By Saidat Giwa-Osagie
The most intriguing question asked at the LSE is not an elusive economic conundrum, nor is it the crux of a mid-week Philosophy lecture. It is a question asked and answered by both students and staff: the ultimate post-admissions inquiry. A quasi-rite-of-passage, embedded within the psyche of the School.
‘Where are you from?’
Four simple words. Seemingly mundane in the context of the London cosmopolis. After all, it should be unsurprising that there are a diverse range of individuals living and studying in a global capital. This is expected, but the question is not just about excitedly pinpointing far-flung geographic locations or marvelling at the multiple citizenships of various individuals. It is about exploring the most complex of issues with the most simple of questions. It is, as the School motto suggests, rerum cognoscere causas. In seeking ‘to know the causes of things,’ we must first acknowledge the place of our prior footsteps that have led us into the present. We must be cognizant of where we are from.
At the LSE, our origin stories are connecting nodes, linking the cultural and social to the academic. In a university dedicated to the research and study of the social sciences, this meta-experience makes learning here even more enriching. This is where the world meets. Cast from different moulds, yet we have all arrived at the same destination. Ten thousand assorted narratives, intersecting momentarily on one page.
In many ways, the LSE is a microcosm of the world as it exists and as it will in future. Our academic pursuits hint at multidisciplinary approaches, encouraging intellectual exchange. Debates and discussions both in and outside of the classroom transcend cultural boundaries, inviting multiple perspectives. For some, technological advances have diluted the excitement of this type of participation. We are the generation of this ‘typical’ exchange, and it can be taken for granted, but at the School it is actively embraced. As we continue to refine our viewpoints one thing remains clear – there is rarely a straightforward answer to the questions we are asking.
It is in those moments of realisation that we are reminded of where we are from. Whether our responses range from one country or include a seven-minute backstory spanning three continents and twelve countries, we are reminded that there is much more beneath the surface. As London has taught, it is one thing to plan a smooth route using the tube map above ground. It is quite another to find your way underground amidst Piccadilly line repairs and through a throng of bustling commuters. Exploring these complexities causes us to reflect on our perceptions, and why we think the way we do. This cannot be done alone. It involves reaching out to those around us, discovering where our commonalities and divergences lie.
These experiences as LSE students are inextricably tied to the heartbeat of London. We are students, yes, but we are also Londoners. Outside of the School, we assimilate into the daily lives of eight million inhabitants. Whether we visit a gallery with hundreds of people, or indulge in some small-talk with the kiosk owner as we purchase a lunch-time sandwich, these experiences share one thing in common: they build on the foundation of our origin, causing us to learn not just academically but as part of a wider human experience.
So although we are many and while we are different, for these moments spent at the LSE and in London, we are also one. The lecture room may erupt with a Greek chorus of laughter on one side, and Mandarin conversation on the other, but we are in this together. It is why we share the collective groan when the announcer explains there will be delays affecting Holborn’s Central line. It is why we are excited to share our newest discovery of a delightful new coffee shop with our fellow course-mates. Greatest of all, it is why we are compelled to thrive and embrace in this experience.
For most students, the LSE marks a brief period of life, in which we arrive from where we are from, but leave with an intangibly changed perspective. It forms part of an identity that reaches forward into the possibility of tomorrow, shaping the world. Even more, it acknowledges the diversity of the human experience and fosters bonds where none existed prior. As I wrote above, in seeking ‘to know the causes of things’ we must acknowledge the place of our prior footsteps that have led us into the present. We can stand in that special place of interconnections, with the knowledge that answering the question ‘Where are you from?’ reveals far more than might originally be imagined.