Just for Fun: 10 Tips on Using the Queen’s English

Although England is an English-speaking country, as a migrant in a new country, I have encountered many new words, phrases and idiosyncrasies here. There are many cultural things that, while not exactly “culture shock”-worthy, have nonetheless caused me embarrassment. So that you may not face the same fate, the following is a list of ten things I have learned whilst (see #1) studying in London:

10 Tips on Using the Queen’s English

1. People actually say the word “whilst” out loud, as in “Whilst riding the Tube,  a woman wearing dinosaur footsie pajamas sat next to me.” (This did happen.)

2. You should say “sorry” if you bump in to someone, if you want to pass through a crowd, if you’ve interrupted…basically anytime what you’re doing could remotely inconvenience another person. Do not, on the other hand, say “excuse me”, which comes off as pushy and as though you are putting the fault on the person that you’ve knocked into. Or it means that you have expelled gas and are pardoning yourself. Stick to sorry, and you won’t be sorry.

3. When someone asks for a “cuppa”, they mean tea. I have determined that a nice cuppa English Breakfast tea is great, especially with milk and biscuits. Also, I was informed that America’s favorite hot drink–the good ole’ cuppa joe– is essentially “dirty water” anyway, so why bother? (Espresso is the way to go to get that coffee fix here!) Anyway, here is the cuppa I enjoyed today:


4. Biscuits are cookies. “Digestives” are a brand of biscuit that sound questionable, but are actually quite delicious. They are made from whole wheat flour, so they are healthy too! At least that’s what I tell myself.

5. Bathroom  = room with a bath. Toilet (or loo!) = room with a toilet. Who would have guessed?

6. “Cheers!” means “thanks”, and you can use it when someone holds the door open for you, gives you change, hands you your tea, etc. At first, I didn’t use the phrase, for fear of being immediately identified as a fraudulent foreign impostor, attempting to and miserably failing at using the Queen’s English correctly. I confessed this worry to an English friend, who responded that she hadn’t even realized saying “cheers” was unique to the UK, and suggested that perhaps I should just chill out. Cheers to that!

7. Quid = pounds (the currency), and is not in anyway related to Quidditch. Just in case you were wondering.

8. Rucksack = backpack and Wellies = rainboots. Don’t resist; just say it.

9. The past tense of “learn” is “learnt” in British English. How the formal spelling in England and the colloquial usage in the American South came to be the same, I’m not sure. But I kind of love it.

10. When someone asks if you want pudding, say yes! Pudding refers to all sorts of desserts, and not just the lame excuse for a dessert it is in the US. (No offense to those who like American pudding…however this may bewilder me.)

I’m limiting myself to ten for now, although I’m sure I could go on for much longer! It’s the last day of my mom’s visit to the UK, so some great touristy pictures will be up soon. (As will more migration musings!)


February and March updates, and something new!

I’m back! Just wanted to give everyone a few updates about my adventures across the pond. My last day of class is a mere week away, but I am far from being finished.

To start, a Happy Belated Valentine’s Day to all from Tiruvalluvar, poet and author of the Tirukkural, the classic text of Tamil philosophy and ethics. This statue sits outside the SOAS library, and some anonymous romantic placed a bouquet in his arms in honor of the day of love and chocolate.


Sending some love from SOAS!

I had a lovely Valentine’s Day in the company of fellow Rotary Scholar, Liza. We met up in Leeds for a concert and stayed in an AirBnB flat for the weekend. We saw The Decemberists. I had only heard a couple of their songs before, but they put on a great show, complete with audience participation that involved pretending we were being eaten by a whale. (It’s a folk-y song about…well, exactly that. YouTube The Mariner’s Revenge live and you’ll understand). In February I also started volunteering with Migrant Women’s Platform to help out with their Migrant Women Vote 2015 campaign. The general elections in the UK are in May, and a recent study has declared that one in ten voters are migrants! Anyway, I’ve been doing mostly administrative work, contacting organizations to see if they’d like to help register voters and/or incorporate voting vocabulary into their ESOL classes. My volunteer work actually coincided with a group presentation I was working on for class- “The Construction of the Migrant in the Upcoming UK General Elections.” Let me just say, in light of the recent 1-in-10 statistic, politicians are not exactly on the right track in wooing the migrant voter population.

