Note: I thought I would share my final reflective essay from my study abroad on this blog… it kind of sounds more essay-like than blog-like at times, but I’ll change that towards the end.
Traveling to five countries in five weeks with my peers, meeting with countless speakers in media, climbing cliffs, exploring castles, touring massive corporations such as Warner Brothers Studios, BBC Studios, and ITV Studios: this, admittedly, sounds more like a dream vacation than “studying”. However, earning these six credits in a classroom could have never produced the equivalent of copious sums of bliss, endless lessons about other worldly values and customs, and personal transformations to more well-rounded adults. Studying abroad is often misconstrued to be a vacation disguised as studying. I found this to be absolutely false, as it was the most valuable method to gain worldly understandings, establish professional relationships, and to gain hands on experience in the realm of my future career.
Gaining an understanding of values, taboos, and customs in another country is knowledge that can not be equated through a textbook. I learned what the cultural norms were, and what a day in the life of an average United Kingdom citizen is like. Understanding the differences between, per se, how an American travels, goes out to eat, makes jokes or approaches strangers to how a British citizen does so, reflects on a greater comprehension of each nation. In the food industry in the U.S., Americans expect friendly, fast and efficient service. Servers in restaurants are generally expected to have a huge smile on his or her face as they constantly check on tables and bring the food in a speedy manner. This is also because servers in the U.S. almost entirely rely on tips, when servers get paid at an average of £6.06 per hour in the U.K. I quickly learned that I would not receive the speedy and attentive service in U.K. restaurants due to the higher wage that the servers in the U.K. receive. In addition, I came to realize the slower and more relaxed service in U.K. restaurants parallels the nations’ general value of taking things slowly. In the U.S., a majority of the facets of society is fast paced, which is reflected in the food industry.
The acceptance and casual manner associated with consuming alcohol was another shock that I could not have fully understood unless I witnessed it in person. In the U.S., alcohol is generally demonized and seen as a dangerous device in the eyes of older people in society. Alcohol laws are very strict in the U.S., and it is treated seriously. In the U.K., alcohol is seen as a harmless, almost transparent aspect of daily life. Similarly, humor in both nations differ greatly. British humor is generally dry, and not as “in your face” as American humor is seen to be. As told by some of our presenters in U.K. media, a good sense of humor is seen as a vital trait for public figures and businesses. In the U.S., suing a company or person for misconstrued or “offensive” humor is seen as normal. Ricky Gervais, who co-wrote, co-produced and starred in the hit BBC series The Office in the U.K., said, “Brits are more comfortable with life’s losers”, and that they “embrace the underdog until it’s no longer the underdog” (2). Gervais’ reflection on British humor reveals the nation’s norm of not taking life so seriously. Each daily activity that is seemingly as simple as taking the tube in London, or having a pint bought for you after touring an advertising agency, reveal cultural customs and values that couldn’t be taught in a classroom.
During our study abroad trip, we had the honor of meeting with and gaining lessons from many established professionals in the media field. Prior to this trip, I know I can personally say I have never interacted with as many professionals in media, particularly in their work environment. Learning how to interact with such professionals is a lesson in itself. It was intriguing to learn the differing senses of humors of the professionals, how in depth some of them went into answering questions, and more. I learned what questions allure people in the media field, and what questions might just differentiate myself if I ask. After accumulating answers and opinions from remarkable professionals such as Josh Berger, president of Warner Brothers UK, to those at ITV Studios, I now have a well-rounded sense of what executives and those in hiring positions are looking for in the industry I dream of immersing myself into. My confidence in myself and my abilities solidified in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without this trip. I know I am capable now of reaching my dreams and I have a legitimate idea of how to execute those capabilities.
I find myself gazing out of classrooms a lot, accidentally replaying events in my head or frantically thinking of other things I need to be doing. I try my hardest to stay attentive in class at school, but somedays, when it is a two hour lecture, my mind and body are in two different places. During the past five weeks in my study abroad, I’ve been learning and learning and I can’t even bother to daydream because my daydream was my reality. Every single day, I persistently made an effort to seize every sight, every experience and every moment I could from the day, latching on to as many lessons and memories that I could. I learned so much about how to market myself in the future as a well-rounded adult with experience meeting with professionals in the field. My comprehension for cultural differences and comparisons is at an all time high, and I know I will live my life more openly, and simply better, as a result. It may sound silly to some, but I promise; spending five weeks in the U.K. with your peers can be the most rewarding learning experience of your college career, while simultaneously being the most blissful time of your life.
So anyways, now that I may have made a lot of you feel like a peer reviewing an essay, or uncomfortably enough, like a professor grading a paper, we can take it down a notch and I’ll reflect in less pretentious terms.
I make such a point to emphasize the studying aspect of studying abroad because typically, yes, everyone views it as a vacation. Parts of my experience felt like it, definitely. I think I come to the defense of the “studying” aspect so much because it seems minimizing to degrade those five weeks as a vacation. I can comprehend and familiarize myself with so many different concepts and cultural understandings that were alien to me before. I feel so strongly that I am more of a qualified and enticing job candidate after these five weeks, and just a better person as result. Learning is quite possible outside a classroom or a textbook, folks.
Anyways, I already touched on that in the essay.
“We get it, you think you’re hot sh*t after studying abroad!”, the crowd roars. Hey guys, I promise that’s not true. I just have to explain to my mom and dad that this was actually worth all the money, okay?
Naturally, it was kind of scary to hop on a plane knowing I’d be spending over a month with twenty of my peers that I had no relationship with prior to leaving. Would these people reject my consistent sarcasm and ever-evolving weirdness? Would we have anything in common?
Thankfully, the sarcasm and bizarreness was accepted. Even better, we indeed had things in common. I actually found myself head-over-heels, kindofobsessedbecauseIlovethemsomuch with my lovely friends on this trip. Everyone had something so completely unique and pleasant to offer. We were an unexpected amalgam of differing personas. Somehow, it worked so flawlessly. No one was ever bored. No matter who you were talking to or rooming with or hanging out with, something interesting was exchanging or occurring.
I learned different lessons from individuals, too. I was inspired by the different ways we all experienced this trip of a lifetime and how each person took different lessons and how each person soaked in different aspects in different manners.
If we pay enough attention, we can learn so much from each other. If we listen more closely, we can gain so much more from these experiences just by absorbing the words and lessons from our friends.
I suppose this is more of a thank you message to the wonderful people I shared this experience with. Surely, I still would have been astounded by the marvelous sights we saw, and still blown away by all of the different immersions into different cultures if I happened to be in a group of peers that I didn’t enjoy or had nothing in common with.
However, I can’t imagine it would’ve been half of the trip I didn’t have such incredible people to share it with; people who made me laugh until I peed a little (this was a crucial ailment to the story, okay), who joined me in soaking in our experience from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on days that we just didn’t want to go back to the flat or hotel or hostel yet, and who made it feel like home.
We all come from different places, share different views on the world, and are immensely different people. Somehow, with the common denominator of a once-in-a-lifetime study abroad across five or six countries, our differences united us. I think on any front, in fact, in East Lansing as well, these differences would have united us, too. I am thankful for those differences. I am just as thankful for the differences in each country we inhabited, and the contrast and comparisons between nations that I was lucky enough to decipher in the flesh.
If some mysterious individual in all black approached me, popped open a brief case of a million dollars cash, and said he would award me with such funds if I could erase my memories of my study abroad trip, I’d turn on my feet and say, “To hell with you, sir.”
I wouldn’t trade these five weeks for absolutely anything. I’d be less whole without these weeks.