What Have I Gotten Myself Into: The Cuba Edition

Have you ever been cliff diving? You know that feeling you get when you’re about to jump? For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s an unnerving combination of exhilaration and apprehension that forces you to question the sanity of what you’re about to do. It, also, just so happens to be how I’m currently feeling as I prepare to leap from my metaphorical cliff into the welcoming, but daunting, Cuban waters below.

I find myself wondering why I’m this nervous for something that I’ve been eagerly anticipating from the moment I learned what study abroad was. Then again, with where I’ve chosen to spend the upcoming semester, there is certainly plenty that is intimidating. Not to mention, ambiguity has become somewhat of a theme as I look to the semester ahead because I have no idea what to expect of my life over the next four months. I mean, how do you truly prepare to go live on a Communist Caribbean Island that has been deeply isolated from rest of the world for the last half a century?

Much of what makes me nervous about the semester is relatively run-of-the-mill for any student about to study abroad. For example, I worry about living completely immersed in a society that speaks a language I’m still acquiring and perfecting, not to mention managing to take a full course load taught in that language. It doesn’t help that Cuban Spanish is infamous for being especially hard to understand, even for native Spanish speakers from other countries. Unfortunately for me, Cubans tend to speak really fast and, to add insult to injury, often don’t pronounce the entire word. A million thank you’s to whoever at Georgetown decided that grades from abroad won’t be factored into your GPA.

Mostly though, a lot of what makes me anxious stems from the unique situational differences that I’ll experience in Cuba due to the contrasting ideology and grim economic condition. For one, there is the slightly intimidating fact that, aside from when I’m in my program’s headquarters, I will not have access to the Internet. That means that my iPhone, which is normally an incredible technological wonder that fits all the world’s information in the palm of my hand, will be about as useful as a brick, albeit a very sleek looking brick. I won’t even be able to use it to make a simple phone call. As a result, all social planning has to happen in person and, if someone has to cancel plans last minute, well, I’ll just say that I guess I’ll figure it out by the time an hour has passed and they still haven’t shown up (cue melodramatic gulp here). Can I get three cheers for doing things the old-fashioned way?

Moreover, many of the things we can get in the U.S. from a quick run to the local Target will be conspicuously unavailable there. This extensive list of unobtainable commodities also happens to include money. U.S. issued cards are not accepted in Cuba so, paying with a card or withdrawing cash from an ATM = not possible. Consequently, in addition to my clothes, toiletries, shoes, etc., I’m forced to bring with me all the cash that I’m going to need in order to live for an entire semester, as well as, what seems like, an entire pharmacy, comprising of four months worth of tampons, prescriptions, vitamins, and any/all medicines I could possibly need while there. I imagine the TSA will not be thrilled.

All these things and more considered, and despite the fact that it feels like I’m dwelling in a perpetual state of uncertainty about what I will and what I won’t have access to, the many possibilities that such an experience holds is thrilling and I’m certain that it’s going to be pretty freaking amazing. So, stay tuned!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Road Leading Up to My Departure for the Emerald Isle

Scrubs. Check. Stethoscope. Check. Umbrella. Check. Favorite poster. Check. Toothbrush. Check. Teddy bear. Check. There sure are a lot of miscellaneous items that I am stuffing into my suitcase as I prepare for my new journey to Dublin, Ireland. However, the most important items that I will carry don’t fit into my suitcase at all. Some will read this and wonder what important items I had to make the tough decision to leave behind, but this is not what I am referring to. Instead, these important “items” are not only with me, they are inside of me. As I am taking in my last few hours on US soil (and even some in US airspace as I do my final edits aboard my flight!), I am thinking of all the important “items” I will take with me: the love and support of my family and friends, the strong Jesuit values which my Georgetown education has afforded me thus far, an unending curiosity to learn about the world around me, intense excitement to explore my new home (but also a healthy level of nervousness!), and an openness to learning about cultures and traditions that differ from my own.

Now, I am not certain what you pack with you when you travel, but I would safely guess that not too many of you pack scrubs and a stethoscope. Please allow me to explain why I have….

Two and a half years ago, as I was making the difficult decision of which college to attend, the determining factor was whether I would be able to study abroad. Not too many nursing programs in the United States afford students the opportunity to take nursing courses abroad, and of those that do, it is often simply theory courses, without the clinical component. Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies (NHS) became my choice because students have the opportunity to apply to study abroad, completing both core theory components of the nursing curriculum as well as clinical hours.

