By Erica Yee
It is universally acknowledged that a person who loves Jane Austen longs to visit England. I am one such Austen fan, and I must admit my admiration for her work and interest in British culture played a significant part in my decision to study abroad in the UK. The London Comparative Health/Communications Dialogue of Civilizations intrigued me from the first time I heard of it because of the topic and location.
I entered Northeastern as an undeclared student because I wanted to take a wide variety of classes. That plan worked out well for my first year, and I eventually decided on a combined major in Journalism and Information Science. But I also have an enduring interest in public health, which is why I chose to take this Dialogue for elective classes.
Professor Pauline Hamel taught the class Communication Skills for the Health Professions. Though I do not plan on working in the health sector, the speaking and listening techniques we learned will be useful for anyone. We also spent time analyzing health messages for the public, which I found particularly thought-provoking because of my interest in the media. All our guest speakers offered fascinating insight into different aspects of the health fields. My favorite speaker, Victoria MacDonald, a TV news correspondent for health and social care, shared about finding stories that combined human interest with medical news.
Professor Valeria Ramdin taught Comparative Health Care Systems, in which we analyzed the American and British systems. No traditional classroom experience can compare to learning about the UK system by visiting relevant sites and listening to people who use and work with the system. These first-hand experiences on the Dialogue helped me gain a better understanding of public perception and the culture that has influenced the UK health system. In the US, health is generally seen as a commodity, resulting in millions of people still lacking insurance. Though people in the UK also value the idea of a free market, they still prefer their state-run healthcare system. Because the UK holds health as a basic human right, their National Health Service (NHS) provides free, public health care to all legal residents.
My classmates and I also went sightseeing, taking full advantage of the public transportation passes (Oyster cards) included with our Dialogue expenses. All the national British museums have free admission, and we visited locations from the expansive Victoria & Albert Museum (art) to the open-air Borough Market. Born and raised in Oakland, California, I thought Boston seemed old when I first arrived (though California does have what’s considered the world’s oldest tree!). Europe, however, is a different story. From the puzzling wonder of Stonehenge to the stunning cathedrals and churches, I barely scratched the surface of the rich history in England.
Other highlights included watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Shakespeare’s Globe and visiting Stamford Bridge (Go Chelsea!). To complete the British experience, I indulged in a Sunday roast dinner and sumptuous afternoon tea.
And of course, I did catch glimpses of the life of my beloved author, including Austen’s writing desk in the British Library. It’s incredible to imagine how the joy and curiosity her works haven given the world flowed out of her genius mind on to that piece of wood – then persisted through the centuries. I also really enjoyed our group’s day trip to Stonehenge and the city of Bath. Bath, the ultimate party central during Austen’s time, has in modern times become a quaint, peaceful getaway outside of the bustle of London.
One of my favorite Austen quotes comes from Emma, when the title character gently persuades her father that, “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” After this summer’s opportunity to attend the UK health Dialogue, I hope I may begin to understand how people halfway across the world live – and how we are all connected.