As a self-proclaimed almost-Londoner, I feel like I’ve learned a bit about not being the American you can spot from a mile away. When I arrived in London for my summer term with IES Abroad, I was focused on not standing out as an American. I wanted to fit in and be accepted by the people around me, which ended up making me extremely aware of everything about be that is American. I quickly became obsessively aware of my posture to the point where my back and shoulders would be sore in the morning from standing so straight all of the time. I tried my best to not speak too loudly and keep my elbows off of the table at any and every pub or restaurant.
About halfway through the program, I realized that trying to suppress my American-ness was not the way to fit in. Sure, there are things that you probably shouldn’t say or do in the UK that you can say and do in the U.S., but slouching won’t make the people around you like or dislike you. At the end of the day, fitting in isn’t about pretending to be something you’re not. I’m not British. I’m an American. I love watching baseball during the summer and I will always think that beans on toast is weird. Fitting in with my British friends was never about making myself a non-American, it was always about finding grace in the differences between British and American culture.
I’ve said some accidentally offensive things to British people in my time abroad, but British people have also said some accidentally offensive things to me. Being able to live in a new country is an unbelievable experience and I can personally guarantee that you will see distinct differences between you and the people around you. To fit in, have grace and understanding. Just because you do something one way does not mean that way is inherently better. Be open to doing things a new way and approach situations with the understanding that there are differences that exist that does not make one culture better than the other. More than anything, kindness, grace and humility are what causes people from other backgrounds to appreciate and accept you.
One of the most meaningful experiences I had of being culturally accepted was when one of my British friends texted me on the Fourth of July to see if I wanted to celebrate it with her. We ended up going to a burger place and having a proper American meal, nothing particularly fancy. I felt so loved and accepted by her invitation to celebrate my American-ness. I am convinced that the reason why she was open to celebrating a holiday that is definitely not celebrated in the UK was because I didn’t project the idea that being American is the best thing to be. To fit in with those around you and make friends, don’t pretend to be British. Be the American who appreciates all that British culture is and finds flexibility in the differences. With this approach, you will be loved and valued for all that you are.
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<p>Hello, I'm Allison! I am a Public Relations major and I am very passionate about travelling the world and learning about different cultures. I am a serious foodie, and one of my favorite parts of travelling is being able to experience culture through food in the place I'm in. I spent my Winter Break this year in China which was probably my favorite trip I've been on! When I am not flying or taking a road trip, I love all things history. Here's a fun fact about me: when I take study breaks, go on The History Channel website and read different articles about whatever is going on in the history world. I am so excited to be spending time in London and to learn about all of the history and culture there!</p>