As you may have guessed by now, my major is nursing, but I am also fulfilling the pre-med requirements. This put another hurdle in my dreams of studying abroad (and completing my undergraduate studies in four years). But though this hurdle was indeed sizable, it was not impossible to overcome. I took summer courses the last two years to make my dream a reality. When the work would pile up, and I would dream of being at the beach with friends, my motivation to remain positive and master the material to the best of my ability was the opportunity to not only study abroad but to be immersed in an international health system.

In Dublin, I will be representing the NHS by studying in the School of Nursing, Midwifery, & Health Systems at University College Dublin (UCD). Not only will I be taking academic courses, but I will also have clinical rotations. I will spend 60 hours at St. John of God Hospital for my mental health rotation. Next, I will go to St. Vincent’s University Hospital where I will spend 24 hours in hepatobiliary surgery followed by 36 hours of medical/surgical nursing. I am eager to experience firsthand a healthcare delivery  system that differs from that of the United States, where I have had the opportunity to see the system from multiple points of view: patient, researcher, and student nurse.

Please stay tuned as I embark on this new journey! It is sure to be full of triumphs and pitfalls, unimaginable personal growth, new experiences, dreams of spontaneously cultivating an Irish accent, plenty of sporting events (hopefully spectating and playing!), and of course, some wonderful Irish food!

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

After two years of experiencing college moving days, I like to think that I’m a professional last minute packer. To my parents’ annoyance, I am able to pack a semester’s worth of belongings in one day. But, this often means I have little time for much else. It is for this reason that I find myself writing my pre-departure blog post in the airport waiting lounge surrounded by strangers instead of the quiet and private confines of my bedroom. And it is here, waiting to board my plane to Madrid that I find myself particularly emotional as I think of the journey ahead of me.

Not gonna lie, I cried like a baby as my dad dropped me off at the security checkpoint. I cried so hard that the TSA agents let me in the pre-approved line and didn’t scan my hands for chemical residue. (I still can’t decide if they were taking pity on me or just assumed my tears would wash away any hazardous materials.)

I thought that because I had spent 6 weeks in Barcelona this summer that I was more than prepared to be back in Spain, physically and emotionally. Language barriers? Nonexistent. Travelling by myself? No worries. Sangría y patatas bravas? Claro.I just didn’t have the same concerns this time around. So, you can imagine that the tears were a huge surprise for me…and my father. (Sorry Dad!)

What I realize is that in the chaos of packing, making trips to the bank, and saying goodbye to relatives, I feel like I didn’t have a chance to consider the enormity of what was to come. Study abroad is more than just buying new clothes, improving your language skills, and trying new food. It’s about setting out on a new adventure, embracing sometimes unwanted independence, and, learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

Essentially, by choosing to study abroad in Madrid, I have conscientiously made the decision to break down my emotional walls in the most spectacular fashion ever. I’m going to live with a host family in a foreign country. In response, my family tried to come up with ten thousand reasons for me to not live with a host family but rather in a residencia. In addition to my particularly risky accommodations, not only will I be a non-native speaker in a Spanish speaking country, I am going to be the first in my family to ever travel to Europe. So, there’s a whole new set of continental rules and norms to get used to. And did I mention that I’m a woman of color who choose to study in a country that is still not used to different cultures and ethnicities?

So, despite all of the potential for conflict and strife, as I sit here in the airport, I realize that I’m about to do something truly unbelievable. I’m going to leave behind everything that I know and embrace the unknown, the new, the scary, the different. And even though, it is the most terrifying and exciting thing I have ever done in my life, I think it is going to change me for the better. ¡Viva España!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Heat of the Moment

It’s very hot in Qatar. A desert nation bordering an ocean, average August temperatures reach 43° C (109° F) with a heat index of 50° C (122° F). To give you an idea of what I deal with every day, whenever I walk outside wearing glasses, I quickly become blind as the lenses immediately fog up. Furthermore, when I’m standing outside waiting for the shuttle bus to transport me the short distance from one building to the next, I’ve usually sweated through my shirt. Thankfully, by the end of October, the weather will be slightly more pleasant at 32° C or 90° F. I’ve heard November and December in Doha will resemble summer in many parts of the US (70-80° F), which I hope to enjoy while my peers in the US begin to struggle with snow.

Rising up from the hot summer ground are hundreds of tower cranes, which decorate numerous construction sights funded by natural gas money. Unsurprisingly, not much can be done during the incredibly hot summers. When we visited The Pearl (below), the rapidly growing expat residential area of Doha, it was dead. No one was outside; buildings stood half-completed as if suddenly abandoned by society.

