MY WORD: Painful lessons about being American learned abroad

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By Elizabeth Stivers

I departed Dec. 26 for London, England, for an advertising class that lasted two weeks, but would also count as college credit for a course at UK.  As I knew absolutely no one else going on this trip, to say I was nervous would be an understatement.
I woke up every morning at 7 a.m., which would be 2 am here.  I had a complimentary breakfast provided by one of London’s finest hotels.  I would then attend a 30-minute class with around 30 other students from 12 different other universities in the U.S.
This is when the instructors would inform us of what museums and/or ad agencies we would be attending that day.  They would give us a route to take at the “tube” station, which is like a subway.  From there, we were on our own and expected to be at our destinations at the given times.
Having lived in Shelby County all my life, a place like the underground “tube” was not for me.
There was pushing and shoving and many rude remarks directed towards me. There were no “excuse me’s” or “sorry’s” said. It was a fend-for-yourself situation, knowing that there was a high chance you were going to get scolded or pick-pocketed.  
With my purse under my zipped-up jacket and a tight grasp of my hand, I entered the tube several times a day.  It’s the main form of transportation in London, seeing as having a car is pointless in the crowded streets.  
I found that the British find us “Americans” to be “loud-mouths.” There was hardly any conversations to be had in public.
People there were always headed somewhere and didn’t want any interactions with anyone else. I found myself being awkwardly stared at while joking around with fellow class members.
So I came to the conclusion that Americans were not favored in London.  I met many locals who would turn their noses and walk away after hearing where I was from.
There was no joking around or laughing in public.  Trying to have a casual conversation with people you came across on a daily basis, such as a server or cashier, was close to impossible.  It was like they were in their own little world.
Aside from all of these unfortunate things, London was an experience of a lifetime for me.
I learned more in two weeks than I think I did my whole semester at UK.  I got the opportunity to see things I never thought I would.
Places such as one of the seven wonders of the world, Stonehenge (which I wasn’t that impressed with at the time), but now that I look back at it, I feel lucky to have been there.
I also saw many main attractions such as, the London Bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and my favorite, the church where Prince William married Kate Middleton last spring.
Not to mention, I was staying two blocks away from Buckingham Palace (I asked if Prince Harry was home, unfortunately he was in California, go figure). I also got an amazing opportunity to have one foot in the eastern hemisphere, while my other was in the western.
I interviewed several locals as an assignment for my class, asking them what they thought of America as compared to London. One man stated that he thought Americans thought they were “better than everyone else, a kind of snobbish way.” Another said he thought that Americans enjoyed causing problems with other countries just to prove that we were “better.”
I guess this explains why I was ignored on more than one occasion when I said where I was from.  
I had an experience of a lifetime.  Two weeks felt like two months.   I don’t in any way regret going to London.  If given the opportunity to go again, I wouldn’t hesitate.
However, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see the streets of Shelby County.  It’s a relief to be home for a while before I head back up to school.
I recommend anyone who wants to see the world to visit London.  It probably won’t be the place you’ll want to spend a large amount of time at, but it will change the way you see the world.  It will give you a better understanding of how other countries view things.  
The experience will also help you understand the importance of your home back here in Shelby County.  I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.  

Elizbeth Stivers, a native of Shelby County, is a student at the University of Kentucky. She wrote this as a report for her study abroad class.