Column, Features, Off Campus

Lessons From London: How To Feel Small Around Big Ben

I’ve learned a lot during my months abroad, but the most important of which has not been what my advisors, professors, family, and friends told me before I left for London almost four months ago. Although I have gained “a worldly perspective” along with “an appreciation for other cultures,” like my advisors and professors told me, a “newfound love of traveling” like my family told me, and “a true appreciation for the lack of open container laws in Europe” like my friends told me, the most important thing is something that not one person warned me about before going abroad.

Of all of the souvenirs and trinkets I’ve been fortunate enough to collect around Europe over the past few months, the one thing I hope to keep with me is the feeling of being small.

At first, feeling small sounds like a bad thing. It implies loneliness and a lack of self-confidence, but it has been the single most important feeling in shaping my time away from Boston College.

At a school like BC, it is easy to feel big, especially as a senior. Most people have a fairly established group of friends, many of us are rising in the ranks of clubs and sports teams to presidents and captains, and, for a lucky few, you may be the proud resident of a Mod. All of these factors, compounded with the insulated nature of BC’s campus, can cause many upperclassmen to forget about the dramas of the outside world, pumping them with the all-too-familiar confidence of a senior BC student.
On the other hand, in a city like London, it is easy to feel small. The metropolitan area just reached its largest population ever at over 13.6 million people—to put that into perspective, the Boston metropolitan area only has around 4.5 million people.

The sheer amount of people in London is immobilizing and liberating at the same time. On one side, walking down the sidewalk in Central London feels like walking down the sidewalk on Comm. Ave. at noon on Marathon Monday. On the flip side, once you get past the paralyzing feeling of the constant crowds, you have the freedom to do pretty much whatever you want.

It may sound harsh, but in big cities, no one cares how you dress or act. In fact, no one really cares about you at all, which gives you the ability to feel small. Over the past few months, I’ve learned that this is a better way to live. When you feel big, like many students feel at BC, it can sometimes hinder your ability to be who you want to be because many students have a perceived reputation to uphold, especially by the time senior year rolls around.

Essentially, learning to feel small is simply learning that, in the grand scheme of the things—and here comes my newfound worldly wisdom my professors were talking about—my daily actions do not really matter.
That is not to say that they can’t matter—they surely can, and I hope they do someday. But part of feeling small is also learning not to take yourself so seriously all the time, which is another thing many BC students tend to do. I know I do.

Learning to feel small does not just come simply by being surrounded by millions of people. It comes, in part, by realizing that the millions of people you are surrounded by have stories and struggles just like you do.

It comes from the feeling of excitedly asking a stranger to take your picture in front of the Eiffel Tower—something you’ve been waiting all your life to see in person—and realizing that they, too, are just as giddy, and may have had a longer journey to arrive there than you.

It comes from starting to elbow your way to the front of a very unorganized ticket line at a museum, and stopping to realize that these people have as much a right to be at the front of the line as you do.
In the end, feeling small culminates in a sense of self-awareness—not the kind that makes you feel overly self-important and entitled, but rather the kind that enables you to see that you are simply one in seven billion people who have complicated pasts and foggy futures.

I think if we all tried to feel a little smaller—tried to deflate our egos and drop the entitlement that comes with putting a president position on our resumes or having the ability to ask, “Who do you know here?” at your front door—BC would become a better place.

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic

April 26, 2015