DSC04254

Just as it’s important for construction workers to stop working long hours during a hot Qatari summer, I realized that during the heat of the moment of a study abroad experience, it’s vital for me to take a step back and recognize where I really am. Qatar has notably been under pressure in the press recently for human rights violations in preparation for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It’s easy to criticize this small conservative nation for what it hasn’t done well – and many complaints are valid; the government certainly has a long way to go. However, from what I’ve experienced so far, Qatar has achieved several positive milestones that should not be forgotten.

This year marks the tenth year Georgetown has had a campus in Qatar. In 2005, the Jesuit university joined other prestigious institutions in Education City, an initiative launched by the Qatar Foundation to foster education in the Persian Gulf. In a sense, Education City illustrates how Qatar truly is one of the world’s hubs of globalism. There are almost 2 million people living in Qatar. Only 250,000 are Qatari; the rest are expats and migrant workers. An Islamic state run by Sharia Law, all religions are welcome as long as the Islamic tradition is respected.

Education City is an embodiment of how Qatar’s leaders have recognized the importance of geopolitical and socioeconomic diversity. Each institution here represents a different part of academia. Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service (SFS-Q) has a presence here, while Northwestern-Q covers Journalism while aspiring medical students attend Cornell-Q, just to name a few. Similarly, Doha attracts experts from across the world in all sorts of fields.

With globalization, each member of the world community brings something different to the table. However, at the same time, we all share common values despite our different skill-sets and backgrounds. Two examples from my experience thus far illustrate this point very well. The first is a performance by Hamad Al-Amari, a Qatari comedian who spoke to us at El Jam3a, a cultural festival sponsored by the Qatar foundation. There were about 60 nations represented at this event, yet we shared common laughter as the comedic genius made joke after joke.

IMG_7684

One of the best moments of the night came when Hamad and an unsuspecting member of the audience demonstrated a traditional greeting among Qatari men in which the two parties touch noses (above). It’s quite the hilarious sight, but the meaning is clear: by touching noses, the two men acknowledge that neither of them is automatically better than the other.

My second example is Georgetown’s Pluralism in Action activity during orientation, in which we made sandwiches for the migrant workers who serve our community. We then broke bread and shared the meal with them. My group sat down with two Nepali workers who arrived in Doha at the age of 17 and have not returned to their country in five years. Although I could never imagine what it must be like for my new Nepali friends to leave home for so long at such a young age, I could still relate to some of the themes of their life stories.

The two migrant workers we spoke to love their family and would do anything to provide a better life for them. And all they want in return is for the people in Qatar to show them dignity and respect, just like Qatari officials expect expats to respect Sharia Law. And then it hit me. I would do anything for my family, as would anyone else. The coming together of so many people from across the world to an arid desert city full of potential stems from the values we – as humans – all share.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Unpreparedly Prepared

In less than twenty-two hours, I’ll be flying over 4,000 miles to Florence, Italy where I will spend the next four months living in Georgetown’s Villa le Balze. As I sit on my bedroom floor surrounded by two empty suitcases and piles of clothes, all I can do is laugh to myself. While preparation for my semester abroad began months ago, I still feel like there is an endless list of things to do before I can finally begin my journey.

I do what I’ve done countless times before, and convince myself that I do my best work when I’m under pressure. It is hard to believe that the day is almost here. This time last year I knew that I wanted to spend the first semester of my junior year abroad—I just didn’t know where. I entertained the idea of spending the semester in Sydney surrounded by crystal clear water and white sand, then considered a semester on the Baltic Sea in Copenhagen, before finally deciding on a semester in Florence.

As summer began to wind down and co-workers and family friends asked me about my impending junior year, I watched their eyes widen when I would enthusiastically tell them that I would be living in Italy for a semester. Their excitement was always followed by the question of why I chose Florence. At first I would only mention the obvious attractions—incredible food, rich culture, interesting history. However, to me, the appeal of studying in Florence reaches far beyond homemade pasta and gelato.

As a student in the McDonough School of Business, I wanted use my study abroad experience to explore my creative side as I hope to one day find a job that combines business and analytics with imagination and ingenuity. The art and inspired culture of Florence will compliment the strong analytic background I have received from my business classes. I hope that the combination of my business-centric education and the experience of living in the heart of the Italian renaissance will give me a unique and well-rounded perspective.

