Yesterday, as my friend and I were waiting in the queue for an afternoon coffee, a man interrupted our conversation upon hearing my distinctive American accent to ask: “How do you feel about Donald Trump running for President?” This was not an unfamiliar interaction: when I lived in London from 2012-2013 as a General Course student, I was constantly asked whether I was voting for Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney. But I knew from this man’s raised eyebrows to answer cautiously, so I replied, “Well I’m actually Canadian so I don’t feel much of anything.”
Some people back home, in America, of course, would call me “un-American” for telling this little white lie. I’m thinking in particular about the man in my college town who paraded around handing out Tea Party pamphlets and wearing jean shorts. However, I think that my reaction was much more respectable than launching into an impassioned tirade in a quiet London coffee shop. Learning to pick and choose my political battles is one of the many important lessons that I have learned about America while living in London.
I’ve spent three of my last five years as an honorary Londoner, but alas, my MSc program has come to an end and I must trade cricket for baseball and black cabs for yellow cabs. And while it’s bittersweet for me to leave London and the LSE community, I’ve learned some really important lessons that will shape my opinions and possibly my career in the years to come on the other side of the pond.
Things I Learned About America While Living Abroad
Pick and choose your political battles wisely, especially with non-Americans.
I learned this the hard way when I was a General Course student during the 2012 election season. But as a Masters student, I took a much more diplomatic approach. When I’m not pretending to be Canadian, because I do, after all, care intensely about American politics, I take criticism of my home country gracefully and choose my words of defense very deliberately. I do this because I’ve found that when I’m abroad, I either meet people who know everything or nothing about American politics – and it’s best to respect those with opinions and to let those without them form their own.
American cuisine can’t be replicated.
I’ve been to almost every “American” restaurant in London. And I’m sorry to report that I still bake the best pumpkin pies and fry the best chicken. However, I do respect London restaurants that have adopted the American tradition of Sunday brunch – I don’t discriminate when it comes to eggs.
Home is neither a time- nor a space-bound concept.
Whenever I go “home,” I’m referring to the U.S. in general. I have family in both the New York metropolitan area and in North Florida, but my next stop is Chicago, Illinois. I can’t decide which is my actual home. If home is based on how long you’ve lived somewhere, New Jersey is it, but I spent most of my adult live living in Florida, so surely that means something too. Thus, I’m going home to the States, but my home within that home is to be determined. But on that note, I do think it will be cool to share a “home” with Kanye West and the Stanley Cup ice hockey champions.
New York City and London are very similar, but for one really important difference.
Londoners appreciate the diversity of their city. New Yorkers scoff at the idea of Chinatown (with the excuse that “it’s touristy”), but Londoners embrace it, amongst other things. New Yorkers just aren’t as adventurous as Londoners when it comes to immersing themselves in the cultures that surround them in their global city. I can’t explain this, and this is just a personal observation, but it’s one that will make me more appreciative of the multi-cultural reality of New York, and even Chicago, when I get back.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the pond.
When I’m in London, I find myself to be homesick for the States. And when I’m in the States, whichever state I happen to be in, I find myself to be homesick for London. There’s really no foolproof formula for dealing with homesickness except remaining hopeful that you’ll be able to visit the other side.
Americans crave immediacy much more than most others.
I can’t take full credit for this observation, but one of my course mates suggested that I throw this in because its a quality that make us Americans stand out from the crowd no matter where we are in the world. You can spot an American in the tube, pacing up and down the platform, or grumbling in a queue for a cash point on a Saturday night in Shoreditch. It can be an ugly quality. And although I think that I’m quite used to the great British activity of queuing, I’ll admit that a little good old American impatience destroys my chances for true assimilation…like the time I caused a small scene in the St. Thomas’ Hospital A&E because my friend’s broken collar bone hadn’t been x-rayed despite his writhing in pain for hours. The nurse called his name quite quickly after that!
The U.S. is really socially backward in a lot of areas.
I began to write this post before the tragic shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. In fact, I almost scrapped this one because I didn’t know how to write about guns and racism in the aftermath of such a horrific event. But the reality is that it is troubling that Americans are still free to carry guns and that race relations are unhealthy. Both President Obama and presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, made remarks that stressed the need for change in both of these areas. I don’t think that I need to argue for either. But there are other areas that remain socially backward for an advanced country: restrictive laws on women’s rights to reproductive choice, glaring inequalities in educational attainment, and ignorance of the realities of climate change are just a few sources of my concerns for the future of my home country. I can only hope that my newfound knowledge of social policy solutions and processes will allow me to be a part of enacting positive change in some of these areas in the coming years.
Florida is internationally renowned for being, well… Florida.
I spent most of my adult life living in Florida (when I wasn’t living in London, that is). I wouldn’t consider myself to be a proud Floridian, but I know that my votes matter in national elections, as Florida is a swing state, and I love the satisfaction of kicking back in a hammock in the Keys while folks up North get snowed in. But I’ve learned that most people in the world only know Florida for two things: Disney world and bizarre crimes (including zombie-film style assaults and things involving alligators). And well, it goes without saying that these aren’t the best reputations to be associated with.
And now I have to begin the task of packing up my flat for my upcoming journey to the US of A. I can’t believe that my MSc program is ending – the year went by far too quickly. My year at LSE has been spectacular, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have been able to share my experiences on the Students @ LSE blog. Cheers!