Some may believe that people in England and America are pretty similar in terms of culture—after all, we both speak English, enjoy Harry Potter, and understand what a “pint” means. Yet, in this past week, I have noticed many differences and traits that make England unique and have made my experience in Durham, UK so interesting so far.
One thing that has stood out to me during our first week here has been England’s vast history and sense of national pride. On Tuesday, we visited and went on a guided tour of the Durham Cathedral. The tour guide began introducing the cathedral’s history by starting in the 600s. This fact stood out to me in particular; after learning about US history in classrooms, the farthest back I could imagine was 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. From the very beginning, the vastness of English history amazed me. Then, as the tour guide continued to detail the cathedral’s history, including everything from its dissolution under King Henry VIII in 1538 to the discovery of a mass grave just outside its premises just a few years ago, I found myself in awe of the seemingly endless nature of English history.
Another highlight of this past week was watching the World Cup semifinal game of England versus Croatia. Despite the unfortunate result of the game, it was so fun to watch the game on a large screen with dozens of English people, who were all cheering on their country and singing “It’s coming home!”
However, so far, my placement at Team Durham has definitely been my favorite part of the UK. Essentially, our work involves helping out with the adult sports outreach programs aimed at adults in the community who are in need of support. For example, on Friday, Kevin and I participated in a therapeutic walk with a dog named Boy and a man with autism. Team Durham also hosts football (ie soccer) games for people who are on probation and those who are struggling with mental health problems. It has been really awesome hearing about the success stories of Team Durham and how the staff have witnessed the incredible transformations of people who have positively benefited from the sports programs.
Despite the differences I have noticed, it is also really interesting how similar the two sister cities of Durham, UK, and Durham, NC are. This week we toured Killhope Mining Museum, where we learned about the former prevalence of the mining industry in this area and what miners’ lives were like. Many of these lessons about the mining industry seemed to echo the problems with the tobacco industry in North Carolina– unsafe working conditions, an industry that had a monopoly on jobs in the area, and eventually the demise of an industrial base that that left a myriad of people jobless.