An American in Britain


My flatmates and I outside Buckingham Palace.



Hello all! It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything on here, but as we all know by now, the world just kinda got super crazy last year and to be honest, it hasn’t really stopped. Last time I posted on here, I was getting ready to spend a semester abroad, and I wanted to post a bit here about some of the experiences I had studying in the UK, even though the trip didn’t last as long as originally intended (which will be explained more in its own post, to keep this one from being overly long and rambly).


In January of 2020, I embarked on what was probably simultaneously one of the most terrifying and most exciting experiences of my life thus far by flying, alone, across the pond over to the UK to spend my spring semester at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield. I did not know anyone else that was going to be there, and for an introvert like me, I think that was even more scary than the whole “being on another continent” thing. However, per my sister’s recommendation (she had studied abroad there in spring of 2019), I was staying in a townhouse on their College Lane campus with 10 other students, which helped ease some of my social fears because having 10 roommates quickly turned into having several new friends, even if they did come in loudly after a night of partying while I was trying to sleep a few times.


Despite the occasional differences, I could not have asked for a better group of flatmates, especially since we were all international students so it gave me a chance to get to know people from different countries even better than some of OU’s programs have. Amongst the crew of Flat 35 in Bellingham Court, about half of us were from the US, one was from Canada, one from Australia, and the remainder from various parts of Europe such as Spain, France, and the Netherlands, so we had a fairly diverse group which made socialization more fun in the best way possible since there were so many different cultures coming together. At the same time, we were able to bond over shared interests such as a mutual love for the Shrek movie franchise, of which we watched at least the first three films as a group and proceeded to play selections from the soundtrack basically any time we were “partying” at the flat. I use quotes because “partying” usually just meant drinking and playing Uno, Jenga, or some other card game. And even though it was legal for me to drink, as I was 20 at the time and the UK drinking age is lower, I did it more than I did here but still not as much as most of my peers, which I was completely fine with.


Having built-in social companions also made two of my three trips to London more fun, especially when we went the first full weekend after we had moved in and did a lot of the more tourist-y things like going to Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, walking by the still-under-construction Big Ben, and other things like that. In hindsight, I honestly wish I would have explored more than just Hatfield, St. Albans, and London, but I had also planned to be there for four months instead of two, so time got away from me.


In terms of culture shock, I think the biggest things for me were the streets being reversed, which I knew was going to be a thing but prior knowledge didn’t make it look any less strange, and having to either walk or use public transit to go to the grocery store. Between only being able to buy as much as I could carry, and the fact that there are a lot fewer preservatives in foods there than here in the US, we were making weekly trips to ASDA (UK Walmart), sometimes even multiple trips per week. There was also an Aldi sort of close by, that I wish I would have checked out at least once, but it was usually just easier to tag along for a group ASDA run.


Also, a tip: If you’re shopping and someone asks “Are you alright?”, that’s the equivalent of “Can I help you/Do you need assistance?” And, this is fairly common knowledge, but chips=fries and crisps=chips.


Overall, I am extremely grateful for the time I was able to spend in the UK, even though the trip did not go as expected, and I definitely hope to return at some point and will try to explore more.

Big Ben (still under construction, of course…)
The London Eye.
A Lego sculpture of Big Ben at a Lego store in London.

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