I chose to come to London for a lot of reasons. The first reason being that I speak English really well, being American and everything. All the other reasons center on the fact that London didn’t seem that different from America. Everyone seemed to look pretty much the same, work the same jobs, eat the same food, and drink the same Starbucks. It seemed like the most comfortable I could be for my first big leap out of my comfort zone. So when I was preparing to come to London, I wasn’t nervous. And that was a mistake.
I never fully understood what culture shock was until I was laying in my bed the third night abroad, asking myself what I had gotten myself in to. These people are speaking English but I can’t understand half the things they’re saying. Why does everyone keep asking if I’m all right? (Asking if someone is all right is the same as saying ‘how are you?’ in America I’ve quickly learned). Why do I feel like I’m screaming every time I talk? As an American, I thought I was going to blend in pretty easily in London. I was wrong. I stick out like a sore thumb.
The second part of my culture shock experience is not that I am in a different country, but I’m in a completely different kind of city. London is a really big place, and I’m from Indiana. I go to school in Bloomington, which doesn’t have much to offer beyond Indiana University (the greatest school on earth). I’m used to driving my car to Target when I need shampoo and going to Kroger to grab groceries for the week. I have no idea how to use public transportation, let along the oldest underground system in the world. I have no idea how to fit all my groceries into what I consider a miniature refrigerator. I have no idea how to navigate through winding streets packed with people who are all border-line running in business suits.
Getting onto the plane to come to London, I wasn’t nervous at all. I didn’t cry when I said goodbye to my parents. I calmly watched Monsters Inc. three times in a row and slept for about 2 hours. I ogled at the beautiful buildings while I navigated my way through the streets from the airport, using the directions IES carefully spelled out for us. Honestly, I wish I had been nervous. If I had been nervous, maybe the thought of figuring this all out would have felt more manageable when I was laying in bed day three.
I’m proud to say I’ve come a long way since day three. I’ve been working at my job at a PR consultancy, immersed in British culture. I can understand, and even imitate, a British accent seamlessly. I find myself quietly listing all the stops with the intercom on the tube between my home and work. Once I got over my double culture shock, London feels like a second home to me. Don’t tell Bloomington, but I’ve fallen in love with another city.