The Problem of Plaster

Darcy in England

Image Credit: Darcy Christoffersen

 

It was my first day in England and I was already bleeding.

I had just endured a 24-hour travel day that consisted of two six-hour flights, a three-hour layover in-between, a two-hour bus ride to York, and all with about four hours of sleep. I was exhausted, hungry, and I was feeling overwhelmed at being outside of the country for the first time.

And now I was bleeding. I am not entirely sure how I’d managed to injure myself after only a few hours in the country, but it had happened—most likely from me getting a papercut or hitting my finger on the edge of a door (that’s a common one). Regardless, I was bleeding and I couldn’t find a Band-Aid.

I walked up to one of the York St. John Global Guide, students at the school whose job was to help international students adjust to their time at York, and asked, “Excuse me, do you have a Band-Aid?”

She gave me a blank stare and replied, “What’s a Band-Aid?”

In my sleep-deprived brain, I stupidly replied with, “You know a Band-Aid. Like that thing that goes on your cut when you bleed to stop the bleeding.”

She and I stared at each other for a moment. Neither one of us entirely sure what the other was thinking. I literally had no idea how to describe a Band-Aid, as I had never tried before. Everyone I had ever talked to knew what it was. I turned to my best friend who was there with me to ask her how she would describe what a Band-Aid was, but before I could, the Global Guide stated, “Oh! I know what you’re talking about. But, uh-I don’t remember what it’s called.”

She then turned to another Global Guide and tried to describe to him what I wanted. He appeared confused and shook his head, so I said, “A Band-Aid?

He also stared at me, as if trying to figure out the answer from my blank stare. After our stare-down, he shrugged his shoulders and turned to another Global Guide. This time though, she knew what I was talking about.

When I said that I was looking for a Band-Aid, she said, “Oh a Plaster?”

Plaster.

What a freaking weird name to me. When I think of “plaster,” I think of an art supply, or something that is used in a DIY house project. Not something that you used to stop the blood rushing from my finger.

But that was just the beginning.

Throughout my time studying abroad, I would see many more differences between America and the United Kingdom.

For example, there was an event hosted by the Global Guides that celebrated different countries around the world. The American table hosted the game: British English vs. American English. From “trash can” to “rubbish bin,” “fries” to “chips,” or “cotton candy” to “candy floss,” it was kind of amazing to see how, although both countries speak English, some simple words could differ so much. I remember there were many times that I asked for “fries,” and the British person taking my order would automatically reply, “chips?”

I distinctly remember another time where I struggled with the differences in language. I was at a restaurant in my early days at York, and I was unsuccessfully looking, like my life depended on it, for the bathroom. I was embarrassed to ask anyone where the bathroom was (because I didn’t want to seem like a dumb American), and I figured that that it would be easy to find. I was wrong. I spent a solid five minutes walking around the restaurant, searching for the stupid bathroom.

Eventually, my need to go pee outweighed the embarrassment I felt about searching so hard to find the stupid bathroom, so I asked the waitress. She stared at me, almost like I was a puzzle that she didn’t understand, and then pointed at a door that said “WC.” At that point, I didn’t care what the words meant, I just wanted to go to the bathroom. But, I would later find out that the WC meant “Water Closet,” aka the bathroom. This proved to be another of many instances, in which I struggled to overcome the language differences between British English and American English.

And it all began with me asking for a Band-Aid and them giving me a plaster.

 

By: Darcy Christoffersen

Same But Different

Image Credit: WikiCommons

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At International Student Centers all around the world, there is a much cited diagram called the ‘Cultural Adaptation Curve.’ Basically, like a new relationship, you fall in love, you enter crisis as you discover the other person isn’t perfect, and then you adjust. Yeah sure, I thought as I rolled my eyes. I think I’ll be okay leaving Australian to live in a country renowned for pizza, and learning about US literary culture along the way. What could go wrong?

When arriving in the land of the free, the first thing to make me nervous was not the much politicized gun violence or the thought of witnessing Fox News, but my own voice. I had prepared for the challenges of living and studying in a new country (navigating new supermarkets, driving on the wrong side of the road) but I never thought that I would struggle with my own words. English is my first language, so it didn’t occur to me that there would be language barriers.

“Excuse me, what stop is Walmart?” I ask the bus driver.

“I’ve never heard of that” he responds quizzically, his eyes remaining ahead on the road.

“The big store? You know… WAL-MART?”

“Ohh you mean War-l-mart.”

