Following the Brexit vote, I came to the UK with a perception that the country is further withdrawing from the world stage, that it is an angry nation unwilling to share its enormous wealth with her European sisters let alone the world, a tiny island nation in denial, if not resentful, of the British Empire’s decline. Having come from Somaliland, Africa’s most easterly part, the English Language, the BBC and the English Premier League have been the only British effect on our lives there.
I feel exceedingly honored and profoundly privileged to be once again part of young world leaders team. But this time, it is the birth place of the English Language and the team is bigger with over 1,800 students from 143 countries on the Chevening Scholarship, UK’s most prestigious postgraduate scholarship for overseas students. In a recent meeting with all the scholars in a London hotel, the momentous occasion filled me with emotion of being with the most talented young world leaders in arguably the greatest city in the western world.
But many things have endlessly fascinated me ever since I arrived here of which the most notable are the following:
- ‘A country of Trust’
Whether it is due to the fear of the law enforcement or the culmination of a supreme expression of an orderly society, the level of trust in everyday life is by far the most striking thing that has intrigued me. You get into the bus or the train and nobody asks you to present your payment card. Sometimes you may show the card to a bus driver from a distance and he will let you in without ever checking the name on the card. You shop in a grocery store and you go to self-help counter and you pay it with your credit card and walk out of the store without ever talking to a person at the counter. It is something I struggle to wholly attribute it to CCTV cameras in operation. Whether it is an uncorrupt police or the wealth of the nation that has seeded the immense level of trust, it is centre of peoples’ lives here.
- The National Health Service (NHS)- A World Envy
The NHS in the UK is the world’s largest publicly funded health care system. The NHS and the BBC are the heart of the British identity. Despite being funded by the taxpayers’ money, it is largely free for all UK residents including foreign residents. Having shown up in various NHS clinics, I was surprised by the large number of people in the queues who did not speak English. But the most exciting thing about the NHS is that everybody has a General Practitioner (GP) in the UK. To ensure that everybody has GP, there must be a good doctor-general population ratio. Patients are treated well during consultation, and of course, I haven’t seen hospitals running out of medical supplies so far.
- A Heavily Invested Educational System and friendly academic environment
The enormous investment in the educational system especially the college education is palpable everywhere. Technology is heavily incorporated in the system. Lectures are recorded and if you miss the class you can still watch it online on the next day. Creativity is harnessed and the support system in place further aids students. This is a radical departure from the traditional lecture-centred teaching approach. And It is not a surprise that 3 out the top 10 and 18 out of the top 100 universities in the world are British and 1 out of 7 world leaders are UK university graduates. The academic staff are extremely helpful. The speed of communication between students and academic staff is superb. Having sent countless emails to various departments of the university, no email went unanswered so far.
- Efficient Transport System
While it is by no means comparable to America’s vast road network, the metro and city bus services are undoubtedly efficient and clean. A sound system continuously informs the current station and the next bus stop and the street name. On a train to London, I was dizzied by this gigantic metropolis. I was also spellbound when the train operator apologized for a two-minute delay to the destination.
- Small Businesses- Engine of British Economy
Being the world’s fourth largest economy and despite of its not-so-large geographical size and population, the UK, like most other western countries, is a consumer society. The number of small businesses is overwhelming. The retail chains like Supermarkets, cafeterias, gift shops, clothes stores, drug stores are almost everywhere. Small businesses are generally crucial for employment creation and it is not surprising that the UK’s relatively low unemployment rate and is still a magnet and dream country for job seeking migrants from the world over.
- Generous Welfare System
While the UK is not the most generous welfare state in Europe, yet it has undoubtedly one of the world’s biggest social assistance schemes including housing and family benefits as well as unemployment assistance. Government-paid day care services and social benefits for ill and infirm people are very common in the country. The social workforce is huge.
- Superb Organizational Skills
I put this as the last point because it is not only a British phenomenon, but it is a behavior, if not a habit, that I observed in most western countries. From a small Sunday class event to organizing a presidential summit, they take the logistical arrangements very seriously. The event is usually declared many months in advance and along the time leading up to the event, you are constantly updated. Time and resources are put into it and the event is finally or at least most of the time successful and well-organized. This is a sharp contrast in most third world countries where events are arranged in short notice and mostly end up chaotic and poorly managed. And if there is anything I want to learn from the western culture, it is this trait. I have always had a great admiration for smart people and smartly organized events.
As I become more steeped into Bristol’s academic life and brace for my first notorious winter in snow in a far-off island, I hope that I will still be fired up past the blizzard.
Hamse Ismail Abdilahi is clinician-turned-writer and human rights activist from Hargeisa, Somaliland. He is a columnist and contributor to various newspapers and journals. Ismail is a Chevening Scholar at the School of Policy Studies, University of Bristol, United Kingdom. He is also a former Mandela Washington Fellow at the University of Delaware, United States. Abdilahi’s notable fiction works include Mediterranean Bird and Dove in the Horn.