Sea of questions from across the pond


Nearly 4,000 miles across the Atlantic, there lies a land called England. This summer I embarked upon a two-month journey to this strange, unfamiliar place. I had a taste of independent adventure, thrilled to immerse myself in the new surroundings and the heavenly sound of British accents.
Honestly, though, I did not exactly expect England to be much different from the U.S. For the most part, it was not, but I realized while I was there that small cultural differences separated my home from theirs. These differences became most obvious through the odd questions I was asked repeatedly. While many of their inquiries seemed comical to me at the time, I now realize that they provided insight to my country as seen through the eyes of others.
Each time I met someone new, curiosity about America got the better of them, and I was met with a round of questions about anything from food to pop culture. Some questions were repeated so often that I braced myself for them before the words could begin to part my interviewer’s lips.
There were general questions such as, “Whereabouts in America are you from?” It was typically followed by, “Is that near California?” Then there were the countless questions about food which were normally along the lines of, “Do you watch ‘Man vs. Food?’” or “If you were in America, this portion would be a lot bigger, wouldn’t it?”
I could not count how many times I was asked questions like, “Do people really drink out of red cups there?” and “Are all the parties like the ones in ‘American Pie?’” Then there was the one that always puzzled me the most, “Don’t you get bored here?”
Many of the questions shocked me. Who has ever considered something as trivial as red Solo cups to be a point of interest? I had assumed that they were universal phenomena. Plus, I couldn’t help but wonder about the “Man vs. Food” obsession. An entertaining show, but I would not consider it a must-watch program. Actually, my stomach hurts watching it.
I eventually realized that these questions about everyday U.S. life reflected the British conception of Americans. The questions indicated to me that America is viewed as a country of excess, and whether that is good or bad is up for interpretation.
I found it comical that I was asked nearly every conversation whether Tennessee is near California, although it makes sense in hindsight. California is a star state; it is only logical that America would be defined by it. So, in the eyes of the British, the U.S. can be summed up by food, parties and Hollywood.
That brings me to the final question: Did I ever get bored there? Of course, I wasn’t bored! While natives grew accustomed to the sights and culture, everything I experienced was fresh and exciting. The various question-filled conversations I endured showed me that the process could happen in reverse. At first I found many of the questions silly and pointless, but then I found that they were fascinated by aspects of my culture that I take for granted.
If I could pull one lesson away from my time abroad, it would be to travel as much as you can. Find out what others think of your culture and find out the truth about your conceptions of other cultures. The only way to truly understand is to experience it firsthand. Maryville College offers a variety of travel study options that provide the perfect opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and see the world.
If you are interested in seeing what the world has to offer, I encourage learning about the various options offered by our college and taking advantage of them while you can.

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