Cheerio from London, UK! (I specifically mentioned that London is in the UK because every time I hear “UK,” I have to double check that someone is not saying “you, Kay”). This is not the only time I’ve had to pause and replay things that people have said around me. London is truly an international city; many of the conversations I have overheard have not been conducted in English. While I’ve been taught that America is a “melting pot,” I have not been exposed to this aspect at all. Having grown up in suburban Medina, Ohio, a place with little diversity, there were few chances to observe and experience other cultures. My time at Ohio State has provided me with more opportunities to learn about the way people other than myself live. Furthermore, the opportunity to participate in the History of WWII Study Abroad program is already contributing to my understanding of the world, and we are still in our first city! I take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about the things around me and one of my favorite ways to accomplish this goal is by speaking to everyone that I meet.
I went alone to breakfast today and one of the staff members whom I had interacted with during previous breakfast meals came over and asked to sit down. I love getting to know people and was just relaxing, enjoying coffee and being in London so I said “of course.” The first thing he asked is if I was from Russia. When I said no, he then guessed the Ukraine and Sweden. He wanted a hint and I told him that he was choosing countries in the wrong hemisphere; he then quickly guessed the United States. Later today on the tube (London’s underground, the subway system), the man across from me asked where I was from. After he guessed France and Russia, I told him I was from America. He responded with “Americans are all smiley and happy, you’re all so naïve.” An older British woman that I met when we trekked out to Bletchley Park noted that all of the Americans that she’s met have been cheery and pleasant. Finally, in the water closet last night, a girl my age was chatting with me and commented on my accent. She questioned its origin and when she heard that I was American, she wanted to know if I was in London for a study-abroad program. Clearly I must have looked out of place… I told her that I was studying World War II here and she said “yeah we’re all about WWII in London” then laughed and said “just kidding, we’re totally over it. Cheers!”
It is blatantly obvious that I am an American despite my efforts to appear as if I know what is going on. I always look left when crossing the street, mind the gap in the underground, and stand on the right side of the escalators. Yet traveling in a group of eight to a restaurant, not pronouncing my meal correctly, and trying to split the bill were clear giveaways. There are many cultural aspects that differ from those that I’ve become accustomed to. London is also such a diverse place, there is no one culture in this city. In five days, I had Greek food, walked through Chinatown, had traditional British fish and chips (three times…) and enjoyed Italian coffee. I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, where a church has stood since 604, visited the Tower of London that was built in 1066, and then saw buildings that were still being constructed today. The contrast of old and new in London is shocking and alluring. Every corner that I turn is surprising, the clash between traditional and modern here has been so exciting for me to observe. If London has been this intriguing, I am thrilled to continue exploring the world with a group of my closest friends.