5 things I learned while studying abroad in the UK

July 4th, 2006 · No Comments


I remember back in 2003 when I made the decision to go abroad through Syracuse University’s study abroad program in London. So many of my friends had gone abroad at one time or another and I attribute much of my excitement at the time to my good friend Drew who told me about his adventures overseas. Coming from a small “suburb of a suburb”, going abroad was a big deal. I was pumped. What I learned abroad cannot be learned in any educational setting here in the States. That’s a given. So, here are 5 things I learned while studying abroad in the UK.

1. Yes, I’m really an American.

You think you know what being an American is all about, that is, until you leave our humble country. Being an American is a BIG deal. You are instantly open to criticisms of your government, over-sincerity, salty food and your loud American girlfriends who don’t know how to shut-up while drunk on the Tube and everyone is staring. Many Brits are quick to criticize but they also love our TV shows, dream of taking a pilgrimage to New York, shop on 5th avenue and feel like they’re in a Sex and the City episode. For the first time in my life, I felt American.

2. Be open to anything

We take a lot of things for granted in America. From heat to good coffee to cheap transportation and an abundance of processed ready-to-eat foods. Being abroad can be a humbling experience and you learn how easy things are back at home. Bathrooms generally aren’t heated, you’ll never find a coffee pot because Brits drink instant coffee (yes, you can find a Starbucks but it’s too expensive), a ride on the tube costs nearly $5 and you actually have to spend time buying groceries and cooking your own food. There are more, but you get the idea.

3. Ignorance WILL bite you in the arse

Going to the UK for the first time you discover many things the hard way. I tried to assimilate as much as I could with good prior planning by talking to friends and asking for advice. I lived with four American girls in London while studying there and each one of them had something stolen in public at one point or another. From purses being ripped out of their hands to mobile phones being taken while laying in the sun to having purses zipped open at clubs and wallets removed. Good advice: buy a small wallet that fits in your front pocket. Food spoils very fast because they don’t use the preservatives we’re used to. Bread goes bad in a few days. Opened milk will last you about the same. Oh, and if you think you have a budget planned before going there—you don’t. Multiply your expenses at home by about 2 and a half and you’re heading in the right direction. I ran out of cash in a month and had three more to go. Know the exchange rate.

4. Don’t hang out with your American friends

Okay, well maybe you can hang out with them at times but do not spend all your time with them. It’s too easy to do this but limits who you meet. I would go out by myself to clubs and bars to meet people and ended up developing some strong friendships. My friend Drew told me this and it was 100% true from the beginning. It’s hard to meet people by yourself as Brits enjoy their personal space and having a random American coming up to say “hi” is kind of like, well, strange to them. After a few drinks it doesn’t really matter anyways. I have friends coming to visit me here in the States every few months or so and I have ample couches to sleep on when I visit London. Your British friends are a necessity for survival as well. They’ll laugh at you and make fun of your Americanisms but they’ll also be quick to tell you what and what not to do.

5. A pint solves all of life’s problems

Brits head to the pub whenever they can. Sunday afternoons, after work, during work, to watch the game, etc. People buy rounds and are expected to. It’s nicer than how we Americans go to the bar one by one. I guess we’re kinda retarded. Oh, and you better learn to love beer. Try them all. Just watch out for the warm cask ales. Some people like them but, uhh, not my cup of tea. I stick to Guinness. It’s 10 times more fresh over there. And if you think your habit of drinking liquor in the States will carry over while abroad you are dead, dead wrong. Liquor is expensive and shots are metered. Yes, they have government issued shot meters on all bottles. So a vodka tonic will give you an ounce of alcohol. Beer is stronger, so stick to that unless you have the money for the hard stuff. If you can find a JD Wetherspoons pub, they generally have good drink specials and are cheaper than the rest. Good food as well. They’re franchised and all over London. The Gate Clock in Greenwich was frequented by my friends and I nearly every other day.

What did you learn while abroad? Post your comments or contact us with your submissions.

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