becoming the person I had always hoped I would be: spontaneous, independent, adventurous, involved, passionate, and overall just thrilled for all the possibilities the future can hold.
Before coming to London, I had formulated a detailed mental plan for my life after graduation, but since arriving in this magnificent city, I have thrown that plan to the wind, and while it is frightening, I’m now content just to take life one step at a time.