Am I A Local Yet?

Taking time to reflect on the culture of London is crucial as I have settled in to my life in the United Kingdom.  As patterns emerge and habits form, I felt it was necessary to question the differences and similarities between London and Pittsburgh.  The way in which I am experiencing school, travel, social gatherings, and exercise differs from the ways I would go about them back home.

Before leaving, I had set some expectations for my time studying abroad. As I mentioned previously, I was in London ten months ago which has given me accurate expectations of how Londoners interact with others.  Knowing that Londoners hardly speak on public transportation, walk on the left side of the sidewalk, and keep to themselves has expedited the transition for me. What I was not sure about, however, was how I would respond to academics abroad.  Would I have enough time to get all my work done?  Are the professors stricter in classroom etiquette?  Questions like these buzzed around my head before departing. The CAPA center in London is different than what I am used to back at Pitt.  Instead of studying on a university campus, CAPA owns a five-story building in South Kensington that houses classrooms, study lounges and support staff.

The red door at the CAPA building welcomes me for classes

The professors who teach at CAPA are local instructors who work for several universities in the area.  I also have the pleasure of taking an accounting elective with Pitt professor Brian Hogan.  The main academic difference with Dr. Hogan’s class is that we meet twice a week for extended periods of time.  I’ve had to spend time adjusting to this aspect of learning abroad.  Having a three hour class in the evening is new to me and I’ve been in the process of training my brain to focus for that extended period.  For my other class, I get to experience the unique nature of being taught by a British professor. My European Government class is taught by a Londoner who has been an adjunct at a plethora of universities across the continent.   In my mind, I was expecting a proper Englishman to walk into class who would not put up with any nonsense.  Instead, I received a warm smile and a few funny jokes when he introduced himself.  Our class meetings are conducted in a semi-circle to create a more intimate environment.  Something I was not expecting was how talkative British people are once you say hello.  My professor is a library full of information and has a story to tell about all topics we discuss.  He frequently reminds us to alert him if he is going on a tangent. Patience is a virtue and it’s worth listening to his educational tales.  The best advice I can give to future travelers is to take advantage of these diverse professors’ background and expertise. They offer something that is unique and well-worth taking to heart.

Outside of academics, I wasn’t ready for the social interactions that Brits have with each other. Like my professor, many Londoners are chatty and spend time talking with their friends and American students. The main places that people meet to hang out are the public houses, better known as the pubs.  The reason I bring this up is not to talk about the drinking that goes on at pubs but how the pub has been fused into the nature of social interaction in London.  British people go to the pubs after work to be with their friends, after church on Sundays to have a meal with their family, or to watch the big game on the television monitors.  In fact, a study found that one in four Brits will meet their future spouse in a pub. I’ve found the communal fellowship fascinating.  In America, we can be individualistic.  I leave work. I drive back to my home.  I eat my own meal.  I watch my own TV show.  I do whatever I want to do.  In Britain, this is not the case.  The pubs are the means that cement this strong community.

Community is also experienced in the way Brits keep in shape.  Fitness is one of my values back home and I’m trying my best to keep up the work-rate here in London.  Most mornings I go for a run in the park.  While I run by myself, I observe throngs of running groups.  These social runners have found a way to find community in what they love to do.  Before GBI London, I had not thought about using fitness to build community. Perhaps I will be able to take this cultural trend back to Pittsburgh with me.

The last big takeaway I have experienced thus far has been how small the UK feels yet how culturally diverse the nation is.  One weekend, I went to Brighton and the cliffs of Eastbourne.  By train, the trip took about ninety minutes.  These two coastal towns are closer to London than I am from the beach back home, yet I experienced a larger cultural difference than back home.  London is a fast-paced city.  Most people recognize this; however, one experiences the full magnitude of this speed when they visit towns outside on London.  No one is sprinting down the sidewalk to catch the tube and the locals seemed continent to not have every second of their day planned.  I was thankful for this opportunity to travel so that I could see just how fast-paced life is back in London.  I will certainly keep this in mind as I continue in the program. It will be important to take time to slow down and experience other British culture in the surrounding area.

The coastal cliffs of Eastbourne gave me a whole new perspective on life in the UK

Thank you for following my journey.


Stetson Fenster