Reflections on Visiting a Sikh Gurdwara in London

Let’s jump back in time to October, when I went to a Sikh temple, the Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sab. My British Life and Culture class had a field trip there after a lecture from a local pastor about religion in the UK. At first I was not sure what to expect. I was curious and excited to see an eastern religious practice that I had heard of, but never really understood before.

When we arrived at the Gurdwara, all of us put on head coverings out of respect for their beliefs. There was one entrance for women and one for men. I wondered briefly where gender-neutral people were supposed to enter, and then suspended my indignation for a minute to try to better understand the cultural significance of the separate entrances. We entered a room full of cubbies, through which we could quite clearly see the outside hall and even into the men’s identical cubby room, and here we took off our shoes and stowed them before entering a bathroom, where we washed our hands. It reminded me of the passage from the Bible where the burning bush asked Moses to take off his sandals, because he stood on holy ground. After this point, women and men walked through the same space again. My boyfriend Dennis was given a proper head covering to replace his makeshift scarf hat – they insisted.

 

When we first arrived, we learned a little about the history if Sikhism and its origins in India before heading upstairs to the actual Gurdwara temple. Gurdwara means “home [or door] of the Guru,” and is a place where Sikhs congregate, learn of spiritual wisdom, practice their beliefs, and contribute to their community. The temple itself is a wide, almost circular room with skylights all around it. At the end was an elaborately decorated alter with a canopy suspended over it, and behind this, musicians played and sang cyclical Indian music. We stayed in this room for perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes. I wanted to stay longer just to hear the music. On the alter, though I didn’t realize this at the time, was the Sikh book of scripture, the only object of reverence in the Gurdwara. The Sikhs would approach along the center of the room, bow before the alter in an almost fetal position, and then go to sit cross-legged in the seating area. This struck me as even more humble than the Catholic practice of falling to one’s knees before the alter – nowhere in any religion had I seen such a full physical embodiment of humility.

 

 

After the temple, we sat and listened to one of their leaders talk about principles of Sikhism. Referring to the kitchen downstairs, and to allegories from life, he told us that charity, hard work, respect, and cleanliness are integral to their religious practice and bring them closer to God. They worship no idols, only the scripture and wisdom of their founding Guru. One thing that particularly struck me was that that their two most valued traits are Sweetness (not just kindness or goodness, but sweetness) and Humility. Everyone is equal, regardless of gender, race, or age, and they recognize other religions and beliefs as equally valid paths towards God. Their tolerance overwhelmed me.

 

Our last stop was at the kitchens, where volunteers prepare free food for anyone who comes in, regardless of whether or not they are Sikh. Most gurdwaras only have the resources to do this once a week, but this Gurdwara, one of the largest in the UK, offers free meals every day. The leader had told us that no matter where in the world we travel, if there is a Gurdwara nearby, we can get a free meal there. The food, served in sectioned metal cafeteria trays, was delicious and filling despite its humble presentation. I left feeling very uplifted and inspired by the ability of an organized religion to be so inherently kind, and good… and sweet. What a beautiful religion and culture.

 

I’m so glad I came here, met practitioners, heard their music, had a delicious meal, and learned about Sikhism.I loved seeing this side of the UK, and remembering that there are so many people who are underrepresented and marginalized in mainstream culture, who are nonetheless part of the country and contribute beautiful things to our world. Maybe we should give them more credit.

Exposing ourselves to other ways of life, and being open and honest about our own, is SO important… Especially nowadays, we need to better understand and learn from each other. I worry and hope for Sikh communities back at home in the US – because they wear head coverings, I fear that they could be profiled and discriminated against by the President-elect and/or his supporters in the same way that Muslims are. My hope is that I can help spread some understanding about anyone who wears a head covering, whether they are Sihk, Muslim, or Orthodox Jewish or Christian – they are distinct peoples, each with something valuable to teach us, if we are willing to listen. Turbans and headscarves are not evil: in Sikhism a least, they further embody the wearer’s humility.

