UK News: Learning the Ropes

Justine Heritage ’14, Abroad Columnist

After a month of fumbling around with strange coins and looking the wrong way before I cross the street, I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of things here in the UK.

The first few weeks here were slightly reminiscent of my first weeks of freshman year at Dickinson. I had to look at a map to get everywhere, I wandered around buildings aimlessly looking for my classrooms and, the way I saw it, the printers in the library had so many unknown features that they might as well have been spaceships. It’s a feeling we can all remember from some time in our life. The feeling of being the new kid.

Slowly but surely, I’ve gained my ground here. I can now successfully identify most of the buildings on campus and can get from point A to point B with no sweat. I know when to go to the café to avoid lines, I know that every Tuesday morning they test the fire alarms in my building so I might as well wake up early. All of the little quirks of the school and the town are becoming part of my daily life.

Like I said in my previous article, I find the majority of the culture here to be fairly aligned with what I’m accustomed to in the United States. It is the little things like knowing which crosswalks I can cross without being mowed down by a bus and which ones have a traffic light that make the most difference.

Language is one of these little things. As English is obviously the primary language here, I have mostly been able to communicate without trouble. There are moments, however, where I’ll be talking with a British student and the whole conversation will be derailed by a slight misunderstanding.

“What course are you in?” my flatmate once asked me.

“What… course? Like what classes am I taking?”

“No, what course? What are you studying?”

“Oh.” Course equals major. Got it. “Computer science and math.” He laughed.

“Not math, maths.”

Nearly identical conversations have come up regularly since I’ve been here, and slowly I’m gaining mastery of everyday British-isms that I was previously unaware of. Hoover means vacuum. Hob means stove. Torch means flashlight. All added to my mental dictionary for later use.

As I become more accustomed to hearing people say “cheers” in place of “thank you,” I’m beginning to feel like I’m settling down here, that in a few months everything will somehow seem “normal.” For now, I suppose I will have to settle for friendly chuckles and puzzled looks every time I say something out of place.