About 270,000 students travel each year to study abroad -- a number that has almost tripled in the past two decades. I'm one of the lucky mass making the exodus to the United Kingdom this summer and just in time for the London Olympics.
I've been fortunate enough to visit England once before, and this time I intend to stop the impulse to mimic the cheery Brit accent. I was only a junior in high school, and was constantly, obnoxiously saying "'Allo, chap!" to shopkeepers, taxicab drivers and anyone who would speak to me, really. This longer trip is furthering my lifelong Anglophilia, which has manifested itself in an enthusiasm for British television, Monty Python, The Who, Jeremy Irons, Rod Stewart, bangers and mash... anyway.
Visiting in 2008 was a little prickly -- one of the first sights of London I saw included hundreds of anti-war protestors that met former President Bush during his June visit that year. It was the peak of anti-American sentiment, given the increasing trepidation about the War in Iraq, the global economic crash and high fuel prices. Most locals I met eyed my tourist garb, asked what part of the States I was from, shortly followed by a declaration they'd had it with Bush and Blair, but conceded that then Prime Minister Gordon Brown might actually be worse.
I'm hoping that in the fervor of the London Olympics this summer, there will be a more welcoming and international clime. Not only will the city of London play host to concerts and festivals, there will be jubilation across the country. My study abroad program (or programme) is in Cambridge, which will entertain a weekend of live music and fireworks to celebrate the Olympic torch as it passes through the city.
The feeling produced by the Olympics is rare -- it breeds a national zeal but reveals an international human camaraderie that is sometimes unacknowledged. In 2008, we rallied around Michael Phelps' incredible eight gold medal journey and watched every sandy dive for Misty May and Kerri Walsh. Simultaneously, we were stunned by Usain Bolt's utterly impossible speed and marveled and respected China's jaw-dropping opening ceremonies. This montage gave me concurrent chills for pride in my country and reverence for the global community.
Domestically, I'm holding on to hope that the Olympics temper the heat surrounding the political climate this summer in these frenzied months before the election. Though, the Games aren't free from politicization -- Michelle Obama will lead the delegation to London and Mitt Romney has a horse on the U.S. Dressage team, both actions garnering criticism. Pundits last week accused the Obamas of "hijacking the Olympics" and The Colbert Report ribbed dressage for furthering Romney's image of elitism.
The Beijing Olympics offered a unique vista into China's gradually opening doors and truly recognized its burgeoning dominance as a superpower. The London Games present a different scene -- an acknowledgement of a former world force, an empire that in its height controlled one-fifth of the world's population. The United Kingdom has a rich history that has already been celebrated once this summer with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
So grab a pint, fish and chips and wine gums and park yourself in front of a TV (hey, we all can't be Olympians). Starting July 27, rep your red, white and blue shutter shades and find a way to give a nod to athletes from around the world. Pip pip, what what, cheerio!