I am willing to stand up for those who are targeted and profiled because of how they look, and I hope that after reading this and learning a little more, you might be more willing too. I hope we will not become like France, banning burkas. I hope that people who claim to be Christian will actually try to follow Christ’s tolerant example. I hope that we will open up and see people who believe something different, and practice their love for the universe in a different way, as just following “a different path towards God.”

…If you ever have the chance to visit a Gurdwara, do. They are lovely people, and they are ready to feed you, teach you, and accept you as just as good as they are.

#NPSocial #NPAbroad

Finals Week

There’s only one more full week of classes after this one, and I don’t feel as stressed as I normally would. Maybe it’s because I’m a production major, but all of my final assignments are my finals. I have one more video to create, a full 1,500 word script, and a 1,000 word screenplay analysis of a movie of my choice. I only have one test that I have to take, and that’s for my British Life and Culture class. The British Life and Culture class is the only one that I actually have to put a lot of intense academic thought into. The classes have been somewhat worryingly easy, and they’re very independent.

The professors post reading lists, but they never test anyone on whether or not we’ve read it. It seems like the professors are a lot more relaxed here, which is odd. I don’t feel like I’ve done a ton of work, and I’m unsettled by it. I’m not freaking out like I normally am over studying for finals, mainly because I don’t really need to.

It’s weird, and I’m not sure I like it.

Going Home

I have exactly 11 days until I board the plane and head back to the US. I’n torn about that– on one hand, I desperately want to go home. Turning 21 without my family was rough. Spending Thanksgiving alone was rough. Finding out my cat at home died was rough. I miss my friends, my family, and my pets so much.

But at the same time, I don’t want to leave. I’ve always known I was suited for living in a big city, and staying and traveling around London has only driven that thought further for me. My family didn’t think I would be able to handle the changes, since I got so homesick living away from home last year, but showing them wrong was one of the best parts of this experience. I can live away from home without getting too homesick. I can live in a big city on my own, and thrive while doing so.

Either way, I’m going to go to Heathrow and board that plane home to New York whether I want to or not.

Journeys Just About Everywhere

One thing I’ve learned is that, much like the United States, there are a thousand “UK’s.”

Here are a few that I’ve traveled to, with a dash of the Republic of Ireland to boot!

Stonehenge – Neolithic Britain

I’ve taken several field trips with my British Life and Culture module, including a trip to Stonehenge. We weren’t allowed to walk among the stones, but it was so exciting to be so close to these slabs of rock that were hauled thousands of miles, thousands of years ago, for reasons celestial.
On a slightly less mystical note, our group left just a few hours before Michael Bay filmed a scene for the new Transformers movie at the site.

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Scotland – Three Cities in Three Days

Don’t try this at home (not like you would, because.. traveling… anyways).

My boyfriend Dennis and I planned our own excursion over the weekend to Glasgow, Stirling, and Edinburgh in Scotland, right at the neck connecting northernmost UK and its southern half. We learned the joys of taking a nine-hour Megabus ride overnight… and also the value of booking budget plane tickets early, to save both time and money.

Glasgow was as bleak as we’d imagined, given Peter Capaldi’s quotes and its depiction in Trainspotting. We visited an old friend of mine there, Lani, and together we explored the Necropolis – The City of the Dead, overlooking Glasgow Cathedral.

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Stirling reminded Dennis and me of Markarth, a city from the fantasy video game Skyrim – all aslant stone buildings nestled in a hillside. We stayed in our first hostel here (The Willy Wallace), and the next day we hiked through the fall leaves up to the Wallace Monument – Scotland’s tribute to the fierce hero of Mel Gibson’s film, Braveheart… William Wallace (in case you didn’t notice, he’s kind of a big deal around here). This was my favorite city, because it was so compact, cobblestoned, and well-steeped in the history of Scottish Independence.

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Finally we ended the tour in Edinburgh, where we explored the majestic Edinburgh Castle. Right after, we dashed over to Calton Hill, a vantage point dotted with monuments overlooking the city. Racing the sunset, we then sprinted through a graveyard, past Scottish Parliament, and up the geological marvel of Arthur’s Seat.

