I cheated my study abroad experience this weekend.
As a sunk into my cushioned chair in the cinema ready to watch the Oscar-contender “Whiplash,” I felt myself being drawn back into American culture.
So far I had done so well. My three weeks and four days living in London were marked by full and unyielding immersion into British culture. I had toured all the museums, dished out a sizable amount of pounds to marvel at the palace of Queen Victoria, and surprisingly, I even dared to eat the sausage and eggs in my full English breakfast. And for everyone who knows how picky an eater I am, this was a huge feat for me.
Furthermore I had started memorizing which bus lines could take me where. I was identifying my favorite bakeries and markets to buy fruit. Though I hadn’t yet gotten the opportunity to break in my red rain boots, my body had essentially adjusted itself back to cold temperatures (I can thank LA for dropping my resistance).
But just as soon as the sound of British accents were normalizing to my ears and the words lift and lecturers were rolling off my tongue seamlessly — I regressed.
Now I was seconds away from spending the next 106 minutes watching a quintessential Hollywood film. I was with two of my friends from USC. We were experiencing our first rainy day in London and had a whole Friday stretched ahead of us. So we decided to go to the cinema at Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. It had been my first movie in a month.
The film starred Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons and told the story of an aspiring drummer in a highly ranked performing arts university and the often-abusive relationship he had with his band director.
So like an immigrant slipping back into his or her native tongue, I too allowed the American colloquialisms and cultural references to reenter my realm. I was undeniably in my comfort zone. As I watched the main characters battle it out “Black Swan” style I took note of the familiar scenes around New York City and how people were now driving on the “correct” side of the street. The main character enjoyed the taste of New York-styled cheese pizza and went to jazz clubs in hole-in-the-wall venues. It was all so American.
My friends and I laughed and cringed at the most emotional parts. At times I think we did it more theatrically than any of the Brits in the theater. To a prove a point. To make the statement, Hey we’re American, we’re laughing because we’re American and this is our culture being projected right now.
After two hours of sitting in a darkened theater with the surround-sound of Americanism, I had been converted. I had tried so hard to do British things and forfeit my culture to experience this new one for the next five months. I mean, that’s what I was paying for, right? But leaning back into that cinema chair and just allowing myself a couple of hours — a mere taste — of one of my favorite American pastimes felt too good to pass up on.
But then the movie ended. And I was back in the UK.
My friends and I rose from our seats and rattled off the list of things we loved about the movie, shared our most cringe-worthy moments and detailed all the reasons “Whiplash” should win Best Picture next Sunday at the Oscars. We were overly assured in our statements. We three media students were very familiar to analyzing films and TV and all the other forms of entertainment. Once again, we were in our element.
Then we walked out of the cinema, back into the rainy London climate and we had no words to describe how we were feeling. Or maybe the problem was that we had too many words racing through our heads to describe the disorientation we felt. Where was I? This isn’t America? Why are these accents unfamiliar? Why do I feel so out of place?
The mixture of the dark movie and the sudden jerk back into a culture that was not ours confused us. Watching that film made me finally understood why people had such a good grasp on American culture and politics. We exported so many hours of it through our movies and our media coverage. Through our songs and through our fashion. We put America in their laps, even if they didn’t want it placed there.
And now standing outside the cinema, with my flimsy umbrella in the rain, I realized I didn’t want that dose of American culture anymore.
It didn’t feel right.
My friends and I wandered around town for a bit, still dazed by the bright British lights. And slowly and gradually with each block we walked and British accent we heard and Tube station we saw we assimilated back into our study abroad mindsets.
This was London. Not LA. This was a borrowed culture. This is what I wanted. What I needed.
So as much as I want to sit down and watch the Oscars next week I just don’t think I can. It’s not right. Allowing myself the guilty pleasure of Americanism was way too jarring and not worth the end result. I want my study abroad experience to give me a new lens of how to perceive the world. That’s nearly impossible if I use the same one I’ve been handed in the U.S.
So cheers to a solid recovery into immersion for these next months ahead.