In March, a lot of my time has been spent in cafes or libraries. Luckily, London is home to many lovely, quirky coffee shops, including this one:


It’s still a church with regular services, but on weekdays it’s a café until 5pm.

Sometimes I also try to check out a local market for lunch:


Maltby Street Market, a wonderful place to get falafels and free samples!

I’ve been working on two big papers due on Friday. It will be such a relief, and made even more exciting by the fact that my mom is coming to visit on the 21st! I have been interspersing studying with activity-planning, so expect many more pictures of fun things, rather than places related to schoolwork, next time.

I also wanted to use this post to try something new. As I’ve been studying migration in depth, I have been learning about movement patterns all over the world that I’d never heard of before. I would like to incorporate an example of a migration pattern or kind of migrant that you may have never considered before into each blog post, just to give you all a glance at different kinds of migration and ways to think about them. I want to challenge what we call in migration studies the “sedentarist” notion of people as naturally unmoving, static beings. What is it about people who move across space and (perhaps) borders that makes us uneasy? Why is migration often viewed as a “crisis” situation? How do governments and policy-makers frame migration in different contexts, and for what purpose?

To get us started exploring these questions, here is Migration-Related Musing #1:

Expats vs. immigrants. What’s the difference?

I have to tell you, and I’m a little embarrassed to confess it, I had never really thought about this before. The term “expat” was so far removed from my immigration policy focus, it seemed entirely unrelated to the people with whom I was working. But this actually says a lot about how we construct the idea of the “immigrant” in our minds and how the concept of immigration is conceived on a broader policy scale.

What images does the word “expat” connote and how is it different from the idea of the “immigrant”? Let’s explore the differences a little. Expats are imagined as higher-income and migrate from Western countries. They are probably white. They seem to have a wider range of options for migration destinations. They have money to spend. Retired, maybe. Migrants, on the other hand, are thought to be lower-income and migrate from the Global South. They are probably brown. They are “forced” to migrate, or certainly do not have many options to choose from. The former are never talked about in the news. They have the agency to move wherever they want. The latter are often seen as less desirable. Their presence is debated. Their agency is undermined, doubted, or completely ignored. What designates one sort of movement as just fine, and another as inherently problematic? Is it sheer numbers of migrants moving from the Global South to the Global North? In fact, only 3% of the world’s population lives outside of their country of origin. So the numbers aren’t actually huge. What’s more, a large portion of this migration is South-South migration (between “non-Western” countries). So, the “waves” of immigrants coming to the North are less notable when compared to regional South-South migration, and are actually exaggerated immensely in public discourse.

Here is a Guardian post on the topic that discusses the tendency for white migrants to be labelled expats and not so much with non-white migrants:


Is there actually a clear-cut line between ‘expats’ and ‘migrants’? Furthermore, who exactly is an “immigrant” or “migrant”? Does this category include refugees, asylum seekers, temporary labourers, students, guestworkers, family members of citizens? Your brother’s friend, who’s actually pretty cool, but she’s different from the rest of the immigrants? In another post, I will explore more of these categories. (Maybe it’ll help me get an early start on studying for my exams!?)

Who, definitively, is an expat? Who exactly is a migrant? Beats me.

Why I’m Here

Sorry for the hiatus just as I just was getting my blog started, my small but beloved readership! I actually wrote another post last week, but as I’m just getting the hang of this blog thing, the draft somehow wasn’t saved. I now know the Blogger Golden Rule: save your posts as offline documents! Hopefully this will go more smoothly from here on out. I determined that I looked like I was just having too much darn fun in my last post, so I’m going to talk a bit more about the academic side of my experience this time (which is also enjoyable to me, of course).

