This is the end of my third month studying and working abroad in London. While this is hardly enough time to be able to acknowledge and appreciate every little nuance of the culture, I have written down a few observations with my (near-sighted) American eyes that I think relate to young people.
I am so impressed with the resources that Britain offers freely, and I think it reveals some of the core values of this culture. For example, the NHS, while I know it has its problems, is (sometimes literally) a life-saver.
I am used to being stressed about trying to figure out how to pay medical bills and afford insurance, especially a few years down the road when I can no longer be on my parents’ insurance plans.
In the US, healthcare is so expensive you may hold off going to hospital even if you are very sick or need medical care, because it simply costs too much.
When you are in a situation where you need to call for an ambulance, it is nice that you don’t also have to deal with how you’re going to pay for the services when they get to you. National healthcare — well done Britain.
Also, it is amazing that most museums are free here. As a university student, I enjoy going to the museums and learning about history, art and science, but I enjoy it way more because I can still afford groceries at the end of my visit! Making it free also means you don’t have to feel pressured to stay for an entire day to be sure to see everything in these massive exhibits; you can just leave and come back for round two another day.
I have been interning here at Exposure for three months now. I think one of the best parts about this organisation is that it works with young people, taking them on to help them get work experience. They really take the time to teach students new skills so that they are better equipped for life after school.
However, I noticed that some young people take this experience for granted. I think it is admirable that secondary schools incorporate required work experience (usually 1 to 2 weeks) into their programs.
In the US, it is unheard of for teens to secure internships, let alone have one as part of their educational requirements. Often, students cannot hope to get an internship until they are at university in the US. Even then, they have to struggle and compete with one another to secure these placements.
The fact that for most, this is an aspect of secondary school education in the UK is a step in the right direction towards better preparing young people for careers and life after school. However, I think it is sad that too many young people don’t seem to take this opportunity seriously. That is only hurting themselves!
3.Location, location, location
Britain is close to so many countries, which means cheaper flights and shorter travel times.
In my time here, I have also travelled to Italy and Edinburgh, as well as a few other places in England, (and other students often travel to many more places!). The ability to take holidays is an integral part of British culture. In fact, in the UK ‘almost all workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year.’
Conversely, workers in the US are entitled to no paid holiday. In addition, gap years are a norm in the UK, but would be looked down on in the US as it would have unfortunate connotations that the young person is lazy, immature, or unprepared for university. Young people only tend to travel during breaks from school or for study abroad experiences.
Thus, this location and the ability to take holidays in the UK, either from work or during a gap year, provides so many opportunities to travel (much more so than in the US).
For me, travelling outside my comfort zone, and leaving all of my friends and family to go to a new place to live and work for a time has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.
I think it helps you grow as a person and become more culturally aware. And, it will help restore your faith in humanity as you discover that most people are willing to help you when you are lost or confused!
I would encourage everyone to travel if they are able, even if it is only a short trip or you have to take a cramped, overnight bus to get there cheaply.
Finally, here are answers to a few questions I get asked most often by British people, so you can learn a little about my culture in return!
1. No, I don’t support Trump. I think he is a menace. It honestly scares me that there are people that do support him.
2. I actually find the weather here lovely! I am from Wisconsin, a state in the upper Midwest of the US, where it dropped all the way down to -52 degrees Celsius two winters ago. London is balmy by comparison!
3. Yes, my accent is weird. I’m sorry, I don’t love it either.
4. I would love to come back someday. I have truly enjoyed my time here — even though my wallet hasn’t! London has become my home these past few months, and it will be hard to leave!