Kristen Foster’s Reflection:
Over the past few days, I have had a chance to take time and reflect back on the SYE 4506 course and my time spent in England. It is almost overwhelming to think about all the activities, tours, plays and events we experienced during our two week stay in Europe. I can honestly say, that because of this course, my outlook on other cultures, traveling, and both my personal and professional life has positively changed.
Prior to the class, I knew very little about England’s history, culture and health care. Due in part to the London Olympics, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, I had learned some basics of British culture in the past year, but, overall, I had minimal knowledge. My opinions and assumptions were based loosely off of comments from friends and family, and what I had seen in the media. Based on that, I was expecting England’s food to be mediocre, comforts of home to be exactly the same, and modes of transportation to be similar. Needless to say, over the course of the trip, I noticed some vast cultural differences than what I anticipated.
The biggest cultural surprise for me was England’s food and restaurants. My initial awakening came our first day, when we went to the town of Woodstock to explore on our own and grab lunch. During the couple of hours we had to walk around, a group of us decided to eat lunch at Hampers Cafe. After ordering a turkey sandwich with cranberry and brie, I did not expect much in terms of flavor. From what my family had told me, I figured my meal would be very marginal. Oh, I was very wrong! The sandwich was absolutely delicious and loaded with flavor!
As the trip progressed, I found myself really enjoying all of the meals I ordered. I feel like the stigma of “bad meals” in England is definitely a big misconception. England actually has a wide and diverse range of cuisine. I tried a little of everything: Italian, Spanish, English, Asian, and French. While I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of all of my dishes, I did notice that the meal portions were a bit smaller than what we are used to in the United States. I was still full from all of my lunches and dinners, but the meal sizes were not as gluttonous as they are back home. Culturally, I believe the smaller portions show that the English population are more health conscious.
Also, in terms of restaurants, I noticed that many did not give complementary starters, such as bread and oil. For example, when going to a Spanish restaurant in America, it would be expected to receive free chips and salsa. However, that was not the case in England. The lack of free appetizers actually made me enjoy my main meal, having not filled up on bread and butter before hand. To me, it shows that the English culture is less excessive in what they eat, and people go to restaurants to enjoy the company of friends and family, rather than gorging themselves with food and quickly leaving.
A final observation on restaurants was that people do not commonly tip waiters/waitresses. Unlike American restaurants, when servers expect a 15-20% tip, the English waiters get offended if you leave them money. Culturally, they view their job as serving others, so leaving money shows the waiter that he or she did a poor job. At first, I felt very awkward not leaving a tip. I wanted to let the server know I valued his/her service. However, I adhered to their culture custom and did not leave extra money. The lack of tipping shows me that English servers are compensated better than in the United States, and their job seems to be appreciated more.
Another difference I noticed while in Europe was that Wi-Fi is not as prevalent in restaurants, shops and hotels as it is in America. During our stay at both The Falcon and President’s hotels, I had to adjust to not checking my email hourly or getting on Facebook as often. For me, the most challenging part of not having Wi-Fi at my fingertips was not being able to easily blog. However, I adapted to the Wi-Fi change and either woke up early and headed to Starbucks or typed a blog post on my phone and saved it until I came across internet access. In terms of culture, I think Wi-Fi being less common shows that the English population is not as technology dependent. Even when I was at places with free Wi-Fi, such as Starbucks, I noticed that people were taking time to enjoy their coffee, read a newspaper, or simply chat with others around them, rather than texting and typing emails like we do in the United States.
Finally, I had a preconceived opinion that most people in London take taxis or drive to get from place to place. Naturally, it surprised me that the popular mode of transportation turned out to be the underground train. While I caught on to the tube system quickly, I realized that taking the underground required a ton of walking. Not long after we started taking the tube did I notice that the English population was very fit. I hardly saw any overweight people during the two weeks we were in Europe. In contrast to the U.S., where most people drive cars and park as close to the front door as possible, I realized that the English culture embraces physical exercise. That difference of transportation most likely accounts for the size discrepancy between the people in America and England. Between our huge food portions and dependency on driving, it is no surprise that when we landed in Charlotte, I started noticing more overweight people than I did in England and France. While I did miss driving my car, I actually enjoyed all of the physical exercise I got from taking the train.
Overall, those cultural differences were all a part of making the England/France experience very special. I now realize that learning and adapting to a new culture can be difficult and overwhelming at first, but working through challenges is all a part of the learning process. Part of what made the cultural adjustments easier, was that local people really wanted to help. I found that so many English people took the time to explain unfamiliar customs, such as how the restaurant system worked and what bus to hop on for Russell Square. With the exception of a few, the people in France and England were extremely friendly, and made a strong effort to show us how great Europe is as a whole.
