Five Things I’ve Learned from Traveling Abroad by Colette Whitney

Colette Whitney is a student at Ohio University. She is currently studying in London, England at the University of Westminster.

Since I’ve been in London, immersing myself in foreign cultures has been my daily goal. While I have obviously spent most of my time perusing London blocks, I have managed to get out of the city and see what else Europe has to offer. In the past two months, I have visited Ireland, Wales, Hungary, and other parts of England. It’s a learning experience everywhere and so far, I’ve learned a few things.

1. I am pretty behind in the whole “learn a second language” thing. Almost everyone I have encountered speaks at least two languages. In Ireland, they speak English and Gaelic. In Wales, English and Welsh. In Hungary, English and Hungarian (and many others, actually). Even people I’ve met who are from England are fluent in at least one other language. Most people know French, but many also speak German. This is one thing about the American educational system that I wish was different. I wish we all had comprehensive language instruction from a really early age, that was mandatory to continue. I mean, I really wish I was fluent in another language. So far, I’ve learned that it is kind of true that most people speak at least a little English, but that shouldn’t be an excuse!

2. I have really bad fashion sense. I swear, the women here wake up looking fabulous. It seems like every English woman that I see is done up with Victoria’s Secret model hair, perfectly foundation-ed skin and a flawless pout. They pop on their high heels and strut down Oxford Street like it’s their own personal runway. My jeans and pea coat pale in comparison, to say the least.

3. Spending money is all too easy. At OU, I’m mostly just spending my money on laundry and junk food. But in London, there’s so much more to buy. Every week I have to shell out 40 pounds for the tube. And then there’s the mandatory coffee every morning. And I have to buy dinner because I don’t have a meal plan. And, hello, my campus is situated on the biggest high street in London, so obviously I am going to shop more than I should. It’s really a test of willpower to avoid the shops and the takeaways in favor of the grocery store. I am not good at it!

4. In London, if you walk around with a scowl, people will trust you. It’s the weirdest thing. Every now and then, you just have a bad day and your shining personality has a hard time appearing on your visage. This is when people (Londoners and tourists alike) will approach you. I swear, every time I have a bad day, I get at least four people asking me for directions. It instantly cheers me up to think that I have successfully pulled off the “London Look”, but at the same time, what does that say about Londoners? I’m not totally sure.

5. And lastly, I have learned that I don’t really know much at all. Traveling is one of the best ways to become a worldly person. And that’s my goal, to gain a better understanding of the world. But when I travel, I am reminded about how much I don’t know. It’s astounding. I think of myself as a relatively smart person, I like to read and I like going to school, but there’s nothing like actually experiencing something instead of reading about it. And in the process of that experiencing, I am keenly aware about my own smallness in the world. It’s humbling and scary to realize that I know so little. But it’s also exciting to understand that there is a whole world of people and things and places that I still have yet to learn. Something to dream about, I guess.

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