`Are you sure you still want to go to London?´
`Can you actually do something over there anyway?´
`I wouldn´t get my hopes up too high, I don´t think you´ll be able to go there this year.´
Well y´all, I´m here now and still going strong!
Naturally, Covid-19 still has a huge impact on my stay here in London, but by now I would dare to say that it might not be all for the worse. Personally, I feel like unexpected challenges only ask you to become more creative, and therefore help you grow even more.
Different from the public opinion, London presents itself to be rather sunny. Especially in the very beginning of my ESC project, I felt positive that I could spend the whole year just wandering around the city and still would not be able to see everything. Without any tourists around, sightseeing becomes ironically easy. The empty streets and monuments allow you to take beautiful pictures without having to cut out several people afterwards, just so you can tell which monument is supposed to be portrayed in your photo. While it is true that you have to think a little harder now how to spend your freetime with shops and museums closed, London offers enough inspiration to come up with something, especially during your first months in a new country. No matter the ongoing lockdown, the typical `new country, new culture´ emotions do not fail to deliver: foreign tongues, different food and unknown places are the most obvious changes and can still be enjoyed in full (no physical contact required). In addition to that, more and more things strike you as peculiar the deeper you dive into the culture. However, I already feel like I am adapting to most of the differences, as I am now perfectly capable of driving a bike in left-hand traffic by now and answer a casual `Hi, how are you?´ with a nonchalant `Fine, thanks, how are you?´ in the 2 seconds time period that remains until your vis-á-vis turns around and leaves.
For now, I still spend most of my freetime walking or driving around, trying to find my way around the city, with London CityMapper on my phone as my constant companion, just in case I get lost. My lately acquired bike helps me to explore destinations that are a little further away (Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park, Chiswick House, etc.) while trying to avoid public transport. I found it on Gumtree which offers a wide variety of used, low-priced bikes throughout London.
Though these exploration trips are always a lot of fun, I really am looking forward to London slowly opening everything up again. I am excited to see wether the plan published by the British governement actually works out in the way it is supposed to. My fingers are crossed! I´m already writing lists for every new deregulation, going from museums to restaurants to shows and night clubs, so that I will be able to make the most out of my remaining time here.
When it comes to work, things are equally restricted and inspirational at the same time. Because of the current restrictions that limit the opportunities for many `normal´ activities at the German YMCA, we are rather free in setting up our schedule and are given the opportunity to come up with our own ideas for possible activities during lockdown. It challenges us to rethink common ways of communication, develop an understanding for the needs of people in these troubling times and understand in how many different ways and fields NGOs can get involved and make an impact and how to use them. We are still at the beginning of our journey and learn new things every day, but it already feels like such a huge gain to be able to talk to experienced people with the required expertise when it comes to topics like fundraising, filing applications or setting up new projects of your own. Next to gaining insights into the work of NGOs, we are able to get involved in various local organisations, both on- and offline.
We get to do some hands-on work at our local food bank, preparing crates for deliveries for families that are in need for support now more than ever, as well as our local hospital where we watch over testing and vaccination processes and provide our help wherever needed. Online we provide German classes and help out at PiP, a local organisation that supports young adults with learning disabilities on their way to become more independent. Accompanying the students through this strange time and seeing their cheer and commitment really offers you a great perspective on the current situation. The great variety of tasks and peope allows us to make new contacts and experiences no matter the current restrictions.
Altogether, no matter the difficulties and constraints, so far this year is doing exactly what I hoped it would do for me: challenge me, help me to get to know myself better, offer new contacts with many different and diverse people and let me have a whole lot of fun!
(However, do not hesitate to go through with your opening plans - I am ready for more.)