Online research about the East End would have you thinking that the most significant part about it was Jack the Ripper. However, London’s EastEnders and those such as myself who have had the opportunity to live here would most certainly disagree. As I prepare to leave my home of the last three months, I am becoming increasingly grateful for the relationships I have made with locals, shops, and the overall pace of life.
Saying Goodbye to the Food
While I could definitely find foods from various cultures around the city of London, food near Queen Mary, University of London was most certainly the best. One of the things this area of London is known for is its huge immigrant population. Along with living amongst a beautiful array of people, being able to eat authentic cultural foods was an honor and a blessing. From the Jamaican food in Hoxton to Indian cuisine near school, my taste buds were more than satisfied – especially because a lot of the restaurants here are significantly cheaper than in the central area.
My favorite spot to eat, Rama Thai, became a staple in my time abroad. My friend group and I became so close with the owners because of how frequently we went, that it was common for us to be gifted with a free dish each time. Not only will I miss the kind people who ran Rama, but I’m almost certain I’ll never find a better green curry.
Other Local Relationships
Before coming to London, I shaved my head. I was worried about finding a place to keep up with the haircut. From the moment I walked into the barbershop right around the corner, I knew I had very little to worry about it. Raymond, my barber, often talked with me about his family in Lebanon, about the languages he spoke, and about my experience as a first-generation Liberian in America. The friendship we built was natural, and now I don’t really want to have any other person taking care of my hair.
In my experience, many East End businesses have been places that are community-oriented; it reminded me deeply of my community at home. One of my closest friends developed a similar relationship with the owner of a vegan restaurant in Brick Lane. Entering businesses here with an open-mind and heart led to some amazing conversations and special bonds.
And The Sights
I hadn’t been in an area heavily covered in graffiti since I was a child. Living in a place where street art was so highly embraced, as opposed to shunned or just invisible, was exciting. From intricate images of flowers, to depictions of historical figures, to art pieces of protests, I was always amazed at the amount of talent that the East End streets housed.
While central London normally receives all of the hype, I would argue that anyone who visits London should make spending time in the East End a priority of their trip. It is a place that emphasizes living with difference, living as a community, and enjoying all that life has to offer. To say that I’m grateful for my time here, especially in the East End, would be an understatement.
Rachel Godfrey is an African American Studies and Science in Society double major at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in England at Queen Mary, University of London for the Fall 2017 semester. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.