“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.”
Before traveling to Oxford, I remember reading a quote that highlighted the excitement of being a foreigner. I remember how much that appealed to me, as I had upcoming trips! However, during my time in Oxford, I have realized that as liberating and exciting as it is to be a tourist, the process is not always easy. Remaining in a place of familiarity and comfort is much simpler, allowing one to become an expert. This role is comfortable and affords an individual a degree of certainty.
That being said, I would argue that being able to feel like an outsider rather than an expert is important. Studying abroad, even for just two weeks, has taught me that temporary discomfort turns into experience. My friends and I have used a saying throughout the trip that helps us through that discomfort. I realized during the first week that we had the power to determine how we reacted to failures or mishaps. I knew that it was often easier to get frustrated or feel defeated, but would rather laugh at the confusion or failure. We started asking each other “laugh or cry?”. What this is referring to, is the conscious decisions we make every day when we choose how to react to discomfort or a challenge. Although there have been plenty of moments we wanted to complain or become upset, we have all mostly decided to laugh. Without a sense of humor, the cultural differences, lack of sleep, and academic challenges can be humbling.
This trip has also caused me to have tremendous respect for students that study or travel in countries drastically different than their own. Although England and the United States have differences, the cultures are extremely similar. Traveling to a country with dramatically different cultural practices and norms must be incredibly daunting and challenging.
To be a successful tourist, you have to be willing to accept that you lack knowledge, but more importantly, you have to welcome the chance to gain it in uncomfortable ways. Although you can read about cultures and nations, the best way to accurately learn about them is to experience them first hand. However, when you’re traveling, often times this knowledge is only gained through trial and error. For instance, learning that Britain no longer accepts the “old” five-pound bill that your bank gave you. This was only learned though, by attempting to pay for a coffee with an “old” bill that made the barista laugh. Another example was when we attempted to use our state driver’s licenses for identification. Apparently, only passports work as legitimate identification for travelers from the States. Although these were minor lessons to learn, there have definitely been larger lessons we have learned. I have been grateful to experience and discuss these instances with my Salve peers. I would be able to do so on my own, but having friends by my side has been comforting.
Looking ahead to my solo trip to Italy, I know that the cultural differences will only increase in number and scope. However, I am confident that my ability to adapt will increase as well. The alternative would be remaining in the States, remaining an expert, but after this experience that isn’t an option. Although there have been a few moments I would rather cry than laugh, my time in England has reminded me that being an expert is overrated. I am still excited by the thought of being a foreigner, but humbled by the level of uncertainty it requires you to tolerate and flexibility it requires you to possess.