Knowing that you will be travelling to England or London, while exciting, is definitely a trip one can prepare for, in almost all of its entirety. Knowing you’ve been accepted to partake in an exchange programme to Bournemouth University in Bournemouth, however, is where things get a little confusing as this is a town most people have never heard of. In such a situation, I turn to my good ol’ friend Google. I know I can rely on Google for almost anything, and so I sit for hours scouring its pages, noting information on what Bournemouth is like in terms of weather, things to do, budgeting , etc.
Google was only able to help me so far as the experience of actually arriving in Bournemouth. After months of anticipation, the town surprised me in ways I could not account for, no matter how many hours I had spent googling about it. It is not entirely Google’s fault though, but because of the expectations and ideas that as a result of popular culture, one may associate with England in general.
When I told most people I’m going to England for an exchange programme, they immediately assumed I’m going to London. Even now, five days into my trip, I still get messages from friends and family asking me how London is treating me. I try to explain to them where I am, and maybe they understand, but knowing them, I’m sure they continue to operate with the notion that it is pretty similar to London, or the other popular extreme archetype of English landscape — that is, the English countryside.
Bournemouth is a unique little town on the south coast of England. It is characterised by its predominantly young population of students and its beautiful beaches, which I think really challenges the English archetypes of the monarchy, the Big Ben and the red buses; or the other extremes of images of the old couple, sitting on their porch on a cold morning, surrounded by beautiful English countryside, sipping tea. Interacting with the people here, you get a glimpse of the English identity you never get to experience through popular representation.
If there’s anything that I have learnt so far, it is that it is so important to just get out there and engage with these popular notions — to question them and actually experience the town and view the country for what it is. Bournemouth, for this, is perfect. It is a unique little town that challenges all these clichés. It is like the rebellious teenager of a family; but that particular kid you know who will go places. As a student-town off the coast of England, its beaches lend the country parts of its southern borders; it definitely strays as far away from the two popular images it must live up to. Don’t get me wrong. It is characteristically English, but definitely the parts of the English identity that get overlooked. It is difficult for me to imagine anyone I know coming to England to actually choose to visit Bournemouth. And that I think is exactly why it needs to be experienced.