Abroad journal: musings from a London freshman
Published: Friday, April 2, 2010
Updated: Thursday, January 13, 2011 07:01
I would argue that once one goes abroad, there is no way that he or she can ever truly come back. As soon as my abroad experience began, I was forced to recognize that my life would never be the same.
The most difficult immediate transitions were the time change and the food. The British are known for their cuisine - and not in a good way. But, to be honest, it wasn't as bad as people say. The problem with British food is the blandness - most of the food lacks flavor and variety, which is probably why it has such a bad reputation.
However, if not for London and its bland cuisine, I would have never tried Indian food. Indian food has basically become the national cuisine of London. There is a very visible population of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi citizens in London, and the influence makes dining in the city an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.
Though the food was easy to get used to, not every transition was simple. One phrase heard constantly during the London semester was "culture shock." I understand culture shock to mean that the new place you are in is an environment so different from your normal one that it freaks you out.
One of the most difficult aspects of the London culture shock was transportation. The language of the London commute can only be learned through experience. There is close to no conversation between passengers; the only sound heard is the roar of the engine, the computerized announcements and the occasional loud iPod headphones. The silence could be deafening, but it got easier as time went on.
In the long term, getting acclimated was actually much harder. One thing all London freshmen eventually had to realize was that we were studying in London - it was not just a school-sponsored vacation. Although I had visited London before, I was merely a tourist on a week-long adventure. The thought of being a citizen anywhere other than my hometown was incredibly foreign to me. However, the 30 of us had to learn how to be residents of London, and not just visitors.
Although we really did want to experience all that we could in our very short three month stay, it was nearly impossible as full-time students. It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I needed to sleep in some weekends instead of going out and experiencing the city. When it all came down to it, my academics had to take precedent over my cultural immersion.
Educationally, we were truly enriched by the amount we learned on site. In one class, we learned about the history of ethnicity in Britain. In the classroom, we learned about how ethnicity has influenced British politics, culture and society. However, as an added bonus, we took several field trips to different ethnic neighborhoods in London. These field trips were another incredible highlight of the trip.
There were so many mandatory field trips during the semester that we were almost forced to discover London. I remember the day we visited Stonehenge. It was a rainy Friday, and I remember thinking it was ridiculous for the faculty to expect us to go to Stonehenge during our weekend, especially given the inclement weather. Even though a hailstorm ensued, and I was under-dressed and exhausted, the bonding experience was priceless. I remember us all taking awkward pictures of each other struggling to pose in front of that famous monument. That was definitely the most fun I had, and will ever have, in a hailstorm.
After three months abroad, coming home took almost as much adjustment as the first few weeks in London did. I felt like we were very suddenly ripped out of London, even though the last day seemed to be looming for weeks. Though I had been homesick, and I knew it was time to leave, I couldn't help but think my life would never be the same.
Coming to Skidmore was difficult at first. There was so much pressure to branch out and, at the same time, there was pressure for the London freshmen to stick together. However, I have taken it day by day and, as the months have passed, I've grown to love Skidmore.
Whenever I see my London friends in the Dining Hall, or when we hang out in my room and talk about our days, and weeks and lives, they are casual reminders of how proud I am to have taken a leap of faith by sending myself out of the country for my first semester of college.