Ariana Akbari, BA History of Art & Architecture, Comparative Study of Religion
My name is Ariana, and I have some questions for you SOAS students. Namely,
Why are all of your straws made of paper?
Why is everyone here vegan?
And why aren’t the eggs in the refrigerator section of the supermarket?
“For the past couple weeks I have been feeling like an alien living in an alternate universe where people drive on the wrong side of the street and are very polite when you interact with them. Just as I was prepared for many things here at SOAS, I am equally unprepared for others.”
In case it is not yet clear, I am a student on academic exchange from the United States attending SOAS for terms 2 & 3. I am writing this column so that I will be able to help people see what SOAS is like from an outside perspective and also with the hope that by the end of my time here, my outside perspective will become more of an inside perspective, as I learn more about this place and the people that make it special.
Back home in the United States, I go to university at Harvard, just outside of Boston, where I study Architectural History & Theory and Islamic Studies. I have spent the past couple of summers living and working in New York, so I thought that I would be prepared for living in London and attending SOAS. In many ways I am prepared: The grey weather here, compared to a frozen Boston winter, feels like a tropical vacation. My classes tackle topics that I am familiar with, like Islamic Urbanism and Technology & Society. Everyone speaks English.
At the same time, however, I discounted just how foreign it might feel to be living in another country. For the past couple weeks I have been feeling like an alien living in an alternate universe where people drive on the wrong side of the street and are very polite when you interact with them. Just as I was prepared for many things here at SOAS, I am equally unprepared for others: The weather here can go from sunny to cloudy to rainy without a moment’s notice. The way my classes are structured are strange, and what is a “Moodle?” Everyone here speaks English…but they do not really speak my English.
I have yet to do many activities here beyond class, some touristy exploration of London, and welcome events for the exchange students, but there are already a few things I can tell about what makes SOAS different from my home institution:
- The SOAS student body is exceptionally diverse. SOAS students seem to come from every single country and background on the planet, and everyone has a unique viewpoint which makes conversation interesting and more dynamic.
- The SOAS campus is neatly organized and accommodating for people from widespread religious backgrounds and genders. I have never before seen a university building with a built-in space for prayer, and I think SOAS does a good job of accommodating students who may be trans or gender fluid with their built spaces (i.e. bathrooms).
- The SOAS professors are passionate about what they teach and study, and are willing to engage with their students so that they learn as much as possible. SOAS professors seem friendly and open to new ideas, and they all seem to really love what it is that they do.
I am very excited to begin this new academic journey and am hopeful that my time here will be transformative in a way that only being in London and at SOAS can be.
Until next time,
One of your resident, slightly-confused Americans around campus,