While I initially thought that choosing where to study abroad was the hard part, I divert my eyes from my computer screen and take a second to scan my room. I see my unpacked suitcases, heaps of clothes, and sticky notes scattered about with barely legible reminders hastily scratched onto them. Months of preparation and I don’t feel prepared at all. For the first time, my disorganization doesn’t bother me—because I know that in less than a day I will be with my classmates in Florence, dining al fresco with a bottle of wine, talking about all we hope to see and accomplish during our semester abroad.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Making my way to Morocco

 

Summer is winding down. I sit in front of my suitcase trying to figure out how to pack enough without over packing for the next four months in Morocco. With only several days until my departure, the anticipation and excitement for starting this new adventure grows. I will live in Rabat, Morocco as a member of the School for International Training’s program focused on human rights and multiculturalism. The program concentrates on how Morocco is working to find its footing as a democracy post Arab-spring. I will also take Arabic classes, live with a host family, and hopefully find some opportunities to practice my French. The prospect of time in such a diverse and historical country is thrilling. Morocco has a culture all its own as sits at the intersection of Africa, the Muslim world, and Europe. It is also at political crossroads as it moves towards democracy while incorporating the tradition of a monarchy and a Muslim identity. I can’t wait to explore the balancing act of modern and traditional represented both in Morocco’s politics but also in the streets of the Median.

Claudia Rankine’s wrote, “What you are feeling is discomfort. You are uncomfortable. That’s okay. You won’t die from it.” As I think about Morocco, this quote truly resonates with me. I chose Morocco because I want to step outside my comfort zone. There will be many challenges as I explore an unfamiliar culture and I fully expect to make a fool of myself navigating a new language and customs. But so long as I remain calm and always show respect and humility, I know that any moments of discomfort or embarrassment will prove positive learning experiences. Whether trying foods with names I do not know, attempting to communicate in Darija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic), finding myself lost in a centuries old city, or making friends with strangers I aim to throw myself headlong in to this upcoming adventure.

Studying abroad is an opportunity not just to learn about another country but a chance to learn about oneself. I look forward to keeping this so I can share stories and reflect on my experiences. I hope to shed some light on a part of the world that is often villainized by the media. Ultimately I want to inspire future Hoyas to venture out on their own study abroad journeys.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Countdown to Copenhagen: Bidding Farewell to To-Do Lists and Saying Yes to Life

On Friday, I will trade in my Northern California suburb for Copenhagen, Denmark. All that stands in my way are a couple of unpacked suitcases, un-exchanged currency, unchecked to-do list items, a 12-hour flight, and 5,646 miles. Child’s play right?

For the girl who is as type A as it gets, this is wildly out of character. On any given day, my bag is never short of Moleskine notebooks scribbled full of to-dos, must-brings, and notes-to-self. So it makes it all the more strange that with twenty-four hours left before I board my flight halfway across the world, not one to-do list was made, not one suitcase packed, and not one errand run.

Logistically, I’m a nightmare, and it’s a given that I have a lot to accomplish in the next twenty-four hours. But emotionally/spiritually/mind-body-and-soul or whatever you want to call it, I have never felt more ready.

When I was applying to college, I was unsure of many things: what to major in, whether I wanted to attend a research university or a liberal arts college, big city or small town, stay in California or venture out to the east coast. However, the one thing that I was sure of was that I wanted to (read: needed to) to study abroad. I craved the thrill of throwing myself into new experiences, being able to go far beyond my comfort zone and grow personally. And ever since I stepped foot on the Hilltop two years ago, I have looked forward to my semester abroad.

Now, as for how I decided on Copenhagen…

Towards the end of my summer internship, whenever anyone asked me what my plans were for the rest of summer, I would excitedly reply “One week back home in California, and then four months in Copenhagen for study abroad!” (I said this so often that by the end of the program, people I had never personally mentioned this to were wishing me good luck on my abroad adventures.) The question that always followed was “Why Copenhagen?” I would jokingly reply, “I’m testing out the ‘happiest country on earth’ claim.”

Although that is true, I am traveling to Copenhagen for the rich political, economic, and cultural history, the modern meets traditional feel of the city, the dynamic arts scene and the abundance of local artisan street markets, the sophisticated yet eccentric street style of its locals, the central location in Europe and dynamic business environment, the award-winning restaurants and coffee shops, and the unique cross-cultural perspective that I will be able to gain—an experience that cannot be replicated in a classroom.