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By the end of the day we were very proud of ourselves, and very, very exhausted.
Lesson learned: Don’t try to pack too much into one weekend. Also, Scotland has the cleanest water I have ever tasted.

Wales – 3 Days in Whoville

Two days after Scotland (this was on our Enrichment Week, when we really ought to have been studying), Hannah, Dennis and I all went to Cardiff, Wales to explore the town and see the Doctor Who Experience! After the tour, I had a sonic screwdriver and we were all eating at Eddie’s Diner, at the very booth where the Doctor and his Companions sat in “The Impossible Astronaut” episode. Cardiff was full of vintage shops and charm, even in our hostel, “Mrs. Potts.” We eschewed the expensive castle tour.

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Ireland (Known to Some as Hybernia) – 6 Days of Adventure!

The Romans didn’t invade Ireland, because it was too damn cold. In fact, they named the place Hybernia, meaning “Land of Eternal Winter.” We learned this on a tour after we had already experienced it for ourselves – by late November, the wind was high and the air was full of frost. Yet the island was still, inexplicably, as green as we had imagined it.

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Dennis and I set up our base in Central Dublin, and stayed in two hostels and a B&B (hostels are more expensive on the weekends there, so we had to hop around). The evening we arrived, we went straight to a pub and had a delightful meal with Irish Cider and Guinness.

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On our first full day in Ireland, we took a tour around Dublin and learned about the history of Dublin Castle, several notable women in Irish history, and how Guinness’ black color was originally due to the silt from the River Liffey (later they realized this might not be sanitary, so they changed it up a bit). I was amazed to learn that the Leprechaun motif was originally designed as a racist caricature of all Irish people, which they later reclaimed as a national symbol and incorporated into their culture as a pushback.

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The next day, we went on a tour to Newgrange, Trim Castle, and the Hills of Tara. Our guide focused on the more mystical and religious aspects of each location’s history. We actually got to go inside Newgrange, which for me as an anthropologist was SO EXCITING to see all of the neolithic carvings and spirals and geometric patterns that meant something to people long ago. I was equally thrilled by the Hills of Tara, where we played with dowsing rods and walked between passage burials to reach the Stone of Destiny, the ancient coronation site of Ireland’s High Kings. Our last stop was a Fairy Tree (a Hawthorne at the foot of the hills), where we threw oatmeal and made a wish to the Tuatha De Dannan (the Tribe of Gods, the original conceptualization of fairy folk). I was geeking out.

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The day after that, we went on a long bus ride through Northern Ireland to reach the Dark Hedges (where Game of Thrones filmed the final shot of Season Two), The Giant’s Causeway, and the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. I had been wanting to see the Giant’s Causeway for years. It was unreal, clambering over the geometric shapes created by volcanos – sorry, by the legendary giant Finn MacCool – and seeing the ocean waves crashing over it. The adventure continued as we crossed the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (the site of an old fisherman’s crossing from ages past), waves crashing underneath us, the air crisp, and the grass greenly tufting the dark basalt cliffs.

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Our final tour was a long bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher in Western Ireland. We saw tiny famine houses and imposing castles as we passed through the Burren National Park, a spooky landscape of bare limestone mountains and deeply grooved bedrock. We stopped at the Baby Cliffs of Moher for a few minutes before visiting the real place. This was where they filmed the Cliffs of Insanity scene for The Princess Bride film, and it was fitting – the wind came in from the sea so strong, it threatened to bowl us backwards. The experience was nothing short of breathtaking.

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We finished up Dublin the next day with a trip to the Museum of Archaeology, where I geeked out again over the well-preserved bog bodies and the ancient treasures and artifacts of ancient Ireland – and one more pint of Guinness (which hasn’t tasted quite as good since we left Ireland). Then, back to London, another nest of adventures in itself.

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Back at my Home (Away From Home..)

