We often notice big differences between our own country and the country we travel or move to. We may see differences in everything that surrounds us – culture, nature, architecture. Sometimes, we have a positive attitude towards them, but sometimes – not so.
Two years ago I returned to the UK to finish my undergraduate degree in the city of Norwich. Actually, I returned from my exchange programme in another country and by that time all my friends and fellow students had graduated. My new classmates were mostly British. They had already formed their own groups and had their own sort of subculture. Unfortunately, coming from Russia, I had totally different interests and values. For example, I didn’t feel like spending time in pubs or nightclubs, I preferred winter sports to football, I was more used to saying honestly what I feel rather casually saying ‘I’m alright’ and to have deep and emotional one-to-one conversations rather than general and routine talks. I was also more used to different kinds of atmosphere in general. Because of these and many other differences, I found it extremely hard to adjust to the environment and to become a part of the British society. As a result, lack of personal communication made me feel very lonely and sometimes even depressed.
Having no friends, I had to spend most of my time on my own. After classes I had a lot of free time to do literally anything I wanted. But the problem was that the more I stayed in the UK, the more I felt like this was not my place and I couldn’t find anything that would make me feel happy. But I knew that I still had to spend several months in the UK and finish my degree, and I needed to cope with those issues. So, I decided to take advantage of being alone and to dedicate my time to exploring surroundings. As a photography lover, I brought my camera with me every time I went for a walk. I decided that I should have explored as many streets and areas as I could. And thanks to this decision, I discovered a completely different side of Norwich and the UK. Through photography, I started to pay attention to small details that I had never noticed before, while walking completely alone allowed me to fully focus on the appreciation of the surroundings. I explored every park and riverside, every cathedral and cosy street. I realised how wonderful they were, but also, how different they were from what I normally saw in my country! I realised that I wouldn’t be able to experience such a lovely atmosphere of an English town after I finish my degree and return to Russia, so I started truly appreciating it.
One of the things that really impressed me was some sort of harmony and synthesis. By this I mean that all the buildings in a street fit each other, and all the streets truly reflected the style and image of the city of Norwich. And all the nature inside and around the town added vibrant colours and made Norwich even more lively. And I cannot even describe in words how beautiful and harmonious the churches and cathedrals surrounded with trees and flowers looked in different seasons. To compare, governing bodies in Russia pay a lot of attention to bringing more trees and flowers to cities and towns, which I really appreciate, but because those plants are placed there on purpose, it doesn’t always give me that sense of harmony and naturality which I felt in the UK.
Another treasure was Norwich parks, which truly amazed me by how well and naturally they integrated nature with architecture. In Eaton Park, for example, you cannot imagine the pond in front of a majestic pavilion with seagulls and a heron that often come there to rest and communicate with visitors. Another beautiful park – Wensum Park – truly impressed me by its design: historical architecture, lovely bridges across the river, the Zodiac garden, a labyrinth and perfectly arranged trees and plants transformed the park from merely a recreational place into almost a piece of art. Parks in Norwich have long histories and you can feel it. A simple walk in such parks inevitably turns into an aesthetic experience and immersion into the history. And this is something that impressed me because I found it interesting and unusual for myself, something that was probably not so common for my country where many parks are more entertainment-oriented and are places where people come for fun rather than aesthetic appreciation.
Discovering a different and beautiful side of England made me reconsider my attitude towards it, to fall in love with it and to finally feel there like at home even though it was so different from my actual home. What also important was that I was so astonished and inspired by the beauty of English streets, cathedrals and parks that I couldn’t help but capture all those scenes. I wanted to take such photos that would convey that atmosphere and reflect the beauty, and this motivated me to learn more about photography and to improve my photography skills.
During those times, I learnt to pay attention to details, to discover new places and to appreciate differences. Indeed, each place will be different from our homes, but each place has something new and fascinating to offer to us. And discovering new places from inside might even help us to discover something new about ourselves and open up new talents and passions. It’s been almost a year since I left the UK, but I’m grateful that I got to capture all the beautiful places I found in Norwich. Luckily, I can come back to my archive photos anytime and experience that atmosphere again and again. I hope you can also feel and appreciate the atmosphere of the lovely town of Norwich through these photos!
Text and photo by Iana Saveleva