I have done my fair share of traveling, but I had never really immersed myself in a new culture or lived someplace that different from Colorado — with its dry summers and manic winters, the Rocky Mountains looming over us like castle walls.
And then I studied abroad in England during Fall 2012.
I had been to England before, but only for a layover. I was 9 years old and every day since then I have dreamed of living under those grey skies. Although I put forth a decent effort to learn both French and Spanish when I was in school, they never stuck. I wanted to study abroad, but in an English-speaking country. This was my perfect opportunity to go back to England and finally fulfill my dream of living there.
The University of Leicester is tucked away in what is known as the East Midlands. If you look at a map, Leicester appears to be in the direct center of England. Nottingham and Birmingham sit not too far away, and London is only a little over an hour by train. The city is large enough to feel busy, but not overwhelming. The rows of Victorian homes with their dark bricks are juxtaposed nicely against the green grass and grey skies. I was in love the moment I stepped off the train.
Really, the love started when I stepped off the plane at Heathrow. Friendly faces met me at the airport and I was swept into a car that drove on the wrong side of the road. Polite teasing followed when I pronounced ‘herb’ without the ‘h,’ and I blushed when I learned what ‘pants’ are in England. It was English, but it all felt new. The culture wasn’t drastically different, but I still felt like I stumbled around in the beginning. I was too infatuated with my surroundings to care. I wanted to become part of England as quickly as possible, so I adopted the slang terms and the style, and drank cup after cup of tea.
When I got to “uni,” I met other international students. Most, like myself, hadn’t spent too much time away from home. Some were not native English speakers who seemed to have a better grasp of the language than I did. Everything felt different, but it also felt similar.
The summer before I left, I was speaking with someone who had just gotten back from studying abroad in Spain. When I mentioned I was leaving to study abroad in a few weeks, he asked me where I was headed.
“England,” I replied.
“You should have picked somewhere more exotic,” he said before falling into a story about his weekend trip to London.
His comment bothered me for a moment. I never once had thought that I made the wrong choice, and it felt unfair that he would suggest that I had. Even though England has the same language and similar customs, it still felt very much like a foreign country. Because it is. England is so full of culture and history that pre-dates the United States that you are constantly learning something new. I loved my time in England and every morning I wish I were back there.
England may seem like the “safe” choice for an American looking to study abroad, but any time you leave home to move to a foreign country, it will be a bit scary. Having the same native language helped me a lot, and added a sense of comfort. Although, as I liked to joke when I was in Leicester, it’s barely the same language. I expected to have a good time while I was abroad, but I never expected to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with the place. I had more culture shock coming back to the States than I did when I got to England. I fell so much in love, that now on the brink of graduation, I am looking into opportunities to go back to work.
Going abroad is an amazing experience, no matter where you go. And with food like “bubbles and squeak,” England can be as exotic as they come.