Although it has been three weeks since I first began attending classes in London, I would have to admit that the better part of my study abroad education has taken place outside the classroom. Despite the four courses that I regularly attend, and various papers, speeches, and quizzes that I am expected to prepare for, much of what I have learned thus far has been acquired on my own time and not in a conventional academic setting. At orientation I was told by my professors and instructors that the university at which I attend strongly emphasizes individual learning, which in my opinion, is a great reflection of what an abroad education should be and the manner in which one should study in a foreign country. I have been observing more about my surroundings throughout my day-to-day ventures than even my Cross-Cultural Relations class could teach me.
I have been abroad a relatively short time and yet I can already sense a shift in the lens through which I view things. I have developed a much greater curiosity for novel situations, rather than the apprehension I may have previously felt toward unfamiliarity. I have also begun to show a greater acceptance of cultural differences and patience for impeding barriers. And most importantly, I no longer look at other cultural mannerisms as different and strange, but see them in the context of their environment.
What has helped me most to broaden my perspective has been my weekend travels. So far, I have visited Florence, Dublin, and Rome with a group of friends from my program. Each time, the trips were entirely researched, booked, and planned by us. Sure, we encountered some unexpected challenges along the way. In Florence, my friend had her wallet pick-pocketed before we even made it out of the train station. In Dublin, our hostel was anything but hospitable. In Rome, the language barrier was at times so strong that finding our way around the city posed to be an issue. Luckily, we began to learn that in foreign situations we simply shouldn’t let the little things discourage our visit. Everything was strange and new to us, but in order to get the most out of our time there we just kept on moving forward past any cultural hurdles.
I think my most important lesson was learned this past weekend in Rome, where I realized the true meaning of the quote “When in Rome.” From my experience, I firmly believe that a visitor should always try to behave in the style of the culture they are visiting. The most authentic way to explore any place is by engaging in its customary way of life. What has made for such a flavorful experience on these trips has been my ability to immerse myself in new surroundings, rather than trying to seek out the familiarities I am used to. For instance, I have found it to be much more fun eating at little hole-in-the-wall restaurants experimenting with the local cuisine, rather than searching the menu for something I would normally get at home. It’s intriguing to take the local modes of public transportation and observe people during their daily routines. It’s also quite an experience to explore the nightclubs and local shops, especially to observe the different behaviors of other cultures. Communications should also be attempted, even if it only includes simple words such as “grazie” (“thank you” in Italian.) You would be surprised, but the simplest attempts at assimilation can help provide much insight into the culture with which you are interacting.
Although London is not as exotic as the places I have been touring, I still have much to learn about the British lifestyle and plan to take away from my traveling observations that will help me further adjust to life here. By going to local pubs, conversing with the locals, and exploring the local markets and art galleries, I am beginning to recognize first-hand the daily routines followed by most Londoners. Although I do not plan to completely mimic these folkways, I do intend to follow a similar guide to living my life here. As I stated in my previous post, I am still me no matter where I am. Although I may be influenced by London fashion, develop a likening for “the local grub,” or socialize in the manner they do, it will not change me. It will only help to broaden my perspective on life by giving me the opportunity to play a part within a completely different walk of life. After all, I will return to the “normalcy” of America I am accustomed to, but I will only be on this trip once. So I might as well start living like the Romans do, or in my case, the British.