One blog post later, I am still hopelessly unpacked. But I am ready. For the adventures and misadventures; the meticulously planned outings and the treasures I only discovered as a result of getting lost; the museums and the mountains; the deeper relationships with my classmates and new friendships with locals; the harmony and the chaos. I want to listen to the stories of the people I meet, and I want to tell my own. And I hope to chronicle my journey through this blog and share it with the Georgetown community and beyond.

And one blog post later, I feel less guilty about my lack of to-do lists. I am starting to realize that there is only so much that you can plan out, and that no amount of time back home, no Thought Catalog article, and no Google search will truly prepare me for the next four months of my life. And I’m beginning to see the beauty in simply not knowing what my next move is.

I am ready to say yes to life and wherever it will take me. Hej København!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Culture

Familiar Thoughts, Unfamiliar Territory

On Saturday, I will attend Georgetown’s New Student Orientation (NSO) for the second time.

This time, I’ll be a seasoned Georgetown veteran halfway through his college career. No longer am I a baby freshman living away from my parents for the first time. Yet, as I begin to think about stepping foot on Georgetown’s campus in Qatar, I still have many of those feelings I had two years ago. I wonder how I’ll make friends, how difficult my classes will be, what I’ll do for fun, etc. But above all else, I’m filled with anticipation and excitement.

The School of Foreign Service – In Qatar!

The main reason why I chose to study abroad in Doha is to take Georgetown classes with renowned Georgetown professors. There are several classes I wanted to take in DC but couldn’t because they had that sneaky little designation making it available only on the other side of the world in a small but prosperous island nation. Although I haven’t yet secured my class schedule fully and will most likely move things around during the add/drop period, I know I can’t go wrong with my classes.

I will be able to classes that are all too real, studying in a hotspot for important subjects such as US Foreign & Security Policy, Intelligence & National Security, or Nuclear Proliferation & International Security. More importantly, I’ll be able to gain a new perspective on the ongoing disputes in the Middle East. With classes like Media in the Middle East or Religion & American Politics (from a Middle Eastern perspective), I’ll certainly be able to expand my worldview. When I return to the classroom in the United States, I’ll have priceless first-hand experiences in my back pocket when immersed in animated discussions about policy in the Middle East.

Something New: Introducing Doha

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel many places in my young life, but I have not yet been to the Middle East. In fact, I am currently composing this blog while visiting friends in Germany. Having lived in Germany, the German culture is an integral part of my life. I know what to expect here. I have a checklist of what I want to see, the food I want to eat, and the friends I want to visit. On the other hand, I have no idea what to expect when I arrive in Doha on Saturday. While I’ve done some research, I’ve intentionally left many of my questions unanswered so that I can keep my mind open. What I do know is that this experience will be unlike any I’ve had before.

The first subject that comes up when I tell people I’m traveling to Qatar is the weather. As I’m writing this, it’s 40°C or about 105°F in Doha. While this seems insane at first, think about the summer weather in DC. During the day it’s often 90°F in Washington – before the effect of humidity is added. Knowing that the heat in Qatar is dry heat (and everything is air conditioned anyway), it’ll be easier to survive than one may think at first.

Of course, the standard question from my college peers is not the weather but how to survive an entire semester without drinking alcohol, since Qatar is an alcohol-free country. Well, I intend on diving into Islamic society headfirst. It’ll be refreshing to live in a new way, following not just the alcohol policy but all of Qatar’s interesting laws. When I first arrived on campus as a freshman Hoya, there was little discussion among us anxious college students of what to do for fun beyond partying. Staying in Doha for an extended period of time that includes my twenty-first birthday will definitely give a new meaning to the college social scene.

It goes without saying that life in Qatar will certainly open my mind to new opportunities and ideals. Doha appears to be a fascinating city, bridging the gap between Islamic and Western culture more than most cities in the Middle East do. Its exotic skyline resembles an American powerhouse city such as New York or Chicago, yet Shari’a law connects it to centuries of history and proves that Islamic tradition still takes priority over western innovation. In a sense, Doha, which brings to the table a character of modernity mixed in with traditional values, symbolizes of who I want to become as I travel abroad. I will bring with me my own set of values I gained from my Christian Midwestern upbringing, but I will grow in understanding of what it means to be a Muslim in the modern world.

As I embark on my daylong journey to Doha on Saturday and enter unfamiliar territory, I will use what is familiar to me to be a guiding principle, but I recognize that embracing the unfamiliar is what will make this semester most meaningful for me.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Learning the language of the porteños

¡Hola todos! Although it still seems surreal, in less than 24 hours, I will be boarding a plane to embark on my study abroad adventure in Buenos Aires with the CIEE program. During the five months that I am in Argentina, I will continue to take classes towards my International Politics major and International Law concentration, but with an exciting—and intimidating—twist: all of my classes will be in Spanish.

