Shocked by Culture Shock

Nearly every travel guide out there will tell you that there are several stages of culture shock. The more time you spend away from home, the harder culture shock will hit you, blah blah blah. For some reason, I thought I was immune to culture shock. I’ve traveled internationally, I’ve been exposed to British culture through different forms of media, and I’ve spent plenty of time away from home before. Culture shock can’t hit me! I’m super-traveler!

I was quite wrong.

Wikipedia describes culture shock as “a term used to describe the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different cultural or social environment, such as a different country or a different state”. That seems pretty accurate for Wikipedia, seeing as I’ve felt a lot of things since I arrived in London three weeks ago. I spent the first week or so in the “honeymoon stage”. I wanted to get out and do and see everything that this city has to offer. Homework? That can wait, let’s go to the Tower of London! That club is a fifteen minute walk from the tube? That’s totally worth it, they’ve got the best DJ in the city!

Naturally, I’m exhausted right now. Tiring yourself out in the first few days is probably the best way to enter stage two of culture shock, the “hostility stage”.

I feel like the term “hostility” is a bit strong, considering how I feel right now. I still love London, and I’m definitely not ready to go back to the states, but there are some things that frustrate me about being here. Things are expensive, in between school and travel plans I never feel like I have enough time for everything I want to do, and I still can’t find anywhere to get my eyebrows waxed (seriously, it’s getting out of hand).  I guess the thing that I’m most frustrated with is being so far away from the people I love. I want to share my experiences with them. However, I’ve been blessed with a great group of people to live and study with here in London, which makes this whole “hostility period” much easier. I’m not hostile, just a bit sad, particularly because the Reading Room of the Victoria & Albert Museum (where I happen to be writing this post) keeps playing songs that remind me of the states.

Of course, I’m still having an amazing time here. I’ll leave you with some highlights of the last few weeks.

I took a tour of Parliament with my classmates on Monday morning. Honestly, I didn’t think that “common folk” were allowed in Parliament. My experiences with American government buildings has been limited, and mostly experienced from the outside. Apparently anyone can come in and have a chat with their local Member of Parliament or attend a debate. The building alone is a work of art, and yet someone let me on the floor of the House of Commons. I call that government transparency at its finest. Congress, take notes.

I did the ultimate tourist thing and took a ride on the London Eye last week. My friends and I went at night when the city was all lit up and ready to party (well, as hard as you can party on a Wednesday night). The views were gorgeous enough to distract me from my fear of heights, which probably means that I’m not afraid of heights anymore. Here are a few of my favorite shots of the night.

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Last Saturday I saw Zach Braff’s new play All New People at the Duke of York’s Theatre. I went on my own, which is a theatre first for me. As much as I enjoy discussing a play after I’ve seen it with others, it was nice to just take it in and digest the work on my own. The play was a funny, yet poignant portrayal of life as a young person in such an isolating age. As this was Braff’s first play, there were some things that he still needs to work on and some writing choices that I didn’t agree with, but overall I enjoyed the show and would recommend it to theatre fans in London in the next two weeks, particularly if you are a fan of Braff’s work. I also got to meet Braff at the stage door after the show! He was really great with his fans, making sure to sign everyone’s program/Scrubs DVDs/Marks & Spencer’s voucher. Image

I leave for a weekend in Amsterdam bright and early tomorrow morning. It’s high time for a change of scenery.

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A Weekend in London

It appears that I am in London. I’m not entirely sure how I got here but I have a feeling that I watched Downton Abbey on the way. That’s not entirely important. What’s important is what I’ve been up to for the last few days, and that’s what I’m here to blog about.

(It’s occurred to me that “to blog” wasn’t a verb fifteen years ago. What a strange, strange world we live in.)

I arrived on Thursday slightly delirious. I did manage to get some sleep on the plane, but that didn’t make the tube ride from Heathrow and the journey from the tube stop to the flat with my fifty pound bag any easier. Regardless, I made it and unpacked my stuff in time to take a quick nap before our tour of the neighborhood. South Kensington is absolutely lovely. Almost everything I need is an easy walk from our flat in quaint little shops. After the tour, my friend and I had an awesome dinner at Nandos  and spent the rest of the evening recovering from jet lag.

Friday was spent in orientation and shopping for the essentials: food, a cell phone, and a hair dryer. On Saturday my flatmates and I went on a tour of the city. We hit the major tourist attractions that we could see on foot: Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, Big Ben, Westminister Abbey, Parliament, The Globe, Tower Bridge, etc. It was a lot of fun, and definitely helped me further develop my list of things I want to see before I leave. We actually arrived at Buckingham Palace in time to see the tail end of the guard change. I saw the guard change during my first trip to London when I was ten, but I don’t think I could appreciate the uniformity and precision of it until now. I’ll have to see the full routine one of these days.

This city is so beautiful. It’s such a modern city, and yet it’s so impossibly old. I’m surprisingly feeling very comfortable here which says…something about me. I’m really looking forward to the next ten weeks, and taking you all along with me.

I’ll leave you with some pictures from our walking tour, featuring the infamous gray London sky.