The moment I hopped into my Uber cab at the airport, I knew the next four months would be filled with excitement, cultural adjustment, and growth. I sat in the passenger seat with the driver to my right and watched him drive on the left side of the road. My chest tightened and my foot pressed on the imaginary brakes every time he took a turn. I could hear my friends whispering in the back seats something about fanny packs. I joined the conversation by loudly expressing, “I LOVE fanny packs!” Their mouths dropped, while the cab driver tried holding in a laugh. I later learned the word “fanny” means “pussy” in England. Woops.
My group of thirty students live in a flat in South Kensington right across from Hyde Park, a posh area where people wear nice clothes and drive expensive cars. Each floor has suite-style bedrooms with groups of two to four in each, two kitchens, and a living room. Back in the U.S., my rural campuses are split in two with females living on one and males living on the other. We had community bathrooms in the dorms and buffet-style meals in the dining halls. However, the flats in London are mixed with my guy friends sleeping right next door. One morning when I left my bedroom, one of my flat mates came out of his room with just a towel wrapped around his hips, and I had to take a second look at him. I am learning to patiently share one bathroom with my two roommates. The group is learning how to share the kitchen spaces together and keeping them clear of dirty dishes. Even though I grew up in a big family, this was all new to me.
Shopping at the grocery store in London is also a different experience. The expiration dates are shorter because the foods are made without preservatives or unnecessary chemicals. It is not like driving to Costco and filling up the shopping carts to buy foods in bulk. The fresh produce is more affordable, so I fill my shelf in the refrigerator with red bell peppers, tomatoes, and spinach; good for a refreshing salad or an egg scramble. I get my fruits by taking the underground train to Borough Market and purchasing a bundle of seven bananas for one pound. I am surrounded by an abundance of healthy foods, and the foodie in me LOVES it!
Mexican food is not popular in London, so it is hard to find a place that serves some. I was craving chicken enchiladas and headed to Sainsbury’s, the grocery store, with my list in one hand and my reusable bags in the other. I went through my list but could not find enchilada sauce anywhere. I panicked a little before I found an enchilada sauce recipe online that called for a mix of tomato sauce and spices. My next challenge was searching for tomato sauce, imagining I would find some in a can, like the kind I am used to. After much frustration, I nervously settled for a plastic bottle of sieved tomatoes. The enchiladas turned out delicious, and I learned to be more flexible when looking for something I need.
Although I recently visited London, a city I assumed to have a similar culture to America, I experienced culture shock and more frustrations than I thought. The language and food can be different. For example, Londoners say toilets instead of bathrooms and chips instead of French fries. The peanut butter is not as sweet, and the grocery stores do not sell instant macaroni and cheese. I had to learn to live with people, who were strangers at first, in close corridors. I struggled with my first few days in London, but I now call this city my home. The little things can make a difference to adjusting in a new home, but it is important to be patient, have an open-mind, and know that everything will be alright.