Interestingly, the most common response to my aforementioned abroad experience is “Wow, that is exciting!” quickly followed by “Oh, so you must be fluent, right?!”. Erm…not quite. While I did in fact pass my Spanish proficiency exam for the SFS this spring semester (woo!) and have been learning the language for seven years, my classroom-cultivated abilities pale in comparison to those of a native speaker.

While the whole having-classes-only-in-Spanish aspect is a bit daunting, I think what I am most anxious about is being able to communicate with the porteños, or people of the port, as the locals are called. So, in order to further my procrastination while packing my two massive suitcases over the past few weeks, I spent numerous hours scouring the web for “how to speak like an Argentine”.

Although Spanish is the official language in 20 individual countries, various regions have distinct accents, pronunciations, words, and colloquialisms. And, as it turns out, I have had absolutely zero exposure to Rioplatense Spanish, the dialect most commonly spoken around the Río de la Plata basin of Argentina and Uruguay.

For example, I had no idea that porteños use a different second-person pronoun than traditional Spanish speakers—luckily it is easier to conjugate. And to the annoyance of everyone else in my household, I also have been (shamelessly) practicing my “ll” sounds since in Argentina it is pronounced like “sh” instead of the conventional “y”.

Then yesterday, in the midst of my frantic attempts to learn how to speak somewhat like an Argentine, I finally received my letter via email from my host mother, Gabriela—in Spanish, of course. As someone who is passionate about writing and music, I was extremely excited to read that she is a writer herself—and even more so that she loves to sing around the house!

Reading her heartfelt words about our similarities definitely reduced my nervousness about living with a host family, and in general, amongst non-English speaking Argentines. I think that ultimately, a language barrier can easily be broken if you are willing to fully embrace not just the locals’ way of speaking, but also their way of life.

During my time in Buenos Aires, I will strive to transcend my conventional Spanish classroom experience to not only speak (and maybe even sing?) like a true porteño, but also to assimilate and appreciate the unique culture and people that characterize the country.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Culture, Uncategorized

Reflections on the British Royal Family

In the mid-1960s, writer and educator Grace Paley gave a lecture entitled “The Value of Not Understanding Anything”. Among the pieces of wisdom on writing that she inculcated on her audience was this: arguing against those who advise aspiring writers to write on what they already understand, she said “I would suggest something different… what are some of the things you don’t understand at all?”. Taking her advice to heart following my return from the UK, I chose to write about what seems to be an inseparable part of the British culture which I found inexplicable: the obsession with the royal family.

I began questioning this phenomenon first when Christmas photos of Prince George went viral on social media. My curiosity would have quickly dwindled had Prince George (or the royal family) not popped up again and again on newspaper stands that I passed by in London. But as British media outlets continued at length to idolize Prince George, label every item of clothing he wore “cute”, and monitor the size of Kate Middleton’s tummy before, during and after she gave birth to her daughter, I could not help but think there must be a reason why the royal family is so popular in Britain.

Of course, in questioning this phenomenon, I had personal reasons of which I am completely aware. First, as a keen observer of domestic and international politics, I am aware that the official British narrative on how the system works, as David Cameron would have us believe, is as follows: if you work hard, you will be rewarded. A nominally meritocratic system. Interestingly, the royal family is not incorporated into this system; monarchs rule by hereditary right, not hard work. Second, as a citizen from a Third World country that has suffered considerably under French and British imperial rule, I feel confused when I hear someone venerate the very system that did that. Third, examining statistics that appear in the news every now and then about the huge amount of British taxes that goes towards sustaining the royal family, I find it baffling that so few people complain about where their hard-earned money goes.

So ruling out meritocratic value, philanthropic contribution, and economic utility, I could lazily fall back to the easy explanation for many cultural idiosyncrasies, namely exceptionalism, British exceptionalism. Nineteenth-century British journalist Walter Bagehot would have undoubtedly agreed with me. In English Constitution, he perfectly sums up why the monarchy is central to the British identity:

“The mystic reverence, the religious allegiance, which are essential to a true monarchy, are imaginative sentiments that no legislature can manufacture in any people … “People yield a deference to what we may call the theatrical show of society … The climax of the play is the Queen.”

The British monarchy is popular because of the sentiments of pride and uniqueness that it arouses in the hearts of the people it represents, sentiments that are nostalgic for an era in British history that is long gone.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Culture