As a California Bay Area resident my entire life, one that never left the state, transitioning into life in London was a major shock to my senses for the first few weeks. I noticed that life in central London was generally more fast-paced, and that I’d taken for granted the surroundings of life back home. There’s so much diversity in London, and during most of my walks or tube rides I hear accents and languages from all around the world. These sights and sounds, coupled with the dramatically different British architecture instantly put into perspective the masses of different ways of life that exist in the world. It helped me see that my community and life back home are only one single way of life on this huge planet; not necessarily insignificant, but not the way the universe functioned everywhere. At first this realization made me feel isolated and like an outsider, however after a few weeks I actually feel more connected to London and more like a citizen of the world as a whole. I feel like there will be a lot more travel for me on the horizon.
Exploring London on my own in the beginning was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was in completely new surroundings thousands of miles away from anybody I knew, without necessarily a home or “safe space” to easily go back to. I did have my apartment along with my flat mates that I had just started getting to know, but I still felt like I was in a makeshift boat trying to stay afloat over stormy waters in an ocean. I’ve continued to learn how to navigate these new ways of life through much trial and error, sometimes getting lost and sometimes breaking etiquette, but always learning. For example, the etiquette I learned on the London Underground tube includes: riding the escalators on the right, keeping up with the fast-walking crowd always, “mind(ing) the gap”, not blocking a seat with my bag, and holding on tight when standing on a train that’s packed like a can of sardines. Learning the “little things” has made each day a new adventure and an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. They’ve also given me confidence in my skills as an independent person. When I got lost a few times traveling on the tube, I’d use it as a learning experience to discover a new area.
Throughout the initial learning period I did have moments of self-doubt, where I wondered if I made a mistake by studying abroad in London. However, I always kept my cool and reminded myself that even though everything might look and feel completely alien to me, I’m still surrounded by people just like me and that I have a lot of support in my corner. I knew adjustment would take time. As the shock of British culture faded a bit, I started to learn from what I was seeing through the lens of my experiences as an American. I started to admire the differences in British culture and absorb myself in them, which made me feel more comfortable and extra excited about being here. It began to feel rewarding when, if even for a fleeting moment, I seamlessly blended in. For example, the polite head nods, fleeting words with a shopkeeper or stranger, navigating the hectic tiny roads and sidewalks, riding full busses or trains during the morning or evening rush, or using my Tesco club card. Moments where I felt like a true Londoner!
Life has constantly been in flux for me in London, but it’s been such a rewarding journey. As classes and homework ramp up in these next few weeks, and I explore even more areas beyond central London, I look forward to all of the new challenges, lessons, and fun that lie ahead of me!