“But that’s the glory of foreign travel…I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than being in a country where you are ignorant to almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again…you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” – Bill Bryson
I like to compare my arrival in England to diving head first into the ocean without a life vest, praying the water below wasn’t shallow. With nothing unpacked, all of a frozen pizza to fill my refrigerator, and a fist full of coins I had yet to actually learn to identify, I stepped off the plane and into a free fall.
Furthermore, those who know me recognize that I hold the habit of occasionally speaking before I’ve fully formed my thoughts. In the attempt to recover, generally my approach is to continue to talk until I find a way to make my point….or dig myself deeper. It’s a double edged sword.
Enthusiastic, excited, a bit overwhelmed, and intrigued by a new environment, my arrival in England was no exception to this self-observation. In my first few weeks abroad, I spoke rather prematurely. Not in a judgmental light, but rather, with a confidence that left much to be experienced- the product of years working in entertainment and marketing industries (I’ll pin it on professionalism?)
Three months later, I’ve come to find some initial observations to be accurate. Many of these statements, however, were severely off base.
5 Times I Was Totally Wrong
1) “I love the rain.”
“It’s really reflective.” I gushed to all I met upon my arrival. The pitter-patter on my window was ideal weather for sleeping, writing, and rather romantic, I insisted with wide eyes.
If I were smarter, I would have taken the time to register the looks of utter disbelief that flashed across the faces of all who were met with this infamous statement. But alas, English beer has a higher alcohol content.
So, I stood my ground: I loved the rain.
….until I found myself caught without an umbrella.
Out on the seafront in what appeared to be seemingly clear weather, I was enjoying a typical night out when the equivalent of a low-key monsoon erupted without warning. We’re talking torrential downpour with no where within distance to seek shelter. Fortunately, someone offered me their jacket. However, it wasn’t enough to combat the downpour. Hair suddenly triple it’s volume and eyeliner smeared across my face, I spent the remainder of the evening with a striking resemblance to a post-breakup 16 year old girl. Add a carton of Ben and Jerry’s and the look would have been spot on.
Needless to say, I now carry an umbrella.
Everywhere…..I carry an umbrella everywhere.
2) “Different guys, same games.”
Ahhhh, university dating culture.
Laced with contradiction, our generation has managed to craft a culture that isn’t easily described. However, with two years of uni under my belt, I arrived with the belief that I’d seen it all…..I’d heard every line in the book, right?
Sorry, American Frat Bro…I’ve met your match. I affectionately call him:
THE BRITISH LAD.
True Lads deserve an Academy Award for their acting abilities. We’re talking Leo DiCaprio’s performance in Titanic quality…some of the charismatic efforts I’ve witnessed go unparalleled. Sensitive and sweet, laced with an accent that is admittedly to die for, a Lad is armed and ready with a plethora of quality lines at his disposal.
A Lad is well calculated. He’ll size you up and adjust his pickup lines accordingly. Similar, in ways, to the American Frat Bro….but without the handle of Tropical Fruit Burnettes and mediocre rendition of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.”
A quality Lad will do what it takes to appeal to your interests. The most elaborate concoction to date? “Did you know I’m captain of the dance team AND on the football team? Kinda like Troy Bolton!” While it has not been confirmed at the source, it’s my understanding this line was entirely fabricated. ( For the record, I never was much for Zac Efron circa 2006….I quite prefer his 2012 grunge phase.)
****It is worth noting, however, that nothing I’ve heard here compares to the “do you watch Harry Potter!? Can you say, ‘Harry Potter’ for me!?” generalization American women tend to throw into the game when they meet a Brit…..I’d imagine these guys are equally- if not more- exhausted by this reference. ****
In most cases, I’m rather entertained by the substance that accompanies the Lad’s game. I appreciate a good show. So long as it’s not at her expense, I’d give the performance a standing ovation. Because if you have the option to laugh and make light- take it. Take it, and hold on to it for everything that it’s worth. Laugh until your stomach hurts…crack a joke…then laugh some more. Never trust someone who says “trust me,” but trust me when I say: it is the motto I live by, and it hasn’t let me down yet.
While these observations are by no means a reflection of my personal life, and merely in the spirit of good humor, I’ve come to find that Lads do have one defining characteristic. In a paradoxical way, it’s endearing: The Lad is always a gentleman to those who cross his path. There are surely men out there who could give this [admittedly bold]statement a run for it’s money. However, my general consensus is a positive one. In theory, you could go full Brittney Spears Circa 2007 meltdown on a Lad, and he’d still greet you with a customary kiss on the cheek.* Not because these guys are fake; no, this is not the case. Because, even in the midst university dating culture, Lads have character. A Lad usually harbours a kind heart. This, however naive it may read to the eye, I do believe.
*I won’t be testing this theory anytime soon
3) “Americans don’t eat that much more than Europeans.”
The one (and only) time I consumed 12 inches of cheesy goodness wasn’t worth the price I’ve paid since; those who witnessed this act may never let me forget the infamous moment in time.
I still stand by my claim that any size pizza is a personal pizza….if you want it to be.
4) “We speak the same language!”
The English dialect includes a number of phrases and vocabulary words that were [shock!] not included in any Hugh Grant films. While I’ve come to adopt a few phrases with time, I regularly learn something new.
To be fair, I think they’ve got a way with words.
5) “This just doesn’t feel like home.”
A bit somber; but, for what it’s worth, honest.
For many international students, the first few weeks serve as a transitional period. Most participants in study abroad programs will second this claim. While each individual has their own unique, inherently personal experience, the majority can agree that cultural immersion and adjustment take time. It doesn’t happen overnight.
My first few weeks in England were a series of holding on and letting go; reflecting on the things I loved in America, while simultaneously falling in love with the new culture in front of me.
In blogs, on television, and in conversation alike, I often hear moving to a new country equated with “starting fresh,” deemed a “new life.” It’s marketed as an opportunity to become “whoever you want to be,” your past suddenly obsolete. This is troublesome, and in more ways than one.
Around this time last year, I finalized the paperwork to make the move to England. I did so with the support of dear friends and sorority sisters in America- friends who often know me better than I know myself. At the time, I’d just returned from a holiday vacation with my family. I was in a healthy relationship, had an internship with a non-profit for the performing arts, and worked as the Marketing and Promotions Director for a radio station. I don’t say these things in an effort to paint a “picture perfect” image…that’s hardly realistic, and my life is anything but. That being said, things were good. I was happy; with the good, the bad, and everything in between.
I didn’t move to England to start over, I moved to England to continue. I wasn’t looking for a “new life” when I made this decision, rather, an extension of the flawed, but fulfilling, life I was already living.
Studying abroad should never serve as a means for running away, if anything, it should serve as a means of running towards. Towards new experience, people, places, and feelings….change is healthy, if not necessary, in life’s journey. It is this perspective that shaped my unorthodox “transitional period” as a student abroad.
And while at first I was uncertain, with time, the feeling passed. I met my people; friends from all over the world, who mean the world. As I gained a sense of direction in Brighton, what was once a 45 minute search for the bus stop became a 5 minute walk around the corner. Uncertainty was replaced with understanding, and love for a country I’m thrilled to return to. I found my place. And with time, it was no longer in question….Brighton doesn’t just feel like home. It is home.
Someone once said, “there is something beautiful about being flawed, and seen, and hopeful.”