‘I make too much eye contact to be a Brit’

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February 2, 2015

8:23 PM

At the midway point of my time abroad, I’ve taken some time to look back on how my perspectives have changed since I’ve been away.

Some changes in outlook are inevitable — as others who have studied abroad know, these changes are both large and small but all take place to help us blend in. Some of the smaller things I’ve learned include knowing when and where to get trains and buses, or where to get the best cheesy chips. One of the trickiest parts of studying abroad in the UK — particularly at a university with so many Americans — is navigating the blend of cultural sensibilities. While they’re by-and-large the same, there are still many aspects of classism entrenched in Britain that are simply nonexistent in the States. While I had some experience with these differences, it took some getting used to.

Over the course of my trip — having been away from home since the beginning of June — I look back and notice ways in which I’ve grown. Becoming more self-reliant is a big thing, both practically and emotionally. My friends and family have noticed that I’ve picked up a few words here and there and that I’m absolutely reveling in the opportunities that abound here, but I’ve noticed more subtle changes: I now feel at home in a foreign country for the first time. Although, I must give credit where credit is due: the friends I’ve met here have made that possible. I met a man on my travels who put it best when he told me that one of the most important things to do as a student is to learn how to accept hospitality graciously and use it so that I can offer hospitality to others in the future. When I come back home, I now know the value of having someone to rely on when far from home and I hope to be able to repay the favors in the future.

While I may have made efforts to adjust to life over here, a lot of things have stayed the same. While hitchhiking through Spain, I was called out as being English by a Spaniard, a clear reference to the clothes I’ve bought to adjust to the weather over here (I don’t care how much like an English grandfather it makes me look, my wool sweater is the coziest thing in the world). On the other hand, it was pointed out to me here that when walking around, I stick out because I make too much eye contact to be a Brit — it just goes to show that you can never change the little bits that actually make you who you are.

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  • Matt Heffernan