Mary Hilliard London
Hi Sorin Scholars,
My name is Mary Hilliard and I am a junior Business Analytics and English major currently studying abroad in London. I can’t believe how time has already flown by- London is an incredible city and one semester is simply not enough to really explore all it has to offer. As the famous Samuel Johnson quote goes, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
One of the best experiences living in London so far has been the “Inside London” course conducted through the Notre Dame Global Gateway. The first three Fridays are dedicated to sessions we signed up for over the summer that allow us to explore parts of London we may not have otherwise had the chance to. For instance, there are sessions touring the Victoria and Albert museum, walking around London’s East End neighborhood or Camden Town, or learning about the Great Fire of London.
My first session was called “Homelessness in London”, and I served at a soup kitchen called the Companions of the Order of Malta. I am really glad that this was my first Inside London session, because coming from a suburban neighborhood in the States, the number of homeless people I saw in my first week in London was a bit of a shock. By helping at the Cafe on Thursday, I was able to do some tangible service on their behalf, as well as discover a bit more about the housing problems in London.
One thing that specifically stood out to me was in our brief orientation, Kate, one of the main volunteers, explained to us what our jobs would be, and highlighted the importance of just sitting and talking to the guests. She told us that often, the people who visit the Cafe literally have no social interaction or fellow human contact on the streets. We often only think about the physical needs of the poor- having enough food and water, finding shelter, preventing illness, practicing good hygiene, and the like. As a result, we may find ourselves neglecting their emotional needs. As social beings, to live primarily in solitude despite being in a busy city would have just as negative an impact as going to bed hungry in some respects. In conversing with the guests, they are seen and valued, and their inherent human dignity is honored.
Our Inside London sessions take place in the morning, followed by a program-wide lecture in the afternoon. The second week, an organizer from another local homeless shelter came to speak to us about his experience serving London’s vulnerable communities. Again, he emphasized the psychological toll homelessness can take on someone. He also explained the immense need for adequate mental health care for the homeless, because often, people end up on the streets because of some traumatic emotional experience, rather than simply losing a job.
It’s easy to pin homelessness on just not being able to afford a home- seems valid, right? But it’s so much broader than finances. Many people end up on the street because of damaging experiences in their pasts, not just because they could not pay rent. Because of these commonly assumed misconceptions, I understand a little more why homelessness is such a difficult issue to resolve. If someone who works with homeless people everyday says that mental health is often the root cause of this issue, then clearly it is a vital topic that warrants more attention.
My other Inside London sessions included a tour of Craven Cottage, where the Fulham Football Club plays their matches. I’m not a devout soccer fan, but it was a cool experience to walk on the pitch and tour the locker room. Fulham just made it back to the Premier League, and they’ve got one of the most promising young players, Ryan Sessegnon, so I intend to follow their progress throughout the season. My final session was called “London Power and Politics”, and one of the professors took us on a walking tour of the Westminster neighborhood, including Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street, Whitehall, and Buckingham Palace. Notre Dame’s Fischer Hall, where we take all of our classes, is literally five minutes from the majority of the British government buildings. I cannot emphasize enough how we are really in the middle of one of London’s most historical and busy areas.
London is an amazing city with so much to offer as far as independent scholarly engagement- there’s no way I can visit all the historical sites and museums I want in the next two months, but I’m going to try!