Exhausted and bewildered, I wandered toward the line of blue kiosks with my passport in hand, ready for the series of questions that awaited me.
Speaking through a parched throat victimized by 10 hours of re-circulated air, I said ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ to the uniformed man behind the counter, not realizing that I had been thinking aloud. A smile and a passport stamp later, he sent me on my way to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Lawrence Aldava and I am an English major at UCI studying at King’s College in London for my third year.
This is my first time living outside of the United States and while I have been here a little more than a month, my experience thus far has been full of interesting experiences.
Awakening from a jet-lagged sleep on my first morning in London, I immediately missed the family and friends I had left behind, but was comforted by the traditional English breakfast, which was unusual yet surprisingly tasty.
A melee of scrambled eggs, English sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans, rolls and yogurt, it was a bit of a surprise to a palette accustomed to the traditional eggs and bacon affair of the Denny’s Grand Slam nature. During this first meal, I became acquainted with culture shock.
Discussed in depth at EAP pre-departure orientations, culture shock is an interesting feeling that manifests itself in many different forms.
On many occasions I have found myself labeling foods and various phrases as weird, only to realize that they are no more different to me than anything else.
More shocking to me than the cultural differences were the similarities, such as the overwhelming presence of American culture outside of the United States, or the subtle differences in the use of the English language and slang.
Strolling down major London streets, it is not uncommon to see multiple McDonald’s restaurants or Starbucks coffee establishments filled with busy Londoners on the go.
A slightly longer walk provides for plenty of Pizza Hut, Burger King and KFC sightings, along with several other fattening odes to American globalization.
While conscious of the existence of these institutions abroad before my departure, I found myself surprised by the extensiveness of their presence.
Despite the presence of these establishments, London offers a vast array of restaurants ranging from traditional English cuisine to Chinese, Japanese and Indian curry, which, incidentally, has taken the place of fish and chips as the official food of England.
Nevertheless, as an American student facing a rather unforgiving exchange rate, I find myself unable to afford many of London’s culinary offerings and have been relegated to grocery shopping and cooking, which I suppose is economical and healthy, but takes time.
Perhaps even more time-consuming than cooking my meals, however, has been navigating the somewhat archaic administrative procedures required of my host institution.
King’s College, one of the oldest colleges in the University of London, was established in 1829 and has yet to catch up with many of the technological advancements that have arrived since then.
While the university does have a fairly extensive Web site and students are granted private e-mail accounts, course enrollment has yet to utilize the Internet in any form, making me appreciate UCI’s WebReg system.
Fortunately, the burden of enrollment is a one-time experience as the British university system requires that most students enroll for their year’s worth of courses in the fall, which can be good or bad depending on the difficulty of the classes.
Thankfully, I have met an amazing group of UC students here to help me get through these initially frustrating times, along with wonderful flatmates who are a fun group of native British and European students.
While I am an independent person by nature, living completely on my own has been a bit challenging, but has made me even stronger than I was previously.
I have learned that it’s OK to ask for help once in a while, especially from others who are experiencing many of the same challenges.
While there is still much for me to explore here in London and throughout Europe, I can honestly say that I have gained an understanding of Western Europe’s largest city, from navigating its busy streets, to exploring its addictive pub culture and never-ending nightlife. But that’s a separate column.
Filed Under: Features