Across the Pond:

Chelsea Wantland

When I first considered studying abroad in London, the first things that came to mind were Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, tea, pubs and Hugh Grant. Okay, maybe my expectations went slightly beyond that, but nothing could prepare me for the experiences I have had. I’ve seen more historical locations, buildings and works of art than I can even fathom counting, and I’ve also had the opportunity to meet a vast array of people from all walks of life.
I knew that London was an incredibly diverse city comparable to New York City. For some reason though, it never occurred to me that I would actually be interacting with all these people – that some of these Londoners would become my friends and some of these diverse people would be my coworkers at my internship. Living and working with all these different people has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience. However, the most inspiring experience that I have had thus far only happened this past week and stemmed from an unlikely character I met at Lawrence last term.
During fall term, SOUP hosted a poorly-attended event featuring a phenomenal band called Soulfege. This eclectic mix of funk, soul, reggae and hip-hop used their talents to tell a story and send a message. After the event I had the opportunity to meet and chat with the band.
Fast-forward to last week. While at work, I received an e-mail from Soulfege frontman Derrick, or DNA. He informed me that he was in London and would be giving a lecture at Parliament and, although it was a closed event, he would get me in if I would like to go. It took me about five minutes to convince myself to get off work early to go down to Parliament. I had no clue what DNA would be lecturing about and I didn’t care – I was going to see someone speak in Parliament.
The speech Derrick gave was an eloquent, moving and powerful call for us to take charge of our own lives and change the world. This young man captured the attention and imaginations of a room of people twice his age. After the lecture old men, MPs and journalists were asking for his advice. It was remarkable. I had an opportunity to speak with a few MPs, or members of Parliament, who were quite impressed with the message Derrick was sending.
One of the MPs had just returned from Gaza and was now planning what he was going to do to change that bit of the world. I went home with an intense feeling of relief. I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one trying to change the world, relieved that there was someone more eloquent than I who was able to inspire and become a catalyst, and relieved that I had gone and had the opportunity to witness people embracing change.
The next day I received a text from Derrick while I was a work. He was going to Cambridge that night and invited me to come along. Before I knew it I was on the train to Cambridge.
I have never been so awestruck and speechless in my life. The people there that I met there were truly doing their part to change the world. I met women who were making films and television shows about issues they felt needed to be address. I talked to people who were working with the prime minister on conflict resolutions. I was truly out of my element.
All my high ideals of what I thought I would be able to do and say when it was my turn to change the world were thrown out the window. That night I learned so much. I realized that to change the system you really have to work within it. Hearing these people describe what they had accomplished and how they did it was an irreplaceable experience.
At the end of the night, after Derrick performed a few songs, we got to talking. All I could think about was the fact we had met in Appleton, Wisc. and now we were in Cambridge trying to change the world. So many what-ifs have run through my mind since then. What if Soulfege had never come to Lawrence? What if I wasn’t Facebook friends with Derrick? What if I hadn’t decided to come to London? I came here with slight expectations of maybe interesting things but the reality is that I have had more adventures and excitement here than I would have thought possible. This has truly been a term full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences