Week 1: Yes, England is a Foreign Country

Katie Garrett University College London, England


September 26, 2014

Last week, I arrived in London. My nerves skyrocketed as the plane descended and I noticed the cars seemed to be driving backward. I met up with Arcadia at the airport, meeting new friends immediately and traveling into London on a Coach bus. The first couple days, we drank lots of coffee to conquer jetlag, went out to dinner, received instruction from both Arcadia and UCL about academics and life in London, went on a walking tour of London, and saw the show “39 Steps.” At this point, I am in the “honeymoon” stage of culture shock, where this new place is exciting and energizing.

While many are supportive of my decision to spend a semester in London, many others respond with, “Why are you traveling to an English-speaking country that is basically America?” Ignoring the absurdity of this statement, I have experienced culture shock in my first week here.

For the first time in my life, I have a foreign American accent. I need to look a different direction when crossing the street (luckily they have helpful hints such as “look right” painted on the street). There are numerous new phrases and words, as they call a “Panini” a “Toastie” and ask if you would like your food to “take away” rather than “to go.” After a few days I finally became comfortable with using coins (as trivial as that may seem), and learned that I cannot order just “one coffee,” that I have to be more specific, such as “filter coffee.”

Each day I learn something new, and while these encounters are not frustrating they are a reminder that I am somewhere new. Even at UCL, the registration process and time spent in class is different than that in America, and the best thing I can do is approach everything with an open mind, accepting new methods and approaches without discounting my prior knowledge.

If you’re bored in London, you aren’t doing it right. Many museums do not require tickets but instead request donations. You can ride on the upper level of a bus and see the major parts of London for just a few pounds. I’ve seen a lot in my first week here, and I’ve found that each time I cross something off of my London bucket list, I learn something new and add two more.