An education abroad program can take you to so many different places – literally you could end up across the world in a culture you know little to nothing about. The good things is, that’s the best way to learn about culture is immersion!
I studied abroad in an English speaking country, so I had it a little easier than some. Not to say it didn’t come with challenges though. The first phrase I remember hearing in England that I couldn’t quit comprehend was “You alright?” In America, the phrase means you are asking about someone’s well being, perhaps because they seem jaded. In England, this is simply how they greet you upon entering a restaurant or meeting someone for the first time. You alright equates to how are you in America. This translation seems easy enough but I was caught off guard the first time it was spoken to me and I didn’t know how to respond.
Another simple societal norm that I seemed to overlook was walking on the left side of the sidewalk. You obviously expect this upon traveling to England, but things get weird when you’re walking along a tiny sidewalk and you forget momentarily that you’re in England so you step to the right instead of the left.
Food is different with every culture you enter, and it is important that you try new things that are so central to the culture you will be living in. For example, I hate fish but I had to try fish and chips since I was living in England for sixth months – and I ended up loving it! (Also if you find yourself in England fries are called chips and chips are called crisps). I also ate escargot in Paris and ending up loving that too.
European culture is a lot more custom to touch than America is. This is important if you are studying anywhere in Europe. People tend to greet you with a kiss on the cheek as opposed to a handshake.
My very last piece of advice to leave you with is to at least learn how to say hello and thank you in the host culture’s language. Whether it be “Cheers!” in England, or “Merci!” in France. Even if you’re only in Germany for a night and you’ve never spoken a German word in your life – you are in their country, and it is always polite to be able to greet a local in their language. Immersing yourself in your host cultures language, foods, societal norms, and practices will enhancing your education abroad experience so much.
Jenna Anderson is a junior studying Arts Administration, Dance, and Communications. She participated in the UK Exchange at the University of Central Lancashire in spring 2015.