No language barrier, but cultural gaps for sure.
My study abroad experience began with a short excursion to London, United Kingdom. Actually it began with arriving at JKF an unreasonable 6 hours early, saying eye-watering airport goodbyes while watching my parents slip out of view as I rode up the escalator, and awkward but comforting “Hey, are you studying in Greece, too?” introductions each time another young person with a bright green AIFS tag dangling from their carry-ons arrived at Gate 6. However, I know you are probably here to read about countries, travels, happy and funny stories, so I’ll cut right to London.
Too distracted by the three-course economy meal and endless movies on the plane, we landed in London overtired from our sleepless flight. Half of the group that went on the London excursion (several students through AIFS traveled straight to Greece, along with students from other programs) opted for a nap, but the reality of being in London for less than 48 hours gave me the energy to explore. First stop: food. The group of us that were still standing despite our jet lag headed to a Dutch pancake house where the plates were almost too large for the table and the crepe-like pancakes were almost too much to consume. We were all laughs and food pics until the conversation turned into realization of our unpreparedness – Do we tip? How much? How does this foreign currency work? Can we pay separately? We made it through brunch and vowed to be more prepared – be more like locals – come dinner time. That didn’t quite happen.
Bring on the fish and chips, hold the mushed peas. It only took us two times of wandering around pubs and catching stares from the locals until we caught on that you seat yourself, track down the menu, and order and pay at the bar. Had we been around for a third day, I’m sure we would have looked like naturals.
However, traveling in a pack of about 10 people, or with a camera around your neck, or carrying a bright British flag souvenir shop bag didn’t help our case much. London was my first experience of feeling other people’s looks and stares – a mix of curiosity, and maybe annoyance, that I’m sure I will encounter for the remaining four months. The curious looks and moments of recognition that I am not from there are reminders for me to also be curious, to observe the local behavior, and to be conscious of my own.