After being in London for about three months, a lot of the specific customs and norms that seemed strange at the beginning of my time here have become the usual. When my parents visited last week, however, a lot of these differences stuck out to me once again. With these differences apparent again, I realized how I have grown to prefer them to some of the ways we do things in the United States.
I wanted this blog post to be about my time in Switzerland as well as some commentary on a huge part of British culture: they royal family.
Last weekend I travelled to St. Gallen and Zurich, Switzerland and found some shocking culture differences that I thought would be interesting to discuss. The first difference is the surprising amount of businesses that are completely closed on Sundays. Even major chains, like Zara and H&M, didn’t even have limited hours. This was surprising because in the U.S., and even in London, most places are open with limited hours on Sundays. After talking with some of my friends who are studying in Switzerland, I believe this practice is due to the different work-life balance they have in Switzerland. The U.S. is definitely more work orientated, while the Swiss take Sundays to relax and spend time with family.
I am back with another update on my progression here in London and how things have changed since the last time that I wrote up an update. In this post, I primarily want to talk about academic life and how it is different than academic life at the University of Virginia. I will look a little bit at both extracurricular life and then the actual academics at the University as well. To me, they are much different as a whole than at UVA.
It’s hard to believe that I have already been in London for exactly two months today! Two months seems like a long time, but it has felt like it has gone by in a second. At this point I would say I’m pretty well adjusted to life in London, and I definitely have been adopting more and more of their lingo without thinking about it. What’s even funnier is that I have a Canadian apartment mate, and I’m picking up some of her speech habits too. So maybe I’ll come back saying “eh” in a British accent!
In about the past week I have been from London to Paris, France and back to London and then from London to Oxford, England. The traveling has been eye-opening and unforgettable, but also challenging and exhausting. Going to Paris was the first time I had ever visited a place that did not have English as its main language. I did not think it would be much of shock but it definitely was. I was especially surprised because I went to touristy parts of Paris where most people spoke enough English for me to get by, but it was still disorienting. I think that is part of what makes traveling so exhausting; you always have to be alert and ready to try to communicate with people, because without a common language it is extremely difficult.
I just started my third week of classes and really feel like I am settling in here. However, I have actually noticed some of the biggest differences between London and the United States, Charlottesville specifically, in the classroom. Some classes feel very serious and very much like a normal lecture at UVA. Then, there are some classes that are much more casual than my experience at UVA. For example, I am taking a course called European Business Seminar and since it is 2 hours long the professor gives us a break half way through class. During this break around half of the class leaves even though there is material covered through group presentations in the second half of the class. Even more shocking to me than this is the fact that many students talk during the lecture. Now, I’m not saying that this does not happen during some UVA classes, but some of my professors here will never address the loudly whispering students and will continue as normal. This is another thing that really surprises me, because the professors do not seem offended by this chatter; I see it as rude, but the people it should be offending do not.
My first week in London has been a whirlwind. I have been able to meet people from all over the United States and other countries, as well as see many different sites around my neighborhood and central London. While I have been able to see St. Paul’s Cathedral (which is a 1o minute walk from my apartment!), Oxford Street, the British Museum, the Tate Modern Museum, Big Ben and Parliament, there is so much more I want to see and do (see pictures at the end of this post).
Having now visited three capital cities during my study abroad trip, I thought I would write a bit about the public transit systems and my experiences with each. On my arrival in Copenhagen, I had the most difficulty. In part because even though English is a common second language, few signs are actually written in it. Second, I spent a great deal of my youth in rural areas and have not been exposed to the systems of transit common in the United States, and thus had little preparation for what might exist elsewhere. I was lucky at that point to have my lady with me, and she was much more capable than I. Together we managed to understand the train system, at least the regional part. During my habitation I have become most familiar with the buses in Copenhagen. They are noticeably taller than the transit I have used in the United States; I suppose this is to give the Danes more headroom. At first I thought the transit in Copenhagen was expensive, at 12dkk per zone. However, upon recollection and accounting for foreign exchange rates it ended up being quite similar to Portland, Oregon, though Copenhagen has better rail systems. For me, the most difficult part was the names of the stops. I was unable to take the metro several times because I simply could not remember the Danish names. A new friend explained to me that there are two phonetic alphabets in the world and the Scandinavian languages use the one that English speakers do not. This difference makes reading the words phonetically impossible, and when coupled with glottal stops it is very difficult to even recognize the same word in print and verbally.