I spent the month of May in London, England with 39 Ohio State students and two professors. Throughout the course of our stay, I took an in depth look at the culture, politics, and culture of Great Britain. Daily class meetings combined with afternoon and weekend excursions allowed me to come to a better understanding of what it means to be British.
Before taking part in this study abroad experience, I had never left the United States. Of course, I had done some traveling within the United States, but these experiences had not been extremely immersive, but rather, typical family vacations in tourist areas. I grew up in a small town in Northwest Ohio, surrounded by cornfields. Although I had a wonderful childhood and I love the close-knit community that a small town offers, I was not exposed to a range of diversity and differing views growing up. This changed some in coming to Ohio State, but I was hoping to continue this expansion of my worldviews during my time abroad.
A change in my worldview began from the moment I stepped off the plane. I was expecting to gain a better view of other cultures, but I was surprised that I also was gaining a better understanding of my own culture. Although I had never believed that my own culture was better than any other culture, American culture had been a central part of my life. In leaving the United States, I found that I was able to better view American culture from a distance, allowing me to see how it only makes up a small portion of the vast range of culture seen around the globe. At the same time, I was gaining a better understanding of British culture. This allowed me to see where there were connections to my own culture and where practices were totally different. I found that I made a self-transformation in the way I viewed my life. By viewing the experience with an open mind, I was able to question the way I live and put thought into how my experiences could be incorporated into my life after returning home.
One event that facilitated this transformation occurred soon after arrival. Within the first weekend in London, some of my flatmates and I went to a nearby grocery store in order to buy food. We had some expectation that there would be some differences than what we were accustomed to, but there was still some shock when we went into the store. Of course, most of the brand names on the food items were different from what we had ever seen before and much of the food was packaged and sold in a different manner. Although there was some, there did not seem to be as much processed food that could just be microwaved. Even with the slight confusion, we were able to gather enough groceries to last us for the week. Upon getting back to our flat and as the week progressed, we found that certain food items, such as peanut butter and bread, had a slightly different taste than in the United States. It also appeared that the food was not full of as many preservatives, as the food did not seem to stay fresh for an extended period. This was a somewhat eye opening experience as I gained a better idea of how the food industry differs in the United States.
Much of my self-transformation occurred through my interaction with people who we met during our stay who lived in London. These conversations often happened while at restaurants or while on guided tours. Politics seemed to be a reoccurring topic, and as there had been an election just days before our arrival, opinions were often very strong. The day after we arrived we were making our way to the sites around London. While walking on Downing Street toward Big Ben, we were surprised to see a group of protestors round the corner in front of us. Luckily, they were peaceful and as they passed, we were able to get an idea of some of the political opinions in the country. I found that many of the social and economic issues that are under debate in the United States are also under debate in Great Britain. Also, in the same way that some view government officials to be corrupt or have the view that there needs to be a major change in the government within the United States, this same opinion is held by many in Great Britain.
Through many of our class activities, we were exposed to the history of Great Britain. This was fascinating to learn, as the history is so extensive and interconnected with that of other countries. My education in the United States has given me fairly in depth knowledge about the history of the United States, and of course, I know about our relationship with Great Britain and our separation from them during the Revolutionary War. In some ways, this makes the history of Great Britain our history too. Knowing this gave me a new perspective when learning about British history. One facet of this that I found particularly interesting was the monarchy. I think I was so intrigued by this because we do not have royalty in the United States. It was interesting to see how although people had some disapproval of the prime minister, nobody seemed to have anything bad to say about the queen. When looking at the history of the royal line, it was interesting to see how this perception has changed over time and how the actions of the person reigning at the time shaped history. Although royalty no longer has any real power, Queen Elizabeth II seemed to be a large part of the culture and seemed to generate a good deal of respect. We were able to take part in this a little bit through our visits to see the Crown Jewels in both England and Scotland, which allowed us to gain another point of view into the lives of royalty.
Overall, I found that living everyday life similar to someone from London, by shopping at the same grocery stores, commuting to class on the tube, and eating at local eateries allowed me to experience the culture. By doing this, I was able to make a transformation because I was having a somewhat authentic experience that I could compare to the life I know in the United States. Making this change was particularly important to me on a personal level, as I am always in search of ways of self-growth. I strive for experiences that will widen my worldview and help me gain new perspective on already formed opinions. The idea of making this change in my thought process is important to me, as I think it is important to learn from experiences that challenge what has always been routine. By studying abroad, I can move forward with the information that I have gained, which will allow me to question social situations and to think more critically. The experience has also helped me to exercise my ability to learn from others and to think with an open mind.
When I look toward the future, the experience will be valuable as I work toward my future goals. As an evolution and ecology major, I spend most of my time on main campus taking science classes, so I was excited for this experience because it would give me a chance to learn about material that is not strictly required by my major. Having an experience, such as this, has given me a chance to exercise a different type of thought and analysis process, giving me a more well rounded experience. At the same time, learning about another culture is something that will be extremely helpful in my future career. I am currently very interested in research and environmental education. The communication of scientific information to the public is a very important part of the research process, but in order to do this effectively, the values of the audience must be understood. Through my time in London, I was able to gain a better understanding of British culture. This information will be extremely valuable as we continue down the path of increasing globalization. When combining the knowledge that I have gained with the growth to my thought process, my STEP experience abroad has added great value to my personal, academic, and professional goals.