After spending two years in the “real world” as an outreach worker and paralegal at a legal aid office, I felt I was missing the “big picture.” I worked with migrant farmworkers from Mexico and Central America, many of whom had temporary worker visas, while others had no legal documents. The agricultural visa program seemed flawed, particularly with regards to worker protections. The workers were tied to a single employer, who also provided housing and transportation. Their lives were extremely controlled, and the working and living conditions were consistently substandard. Those who didn’t have documents were even more vulnerable to harsh treatment and low pay. I began asking myself: how did this system of agricultural labor come about? What were the alternatives? What did academics have to say about migrant labor, and immigration more generally?

I applied to the MSc in Migration, Mobility, and Development to learn more about global processes of migration, including other nations’ immigration policies, citizenship standards, and treatment of migrants. My primary goal was to learn how community organizations, governments, and migrants themselves address the difficulties that migrants face in host societies. I also wanted to learn more about refugees as a subset of migrants, and the interconnections between refugee and migration studies.

In the last few months, I have learned a great deal of what I hoped to, and I recognize how small my initial frame of reference was. The literature in migration studies is vast. I feel like even by the end of the year, I will have only just dipped my toe into the pool of knowledge that is out there. I have learned more about many different migration issues across the world. The immigration topic that most often comes up over here is migration across the Mediterranean, mostly from Africa into Southern Europe (as the point of arrival). Hundreds of people die each year attempting the trip. Recently, the UK controversially withdrew funding from rescue missions. The argument insists that sending boats to aid migrants would encourage them to cross, and rescinding this help will be a deterrent. This is in the wake of the Lampedusa tragedy of 2013, when 366 migrants drowned after their boat capsized. The fact is that most attempts to make migration more difficult (i.e. building walls, not rescuing migrants) does not lower immigration numbers, but simply ensures that the migrants’ journeys become more dangerous. Migrants are more likely to seek out smugglers or become trafficking victims, for example, but most still attempt to migrate.

To learn more about the Lampedusa tragedy, read the following article. Warning: it’s quite a graphic account of what happened:


When I finish my degree, I want to work in an organization that addresses the reasons the immigration is set up as it is, in addition to providing assistance to migrants and refugees. I hope you can see why.

‘Hiya’ there from London!

This term, I decided to start a blog to keep my friends and family updated on my year abroad. Thanks to the Rotary Global Grant Scholarship, I’m living in London to do a graduate program in Migration, Mobility and Development at SOAS, University of London. My time here thus far has been full of adventures. I’ll try to do a quick review of the past term, and will hopefully be posting more often in the future about what I’m up to!

In review:

I’m living in a great flat near these totally lame, not-at-all-noteworthy landmarks:

Background: Tower Bridge, Foreground: Tower of London  Not a bad view, eh?

Background: Tower Bridge, Foreground: Tower of London
Not a bad view, eh?

I’m attending classes at this lovely university:


…I really need to get a better picture. But that’s me on my first visit to campus. That picture was taken in June. Yeah, it’s kinda cold here. Anyway, SOAS has a wonderful  migration program (ahem, programme). I’ll write more about my studies in another post!

I hosted many good friends who came to visit, and am becoming a pro-tour guide, if I do say so myself. Here’s one of my friend Alex and me in front of the Houses of Parliament and good ole Big Ben (did you know, this nickname really refers to the bell inside the tower, not just the tower itself?). Learnin’ so much in grad school.


And my friend Sarah and me nerdin’ it up in King’s Cross:

Nerdin' it Up in Kings Cross

Apart from exploring the UK, I also got to take side trips to Paris and Prague.

View from the sweet Airbnb  apartment in Paris

View from the sweet Airbnb apartment in Paris

Prague- Charles Bridge

Prague- Charles Bridge

I have also enjoyed spending time with my host club, the Rotary Club of Hatfield. I have gotten to join in on a few of their charity events. I had the most fun when I got to dress up in costume and talk to kids who were ridiculously excited about seeing Santa (ahem, Father Christmas)…

Being an elf at the Frost Fair. Re-thinking if my dignity is worth posting this. It is.

Being an elf at the Frost Fair in Hatfield, England. Re-thinking if my dignity is worth posting this. It is.

All in all, it was a great first term and I look forward to what the next will bring!