ESA Blog

Breathing Life Into Books

Ello, Guvnah. That was my terrible attempt at the local lingo in an attempt to hook your interest while also hinting at the topic of this entry. How did I do? I am currently in England. The reason I have managed to be sitting here in the middle of the semester is because I am currently on exchange at the University of Manchester. It’s still surreal to me and I have not yet slipped into comfort or acceptance yet. Hopefully that will happen soon. Nonetheless, here are some of my initial reactions so far…

My first reaction to being here is the aching awareness of my accent; it feels like all the words that rolled off my tongue tumbled out wrong in some way. The second reaction was the heavily present realization that I am surrounded by a lot of white people. Manchester is quite diverse, but I am currently residing in one of its satellite towns, which is considerably less aware of people like me. I feel like I stick out and that everyone is staring at me.

On the other hand, being here is glorious. I mean, honestly, studying English literature in England is much different. Now, I get to do things like listen to a symphony orchestra in a thousand year old cathedral while scoring hundred year old copies of my favourite books at a sidewalk stall. How fantastic is that?! I literally can’t fathom it.

My last fragmented thought of this experience is how connected I feel to the history of literature that exists here. I’m taking various English classes here as well, but I suppose the difference is that I get to be present in the literary context in a way that isn’t possible at UBC. There is this strange sensation when you realize the streets you walk and buildings you inhabit were once touched by some of the greatest writers we have known in the English language. When you stare at Shakespeare’s grave or you visit Jane Austen’s house, suddenly they become real. Can you get star struck by someone who is already dead? Because that is the closest thing I can compare it to. I have to come to realize that these authors were alive once. They ate, slept, read and wrote in actuality, not in some fantasy, far-away dimension that I imagine all these great minds lived in. Or maybe I’m in that dimension now.

By: Fatima Ahmed

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