One way to fully immerse yourself into the culture of another country is by being involved. Being involved is more than just being physically present; it is being emotionally and mentally present and ready to absorb everything around you. It is okay to lean into discomfort and allow yourself to open up to the difference and culture shock, yes, there will definitely be culture shock. In my opinion, that is the most important part of this journey. Not only should you study materials, but also take the time to appreciate the cultural differences and ideologies, big or small. Getting involved is a great means for a learning opportunity outside of the classroom.
Whether we want to believe it or not we all bring our own preconceived notions and stereotypes to the table when we travel to a foreign place. We make presumptions about the people, the culture, the food, the history and a lot of other things that in actuality we know nothing or very little about. Being a member of a group on campus really provides first hand understanding and appreciation into how the people think, how they run organizations, and how different or similar the people actually are from Americans. This week I sat in on the Pan African meeting, this is an organization at Queen Mary University of London that focuses on African history and its roots. The group hosted students of many different ethnicities and backgrounds including; African students, Middle Eastern students, Carribbean students, Caucasian students whom were all from different religious backgrounds including non-religious persons, muslims and christians; in other words it was a very diverse group. Each person had a unique background and brought with them their own individual perspective on political, social, and religious issues.
We watched a short documentary on the Atlantic Slave Trade, which to my surprise is not taught in detail to students in London like it is in America. This led to a fruitful and profound discussion on the standard of “Western” beauty, stereotypes, prejudice, and the recent spark for diversity and inclusion in mainstream corporations and media outlets. In America we often reflect on the lasting repercussions of slavery but do not highlight the impact it had on Africa. It was interesting to hear the viewpoints from African students on how they could see the direct strife and separation between their home countries as a result of slavery and the influence it had on their parents’ generation.
When you study abroad with friends with whom you are familiar with it is easy to become isolated. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it may make it a little harder to step outside of your comfort zone and meet native people in that country, which is the whole point of the study abroad experience. I am happy to say that making new friends has been extremely eye opening for me and given me a deeper understanding of what it is like to be a Londoner.
Until next time, Pip Pip Cheerio!
P.S. Nobody actually says that here, just a little American humor