London welcomed the world as scholars from 141 countries and territories arrived at the ExCeL centre to begin an exciting year studying in the UK on Saturday, 12 October.
When parallels meet
If you’ve watched the 1979 satirical British comedy, ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’, you will no doubt remember the scene in which Brian exclaims to a large audience, ‘You are all individuals’, and to which they respond (in unison), ‘Yes, we’re all individuals’.
In 1979, it was probably easier to make a statement such as this and think it absolute but it is now 2019, the internet has connected us beyond all measure, and this year Chevening has connected 1,750 scholars from around the globe even further.
Looking at our incoming scholars, I noticed several distinct patterns and parallels start to form. Some were as simple as scholars from entirely different parts of the world who shared a name and some were slightly more complex. So, I decided to bring these scholars together to meet me and their parallels at Orientation on 12 October 2019. What I didn’t do however, was tell them what why they were meeting me.
Let’s explore, and end some of these parallels together.
My unique name. But, is it?
‘What did you say your name was?’ said Ada, when Ada introduced herself.
Standing nearby, ‘I thought I was the only one!’ said Ada to Ada and Ada. They were all just as excited as she.
Pictured above, we have Ada from India, Ada from Rwanda, and Ada from Brazil.
‘Wait, you’re Florian too? I’m Florian!’ said Florian from Haiti to Florian from the Philippines (pictured below). They bonded instantly and shared how they had gotten their names.
Many scholars in our class of 2019 share the same names (hello to the 15 Mohammed’s and 12 Ana’s), but only a few shared the same unique names and happened to be from differing countries.
Same course, different university
If you consider that Chevening’s class of 2019 is made up of 1,750 scholars studying at 117 different universities, the chances of meeting another Chevener studying the same course as you may seem small – especially if that course is something that was already considered niche.
When Shahram from Iraq met Minette from Australia, they were both taken aback. ‘You study Genomic Medicine too? Where?!’ asked Shahram who is studying at Imperial College London. Minette responded, ‘University of Oxford’, and they discussed their shared interest.
Wael from Iraq met me early and waited patiently as other parallels were starting to emerge. He was excited to find out his parallel and to meet the people who shared whatever it may be. Luckily, he didn’t have to wait too long as Braulio from Ecuador and Anton from the Ukraine joined us shortly after and revealed that they too are studying Artificial Intelligence! They continued on to share stories of the various ways their courses were being taught at their three separate universities.
Hats bring us together
Different cultures protect themselves from the sun in different ways. At Orientation, I saw three distinct hat styles that are worn by rural communities in their respective countries. A sombrero de charro from Mexico, a bolga hat from Ghana, and a traditional fedora from Colombia.
Sometimes, hats are a part of a nation or culture’s identity for more reasons than sun protection, and that too can create great parallels between cultures. Some of these are pictured above (L-R): Zafer from Uzbekistan, Muhammad from Malaysia, Giang from Vietnam, Lawrence from Nigeria, and Atanazar from Turkmenistan.
The earth and the moon
Just as the earth and the moon are tied in the universe, my last challenge was to pair the earth and the moon at Chevening’s Orientation 2019. And I managed to do just that with a little help from Botswana and Belize.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked one scholar. ‘Earth’ she said, and I proceeded to ask the other scholar, ‘and, what’s your full name?’, ‘Chedza Moon… ah, we are the earth and the moon!’ she exclaimed, finding it interesting that she was able to meet someone with just as unique a name as her own.
The biggest parallel ended by Chevening
Of course, the biggest parallel ended (figuratively speaking) by Chevening each year is the programme itself. Since 1983, it has brought together over 50,000 individuals who may have never gotten the chance to meet otherwise.
It is also clear that the crowd in Monty Python’s Life of Brian were right, we are all individuals. As a collective, together.
Thank you to all of the scholars who met me throughout the day at Orientation to help illustrate that a simple conversation with a stranger can reveal that we all might have more in common than first meets the eye.
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