Entering the registration line on the first day of classes at University College London in 2003 it felt like most universities back home. There was the typical mix of fashions, hair styles, heights, weights, and races. However, I quickly realized I wasn’t at home anymore when I tried to order a cup of coffee. The look was at first puzzled, then surprised, and finally amused. I guess she couldn’t understand why this seemingly normal person sounded so funny. When peopled learned I was from Texas, the first comment was usually, “Do you know George Bush?”, then “How many cows do you own?”, or “Is there an oil well in your back yard?” Thankfully I had one line answers to these inquisitions, “no”, but it did stretch my concept of how something simple as everyday speech can be transformed into a portal of curiosity when the context is changed. I admit I learned to like surprising people, but I also learned to adapt and pronounce my words more clearly and speak slowly. I focused on patience and not reacting to the often prejudicial second glances I would received when my American façade was 100% revealed.
Not only did I sound funny, but realizing I was now in the minority was a huge adjustment for me. Attending a high school with 94% white students in the Bible belt didn’t give me a ton of racial and religious diversity experience. Of the approximately 40 students in my graduate program at UCL, I was the only one from North America. The remaining framed a mosaic patter of cultural diversity hard to find anywhere in the world: students from Turkey, China, Singapore, Poland, Dubai, Geece, and a few native Englanders. All these people, stories, and events broadened my perspective on the rich blend of experiences and culture others have to offer. For example, during class discussions and debates the tense relationship between the Greeks and Turks would sometimes subtly appear. Another example was my Muslim friends struggling to make it through the late afternoon classes during the month long fast of Ramadan. And perhaps the most memorable, the Englander’s education on the intense Rugby rivalries and how to properly sing a teams song in the pub environment (hand motions included).
Often the question was posed, “Why did you come to England to study when you have so many great schools back home.” I often struggled with pin pointing the exact reason, and ultimately it didn’t come down to one. There were many each day, showing me how putting myself outside my normal physical borders manifested into infinitely expanding my own internal borders. This experience changed me not only intellectually, but relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. I can only imagine the opportunities for change that lie ahead in a Peace Corp adventure.