I had to get use to several minor differences between life in America and life in England.
For example, the faucets on the sinks have given me constant grief. In the U.S. the sinks have one faucet with two knobs, one for hot water and one for cold water. Turning them both on will allow water to flow through the faucet and the temperature can be easily adjusted by turning the faucets on an off.
However, in the U.K. the sinks have two separate faucets and each faucet has one knob. Turning on the faucet with the blue knob produced a stream of water that is within a tenth of a degree of becoming ice. Turning on the faucet with the red knob will produce a flow of water that will reduce your hands to scalded blisters in seconds. There’s no happy medium.
Thankfully, irksome sinks have only been a minor grievance. There are other small adjustments our Study Abroad group has had to make during our time here. We’ve had to remember not to call women “ma’am.” While it is a term of respect in the U.S., to women in England it means “really old woman.”Â We’ve had to remember to look to the right first before crossing the street, instead of looking to the left first.
The biggest adjustment I have had to make is the transition from tourist to resident.Â During our first few weeks in the country I proudly wore my DSLR camera around my neck everywhere I went.Â I got some great pictures, but I also got some strange looks.Â Apparently, wearing a giant camera around your neck is equivalent to walking around screaming, “I’m a tourist!”
I’ve had to constantly remind myself that I’m not just visiting Oxford; I’m living here.Â There’s nothing wrong with carrying a camera, taking pictures and buying souvenirs, but it’s important to remember that the best way to learn about a different country is to immerse yourself in their culture, not their tourist traps.
Our entire group took a trip to London last weekend.Â For many of us it was our first time to set our eyes on the city we’ve seen in movies like Harry Potter, Peter Pan, V for Vendetta, What a Girl Wants, Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, and Sherlock Holmes.Â However, we weren’t there to see Big Ben, Trafalgar Square or the London Eye. We made our way to those sights eventually, but we spent most of our day touring the boroughs (or neighborhoods) of London.Â Instead of focusing on the “tourist traps” and the areas that define the London we know from the movies, we spent hours in sections of the city most tourists wouldn’t know about.Â It was a great experience and our group was able to observe the city as more than just tourists.
The highlight of the day was when our group visited the British Library located in the borough of Camden. The Library houses many documents that are important to British history including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Jane Austin’s diary, the oldest New Testament manuscripts, Leonardo de Vinci’s notebook, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” Handel’s “Messiah,” works by Beethoven and Hayden, the Beatles’ hand written lyrics and letters from Shakespeare.
The Library also houses the Magna Carta, the first document that provided people with a voice in the government.Â While we were gazing at the 13th century document, it suddenly occurred to me we weren’t just looking at something from history; we were looking at history. Experiences like that one are what Study Abroad is all about.
In many ways, I feel myself embracing the English culture.Â I know when I return to the U.S. I’ll probably continue drinking tea on a daily basis.Â I’ll probably start saying “football” when I really mean “soccer.”Â This experience has already impacted my life and I can’t wait for the next adventure- but I’ll never take sinks with one faucet for granted again.