My mother began to cry as I slowly disappeared from her sight on the escalator in theSacramento International Airport. This was the beginning of my first trip overseas to another countryas I was headed to England for a month. What did I expect? Looking back, I had no idea. The only thingI was sure of was that I was indescribably excited, and also a little nervous as well. I knew I was in for amonth of new experiences but I didn’t know how much I would learn about the world and the peoplewho inhabit it.
I’m from California. I’m used to being around bros (the kind of guys who use the word “dude”way too much and make drinking at parties and getting drunk their highest priority in life), jocks, andoverly-tanned, platinum-blond girls who have their iPhones in their hands at all times. So I’m used to a certain way of life. I was excited to go to England because it offered a break from the American routine.
After the 8-hour flight was finally over, I knew we had arrived in England but it hadn’t hit me yet.My moment was when I exited the plane door and a Heathrow Airport employee was standing outsidetalking to a buddy. That was the first time I heard the English accent in real life. Even though we hear itall the time on the television and in movies, it’s not the same as listening to it live and in person. I heardthat voice and happiness bubbled inside of me and a huge grin spread across my face.
For the first couple of days, my Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap sat on my head as I explored theneighborhood I was to be living in for the month. That hat, along with my own lack of a charming accent,made me feel different for the first time in my life. I walked through those neighborhoods by myself and each time I passed a pub filled with English voices, I felt a couple of stares toward my hat. After thesecond day of my stay, the cap was thrown onto a shelf in my dormitory and it remained untouchedduring the remainder of the trip. I was terrified of going into a store or a restaurant and speaking outloud. I was different. It’s amazing how something as innocent as a different accent can set someoneapart from a whole group of people. For the first time, I was a visitor in another country.
The British culture is both different and similar. For example, air conditioning is a luxury andcannot be found everywhere you go and a simple glass of water, while taken for granted in Americandining, is something that has to be asked for. Sports are immensely popular in England but different kinds of sports rule the scene compared to America. If an American were to walk into a pub and expectto see (American) football and basketball on the tube, they would be sadly disappointed to see EnglishPremier League soccer, cricket, and the occasional game of darts.
But instead of being miserable because of no AC or free water or different sports, I embracedthe feeling. The new perspective made me appreciate it that much more.
A couple of weeks into my stay I began to notice the people from all over the world roamingthe city just like I was. There was much more world news in The Daily Mirror, the newspaper I readevery day during my visit, than American newspapers. There were stories of Muslims, the French, the Germans. I think I can easily explain this. England is closer to many more countries than the UnitedStates is so it has to find ways to coexist. I would assume this is also why the some countries around theworld have a negative image of the USA. We, as Americans, are so far away from the rest of the world geographically that we believe there is no one else but us on this planet. We’re not ingrained in theworld-community like England is.
Since my trip overseas, I find myself thinking in terms of the rest of the world, not just America.When the news broke that Osama Bin Laden was killed, many of my friends proudly said that it was agood day for America. Upon hearing many of these comments, I posted this on Facebook: “Great day for America? How about a great day for the world?”
While I felt out-of-place during my stay, I was still able to see that Americans are not so differentfrom the rest of the world. We just speak in different ways. We all have similar interests but it’s difficultto see that because of the language barrier and preconceived notions about other groups of people. I think the most important thing I learned during my visit to England, is that even though we areseparated by mountains and oceans and different beliefs, we are all human. We’re all part of a global community. We all bleed red.
Words and photography by Michael Lingberg.