Academics: A Semester Abroad in England
Americans in London
by Vanessa Malanga '10
If I had to compare London to any other city, I would say that it is very much like New York. They've both got districts called SoHo and China Town, Piccadilly Circus is very like Times Square, and the West End is just about as worshipped by theatre-goers as Broadway. Kali (McCullough – a Catawba student also studying abroad this semester) and I split our adventures in London into two weekends: one on a trip with the school and one on our own. The two experiences were completely different.
Traveling with deans and other students was done via coach — with lots of traffic. We were lodged in a hotel somewhere between central London (the general Piccadilly area) and Camden Town (generally known as the "alternative" district, apparently home to hippies and those with piercings). Therefore, we made use mostly of our feet and the Underground.
The Underground is quite similar to NYC's Subway system, although I have actually found the Underground to be much more manageable. A word of advice on behalf of your feet: Know where you would like to go before you spontaneously take off walking across the city. The Tube is also, of course, faster, although once at rush hour an entire train came and went with us unable to get on. Both visits to London were permeated with time spent underground, whether our destination was to a hostel at which friends were staying in Hammersmith, Leicester Square to see Cabaret or Wicked (Kerry Ellis gives Idina Menzel more than a run for her money), Victoria to see Spamalot, or back toward our hotel or hostel.
When Kali and I journeyed to London our own, we came into the city by train and stayed for two nights in a hostel. When booking a hostel, there are important things to consider: where it is located within the city (the cheaper hostels may be located rather far from the city center), if it is for youths only, and what amenities are offered. Ours turned out not to be a youths-only hostel, and had I been traveling alone, I would have felt uncomfortable with that.
As a tourist, I really enjoy seeing the sights a foreign place has to offer, but what I usually enjoy most is just walking around and getting a feel for the culture. Our two weekends encompassed both of these approaches to tourism — the first was spent exploring on our own, taking things as they came. When we returned the next weekend, however, we'd resolved to actually see what London had to offer and visit all of those renowned placed we'd passed on the weekend before. I'd been to the city before, so I'd already seen the replica of the Globe Theatre, as well as a few other "hot spots," but this time around Kali and I tripped about the London Tower, saw the Crown Jewels, St. Paul's Cathedral, the outside of Buckingham Palace, explored Westminster Abbey, and made our way through Trafalgar Square. Both experiences in London were very beneficial, as one was spent as a citizen and the other as a tourist. Many native Londoners have never been to see the sites that have gained the city its fame and historical significance, but I'm glad that I have.
Apart from viewing the architecture of the city, I was very curious to observe cultural behavioral differences. Londoners are people of all different backgrounds and cultures, as it is an international city. However, Americans still manage to stick out a little, even without speaking. After some consideration, I've begun to think that perhaps it's the way we carry ourselves, the way we move, the way we act — things that have been ingrained into our own country's general culture that no one really thinks about. Once, when standing in the queue (line) for a train ticket at King's Cross, I looked around and suddenly realized that the way I was standing — hand on cocked hip, relaxed but confident — was very different from the closed, straight positions of the Brits queued around me. This led me to fully understand that cultural differences go past the way words are pronounced or used and what food is preferred. The way life is formed around the world is influenced by tradition, government, weather, time zones, and fads of society. Even though American restaurants such as McDonald's, Burger King, and Subway line the streets of foreign cities serving native inhabitants who listen to American music and watch American television shows and films, and follow American gossip and politics, Americans themselves still aren't fully embraced by many.
I had a wonderful time in London and plan on visiting at least once more before the semester's over.
Vanessa does not consider herself to be a native of any one town, but she has spent portions of her life in New Jersey, Arkansas and most recently, North Carolina. She is a musical theatre major who intends to minor in English. She enjoys singing, dancing, fashion, writing and reading poetry. She has previously visited England, Scotland, Italy, Greece, Jamaica, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.