Reflections on studying abroad

Lydia Marcus–Staff Writter

One of the perhaps under-advertised consequences of living away from home for a bit is that, when you return, you get to play tourist in your home country. “Reverse culture shock” it’s sometimes called. Though, in my admittedly limited experience, it is not necessarily a shocking phenomenon. It is a fairly reasonable one. After getting acclimated to another nation’s norms, history, traditions, and whatnot, you are better able to identify your own nation’s norms and evaluate its assumptions. To be slightly more of a biologist about it: humankind is one species, but different historical and geographical factors have led to the development of diverse cultures which means that different people groups do things differently.

Perhaps this is starting to sound too academic for a travel blog. What can I say, I accept my status as a nerd. Being exuberantly passionate about academics is cool in Oxford. It’s not for everyone, but if it is for you, it is a lot of fun. That is one norm I embraced unreservedly.

Earlier this term I wrote probably too many articles that were basically lists of things that were different about the U.K. Now, as I enjoy the weird sensation of finding Minnesota and its inhabitants rather foreign and quaint, I thought I’d remark on some observations about the United States.

The United States is a young country. Not as young as Canada, but still much younger than many countries in Europe. (Though Kosovo has us beat.) Perhaps as a result, it is easier to view history myopically here. We have less ground to cover in U.S. history classes than British students do in their national history classes. American school children memorize 1776 as their country’s birth year; British school children remember 1066 as the year the Anglo-Saxons booted out the nasty Normans. That’s nearly a millennium more of history to cover.

Speaking of ground to cover… the United States is a massive country. And, perhaps because there is just so much land, everything is scaled up. Houses are farther apart from each other, roads are broader, cars are larger, buildings are larger. There are cultural reasons for this too, I think. But, if I get started musing about that, this column will definitely take a turn toward the academic. So, I’ll hold off on that.

American accents are kind of fun. (That coming from someone who apparently sounded increasingly Canadian/Minnesotan as the term progressed. “Like in Fargo,” according to my Nature of Religion prof. Excellent.) They tend to be fairly standardized, too. Perhaps this is related to the nation’s newness.

Customer service employees are frequently friendly and cheery here. Not that they were rude in England. They just often seemed slightly less enthused about their jobs.

Old things are more revered. Or, we make more of a fuss when something is historically important. This could be because, unlike in England, very old buildings are harder to come by. People still live in buildings from the 1600s in Oxford. If there was a building from 1600 in Minnesota, it would very possibly become the state’s most celebrated historical site.

It is delightful to learn about how other people live and view the world. If you get a chance to travel or even simply befriend a foreigner, I’d highly recommend it. Take that for what it’s worth.

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