Abroad in London: Opening your eyes to similarities

Derek Thurber

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I believe that traveling and living abroad, even if it is just for a few months, is one of the most important experiences a person can have in terms of broadening one’s personal view of the world.

But the only thing people ever talk about when you travel or study in another culture is how different this or that is.

I find it perhaps more remarkable how similar people are no matter where they are from, who their parents are, what language they speak or any other differences they have.

People by and large are the same, and as a result a study abroad experience is about noticing the little difference but is also about seeing for the first time what makes us act the way we do.

Right now it is “Freshers’  Week” at my school in London. This basically means exactly what it sounds like it means. It is a time for all the new first-years to get to know the school and their peers and to get totally and undeniably wasted every night of the week.

Most people think the “freshmen binge-drinking phenomena” is a very American thing because of our low drinking age and strict parenting.

That is a lie.

It may be legal at age 18, but the British if anything are crazier with their drinking as first-years. The big difference is just that they go to pubs and clubs as opposed to behind-closed-doors and frat parties.

It is not just first-year drinking that is the same, either. There are thieves that use the same tricks, restaurants that serve the same food, grocery stores that provide the same shampoo and many more.

After a while, it can sometimes be hard to see the real differences . . . at least until someone opens their mouth and they start blurting out British slang that not even the Brits can understand.

This is not to say that there are no differences, because there are major differences. There definitely more differences on the surface than there are similarities, but when you start to think about those differences it is easy to see how they are completely unimportant.

In London it is almost impossible to find a store that carries everything. One store covers the meat and cheeses, another for the bread, and yet another for the pots and pans, but who cares?

Just because we have giant grocery stores and they have small, specialty convenience stores near each other makes no difference in what you eat.

It is all these sort of things that makes other countries seem so different when you just see them as a tourist, but makes them seem so similar when you actually live there. And once you see past the surface level differences to the similarities beneath, it is possible to see where the real differences lie.

This is the true value of living in another country. There is nothing that can replicate the experience of learning how to live: not just travel or see, but truly live: in a country that is completely different from the United States: in a foreign country.

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