Throughout my travels so far, I have noticed that my Salve peers and I are quite obviously foreign. Despite the fact that I feel the same and that we try our best to blend in, British people and other international students can tell very quickly that we are American. Figuring out how they know and what they associate with our identity when they come to the realization we are American has been difficult. However, after the first week we came up with a short list of give-aways: smiling at strangers, using louder voices and asking for ice.
My peers and I struggled with whether this obvious distinction is always a negative thing or not. We talk about how English people seem to be quieter and more reserved, generally avoiding eye contact and moving rather quickly. Removing ourselves from the States has allowed many of us to realize what exactly makes up our identity as Americans. We have tried to blend in, but also have found that some aspects of our American identity, such as smiling, being friendly and appropriately outgoing, are beneficial to us in our travels.
I have realized that there are many cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S. despite our broad similarities and the fact that we speak the same language. Therefore, it has been comforting for many of us to channel our American identity in small ways at home. One night this week we enjoyed breakfast for dinner, cooking eggs, bacon, croissants, sautéed peppers and onions and smiley fries. Although this was an inexpensive, casual dinner, we agreed it was comforting and reminded us of home. Another surprising way I have found to remind myself of home has been listening to country music occasionally. Country is not usually my go-to, but here it makes me think of summer and takes me out of the city for a while!
One last comfort item I’ve enjoyed having with me is my jar of peanut butter. I heard before I left that the U.K. does’t have peanut butter, so I brought a jar! However, even though I now know I can buy it in the grocery store, I have been grateful to have something familiar to eat.
As comforting as those items are however, as a tourist from America in 2017, there are plenty of uncomfortable moments. “Led” by a controversial leader during a tumultuous time after an unpredictable election, the world is paying more attention to us than ever. Therefore, as an American abroad, I’ve already received questions about America and our climate. Additionally, the past few weeks have been dynamic with the Manchester Attack, the Paris Climate Agreement, the London Bridge attack and Trump’s response to it all.
Being abroad to experience it has allowed me to understand the events at a greater depth, providing me with the English/ European reaction as well as the United States. However, it can be difficult when you don’t agree with the decisions your leaders are making and the image they are portraying of America. Nonetheless, the many smaller groups (states, businesses, cities) that agreed to the Climate Agreement and other events have increased my pride in America. We are ultimately incredibly lucky to come from a place like the U.S. that as a country, regardless of our leader, is made up of communities that define what true Americans value.