Studying abroad was never something I had on my college bucket list, but the Semester in London program really grabbed my attention. Now, by no means is it cheap, but the opportunity to complete a media-focused program in one of the world’s biggest media hubs was too difficult to pass up. Plus, I get to do an amazing internship with a radio station while I’m here as well.
My intent for this column is to take everyone along on this journey with me to not only inform you about what the program is like but also to inspire you to take risks and embark on new experiences during college.
I’ve finally arrived in London, and my senses have been overloaded with the amount of differences there are. Overall, things aren’t drastically different compared to the U.S., but I've definitely taken note of the aggressive bikers who’ll run you over if given the chance.
The first thing I noticed straight out of the airport is the cars driving on the left side of the road. Obviously I knew that’s what they do here, but it’s different seeing it in person and getting into a car with the steering wheel on the right side. It was such a culture shock that I found myself staring at the cars driving on the other side of the highway.
This also makes crossing the street quite an adventure. There are crosswalks, but not nearly as many as there should be, and the green crosswalk lights only give you 10 seconds to cross a large and busy road.
I've also noticed drivers are more aggressive here. Drivers follow other cars extremely closely and honk like it’s commonplace. They don’t stop for pedestrians and make no effort to slow down if someone’s not using a crosswalk.
The idea that everything’s bigger in America is ever-present here. The roads in general are much more narrow, and there’s a noticeable absence of larger SUVs and trucks.
And, while I do find myself missing my dogs and family, I miss the air conditioning even more.
Because of London’s mild winters and temperate summer, it won’t be a problem during the majority of the year — but when it’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit outside and even hotter inside, it’s a bit uncomfortable.
Those who say the U.S. is the largest cultural melting pot have obviously never been to London.
I noticed pretty quickly after getting off the plane that London is extremely diverse. I was shocked at how many accents I heard within 20 minutes or just walking down the street. My ears have detected German, French, Arabic and so many others I haven’t placed yet.
Something refreshing I’ve noticed is how green the city is. There are small public parks — squares, as they call them here — that are filled with beautiful flowers and trees and often have touching statues or plaques commemorating victims of war, bombings and terrorist attacks. There’s even a statue of Gandhi in Bloomsbury Park. For a big city, it’s surprisingly well kept.
On a nice day, there are tons of people who take their dogs for walks and to the parks, and most of them aren’t on leashes. The dogs are extremely well behaved and don’t seem to approach anyone other than their owner, even on a busy street or park, unlike what I’ve experienced in the U.S.
This could be due to the former rule that dog owners had to be licensed. Though it’s not required anymore, the culture and expectations of having a well-trained dog seem like a vital part of city life.
Some people are also very keen on spotting Americans in London. All of us studying abroad thought we could pass as Londoners as long as we kept our mouths shut, but even looking at the tube map for too long or taking one too many pictures can cause people to ask, “Are you American?” Most of the time it’s a friendly interaction, and we’ve only had a couple of negative interactions with annoyed locals.
A group of fellow students were walking through Russell Square one day after grabbing a coffee, and we were talking about how pretty the park was, and a few of us were taking pictures on our phones. No one was being loud, we were keeping to ourselves, but this woman sitting on a park bench started mocking us by pretending to take pictures on her phone and laughing obnoxiously as we walked by her.
All of us turned to look at one another as we were all confused about the interaction that had just taken place, but we decided to brush it off and continue on our touristy way.
My first few days in the wonderful city of London have been amazing. I feel so lucky to have been able to go on so many guided tours of the area I’m living in, to learn about the royal family and to see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Although some of the changes are a bit hard to get used to, I’m sure I’ll learn the way of life in no time.
Contact Avery Goodstine at email@example.com. For more content on Avery’s study abroad experience in London, stay tuned for the “London Eye” column every Friday, and follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.