Adapting to Big City Life in Europe

Greetings from London, England! As soon as I got off the plane at London Heathrow Airport, I caught myself smiling whenever I heard someone with a British accent. I couldn’t believe I was actually in London. I learned about the World War II study-abroad program my sophomore year at Ohio State. After I declared my major in history I couldn’t believe there was a program available that would accommodate all of my interests. It’s astounding to me that a trip like this is possible, and I am so grateful that I have been chosen to embark on this adventure with my two incredible professors and 13 talented colleagues.

So, months after completing grueling book reports and an incredibly long and rewarding thirty-page paper, I find myself in the beautiful city of London, and British accents aren’t as dominant as I expected. London is truly a transnational city. From navigating my way through the tube to strolling down Piccadilly Circus, I’ve heard a variety of different languages and rarely hear English being spoken. It’s remarkable to be in a city where so many different cultures and people are present. There’s always so much to see, do and learn. Although our primary focus here in London is to study World War II, which we’ve done extensively through the Churchill War Rooms, Bletchley Park, and the HMS Belfast, I find myself learning more about culture than I ever planned to.  After all we’re in England and that’s supposed to be similar to America…right?

Selena Vlajic and Kay Karg in front of the Tower Bridge

Selena Vlajic and Kay Karg in front of the Tower Bridge

I could not have been more wrong. Many of the people here may speak English, and a variety of other languages as I’ve mentioned before, but London is very much a European city with a completely different vibe, culture, and set of customs than what my colleagues and I are used to. We’re lucky that London is our first stop, since after all there isn’t much of a language barrier, allowing us to learn to navigate the fast-paced city life. Yet we’re still American and frustratingly enough, it is quite noticeable that we are foreigners, since we’ve been asked several times if we are. How do we give ourselves away? In the beginning, we stood on the wrong side of the escalator in the tube, we always seemed to be in the way.  Splitting our checks when we went out to eat was impossible, and we didn’t understand why we had to pay to use public restrooms. Yet I think we’re getting the hang of it.  Now when I see someone standing on the left side of the escalator, I casually pull them to the right.  I know to “mind the gap” whenever I get off of a train.  And I’ve learned to keep up in the busy city, always remembering that people drive on the left and that crossing the street successfully is a great accomplishment.

I’ve come to understand the importance of studying abroad just in the first five days of living in a foreign city and cannot wait to visit the three remaining places we have on our agenda. There is nothing more rewarding than learning the customs and practices of another culture. Traveling and interacting with a variety of people from across the world has truly enabled me to see the world through a different perspective.

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