After meeting my fellow study abroad peers and asking them about their experience in London so far, I’ve realized that many American students had the same expectations for Great Britain that I did. We all anticipated a culture and atmosphere similar to home. Of course, there would be slight differences, but my friends and I admitted that we had assumed the British culture to be similar to our own. For many, that’s why London was the perfect place to study abroad. After all, both countries speak the same language, right?
Not really. Yes, both the British and Americans speak English, but the commonality of language does not mean that their cultures are the same. In the short two weeks that I’ve been living in London, I’ve had the most enlightening culture shock and opportunities to expand my understanding of the British culture.
Culture shock often carries a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience. It’s not always a sudden surprise, either. For me, I experienced culture shock gradually over my first week in the United Kingdom, and I found myself questioning why I was experiencing it at all.
We’ve all seen London and common British culture in movies and media—the Royals, fish and chips, driving on the opposite side of the road. My familiarity with the most typical elements of Great Britain, along with the certainty of speaking the same language and having visited England before, left me confident that I would have no problem adjusting to London life. But simple cultural differences like food, music, architecture, and transportation are only the tip of a complex and beautifully unique iceberg.
I began to recognize contrasts in communication. Common signs of respect and friendliness in the United States, like handshakes and direct eye contact, felt too formal and serious to my new British friends. Social cues, signs of affection, and rules for politeness are all different. Language has the power to bring individuals of various countries together, but it does not create a single, universal culture.
It’s fascinating and important to recognize the distinctive qualities of the British culture as I am completely immersed and learn how to adjust and respect them. Every culture is its own, with pride in its traditions and beliefs. There are incredible opportunities to grow in acceptance and understanding of other people and ways of life while living, studying, or traveling abroad.
The world awaits…discover it.