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Finding my feet

I was recently commissioned by the Camden Council in London to respond to Sarat Maharaj's text "Pidginy Linguish" for Camden Kalā, as part of the UK-India Year of Culture. Below is an excerpt from the resulting essay, which was a reflection on walking, anthropology, and my time as a student in London.
Highgate Cemetery, London, 2012

Migrants are not churned out uniformly: they have varying status, staying power and agency determined by the legal machinery that processes them. How they are tagged makes this apparent: exile, émigré, expatriate, refugee, asylum seeker, detainee, deportee, alien, other, illegal, clandestini, sans papiers, removees, non-subject, non-citizen, job snatcher, benefits-tourist and equivalents [...] 
 - Sarat Maharaj (2003) 

And then the category that described my own experience, but doesn’t quite fit any of the above: the international student. The non-EU international student, to be specific, whose status once the post-study work visa was discontinued in 2011-12, became more of a temporary visitation. In September 2011, when I enrolled at SOAS University of London for a Master’s degree in anthropology, such students required a Tier 4 visa characterised by restrictions of validity (four months after the completion of the course) and financial status (eligible to work 20 hours during the term, full-time during vacations, no recourse to public funds at any point). 

The international student is an interesting case that defies existing discourses on migration: a state of heightened experience crammed into a short period of time; partial living with one leg in while constantly thinking about the “after”. The international student is situated within the bubble of certain kinds of interaction, and lives a somewhat diluted experience of being a citizen aided by discounts and protection that cease to exist once their purpose is fulfilled and the student status is terminated. International students are not quite (yet) job-snatchers; people aren’t sure if they’re here to stay, they pump more money into the economy and it’s kind of flattering for institutions to be in demand halfway across the world. 

According to my journal entry on the day of my arrival in London, it looked “much like an Indian city except for some of the buildings”, though “the sky was different, all blue and criss-crossed”. It was only my third time outside India, and the first outside my continent, yet that early impression to me now seems unfathomable. But though differences soon began to reveal themselves, I fit right in, having all but skipped the infamous “culture shock”. Gradually London and I began to know each other, but it was like a forbidden love: wonderful and heady while it lasts, but in the end you have to go home.

Read the complete article here.