The route home was a highlight of my summer job. I love the noise of cities, but Central London during rush hour is a specific kind of organized chaos that I miss while at Smith. I was working for the British government, and was a stone’s throw away from the heart of Westminster. At 5:30 pm I would pass the Abbey, where there was always a constant queue outside, rain or shine. I would turn left and head towards Westminster, a scattering of familiar landmarks in the background. Taking this route every day, I would look up as I walked towards the train station, craning my neck and weaving through the crowd, before descending onto the platform.
The day this photo was taken, I had a slightly different routine. The persistent summer rain was heavier than usual. Huddled under my umbrella, I wasn’t able to look skywards at my normal view. I stood by the side of the road, waiting for the traffic light to change, when a sticker in my line vision caught my eye. London is covered with weird and wonderful stickers—some political, some not—especially in such close proximity to Parliament. This one stood out more than the others; its colors and its positioning were relevant to the divisive turn British politics had taken.
The one-year anniversary of the Brexit vote occurred around this time. The growing uncertainty over the reality of leaving the European Union had resulted in camps of ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ becoming more vocal and more divided. People were frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations, with the constant barrage of press coverage, and with the politicians still talking in hypotheticals. When we embarked, no one knew what the Brexit process would look like, and one year later, we’d still had no clarification. My job for the Department for Work and Pensions was impacted by this political gridlock—although pension policies and social benefit systems are not the first things that come to mind when thinking about Brexit, I was quickly learning that leaving the EU would affect every aspect of society.
A year later, and the referendum was still splitting opinion; still generating anger; still providing a platform for not-so-fringe extremist groups. I keep myself updated with UK news when I’m at Smith, and I take an interest in following Brexit developments, yet the omnipresent cloud hanging over London upon my return from the U.S. that summer was an adjustment that I hadn’t expected. Placed at eye-level, this sticker offered a pithy retort to the divisive rhetoric to which I wish I hadn’t grown accustomed, and it made me smile. So, I took a picture, the traffic light changed, and I carried on with my journey home.
Helena ’18 is an international student from West London, UK. A Government major and History minor, she studied abroad during her Junior year in Geneva, and she hopes to continue to live and work abroad after Smith.