Being abroad has been the most amazing experience of my life thus far. I’ve tried things I never thought I would try and I’ve become friends with people I never thought I would be friends with. My knowledge in the field of communication and mass media has grown tremendously, but so did my knowledge about myself. This program, Mass Media in the U.K. has changed me for the better. I wasn’t the most optimistic person on the trip, nor was I the nicest. Neither was I the one to go above and beyond. I did what was expected of me and that was it. But, after being abroad with 20 complete strangers for 5 weeks, I learned a lot about myself, the world and I what I want out of life.
For 22 years I’ve been in my comfort zone of the United States of America. I’ve never had to adapt to a different culture or lifestyle. I was never the “foreign” person in the room. When I arrived in the Belfast airport and couldn’t find the “cash machine”, because I was asking everyone for the nearest ATM, was the moment I knew I was in for some culture shock.
The United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland were the first “foreign” countries I’ve ever been to. And on top of it, I was visiting these new places alone, without mommy and daddy. So, adapting to the lifestyle and culture was all up to me, I had to do it all on my own. Luckily, things weren’t TOO different than the United States. For traveling to 4 different countries, things basically stayed the same in every city we visited. The hardest thing was probably switching from pounds to euros to pounds when traveling from the U.K. to the Republic of Ireland back to the U.K. Looking “right, left, right” when crossing the street took some getting used to and so did always asking for ice in my water. I easily caught on to calling bathrooms “toilets”. Calling lines “queues”. And calling elevators “lifts”.
Adapting to this new culture was a lot more than learning their commonly used slang. It was learning that you can’t be loud and obnoxious in public or on public transportation. It was learning that saying “cheers” was their way of saying good-bye, thank you, and/or have a good day. It was learning that they live a much slower-paced life than we do. This was extremely hard for me to comprehend, especially when we would go out to eat. Sitting at the table for 30 minutes after you finished your meal, waiting for the bill was irritating, but we quickly learned to ask for the check when they brought our food. As I sit here and reminisce on everything I learned, I realize that calling their life style annoying is pretty ignorant of me. It truly was never “annoying”, it just wasn’t something that I was used to.
When we had our first few assignments in Belfast and were told to compare things to media, I was perplexed. I thought to myself “how am I supposed to compare the peace wall or the Titanic museum to communicating or media?”. It wasn’t until our third or fourth blog post that I realized that virtually everything in the world can be related back to media. Whether it’s social media, movies, television shows, books or newspaper articles media is everywhere.
Media is defined as the system and organizations of communication through which information is spread to a large number of people. As I am a communication student, it was fascinating seeing how the people in these countries communicated with one another and us. I found that when you say “I’m American” they either get very excited and ask you millions of questions or they give you a dirty look and try to make a bad joke about Donald Trump. When we first arrived overseas, Troy told us that Americans are generally known for being very loud and obnoxious. I definitely didn’t doubt him when he told us this, but I didn’t think Americans were THAT loud that we would have to be warned. We learned quick that we stick out like sore thumbs on public transportation because of our noise level. Same with restaurants, pubs and everywhere else.
The communication used in the United Kingdom definitely differs from the communication in the United States, but there are also many similarities. It isn’t something that you can describe or teach, it’s something you need to learn from experience to catch on to. I wouldn’t have been able to learn nearly half the things I did sitting in a classroom and taking tests. The best way to study communication and media is by experiencing it and that’s exactly what this program gave me.
Being able to be apart of the Mass Media in the U.K study abroad program was one of the greatest opportunities I could have ever asked for. I learned so much more than mass media. I learned not to judge, because some people can turn out to be great. I learned to keep my mouth shut and ears open. You get so much more out of things if you just listen once in a while. And lastly, I learned to live in each moment fully present. Put down the phones and really experience everything. Because these last 5 weeks are weeks I’ll never be able to experience again. I’m so grateful for the memories I have to hold onto and share with 20 strangers that turned into a crazy, diverse, dysfunctional family.