Seeing all of these incredible places has made me truly grateful to be alive, and to have had all of the support from friends, family, and my college, to come out here and fill the cast of my lifelong dreams with real, vibrant memories. I will never be the same – I can tackle anything now.

#NPSocial #NpAbroad

Where to?

Portugal?  Italy? Madrid? Cordoba? Granada? ok ok ok . ….. Yes, I’ve done A LOT of traveling. Where do I even begin? My life here is different, i finally have the opportunity to fulfill my passion for traveling. When I first arrived here, my mind immediately began to plan every weekend that I had free to travel. However, three months or to make it easier, twelve weekends is not sufficient for my long list of places I want to go.

But an important factor that a friend of mine told me was that, i must remember that I will be back. I can’t keep thinking that this is my last time in Europe and hearing this, my entire outlook changed. I decided to take a break from traveling and to stay four weeks in Sevilla. This allowed me to get to know my own city and actually make some Sevillano friends.

I never thought I would fall in love so quickly with a city and all the hidden gems within it. A lot of people don’t think about sevilla when they think of Spain. Rather, people with go straight to Madrid or Barcelona. But why? We have everything here! History, Culture, night life, tapas (food), ancient architecture, and the list goes on. Trust me, if you need a tour guide- I got you! I love that I don’t get lost here anymore and that’s because I decided to say here. Tons of my new friends especially in my classes are gone every weekend making it impossible for us to go out! But don’t get me wrong, I understand why being in Europe can entice you to travel wherever, especially since it’s so cheap.

However, I did save some big trips for the end of the semester! In my last three weeks I will be in Morocco, Amsterdam and closing off my trip in Paris. I can’t believe it. I’m going to Paris. I cried when i booked the flight because Paris is very special to me, I always thought I would go when I was way way older and a had a career. But, no. I’m going now in my 20s, my prime years, exactly when i feel invincible.

I am throughly looking forward to my last weeks living in Europe.screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-25-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-10-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-23-04-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-22-51-pm

Classes in the UK

Classes in the United Kingdom are not as different as I thought they would be. I’m very excited that there is a focus on teaching how to think, not what to think (a practice that I wish was more widespread in the U.S.). It’s very freeing to have each class only once a week, to have so much trust from the teacher to be able to study independently, and to be able to choose which assigned readings I read in some classes. While I had an expectation that classes would be a lot more difficult, I’ve found classes (sorry, modules) almost easier here. This may be partially because I’ve been in college for over four years by this point at three different schools, but I think it’s also because if there’s anything we don’t understand, the professors take the time to teach us in class. I’ve also noticed that there is much more time in UK modules (at least the liberal arts and humanities ones I’ve been taking) for group discussion and exploration of material, which means students keep engaged and help each other understand what we’re learning. I really like this aspect of UK university! Now that I’m approaching the year’s end, of course, I’m cramming like crazy and have several research essays due – whether in the UK or the US, best thing to do is complete tasks ahead of time. In the UK, however, they give you a lot more time to do that – I’ve had to really learn how to be a self-starter here.
Libraries are difficult to get used to at first, but ultimately they’re easier to access. Taking out a book is easier with the help of scanning robot wall slots. Book borrows automatically renew without charging you (as long as it hasn’t been requested by another student), and there are multiple copies of each textbook on the stacks. This has allowed me to complete all the readings without buying a single textbook! So cool.
It’s been a great year so far participating in classes and clubs (sorry, societies) on campus – I’ve played D&D with my friends from Cult Films and Media Society, debated at meetings of the Feminist Society, and sung with the A Cappella choir, “The Kingstones.” Each Saturday we busk in the Kingston Marketplace to make money for society T-shirts and other things. It’s a lot of fun to go out and do something with a group – helps me get to know a place better.
Making friends is fun and interesting.. often, for me, it starts with a little rag about the equally disturbing politics un the U.S. and UK, or with me asking a silly question and looking slightly disoriented. I’m amazed at how many friends I’ve made already, and I know that saying goodbye will be very hard… but I also have a feeling that with all these connections I’ve made, I’m sure to be back again someday.

