Obviously, moving to a different country for four months comes with a lot of challenges. Some of these we knew before we set off—there were visas, passports, luggage, getting classes and housing approved through Rollins, and lists of things not to do that our parents gave us. What we were not prepared for were some of the little differences from home that the UK held in store—the things that nobody warned us about beforehand.
First, there’s public transportation. Both of us have been on American public transportation, but let’s be honest: the best and most reliable public transportation in Orlando is the monorail at Disney World. To get into town from our campus, we have to take a bus to get to the city centre. Our campus has an underpass, which is where all the buses stop, and which can take you almost anywhere in the Lake District. We’ve only made a few mistakes on the buses so far, but one wrong move and you will find yourself walking several blocks (or more) in the rain. The trains are even worse—they are rumoured to be reasonably reliable, but both our trips were delayed or cancelled. This is usually an easy fix, but it is pretty boring to stand in the Preston bus station for half an hour with no internet.
Paying for things is another tricky challenge. For example, purchasing coffee has become a more involved process than we ever anticipated. First, when we order “to go,” the barista looks at us funnily until we specify “to take away.” Then there is the issue of paper money itself. Obviously, currency differs depending on the country, but Great British Pounds are much more difficult to keep straight than expected. British coin denominations are totally different from ours; the notes are each different sizes. Paying with a no-international fees credit card is supposed to be easy, but lots of vendors toss on extra fees anyways that add up quickly.
Perhaps the most depressing part is the lack of original American junk food. Kraft mac and cheese? Forget about it. Lay’s potato chips? Nope. Lil’ Debbies? That’s a no. They do, however, have certain odd variations of things. Cool Ranch and Spicy Doritos abound, but we haven’t seen a pack of the originals yet. Same with Mountain Dew—no original flavor, but a load of strange tropical choices.
In the classroom, the grading scale is similar but just different enough from the American system to be a hurdle for us. If you are an A student at home, you are a B student here—it has nothing to do with your work; it is just how the grades work here. When everything is said, done, and transferred back to your home school, your scores will be back to normal, but seeing those initial grades takes some getting used to.
Slowly but surely, we are overcoming the daily struggles of an American semester abroad in England. With every successful bus ride into town and every properly paid-for grocery trip, we blend in a little bit better and learn the ways of the British. We will be okay once we adapt to these minor cultural differences—except for the lack of real Mountain Dew. That is simply unjustifiable.