For my first post, I have chosen to focus on the journey across the Atlantic to an unfamiliar culture. Upon first arrival I remarked, “this hardly even feels like I am in a different country, other than the time change from home.” While this remains true, I have found small but significant differences that have reminded me that I am some 4000 miles from home.
For one, the small language barrier (slang here is different, common terms are recognized by different words, and sometimes accents are hard to recognize) has been a challenge that I have had to get used to. Secondly, watching my classmates who have mainly lived in small Iowa towns their whole lives navigate a large city is amusing to me. Coming form a well traveled, cultured upbringing I took the transition to a different country with little trepidation, knowing that I had the skills (or would gain the needed skills) to be able to live successfully on my own in a foreign country.
I compare my experience to one of my friends who came here from a very sheltered environment where she had not been exposed to a variety of differences in experience, cuisine, or other cultural staple. I have noted that the transition to the United Kingdom has been more abrupt, startling, and intimidating for her than myself. In all, I give my strong cultural upbringing credit for easing my transition to London. Getting off the plane I was not as much scared, but more excited for the adventure ahead.
My past experiences traveling abroad with my family and on class trips have given me confidence in my own ability to handle myself in otherwise unfamiliar situations.For example, in South Africa I was a part of a group of eighteen middle class, Caucasian American high school students. I am sure these facts influenced my expewrince their as a result of past misconceptions, understanding of history (from a caucasian perspective), and having the purpose – like here in London – to be traveling abroad for an educational experience. On the other hand, while in Switzerland on vacation with my family in early middle school my experience was quite different for a variety of reasons. First, I was too young to greatly appreciate many of the cultural experiences I was taking apart in. However, I do fondly remember spending the night at the base of the madderhon in a tiny hotel. This brings me back to my philosophy on international travel over all, which is similar to that of the Direct of the program, “the smallest, seaminly most insignificant events that involve some level of emotion – weather it be anxiety, fear, excitement, or elation – tend to end up being the most memorable stories that I remembered far into the future.”
In comparison to my past international travel experiences, London is nothing out of the ordinary for me. In fact, looking back on it now, I feel like South Africa and certain parts of Switzerland were more of a culture shock for me as a young person traveling internationally than London is for me now that I am older and more self – aware of my own abilities, beliefs, and cultural understanding of the world around me and my individual contribution to it.
Secondly, navigating the city has proven somewhat of a challenge due to the fact that street signs are not on the corners, but instead on the sides of buildings. However, the Transportation for London website has proven inextensible when it comes to planning ans executing new travel routes around the city. Past experiences have thought me the value of advanced planning when public transportation is involved. This skill has proven very useful in a new city.
Finally, I have now become one of the Londers who only knows how to get to the places I frequent and hardly anywhere else. I have found that I have to look up directions to any new location or allow myself to give other directions because I have only memorized my specific routes to work, classes, and the grocery store. However, people assume I know my way around due to the confidence I show when using public transit and navigating to my specific destinations. It amuses me and makes me feel accomplished that I have assimilated when tourists or others ask me, someone who needs directions themselves, for directions.
According to the director of the program, the BES class is “Designed to allow you to examine and discuss your life in London and British culture” and “Stimulate your reflection on personal experiences, and complementary topics and areas covered in other cultures.” Through “Structure and formula to analyze personal change through study abroad program and weekly discussions in a classroom setting.”
All in all, the initial thoughts I have on London have been brief, but there will be more to come illustrating my adventured through Central College Abroad. Having my first British Experience Seminar (BES) last week I was reminded of why I am here, to learn about a new culture in a constructive way that allows me to view my experiences in an objective away where I can come away from my experiences with tangible evidence of the learning that has taken place during my time abroad.