I forget to raise my hand in class when the lecturer calls on international students. I’m still getting adjusted to being considered one.
I think part of the reason comes from my American bias: Inherently I believe the United States is at the center of the world, so how is it possible that I could be the “other”?
Another reason I get tripped up by the idea is because the UK and the U.S. are so superficial similar that it’s not until a certain custom, conversation or classroom I encounter quickly reminds me that I am not at home.
On the first day of class I sat in my penology class (or as the British school system calls it: module) and rapidly took notes. I was excited for this course on the study of crime and punishment, especially in light of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions (or indecisions) in the U.S. My professor (or as they say it, lecturer) described the bureaucracy of the criminal justice system. All of it made sense. I mean I’m an avid Law & Order watcher.
But as she reached the PowerPoint slide designated to the “Parole Board” she quickly glossed over the information. I didn’t even have a chance to write down the description. I must have had a quizzical look on my face because she slowed down and announced: “Some of our international students might find this unusual. The parole board is much more integral in the U.S. justice system but sort of like the stepchild here in this country.”
I nodded, feeling my many pairs of eyes direct themselves toward another study abroad student and me. Strange.
For a culture so closely mirrored, it was unusual for such an vital step of our restorative justice system to disappear.
I moved on to my next module: Conflict Reporting. My lecturer was a reporter formerly at the BBC and had reported on several conflicts of the past 20 years, including Yugoslavia and the Iraq War. Our reading focused on an American journalist’s experience covering the Vietnam War. Okay, I feel comfortable with this topic.
I raised my hand several times throughout the discussion, being able to offer my opinions on the role of social media in the War on Iraq, the government censorship of Vietnam and other things ever-present in my U.S. history books. My lecturer asked the American students to explain the colloquial words like “spook” and “grunt” and “taking the flack.”
But just as I was starting to feel like the one with the upper hand, the British students equally contributed their assessments on American coverage of the Iraq War. Frustrating.
Of the 196 countries in the world, USC offers study abroad opportunities in more than 30 of them. USC Dornsife Arts & Science school, the oldest and largest of the USC schools, alone has 55 programs. And that is just a small portion of young adults choosing to study in a new education system. Nationally, 80,000 of my fellow Americans are embarking on a study abroad experience every year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. These numbers help me take solace that hundreds of my contemporaries around the world are currently feeling the growing pains of adjusting to a foreign classroom.
Furthermore the British school system is more streamlined than the one in the U.S. Students generally take the same classes with their peers and they will often see the same professors time and time again. Unlike at USC and other universities in the state, they don’t have the option of randomly selecting their classes. So walking into a lecture hall as the new kid with the large Trojan backpack and USC water bottle finding a seat next to people who already know each other can be a feat.
But hey, we’re all the new kids at some point. So as I sit in my classrooms listening to lectures that oftentimes remind me of my “otherness,” I keep returning to the moment when I decided to embark on this study abroad experience.
Wasn’t the whole part about going abroad to experience a different culture and language, I thought to myself before signing the acceptance papers. I thought that going to a country where English reigned supreme was a sort of cop-out to my overseas adventures. But in this first week I already feel like I’m debunking that myth. There is miscommunication for sure. There are times when I straight up feel like I’m that obnoxious American who only knows about my country and is ignorant of everything else.
But those times are far and in between the times when I feel like I actually connect with my classmates over topics that we are all generally interested in (one guess: journalism). Because it’s still my first week of classes, I can’t give my time here in London a grade yet, but I’m feeling like this experience will pass the test.