My name is Hannah Bear, I’m a rising junior Communications major from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, in the United States, and boy, do I have an awesome story to tell you. It’s going to take three weeks as I find my footing across the pond in London, so stay with me, here. It starts like this:
Back in April, early one morning, I rolled over in bed at 8AM to punch my alarm off my side table in an attempt to get it to stop ringing. I procrastinated getting out of bed by checking some emails and my heart stopped for a solid two seconds when I saw that I had an email from the Fulbright Commission. “You did your best,” I remember whispering to myself as I tapped it open, thinking back on the months I spent perfecting my essays and worrying into the early hours of the morning about my application details. I scanned it and read the first few words: Congratulations! No way. You have been selected by the US-UK Fulbright Commission and confirmed by King’s College London to take part in the 2016 Fulbright Summer Institute at King’s College London. No. Way!
I was probably in shock for a week and a half. I couldn’t believe I’d get to spend three weeks taking a course on the wonderland of children’s literature at King’s. Any minute I expected a follow-up email: Whoops! Sorry! Wrong recipient. Please disregard and find somewhere at least semi-private to cry. Of course, that didn’t happen, and instead I received weekly emails from staff with helpful tips about the wonderful, exciting, and vibrant city of London – how to get around, how to navigate, where to eat, visit, and shop, all sorts of critical information. As I am absorbing all this information, I recall saying to my mother, “I’m really glad we speak the same language, at least!”
Here’s the thing: we don’t.
Football? Not the same. Chips? Not the same. Pants? DEFINITELY not the same! I grabbed a box of biscuits at the Tesco on the corner and guess what? Those aren’t buttermilk delights, they’re cookies (which, to be honest, was actually a pleasant surprise). When we touched down at Heathrow and got through customs, I was shocked at how I actually could not understand a word of what anyone was saying. Accents were thick, words flew quickly, and if you aren’t paying attention, you’re going to miss something or get confused. Trust me, I am old hat at being confused, I am a professional at knowing when it’s about to happen.
I just assumed that because the basic alphabet is the same, and the structure is the same, that the language is the same. Alphabet and syntax aren’t what make a language, though; content and context make a language. The UK has a whole different pop culture to reference, an entirely separate bank of euphemisms and turns of phrase and figures of speech, a whole grocery store of various foods and a department store (called Harrods) of commodities to call upon that are not our own. Of course their language is different!
The point is that even things you think you know, you don’t. Even things that seem obvious are not. English and English, same language, but different sides of the globe. Different worlds, it seems, and I can’t wait to explore this one. I’m even starting to learn the language; I’m picking it up quickly! So while I’m here, my name is Hannah Bear, I’m starting my third year at university in the States, and my story is going to be brilliant.