Caitlyn Jordan, a senior English major double-minoring in human rights and creative writing, won the 2019 Art of Writing essay contest.
Jordan works on campus as a peer writing tutor, contributes to the student publication Caliber, and teaches health education to local high school students. Jordan’s prize-winning essay, which integrates historical and personal narratives, was sparked by a semester studying abroad in London during her junior year.
The following is an excerpt from Jordan’s essay, “Bridging the Gap”:
In 1942, despite delayed construction, uncertainty, and the largest war faced by London, a new bridge opens from the rubble of Strand Bridge. It is a precarious structure — beams have been forced into arches; the footway is supported by slabs of metal. Beneath it, the River Thames, the longest river in England, runs dangerously quickly. Yet, from the bridge, travelers can see London in all directions, can watch the way the river curves endlessly around the city. The new bridge is named after the victorious Battle of Waterloo, the battle in which the British ended the Napoleonic Wars. A few years later, it becomes the only Thames bridge to be hit by German bombers. Waterloo Bridge — fashioned from war, made into a casualty of its violence.
Four days of the week, I walk across Waterloo Bridge to reach the central campus of King’s College London. This is a newly familiar route. According to my passport, I am a six-month, short-term student. That is, I am a study abroad student. I am a visitor who can give directions to tourists. Every time I reenter the UK, I lug a folder to the passport control desk, checking to ensure it’s all printed inside: transcripts, letters of acceptance, bank statements, everything that proves I am only temporary.
No one makes eye contact on the bridge, reminding me of our British study abroad advisor’s warning: “For Heaven’s sake, don’t smile at strangers!” Unable to completely relinquish my American interest in interacting with strangers, I watch them instead: new couples taking photos, businesspeople walking with earphones fastened tightly, the occasional person wrapped in blankets who asks me for money.
There are so many people in London, and I know none of them. None of my friends from Berkeley studied abroad. I know no one in this country, and no one in the countries touching this one. Living abroad, everything becomes reduced to increments: carefully plotted phone calls between classes, work shifts, and meetings; hour-long coffee chats with people seen only in passing. I wonder if this is how it will be after college, when my friends and I scatter across the world. I wonder if this is what being an adult is— loving people who are never close enough.
One day, I walk across Waterloo, and everything has changed. There are police vehicles clustered around the barriers; there are uniformed officers in bowler hats I still find charmingly ridiculous. There are no busses, no cars. I continue, and as I reach the middle of the bridge, I see that Waterloo is blocked with people. There are trees tied to the divider.
There is a parked truck, opened to reveal a band strumming on the guitar. On one side of the bridge, I see a daycare in which children paint each other’s faces and sit on bales of hay. It’s an environmental protest, the Extinction Rebellion, and soon it will dominate headlines. But in this moment, I just see a bridge transformed.
Read Jordan’s essay in its entirety at [PDF LINK].