Saturday, September 24, 2005

Already the diplomat

One of the things that I didn't count on when I got here was the delicacy that might be needed to navigate among students from all over the world and from such different backgrounds. Tonight just took a two by four and smacked me over the head with reminders to be delicate.

Anyway, I was in the kitchen chatting to Katherine, the friend of Mandy my flatmate (and who I think will probably be spending a great deal of time here). They're both Taiwanese. They were eating and I was washing up when another flatmate arrived with a friend who'd picked him up from the airport. So, Pung introduces himself and tells me he's from mainland China and there's this huge SHIT bomb that goes off in my head. I've never been around anyone who's actually Chinese or Taiwanese and I don't know whether they're going to be completely normal to eachother or whether the fur's about to fly. So what do I do? Resolve to stay in the room by offering to make everyone tea. God! How English am I? The great thing to do when you've got no idea what else to do: make tea! (I remember the first day of the London program when I'd first met Clare...and I drank about 8 glasses of tea because I didn't know what else to do.)

It turns out that things were absolutely fine. I asked Mandy and Katherine about it later and they said that it won't matter as long as they don't really talk about politics. Mandy especially said that it's not an issue that really has an impact on their daily lives. In fact, they can understand eachother if they work at it a bit and it's probably easier for them all to communicate if I'm out of the room (they're all incredibly polite about speaking English for my sake). Mandy was also explaining some Taiwanese history to me and was absolutely delighted that she could do so...I think they're all amazing, considering that English is their second language, although Pung seemed less sure of himself than the girls. He's quite chivalrous and kept wanting to refill the teas. I don't know how much of him we'll see, since I've heard that the Chinese students really tend to stick together.

Later I went downstairs to the common room and met a new girl from Israel. Shortly afterwards Matilda from Norway came down and it turns out that she had spent time working with Palestinians. Tali is only recently out of the army and that all got a bit delicate. Best moment: when Sanji (I think that's her name...she's Canadian) asked whether any of us had had second thoughts about coming after the bombings. And we turn to Tali and realize how much safer she must feel here. It was actually kind of funny.

One of the things that has always struck me as odd when I come to the UK is how differently I fit into social structures. At home, I'm an introvert. I don't like to call or approach new people and I'm pretty slow to get to know people. Here, I turn into the world's biggest extrovert. I don't think that I change, but the sliding scale of sociability changes dramatically. Instead of being the one hiding in her room (hello, thesis!), I'm the one trying to force a sense of welcoming and community on my flatmates, going up and introducing myself to new people and having conversations that go beyond where are you from, what program are you on and why'd you come to LSE (anyone else remember NSO?). Granted, there are so many things to ask about people's home countries, but I still amaze myself. It's nice, but strange.

Next to finally, a summary of today's activities: sleep, ran from half way across Tower Bridge to back on the South Bank side of Millenium Bridge (and walked home). Topped up my phone, called Mrs. Black. Made dinner and averted international crises (which weren't really crises at all). All in all, a good day, although I can hardly wait until classes start and I stop feeling like I'm so completely at loose ends! This having nothing to do thing is driving me absolutely bonkers! Do I try to meet people around here? Do I do the Earlham Semester in London thing and try to prove that I can keep myself company for a year? Do I wish that I had phone numbers for all those Lib Dems, so that I could see some friendly faces (well, yes)? AAACK! Too many choices!

And finally, two pieces of good news. One: Tricia's scans were clear and she gets to go to the next round of this protocol treatment in Baltimore! Two: A very dear stamp friend has been picked to be the new curator of the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum...which is the coolest thing ever! She went back and got her Ph.D. as a "mature" student and has always been an incredible scholastic mentor and cheerleader to me, so this is really, really special. Plus, she also told me that a box lid that my dad sold to her is going to be in the court of honor at Washington 2006, the really big international stamp show being held next year in the US. Arf! Arf!