History and Travels

So, now that my stay in the UK is almost over, so are my travelling adventures. I’ve been to Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and Ireland.

My first, and my favorite trip, was Italy. I have some family who vacation on the Amalfi coast for months at a time. I brought one of my friends with me, and we were only there for a few days during a weekend in early October. Italy is, hands down, the most beautiful place I have ever been. The view of the Mediterranean sea, the food, the gelato.

My family’s villa in Positano was straight out of a magazine. My room had its own balcony, and the view I had was insane. The sea stretched to the horizon. If I leaned out my balcony a little, and looked to the right, the Siren Islands looked back at me. Yeah, the islands from the ancient epic Odyssey. 

I think, out of everything, seeing the islands ever day was my favorite thing about Italy. Yeah, swimming in the Mediterranean sea was amazing. Yes, the gelato was life changing. But seeing the Siren Islands, which are part of a story that’s over centuries old, is something that still amazes me. In the US, that kind of history doesn’t really exist. In Europe, especially in Italy, that history is everywhere.

Once I leave, Italy is definitely going to be the place that I dream about going back to.

One Month Left: Thoughts

Actually, not even a month. A month minus 3 days.
It’s strange, and it doesn’t feel like I’ve been in London for most of a term already. It’s gone by so fast, and I’m not sure where the time goes. A lot of things have happened since the last time I checked in. Trump is the president elect (and that’s a whole can of worms I haven’t actually begun to process) my cat died, my mom had minor surgery. I turned 21. All of this happening has made me wish I had been home. Turning 21 without my mom to celebrate with was tough. I had a friend visit from Spain for the week, but it wasn’t the same.
I got lucky with the family I was placed with. My landlady/host mom (still not sure what to call her) wanted to have dinner with the entire family to celebrate. She made me a lasagna, since she knew that was my favorite food that my mom would make. There were some of my favorite veggies as sides, and for dessert? A homemade chocolate cake.
I haven’t talked about being homesick. Because, until my birthday, I wasn’t. Having dinner with the entire family, listening to them sing “Happy birthday” to me, in all of its awkward glory, then just sitting around the table having a chat was something I didn’t know I wanted. I didn’t realize how homesick I was, and they made everything so much easier to handle without even knowing it.

Here to stay.

Arriving at Malpensa airport was one of the most riveting and exciting moments of my life. All that was in my mind was how this is the land of my family. My blood is from here and now so am I. Living in America there is a disconnect with culture in terms of origins unless you are of Native American heritage.

So to be finally in Italy where my grandparents worked so hard to leave and arrive in America, and now here I am coming to study here. It feels like a full circle.

Again, this was my first time in an airport and everything so after arriving everything happened to fast that I didn’t even remember if they checked my passport till later on when I saw a stamp saying “Malpensa”. Jenn and I had to wait a few hours because we were waiting till the Erasmus students to pick us up and take us to our apartment.

Sitting in the airport was a nervous and exciting feeling. We were so close to being able to explore this new country yet we just had to sit tight and wait.

 

 

Classes in the UK

When I first came here, I was expecting a huge difference in the way classes are run and the way we are tested. In a way, they’re very different. One of my classes here runs for an entire year, while I’m only here for one term. Another one of my classes has a lecture for 1 hour, and then 3 hours later, a seminar that lasts an hour and a half. Having a class split up that like took a while to get used to, but I actually like it a lot. It’s easier to not feel as burnt out.

I’ve noticed that no one tests during the semester. No pop quizzes, so half-term exams, just an essay at the end of term. Which is odd, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. There’s a lot of freedom in these classes, the professors don’t make you do readings, (at least for the 3 classes I’m taking. As a film major, it’s juts a lot of projects.) and they don’t assign any homework. The only homework I’ve had in the past 2 months has been to watch a certain movie for the week, or to write a small, 1 page script. I feel as if this is too easy, and I’m not being pushed to work to my biggest potential.

With that said, it’s a nice break. I have a lot of work to do once I get back home.