In terms of England’s history, from all our tours of cathedrals, castles, and significant places, I really saw the country’s deep and rich roots. Learning about the architects and historic people that built and were a part of important places really helped me see Britain’s history first hand and truly appreciate its past. I also loved that every tour guide we encountered had a genuine passion for their country and went the extra step, by sharing personal stories and memories, to articulate their love of England and France to us.
In conclusion, I am so thrilled that I took this course. I not only learned about a different culture than my own, but I gained new personal and professional skills. From this class, I found that it is important to have flexibility when traveling with others and be open to new opinions and ideas. Sometimes, pursuing a new idea can make the best memories! As for my professional life, I learned that being open to methods different than my own can actually work out better than planned. Next, I discovered the importance of being a team player, which will definitely help when working in groups at my office. I also realized that stepping out of my comfort zone could bring about positive advantages. Rather than staying quiet and only talking to the people I knew, I reached out to others in the class and ended up meeting and befriending some amazing people! Finally, I learned that even though I am an accounting major, health care will affect my life in many ways. I now see the importance of educating myself on the health care system in the U.S., while understanding that it varies country to country. Without the work of Florence Nightingale, the hospital system and nursing profession, as we know it, would be dramatically different. Nightingale set a strong example that people need to follow what they believe in, even if it goes against the norm, and pursue their passion.
All in all, this was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. From new friends and lasting memories, to a better understanding of other cultures, this trip has really opened my eyes to appreciate backgrounds different than my own. Having experienced my first taste of Europe, I cannot wait to go back and explore more countries! Overall, I would definitely recommend other students take a travel course while at Otterbein and learn about a culture different than their own!
Enjoying England’s culture
Jenna Hochstetler’s Reflection:
After visiting England for two weeks, I was able to gain a better understanding of the English people and culture. My experiences from the trip provided me with knowledge of the English peoples’ personal and professional lives, along with surprises from my previously held assumptions.
As a result of touring England and interacting on a daily basis with the English people, I became familiar with their personal and professional lives. I learned that having tea, scones, and small sandwiches in the afternoon is common for the English people, and a typical dinner does not begin until around 8:00 PM. The words “bathroom” or “restroom” are nonexistent, and, instead, the English use the terms “loo” or “toilets”. I also learned there are many people of different ethnicities living in England, and around 200 languages are spoken in London. This piece of information fascinated me.
Besides learning about the English peoples’ lives, I experienced various surprises on the trip. I had always heard that the food in England is not as favorable as in the United States; however, I only had one dinner out of the entire two weeks that I did not enjoy. (I even enjoyed the airplane food!) Baked beans were served with breakfast which I thought was strange, but after a couple days the combination grew on me. Also, there were countless restaurants serving different genres of food. For instance, China Town was nearby our hotel, which had a few Chinese restaurants from which to choose. There were also many Indian and Italian restaurants, and we even found a Chipotle! The wide selection of restaurants reminded me of the various types of restaurants in the United States.
Along with the types of restaurants, I was surprised with the actual restaurant system. For example, many restaurant servers found it difficult to create separate checks for each individual person in our dinner group. Instead, the server would come to our table with the check, and we would calculate the cost of each person’s meal. If we paid with our credit card, the server would swipe our credit cards using a handheld credit card device. I personally liked how the servers swipe your credit card in front of you, and I felt safer paying with my credit card in England’s restaurants than I do in America’s. The servers in England also do not expect tips and are paid a higher salary than in the United States. There were two Italian restaurants we dined at that did add a small gratuity charge to our bill of around 12 percent. Typically, we would leave small tips if the restaurant was upper scale or if the servers came to our table. In a few English pubs, we would have to go up to the bar and place our order. (At our first dining experience in Stratford, we found this out the hard way after waiting at our table for twenty minutes!)
In addition to the restaurant system, I was surprised at how fast paced the transportation systems were in England. I have never travelled within a large city like London and was a little overwhelmed during the first couple days. We mainly used the underground station and travelled in the tubes. The people who travelled in the tubes always seemed to be in a hurry and would power walk, if not run, through the station. After a few days, I did become used to the fast pace and was not as stressed using the underground station. There was one night where we did not use the tubes, and instead, we travelled on the city buses to travel to and from a theater play. The bus system was comparable to the fast pace of the underground station. My bus pass would not scan, and the bus driver became irritated with me. He finally allowed me to board the bus but took off as soon as I started walking to my seat. Then, when we arrived at our destination, he closed the bus doors right before I was walking off the bus. I was not used to being rushed like this and was surprised. It was definitely an experience!
Overall, by taking this course and travelling to England, I have broadened my understanding of the English culture. I have seen several historic and famous places that I will remember and share with others for the rest of my life. I was able to establish relationships with fellow Otterbein students whom I would probably not have even met if I had not enrolled in this course.