For the first twenty one years of my life I've never been outside of the United States. I've spent most of my life in New England in a small town, and then three years at Rhode Island College. I've grown very used to the culture at my home. The biggest culture shift is whenever I go to Florida to visit relatives, but even then I'm used to it.
For the past couple of weeks I've been staying in the United Kingdom, something I've dreamed about doing for years. When I about an opportunity to take a Shakespeare class over the summer that involved going to England I knew I to take it. Me and about twenty five other RIC students have visited so many cities and eaten a lot of food. When we first got here we stayed at a hotel in Stratford and got to see Shakespeare's birthplace. Then we spent a night in Bath before going to London where we spend the majority of the trip.
While we have learned plenty of the history of the places we've visited, and toured many cathedrals, I think experiencing the culture is the most educational thing about the trip. There were moments when I struggle to do something, but it's all part of the experience. For example, I still can't figure out which side of the pavement (sidewalk) to walk on. When we got here and were given an orientation about living in London, we were told to walk on the left side since that's what people do. I try to do that, but I've also run into so many people, even locals, who walk on the right side of the pavement, so I always feel like an idiot who's constantly switching sides to walk on. I also always take a minute when I'm paying, just to double check to make sure I'm paying the right amount since it's different currency here. Then I also feel guilty because I feel like I'm holding up the line whenever I do that.
But I think the biggest culture shock moment was when during our free weekend, when me and a friend took a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. We got to the London airport very early since we had a 6:30 am flight. As we were going through security, I took off my jacket, shoes and loaded everything into the container just like I always do. Then, as I was standing in line to go through the metal detector, I realized that no one else had their shoes off. Apparently you don't have to take your shoes off at the London airport.
But even that wasn't nearly as shocking as when we discovered Scotland's drinking age. Me and my friend are both over 21, so when we walked into a bar we didn't expect any trouble. They asked to see our ID's and turns out, we weren't old enough to drunk. The drinking age in Scotland is 25. They did let us get some appetizers and sodas and we just continued exploring the city.
There are some people who, when they travel abroad, complain about how different things are and that they don't like it. I think it's important to embrace the differences. It makes adjusting to new cultures easier. And keep in mind, this isn't forever, we'll get home eventually.