Hopping "across the pond" to England was thrilling, nerve-wracking and surreal, but this past week has been even crazier. I flew into London Heathrow where my program held a four-day orientation during which we were put up in a nice hotel and given plenty of free time to explore the city. Although I was concerned I would be the only student going to Bristol, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered I would be one of seven girls headed there. The girls and I had a fabulous time galavanting through London and being typical American tourists before finally boarding our coach to Bristol on Wednesday. When we arrived in Bristol, I was incredibly nervous because it felt like freshman year all over again - new school, new dorm, new people and a new city I was completely unfamiliar with. The nervousness subsided, but what didn't was the culture shock.
Every student who decides to study abroad has been warned of culture shock - the various stages, the normalcy of it all. But I have to say that for some reason it just never quite clicked in my brain that I could experience it as deeply as I did my first few days in Bristol. As soon as we left London, the reality set in. Here at the University of Bristol I am living with 10 other girls on a floor, and they are all British. Granted, that's what I wanted from this abroad experience, but the cultural differences basically slapped me in the face upon arrival. Yes, they speak English, but I'm telling you it's not the same. I sometimes have trouble understanding their accents, and what's more there are probably thousands of British slang terms that I am completely unfamiliar with. Then there's the fact that I sometimes feel like Bristol is existing in a previous era. There are no trash chutes in my dorm, no garbage disposal in the kitchen, and no elevator to get me to the fifth floor (I know this sounds whiny but I'm honestly panting by the time I get to my floor). British fashion is also quite strange, like what's with all the Converse and hair scrunchies? The fact that I felt culture shock surprised me, and looking back now I'm not quite sure why I thought it simply wouldn't happen to me.
Despite the initial shock, the past few days have been a lot better - I like to believe that this is just an "adjustment period," and my American friends on my program and I are all experiencing the same thing together. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving Bristol, but being the minority within a majority culture is just harder than I thought it would be. It's also made me think differently about what the international students at GW must feel like, and now I know why many of them tend to stick by friends from their home country.
This is only week one for me, so I am optimistic about my assimilation process here in Bristol. The city is absolutely stunning and so quaint and charming - I definitely like it better than London, so I know I made the right decision. Becoming one with the Brits was a goal I set for myself for this study abroad experience because I have found that when I push myself out of my comfort zone, the best things happen. I could have chosen a bigger city with more Americans, but that's just too familiar for my taste. Here's to becoming a true Bristolian in the coming months!
Until next time -