Though I’ve only been in London for a couple months, I feel like I’m already starting to assimilate into and identify with the culture here. Concepts that used to be foreign to me, like using the bus system, are now much more familiar and less scary than they used to be. The greatest change so far has been how my perspective on the United States has broadened due to my study abroad experience.
People in the rest of the world aren’t necessarily great fans of the United States, and the British aren’t shy to vocalize their opinions about our government. It’s been interesting to learn about their American stereotypes and what has shaped them. For example, I’ve had many English students ask me if I own a gun. It’s illegal to carry weapons in the U.K., and the crime rate is much lower here. It makes me wonder if the U.S. would be safer with stronger gun regulations.
After a couple months, I can better understand how the British view Americans, especially study abroad students.
I mean, I’ve been surrounded by the stereotype while I’ve been abroad: American students are thought of as rich and spoiled university students who talk with annoying, unsophisticated American accents and are oblivious to the politics of the world around them. On a few occasions I’ve gone on group trips through my study abroad provider, where my peers were fellow American study abroad students. Most of them fit the stereotype. Now note that the stereotype I described is exaggerated, but so many study abroad students I run into are indeed immature individuals who prefer partying hard to studying and experiencing the culture around them. I hope that the study abroad experience helps them to open their eyes to the world a bit, instead of staying in the American college bubble of riches and privilege.
Of course, not all American study abroad students act this way; I have plenty of friends who are mature, love to travel, and want to immerse themselves in the culture and their studies. However, because studying abroad is so expensive, it’s inevitable that the majority of Americans here are rich students who perpetuate (or fit) the stereotype. I’m always careful when meeting new individuals to tone down my “American-ness”. I don’t want to be judged by the country I’m from, but by who I am. I am American, but America doesn’t fully define me.
I also better understand the British stereotypes. According to common stereotypes, the British are emotionally reserved, have dry humor, get annoyed easily, and speak their minds. This is true to an extent. Social rules feel much stricter here. For example, you feel like everyone’s staring at you or thinking in their head “Be quiet!” if you chat loudly on the Tube (Underground Train).
I’ve even started adopting a Londoner mindset. I get annoyed at people who meander through the tube station, blocking the pathway for those of us that are rushing to our next meeting. Londoners expect everyone to be an expert, and look down upon those that hold up the flow or are tourists, but not in an outward way. In no way are Londoners unfriendly to tourists or rude to them; instead they just sink into their own focused mindset while going about the city, and get annoyed at any obstacles along the way. They keep their comments to themselves, seething quietly.
When I first arrived, I was so afraid of insulting everyone’s culture. London is such a multi-cultural city that there was no way I could predict what traditions and customs everyone I met had. I tried to remind myself that though the British seem so similar to Americans, the U.K. is a completely different country with a different culture. However, I’m not as overly cautious as I used to be. I don’t want to be blind to the differences between us, but I feel like I’m starting to see my peers as just that, my peers, other human beings going through similar life experiences. I’m finding I can relate to my international friends. I’m hoping this means that my global mindset is expanding, but who knows!
I suppose the common thread in all this rambling is that I’m learning. I’m learning that I don’t like the American stereotype; I’m starting to see the United States through a different lens, and I’m not liking what I see with respect to certain political and war-related decisions. I still love America, though! I’m starting to identify as a Londoner, though with only two months under my belt I’m nowhere near that title. And finally I’m learning to quiet my over-evaluative mind and just relax and relate to others. My message for you is that you should definitely study abroad; it helps you grow so much as an individual and see your life in a different perspective. Plus it’s plain fun!