London City and Culture Spring Break Trip

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to London during spring break with the Knowlton School of Architecture, a part of the course ARCH 5798. While in London, I visited many historical sites and learned about their design and architectural style. Additionally, I learned more about the British culture through interaction with citizens of London.

Before embarking on this trip, I had very little experience with international travel and I was not confident in my own abilities to travel to and navigate in a foreign country. After just a few days in London, I was able to explore the area near our hotel, though by the end of the trip, I felt as if I could get anywhere in the city as long as I had some sort of map. In addition to my lack of confidence in travelling, I was very ignorant of many of the differences in culture that exist between the United States and England. Although I learned of some of the basic differences in class, I felt like I did not truly understand them. By the end of my stay in London, I felt as though I truly understood a large portion of the cultural differences, allowing me to appreciate their culture.

Coming into this trip, I had no idea how I would be able to navigate a city as enormous as London. I was very discouraged by looking at the Tube map and the different bus routes that are used to get around the city. After being in the city for less than two days, I was already taking both the tube and the bus to get to where I needed to be. These were very daunting tasks at first, as it seems like nobody was willing to help me and would’ve run me over in the process, though after a few times of using both, I was very comfortable and felt as if I could get to any of the other stations or stops as long as I had a map.

Similar to how I felt with using public transportation, I initially felt as if I would not be able to navigate the streets of London on my own. Looking at a map of the city, it is very easy to tell that many of the streets throughout London are not straight and change names multiples times. This was very confusing to me at first, though by the end of the trip I was very comfortable with walking around on the streets. Between the walking tour that I went on with my group and spending my free day exploring different areas of the city on foot, I gained a new confidence for my own abilities to navigate unfamiliar cities on foot. My free day gave me the most experience with navigating as I basically meandered around the city for the entire day. This really forced me to use my map-reading skills as I would have gotten lost if I could not read the map, and in turn, my map-reading skills and confidence level rose.

It was through learning to navigate the city by foot and by public transportation that my comfort levels rose drastically from nearly zero to feeling on top of the world. My trip would have been completely different if I was unable to navigate the city. I would not have had the chance to see as many of the incredible sites as I was able to see and I would not have been able to experience the British culture on the same level as I did.

Throughout my time in London, I had many opportunities to experience different parts of British culture through personal interactions and just noticing the nuances of people’s public behavior. The main events that truly created a change in my outlook were personal interactions with people from England. Most of these interactions were with tour guides, though some were with random people that I met while exploring the city. I found it very interesting to hear how different daily life is another country, yet how similar it can be. For example, life in England is very different as they use a different currency, have different laws, and have different cultural norms than in the United States, yet daily life is so similar. People still go to work, people still go out to eat, people still watch television. Before having the chance to see what it is like in England, I believed that life there was incredibly different from that of life in the United States, though I learned that is not quite the case. Sure, there are many differences between our culture and theirs, but life is essentially the same when you get to the fine details. I believe this is the most important concept for people to grasp. It seems that many people in today’s society make other countries out to be inhumane, though by analyzing their daily life, it is clear to see that they are humans as well, just like everyone in the United States.

It is my belief that  human interactions are absolutely necessary in order to truly understand differences between two cultures. Before having the opportunity the experience different parts of British culture, I was unable to truly understand the differences in culture between theirs and ours, even though I had read about them from a variety of sources. After experiencing the differences in person, I was able to understand the differences in culture and actually compare the culture of the United States to the culture of England.

I think that having the confidence to navigate an unknown environment is an invaluable skill to have and is very important for being a global citizen. Whether I will be travelling for business or for pleasure in the future, I will want to be able to visit wherever I please without having to worry about relying on someone else to get me there. After going on this trip, I am very confident in my own abilities to travel around in such complex cities like London. These skills also transfer to new areas within the United States. Whenever I am required to go to a new city for work or for pleasure, I will not be as concerned with learning to navigate the city by foot or by public transit. Now that I am confident in my own abilities, I will not let fear hold me back from traveling anywhere that I want or need to go in the future.

Understanding different cultures is also another very important part of being a global citizen. If one cannot understand and respect the differences in other cultures, then it will be incredibly difficult to truly appreciate all parts of the world. Additionally, understanding and working with various cultures will be important as I move into my career after graduation. It is imperative that I respect and understand differences while working as business partners. After this trip, I am able to say that I have a basic understanding of differences between United States culture and British culture, which allows me to appreciate different aspects of their culture. Additionally, I found that this “cultural awakening” that was my spring break trip has really helped me to appreciate other student’s cultural backgrounds. I feel as though I am now really able to notice and appreciate minute differences between my own culture and the culture of other students, whether they are from a foreign country or from another part of the United States.  I believe this is will be very important to me in the future, as understanding differences in culture will be invaluable when working for an international corporation.

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