First off, sorry for being MIA the past two weeks: I was preparing to go off on our week break… and then I went on it! So now that I’m back I have a whole bunch to share and I’ll be posting every day this week. :) To begin, here is week 7’s post – mostly drafted but never finalized until now!
What I’ve found about studying abroad in the past two months is that I don’t feel as if I’ve experienced culture shock. I was told the process would be something along these lines:
- Excitement to be in a new country
- Intense loyalty to my country
- Comfort in my new surroundings
And then I’d experience it all over again when I went home.
What I’ve actually found is that I see both countries as having their ups and downs, mostly relative to my own preferences. For instance, I notice fewer people in London say “excuse me” or respond favorably to your own “pardon” – which I’m not a huge fan of. Yet I prefer that in many places you are given a great degree of privacy, such as not having to make small talk on the tube. The list goes on, and the topics vary. For instance, when it comes to politics or education or finances (you know, real opinionated topics)… I mostly chalk it up to not being well-enough informed to really make any kind of judgment on which is “better.”
Instead, I feel more of a “system shock” here. I’m studying in London through an educational organization endorsed by my home institution. This pretty much means I consider the program not be “real” or authentic, but it also means I’m dealing with a very bureaucratic system that, pretty much, owns me.
I looked at applying directly through a London University, but it was easier for my father and I to go through a University-supported program that handled the majority of the planning for us. It meant I would not have to find my own housing, be living with people from my school, could easily take courses through my home University, and had travel insurance, Oyster cards, and extra-curricular activities available as soon as I arrived.
These are all very convenient aspects of my program that were handled for me and reduced a ton of stress in the planning phase of my trip. Yet, there are some realities that have come with the situation, too.
In London, I’m living with Americans and taking classes with Americans. I have actually found it difficult to meet locals, and cannot say I have a single “friend” here who isn’t from my school. I love the people I’m here with, don’t get me wrong. However, we’re obviously studying abroad to experience the culture, and simply going out for drinks to meet new people doesn’t really satisfy my craving. And perhaps this is a major reason I haven’t experienced much culture shock?
Lack of Information
Before arriving in London, I received some information on what to pack, which bank is best, how to get from the airport to the area I’d be staying in. I got some safety tips and some travel advice. This was all from my home institution. From my study abroad organization, I received a spreadsheet with the classes I was taking and the times they’d be meeting as well as the general building I’d be living in – both less than a month before departure. It wasn’t until arrival that I heard about mandatory events, housing policies, etc. I didn’t know what extra-curricular activities would be offered, how to contact those working for the educational organization, or any details about my internship – actually those weren’t given to me until less than 2 weeks before my start date. This has kept me from booking cheaper travel, making my own internship arrangements (which I wasn’t informed was an option until far after the opportunity had passed), or attending one of the activities I had paid for.
Poor Class Selection
Nerd alert! Studying at a University gives you thousands of classes to choose from. Studying through a study abroad institution gives you approximately two dozen. If you really want to take some fun classes, with actual British teachers and students, you’re going to want to study through a “real” school.
Inability to Choose Internship Placement
It turns out internship programs aren’t well set-up in the UK, at least as far as I’ve been informed. That is, British students don’t participate in them – but there are many opportunities for international students to do so, as there are programs devised particularly to take advantage of the temporary free work we provide. Through my organization, I was given preferences of which “category” I wanted to work in. Beyond this, I was given no information, no ability to influence where I’d be placed, and no opportunity to change my placement if I was given something completely outside of all my preferences. Which means that despite requesting an event planning, digital design, or programming position, I was given a writing internship. (Not so) Secret is, I really dislike journalism.
Little Control (Or Respect)
If the previous 4 points haven’t been blunt enough: you are given virtually no control over your London schooling experience. Options are limited and free-thinking is frowned upon. I’m exaggerating a bit, of course, but am I unsatisfied with the aspects of my experience connected to my study abroad school? Absolutely. I’m that type of person who tries to give feedback to companies because I think that I can actually help them. And I’ve been fortunate in my schooling career, because I’ve been involved in organizations where what I have to say is valued. I’ve moved into leadership positions in my fun organization that I volunteer for and my paid job that I work at. Both have superiors who trust me. Here I am back to being treated as a child with no valid thoughts or helpful insights. Despite having Masters degrees, the staff here see everything as “functional” rather than trying to create experiences for their students. To me, they appear self-absorbed: more time is spent making their office, that our classes are in, festive and decorated rather than spending time effectively communicating key ideas about our opportunities here. Instead of responding to my suggestions with “thank you for these, we will take them into consideration” (whether they actually decide to act on them or not) time is spent explaining away every point I bring up. Having been in a position where things “work,” I understand their viewpoint. It’s easy to explain why things are done a certain way. Yet upon being given a direct consequence of why doing it that way could be improved, and providing a suggestion rather than simply pointing out flaws, a little more grace is expected.
In the end, given the opportunity, would I do it all over again? I really can’t say, because I haven’t researched how to study abroad independently or assessed how comfortable I would feel doing so. I’m in a single here, so I don’t mind where I’m living. I have made friends with the people here. We travel together, which is immensely favorable to being alone in so many unfamiliar places. Yet I will tell you that I have a friend doing a year an Manchester University, living with a bunch of fellow students and traveling with other international students – and I’m absolutely envious of the opportunities that arise for her. I would love to take classes I feel matter and participate in an internship that I interpret as able to help my future.
Can I really complain about the fact that I’m in London for a semester though? Absolutely not – I’m having a ton of fun and traveling more than I could have otherwise. I make the best of all my situations and no matter how you get abroad, it’s definitely worth it.