Finding My Way

I’ve been here in London for about one full month now. I can feel myself (slowly but surely) getting a bit more used to the fast-paced lifestyle and fitting in a bit more with the locals as I travel from place to place. It is important to keep up with the speed of traffic on the sidewalks as you make your way through swarms of people all dressed in dark colors and carrying white cardboard cups — and do not under any circumstances make an abrupt stop to point in the direction you’re heading next.

old church building

So far I’ve had the opportunity to spend one weekend outside the UK in Amsterdam. It was an interesting place to contrast with London in terms of the architecture and scale of the central city area. Apartment buildings and businesses cram together to line the dozens of canals that make up the city, and each has spiral staircases at almost 90 degree angles because the space is so narrow.

The cyclers have their own lane on almost every street because there are more bicycles than there are cars. If you aren’t paying attention or you inevitably look the wrong way before crossing, you’ll hear a bell ring, maybe a grumble, and then you’ll see a hurried cycler zoom past you.

man standing next to small carLondon and Amsterdam were vastly different from one another and made the United States feel even further away. One aspect that has been impossible to ignore is that everything is much smaller. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the portions you receive in a restaurant or at the grocery store are tiny compared to the mountains of food we inhale in the States. I’ve had a burger and fries, but I have yet to find the half pound clogger with a full plate of fries and Big Gulp Pepsi that make some restaurants famous in America.

Some cars, especially in Amsterdam, look like they were shrunk by a ray gun—but they’re everywhere and they’re necessary to squeeze through the extremely crowded European streets and fit into tiny parking spaces on the street.

buildings lining canal

I had a few embarrassing encounters in restaurants and on the Tube when conversing with my friends about how cool our professors were or where we planned to visit next, only to find out we were by far the loudest ones in the area. So now I’ve experienced first hand why we often get stuck with the obnoxious American stereotype.

Although it’s been only a month, I’m definitely starting to gain a bit more perspective into a culture very different from my own, despite sharing a language and much of our history (I guess that’s the point). As I attempt to venture out even more into London and beyond the UK, I look forward to using these experiences to enhance my perspective even more and have fun doing so.

About the author

Derek Smith

My name is Derek Smith and I am a sophomore here at JCC. I am a communication major and an aspiring broadcast journalist. I will be studying media and communications in completing an internship in London for the spring 2016 semester. Following my stay in London I will attend SUNY Oswego for broadcast journalism to finish my 4 year degree. I grew up in nearby Frewsburg but now Jamestown is where I call home. I am an avid fan of all sports and consider myself a political junkie. I am very passionate about the role young people play in activism, especially climate change. I enjoy reading the newspaper and writing when I’m not watching cable news or ESPN. I am looking forward to London but I will miss JCC and all its great students and faculty.