June 1, 2017
The first week of classes is almost over, somehow! The past week has been an incredible mixture of lessons, comforts, and surprises. The people I have become more familiar with, the country I was a stranger to and the misconceptions I had have all taught me a tremendous amount already.
Although the experience has been overwhelmingly positive, to ignore the occasional discomfort of leaving your continent and comfort zone, would not be realistic. My last post included a list of advice for a future Oxford study abroad student. The only way I was able to compile that list, was by learning those lessons myself.
From navigating currency to realizing that speaking the same language does not guarantee similar social norms, I have struggled to feel at home in England. Realizing that you are different and lack basic knowledge of social norms is humbling and can definitely cause discomfort. By social norms, I mean the volume of your voice, the tendency of strangers to ignore you rather than exchange greetings and even how to present your identification (passports v. IDs).
Another lesson I have learned, which will be helpful when I study in Italy, is the unique time management struggle studying abroad presents. At home, I am a successful, diligent student, which I knew I would continue to be in Europe. I also knew I was a competent traveler, having been on international trips with my family previously. However, combining the two- traveler and student- is something I have never had to do before. Suddenly, after settling into my room Sunday night, I remembered that class began Monday morning, and whether I understood what pounds were yet, or why the grocery stores close so early on Sundays, my studies weren’t going to pause and wait for me to catch up.
Although the thought of beginning class before I felt comfortable in England was daunting, because I chose to take courses taught by Salve Regina professors, class time was comforting in its own way. The professors traveling with us were experiencing the same jet lag, culture shock and discomfort that the students were. That realization provided me with some comfort, as did attending class. Focusing on the material and taking notes forced me to set aside any issues I was having outside the classroom. Fortunately, I was able to do this, and actually found that being in class felt strangely like home.
This reminded me of the power of the Salve Regina community. Taking courses with other Salve students, with Salve professors allowed my first study abroad experience to be one with familiar faces and the comfort associated with that.
Since arriving in England I have been surprised by many, many things. However, I have ultimately been surprised by myself. In many ways, I was naive about the struggles I would experience while adapting to English culture. However, I was also unaware of my ability to find comfort in small things, in an effort to feel less like an imposter.
I have also been surprised by my ability to get to know my Salve peers in such a short amount of time. The experience of traveling together will undoubtedly cause us to become closer by the end of June. Although I didn’t know many of the students going, I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know them, and have been pleasantly surprised by the friendships that I have already made!