Philosophy Major Looks Back on Year in England
Nov. 2, 2009 marked the anniversary of Barack Obama's election into office as the first African American president in United States history.
Looking back, this was a monumental day in Justin Bynum's life – but not for all the same reasons as other Americans. His experience was one he will never have again – and one he will never forget. If it were ordinary circumstances for the B-CU student, he would have been in Daytona Beach. Instead, he was celebrating in the streets with America's friends in the United Kingdom.
"When Obama won, people were celebrating everywhere," Bynum said. "Pubs were full of people cheering, welcoming this new change for our country."
These people he refers to were celebrating not for themselves but for their allies on the other side of the ocean. Bynum was in England at the time, attending Cambridge University as a Luard Scholar. He spent nine months of his junior year there on full scholarship and found himself fully immersed in English education and culture while living among students from all over the world.
Upon arrival in England, his experience was overwhelming, to say the least. Comparing the pace of Cambridge to that of an American city like New York, Bynum felt quite a change from the low-key Daytona Beach lifestyle he had become accustomed to on the B-CU campus. Luckily, he wasn't completely unfamiliar with the feeling – he had started fresh once before when he arrived in Daytona from Dallas for his freshman year.
"It was the same thing, really. I came to Cookman and didn't know anyone. Once I met people [in England], the experience became easier and Cookman was the same thing to me," he said. "Now, I would tell people, don’t be afraid to travel. It shows you how small the world really is and how much we really are connected to people. These are people across the world, liking and doing the same things as me. It was like I was developing a new family."
Academically, life was very different from home. Bynum felt a new level of independence while studying abroad, and he was hit hard by the reality of being an entire ocean away from the B-CU campus family he had grown to love and who had supported him through his first two years in college. At Cambridge, he was expected to work less with a family and more on his own. It was an environment he eventually came to welcome once he adjusted.
"I enjoyed the freedom that you get there – they tell you information but it's up to you to use it to your advantage," he said. "The coursework was much more difficult than anything I've ever done in America, in part because it's such an independent study-based system, and they require you to take control of your learning. There's no one pushing you."
As a philosophy major, Bynum took courses in logic, metaphysics, and political philosophy. However, he holds his cultural experiences as the most valuable of all.
"I learned a lot in class, but I learned even more outside the classroom. There were so many different ideas and perspectives, which allowed me to see things in a way I didn't see before I got there," he said. "I got to see their ideas were different from my ideas, which allowed me to shape new ones."
Bynum was granted many unique opportunities as an American student in England. He had the opportunity to travel to London – just an hour away. While there, he visited families of his classmates, many of whom were from Caribbean islands and who welcomed him and provided him with home-cooked meals. He was also part of the rugby team – until he broke his ankle – and he was active in the African Caribbean Society on campus.
"It was an amazing scholarship," Bynum notes about the Luard Scholarship which is provided by the English Speaking Union to one student each year from the UNCF U.S. HBCUs as well as Howard and Hampton Universities. "It's to spread diversity and collaboration through English, and I would recommend anyone do some research on it and see if it's a good fit."
Settling into his routine on campus in his final year at B-CU, Bynum has had the chance to reflect. He finds himself most grateful for two simple things now that he is back at home. The first is access to American food. The second? He's glad to have the technology to keep in touch with all his new friends.
"Thank God for Facebook," he said with a smile. "You don't have any ideas that you'll make such good friends – I met some lifelong friends. I didn't expect to care about these people this way, but I really care a lot. I met people who helped to change my life, helped mold my thoughts and endeared them to my heart. It's amazing how an experience like this has broadened my network – I can call Australia, England, Spain and talk with friends."
Bynum, who is in many ways glad to be home, is already planning his return to England. He is hoping to make it back to visit during his Christmas break in December and maybe call it home someday.
"I appreciate that I'm back and I appreciate Cookman because Cookman allowed me go there," he said. "I hope to go back there and… maybe one day I'll move there."
About Bethune Cookman University:
Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement. B-CU offers more than 40 degrees on its main campus and online college. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of more than 4,000. For more information, visit www.cookman.edu.