A semester in a new country is a weird amount of time. It’s definitely beyond a vacation, but is four months really enough time to say you lived there? How much time do you spend being a tourist and acclimating to a new life? Will you ever get used to the weird things these foreigners (wait, locals?!) do? Well, in short, the answer to all of these is ‘yes.’ (Except that middle question, because it’s not a yes-or-no question, to which I say: It’s up to you!)
I’m just about ready to head back to the States after a semester in London, England, and these last few weeks have been strange. I’m finding myself saying things like ‘wow, look at all these tourists,’ and people actually come up to me on the train platform to ask me how to get somewhere as if I’m a London local. And here’s the kicker: I know the answer! Without having to check the map! If you asked me five or six months ago if I thought I’d ever be able to confidently find my way around London, know the ins and outs of different parts of the city, or start calling elevators ‘lifts,’ I might have laughed in your face. I’m so American it’s not even funny — or so I thought.
The truth is, it’s not that hard to adapt to a new city. Granted, London is far different than some other popular study abroad countries, namely in that we speak the same language (I’m so cultured, I know), but moving to a new city, country, continent can be scary no matter where you go, and before I arrived, I would have loved the reassurance of knowing that I would feel like a native in no time.
So, here I am, giving you some advice on how to speed up the process of feeling like a London local:
Don’t let people make fun of you for being a tourist.
You’ll get snide comments from London locals when you unknowingly stop in the middle of a busy walkway because you’re trying to figure out where to go, and passers-by may snicker when they see you take a photo of something they pass on their way to work every day, but brush it off. Being the ultimate tourist my first few weeks (yes, weeks) is entirely the reason I know what I’m doing a few months later. I was traveling to the weirdest parts of the city for ice cream shops I saw on BuzzFeed Video and walking down random streets to find filming locations from my favorite movies — and along the way, I was subconsciously memorizing where I was going. So be a tourist, and be proud. (Just maybe research how to be the least annoying as possible, just in case.) Which brings me to my next point…
Make an effort to master the Tube (by yourself) as soon as possible.
I’ve heard it’s the most complicated underground transportation system in the world, but it’s definitely not that hard to figure out as a passenger (though I often silently commend whoever came up with it, because wow). Don’t get me wrong: The first few rides are kind of horrible, and my friend and I once sat on a bench on the platforms and just watched trains go by for an hour in an effort to figure out how the heck this system worked, but two days later, we were pros. And two months later, it’s like we were from London.
Pro tip: Download Citymapper your phone; it gives you the exact route to any destination by walking or taking the bus, Tube or Uber.
Research where you should stand and walk.
Yes, you read that correctly. If I’m being honest, I still don’t know what side of the sidewalk to walk on, but I just maneuver around other people and pretend like I know what I’m doing. If you walk with a purpose, no one will question you. But as for escalators and stairs, that’s one I do know, and I’m glad I do. In England (and maybe elsewhere in Europe?), you stand on the right side of the escalator if you’re not walking up. This is so people on the left can, and you won’t be in their way. I know, I know: People walking up an escalator? What is this nonsense? But it’s true. And just to make it even more confusing, you have to walk up stairs on the left side. A lot of the time you’ll find that no one cares and everyone just walks wherever, but even if you’re one of 100 people walking up on the right side, a London local coming down will somehow pinpoint you as an American and tell you off for not knowing what to do. I’ve actually been told to go back to my own country before. Because I went up the wrong side of the stairs in the Tube station. Silently. Along with all the other people I was just on the Tube with. London is weird, guys.
Learn the language.
We may all speak English here, but there are some weird words and phrases you should know to avoid getting that look on your face. You know the one. To name a few:
- ‘Cheers’ can mean literally anything (thank you, sorry, no worries, okay, etc.)
- A ‘lift’ is an elevator
- ‘Pants’ are underwear (major lols have come about with this one)
You get the idea. There are tons of fun graphics on Pinterest to help you through this one. Also, bonus points if you don’t giggle like a little schoolgirl when the cute guy making your coffee calls you ‘love.’ That’s a dead giveaway.
Learn how to pronounce words.
Most of the time, words with ‘oucester’ sound like ‘oster’ and not like ‘ochester,’ like you (read: Americans) would think. My advice is to listen to the automated voice on the Tube say the stops. Plus it’s fun to hear an automated voice with a British accent anyway.
Obviously, there are lots of little tips here and there that you’ll pick up without even realizing. Feeling like a native will come naturally anyway, but these quick tips will speed up the process. With only four months in your study abroad location, that could make a world of a difference.