As soon as I say one word in my unpolished American accent, I can feel strangers’ eyes turn to look at me. Their glimpses have a glint of curiosity and within seconds they’ll disappear, going back to whatever they were doing before. As for what they are thinking, I’ll never know.
I have spent the past four months working as an intern on my year abroad at The Independent and for the first time in my life, I’m an outsider – and as an American, this is one of the best things that could ever have happened to me.
Over the last few months, I’ve imagined that when people hear my voice they are thinking something like: “Why are you here?” or “What do you think of this whole Trump situation?”
In reality, I’m sure most people just want me to get out of their way and couldn’t care less about my nationality. But now I’ve noticed that I’m much more self-conscious about being from the US than I was before.
After all, the current political climates in both the UK and US make it an interesting time for an American to live in London. Both countries have had amazing feats but are currently dealing with their own controversies.
Living here, I’ve realised my country’s roots are greatly intertwined with the UK’s, but our blossoms and thorns couldn’t be any more different.
As an American, it gets old being the UK’s boisterous, younger sibling. I envy the British for being the older, steadier first-born. But I don’t take my country’s zealous spirit for granted.
I love that where I come from, we live at such a fast pace that eating meals on the go is customary. We buy groceries in bulk because we don’t make time for shopping day-to-day. I’ve even come to miss preservatives because honestly, they just make life easier. I like that if I buy bread in the US, it doesn’t go bad for a week and a half – gross, I know, but I miss it.
I like how Americans will smile at strangers and without a second thought they’ll engage in chit-chat with people walking by. That does not happen in London!
I’ve also come to recognise how lucky I am to live in a country where I have access to all sorts of climates, from mountains to beaches. The UK has beautiful landscape, but the diversity between our states is unparalleled.
Still, I would trade anything for London’s sense of diversity. Living here, I’ve been exposed to so many different ethnicities, foods and religions. In the Midwestern United States, the choice between a Baptist and Protestant church is about as diverse as it gets. In London, I can practically find a mosque, synagogue and a church on the same block.
I greatly appreciate the UK’s dedication to being mindful of the world around them. For example, during the 2018 Winter Olympics I was shocked to see the BBC give airtime to competitors from other countries. In the US, our Olympic coverage consists of America 24/7.
And when it comes to work-life balance, the UK has mastered it. Here, living comes before working. Even more surprising, people pursue their education to become a smarter person – not to land a job. We are so pushed during college to do enough to make sure we get the job of our dreams – whereas many in the UK do their degree simply because they enjoy the subject.
Overall, the last four months have been an eye-opening experience, and as I return to the States in a few short weeks, I wish that more Americans could experience the feeling of being an outsider.
It breeds empathy and it breaks down walls; or in America’s case, could prevent them from being built in the first place.