Living abroad is something entirely different from merely visiting. I’m from the UK and I’d visited the United States on multiple occasions before settling on coming here for a year of study. When visiting a place you gain rushed impressions of it, an artificial view created by the tourism industry that highlights the wonders and conceals the more negative aspects. Living here, even for the short period of time I’ve been here thus far, has proved to be a much more holistic way of learning about the country.
A key difference between visiting and living somewhere is actually having to buy things at the supermarket: food, appliances, electronics, clothes … just everything necessary for setting up a permanent residence. The differences, even in an English-speaking country, are baffling. Everything is over-sized here and in such variety that making a decision about which version of a product to buy seems an unsolvable conundrum. I just want detergent, anything that will cause my clothes to be clean, I do not need this level of choice! Getting around alone, too, is strange. Public transport is popular and relatively simple in the UK and everything is very close together. Here, everything is so spaced out that walking is less plausible and buses are far less frequent and accessible. Driving seems to be much more of a necessity.
Practicality aside, being foreign in a less touristy community is a unique experience. Since I visited the larger American cities previously my foreign-ness was not commented upon so much, but here it makes me unique. People are interested by me immediately and I feel as though I have discovered as much about my own culture as I have theirs, just by answering their questions about things I had never truly considered before. I feel as though to engage with another culture is to engage equally with one’s own.
So far my time has been eventful, informative and, most of all, fun. The liberty of being abroad means that I’m much more likely to be adventurous. I anticipate a lively year, full of learning and growth!
BY Helena Dunnett-Orridge