LONDON – Nervously, I stood outside the gated doors and collected my breath before pressing the simple white button labeled, “The Cogency”. I had been here twice before. Once make sure I knew how to get there and a few days later to interview with the team.
Now for the third time, I press the button. A faint ding-dong rings inside the building and after a short wait my future colleague opens the gate for me with a smile and a “You must be Mary!” And so my life as a working student living abroad in London began.
The week went on as first weeks most often do – the first day is overwhelming, the second slightly boring, the third you’ve got your feet on the ground, and by day four your email is full, your to-do list is impossibly long, and you’re longing for that fabled thing referred to simply as ‘The Weekend’.
I found that my honeymoon phase with London was over.
The dull grey skies that once looked mysteriously, invitingly eerie now just looked dull and grey. The Tube with its whooshing doors and ability to carry me wherever I needed to go throughout the city now was an every-person-for-themselves ordeal as I’ve had to throw some ‘bows to get a place to and from work. And my days, once so open and free, were now laden with heavy numbers that read NINE THIRTY TO FIVE THIRTY.
It’s funny, this study abroad thing. When I departed on the plane, my eyes were full of stars and head full of dreams and everything had a romantic air about it. When I signed up to do an eight-week internship in London, I suppose the word, ‘London’, crowded out all else. Work, I thought, surely couldn’t be the same in London – this historical, grand, beautiful city – as it is in Spokane.
But, to be honest, it’s not that different.
No matter where you turn in this world, people are people, work is work and school is school. There may be different quirks and customs inherent to each, but the essence remains the same. And while, during my first week of work, I was frustrated at this newly found principle, in retrospect (yes, a word I learnt from Freaky Friday) it is actually the summation of what studying abroad is all about.
Learning that people halfway across the world are griping on about work just like I am, laughing over stupid things with their friends just like I am or trying to understand modern art just like I am is a constant reminder that studying abroad does not provide us with a new life, per se, but more a new outlook upon our lives.
The cultural nuances that we encounter as study abroad students gives us different perspectives on how different societies tackle the same entities. This, in turn, gives us insight into what different cultures value and what we can learn from that.
At Gonzaga, the amount of assignments dictates that I can only look a week in advance, while here we are given one assignment that must be worked on all throughout the semester. American values are seen in the quickness and efficiency that is needed for the large workload that students have to navigate while British values of creativity and autonomy are shown in the massive span of time given to complete one assignment. Same entity, different perspective.
This, truly, is what is to be gained from a study abroad experience. To be able to open your eyes and see the quirks of humanity – its similarities and differences, its ups and downs, the good and the bad. And after all of that, to accept these things, add them to your growing tapestry of understanding, and be able to further observe and question and live.
I know that we’ve all seen it on Pinterest, but Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
It doesn’t have to be to London, Florence, Paris or Bangkok, it could simply be going outside your comfort zone or speaking to someone whose views you wouldn’t ordinarily hear. But it’s a step we can all make to gain a slice more of understanding in this great big world.
So whether you’re abroad or in Spokane, try turning the next page of the book this week. Maybe it’ll reveal a new paragraph or a new chapter or perhaps just a new sentence. But it’s all we can do to try.