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Culture shock stories from England: Story format

By Sarah Hasselquist
Posted Dec. 18, 2006

Chicken and sweet corn pizza? It may seem weird to some American students at UMD, but those who studied in Birmingham, England, know about the culture differences between their study abroad location and Duluth.

Every year, approximately 50 UMD students travel to England to study abroad together for one school year at the University of Birmingham.

Lane Johnson, Brady Hern, Rachel Cooper, Matt Duea, and Scott Morril studied in last school year’s Birmingham program and discussed their culture shock experiences on both sides of the ocean.

Duea said that he had expected some differences in that he had heard that England and the U.S. were different socially. However, he did not anticipate that the airports, especially the terminals, would be so quiet.

“There were about 130 people in line at the airport and nobody was talking,? Duea said.

Duea added that people are expected to know a second language and that the students are from all over the world.

“They are well versed culturally,? he said. “They understand most cultures – not just one or two – because it is such a mixing pot.?

Public transportation is another cultural aspect that differs for the peoples of England compared to the U.S.

Johnson said that in England, it was convenient to use buses and trains.

“And then you come back to Duluth and you have these buses that come every hour, or it takes an hour and a half to get to the mall,? Johnson said. “It’s kind of a disappointment.?

Cooper said that she walked and used the buses more in England and added that it helped that things were closer together overseas.

“If I had an hour break between classes, the grocery store was a few minutes’ walk away from campus, so I’d go get my groceries,? Cooper said. “Then I’d just put them in the window sill at my class, and then carry them home after class.?

Morril said one aspect of culture shock for him was trying to talk with older English men in pubs who had heavy English accents.

“I think we all got pretty good at smiling and nodding after someone had mumbled something in a heavy Englsih accent that we couldn’t understand,? Morril said.

Morril said another notable thing about the English culture was what he called the English breakfast which included eggs, beans, sausage, bacon, and toast.

“I would kill for that,? Morril said with a laugh.

Hern and Johnson both agreed that the bacon itself is better in England.

“That’s not even a question, really. It’s like a thick slab, same thickness, and there’s not any fat in there. It’s the best part of our bacon, but huge,? Hern said.

Cooper said another difference between the cultures was putting sweet corn on pizza. She said that chicken and sweet corn or sweet corn and green peppers was not uncommon there on pizzas.

She also said the salads in England are different.

“Their salad is a large leaf of lettuce and maybe some cucumber or tomato, and you might have salad cream on it or with it, which is weird. I think it’s probably more like mayonnaise than salad dressing,? Cooper said. “And then you cut your lettuce as you eat it. I just don’t like the way the English do salads.?

Johnson said a distinctly English culture difference was the presence of chavves.

“They’re the scum of the earth, English style,? Johnson said. “They wear track suits, tuck their windpants into their socks and have white sneakers.?

He said that they were commonly found in the back of the bus smoking pot.

“They don’t do anything. They’re just there being annoying. If they’re drunk, they cause fights. Everyone who’s been to England has a chavve story. One person has punched one after being assaulted by him,? Johnson said.

With the cultural differences the students noticed in going to England, they also became realized more differences upon returning to the U.S.

“The stores are bigger. The country’s bigger. We’ve got to drive farther to get more places,? Johnson said. “Flying back in, I remember looking down and seeing all the lakes and baseball fields and thinking [that] I never realized we had this much water.?

Duea agreed and said that he thought things were much more spread out in the U.S.

“Even Minneapolis looked a lot more plush, green. It looked from the plane like it was planted in a meadow,? Duea said.

Morril said that in coming back to America, he became aware that Europeans were more apt to talk to about world issues than Americans.

“To come [back] to the U.S. was sort of like going from the Twin Cities to a small town in Iowa in that it’s a little more disconnected [from the rest of the world],? he said.

Morril said the American students who are going to travel between the metaphorical Twin Cities and Iowa already get too much advice regarding culture shock.

“If you go with a backpack and you’ve saived some money from the summer, you’ll be fine. You’re not going to die [if you don’t have everything planned]; you’ll be fine,? Morril said.

Hern agreed and said that the students here about how it will be in England, how to act, what to wear, and what to watch out for.

“Don’t listen to anybody,? Hern said. “You get the most out of it if you figure it out for yourself even if you act stupid sometimes.?

Duea’s advice was to go and said that it is all about being uncomfortable.

“That’s why it is so fulfilling over all,? Duea added.

Johnson said that saving money was important.

“Think about how much you think you’re going to need and double it, and that’s probably a good estimate,? Johnson said.

His other advice resembled that of a tennis shoe advertisement from the 1990’s: Just do it.

“Don’t think about it - just do it - because the more you think about it, the more it might keep you up at night,? said Johnson. “It all works out in the end anyways.?

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