Four months ago, when I just arrived in London, I was shy, scared to make friends with others, and also anxious about whether I would enjoy my time here. I remember clearly that I wouldn’t even go out of my room as my social anxiety hindered me from meeting with other people. Now, as my time abroad in London has come to an end, I am still as shy as four months ago, but I have learned so much that I would not have gained it any other way.
New Friendships and Mentorships
What I will cherish the most is the friendships and mentorships I have received at Queen Mary, University of London. As a study abroad student, I felt uncomfortable at first because I didn’t know anyone in the classrooms. However, I was surprised to find that the faculty and the students here would actively reach out to me and get to know me. Different from the superficial small talks that I experienced in the U.S., I usually had much more genuine and engaging conversations with my classmates and flat mates from Queen Mary.
My favorite professor here was Mojisola Adebayo. During the first day, she asked me what I wanted to explore in her class Making Contemporary Theatre. I told her that I was interested in British East Asian theater and other politically engaged theater. Then, through emails and office hours, she would refer me to all kinds of theatrical events that are related to my interest, such as a Taiwanese queer staged reading, a British East Asian theater lecture by Ashley Thorpe, as well as the National Theatre’s first all-East Asian production The Great Wave. As a result, I became much more aware of British East Asian theater and also more involved in the community. I feel so grateful to know her because even though I only met her once or twice a week, she made me feel at home in London.
I am truly happy in London
Apart from the connections I made in London, I also feel so much freer as a human being. As someone who prefers to live in a city, I enjoy that there is always something going on in the city, i.e. an exhibition opening, a new fringe show, etc. Other times, I usually jog by the canal right next to the campus in the morning, study in the Waterstones bookstore, or take the 25 bus to Central London, witnessing the gentrification of East London as well as its seamless junction to the metropolitan area with more skyscrapers. I have so much freedom and independence to plan my own life, without facing the social pressure from American peers.
I know that things might change when I go back to Wesleyan, a much more suburban area than London. However, I believe I have developed a much stronger personality in that I can still find ways to be happy regardless of where I go. Even when facing peer pressure or social anxiety again, I won’t feel the need to change myself in order to please other people, as I am now more comfortable with being who I truly am.
A Global Theater Maker
During my last few days in London, I joined the Sight/Unseen Southeast Asian and British East Asian theater conference. It was the culmination of my study abroad experience as well as my exploration in the British East Asian Theater. I felt so inspired to know that there are so many East Asian artists like me who are trying to make a difference in the western theater industry as a person of color.
Moreover, as a result of the conference, I made new connections with international artists from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, and also realized that theater is not just happening in the western society such as the U.S. and U.K. I felt that I even unconsciously internalized the Euro-centric artistic canon by only immersing myself to western theater or representing my culture in western countries, but neglected the importance of making theater globally. I now know what I want to do next as an artist in the next five or ten year: to travel to different countries and cities, and create theater for different international festivals. Even though my semester abroad in London has come to an end, I believe it is a new beginning for me to explore the rest of the world as a global citizen, a global theater maker.
Unique Wenxuan Xue is a Theater major at Wesleyan University and studied abroad with IFSA at Queen Mary, University of London in Spring 2018. He is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.