It was hard enough adjusting to a store that was bigger than any supermarket I’d been to before, let alone learning I was pronouncing it wrong. I was incredulous that in a single place you can buy chips, pillows and guns. I’d never seen a gun available for purchase before and Walmart sells them in a variety of colors like pink.

I began to resent my long Australian ‘ahhhs’ (as in ‘caaahrs’) announcing my foreignness at every turn. I wanted to fit in, arrive at Walmart in peace and pursue capitalism like any normal American. I hoped I wasn’t called on in class and dreaded opening my mouth, not sure people could understand me or if my drawl was just too humiliating. In short, I was a slack jawed hick in a shiny new city.

Desperate to feel normal, I fled to my headphones, which I filled with the quintessentially Australian Courtney Barnett. I spread vegemite on my toast before I rushed off to class, wondering whether eating a salty yeast spread was really the best way to connect with my roots. I’d never before identified with being Australian. I stay at home on Australia Day, avoiding crowds of drunken patriots. I classify myself as ‘Greek Australian’ with an emphasis on the Greek. It felt dizzying to be away from an identity that I never had acknowledged.

As the weeks disconcertingly rushed past, the words lost their power. The anxiety lifted as I began to focus on what I was saying, not how I was saying it. My opinion on Young Goodman Brown’ seemed to matter more than how I pronounced Hawthorne (Haaaawthawn). Words didn’t stick as much in my mouth and I didn’t lock my jaw as tightly.

After the second month passed, I spent a weekend in Seattle and consequently, a good few hours milling about at a bus station. I sprawled on the metal chairs, feet on my backpack and book in hand trying to block out the sound of the TV.

“Aww this is Naked and Afraid. Have you guys seen this?”

I sit up straight in my seat. What is that? Where is she from? South Africa? I look to my travelling partner and he sees my expression of dumbfoundedness.

“Australian,” he says to me.

“It’s horrible,” I reply, “Do we really sound that bad?”

By: Katerina Bryant

Finding Similarities in Another Culture

 

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Image Credit: Cailyn Andreasen

During the summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy for ten days with the photography department at Pacific University, where we split our time between Florence and Rome. I had never traveled abroad before, and the only foreign language I knew was what I had picked up in my one year of Spanish. Stepping off the bus in Florence, I was immediately overwhelmed. It was in the largest city that I had ever been in. Buildings were everywhere I looked. Cars and people whizzed past in a blur. I was pushed and jostled about as I took a moment to take in my surroundings – surroundings that were always in motion, with not a moment of calm. I couldn’t understand a word anyone said. The blank look on my face was a dead giveaway that I was American and after rolling their eyes people would start speaking English with a hint of agitation added to their voices. Standing on the sidewalk next to the bus with my suitcase in one hand I felt small and insignificant amongst the identical tall buildings with their uniform chipped, pale yellow paint.

I don’t know why, but I expected everything about Italy to be completely different from the United States, from the culture to the food to the people. I was prepared for the eye rolling at the stupid Americans that I was told everyone hated. And, while I hoped to have the opportunity to talk to locals, I knew that it was unlikely because of the language barrier and due to the high number of tourists like me visiting the busy cities. By chance, on the last night we were in Florence, I got that opportunity.

A small group of us went to a pizzeria just down the street from our hotel. From the outside it appeared to be a small hole-in-the-wall establishment that one could easily walk by and not even notice it was there. Inside there were two large rooms connected by a large archway, crammed with tables. Nearly every chair was occupied. We were led through the maze to the back of the second room where we were seated in one of the few remaining tables.

By the time we finished our meal, the restaurant was mostly empty. As we were paying, we started talking with the waitress, a waiter, and the proprietors. During our conversation we learned that it was a family business: the proprietors were the waitress’s parents and the other waiter was her younger brother. Her parents spoke very little English and her brother’s English was broken, inserting Italian words for the ones he didn’t know in English. Through his broken English he told us that he was seventeen. We asked him if was already in college or if he was still in secondary education. He told us that he didn’t like school so he dropped out of to work in the restaurant. He was not forced to drop out of school, nor was he discouraged from continuing his education to work in the restaurant like many stereotypes portray; he made those choices because that is what he wanted to do with his life. His sister, however, was very good at school, he informed us. She then told us that she was studying at University, like we were, and hoped to study abroad in the United States the following year. Then it was our turn to tell our story. They loved hearing about our adventures as much as we enjoyed theirs. By the time we finally left the restaurant it was dark and they had sent us on our way with a small goody-bag of leftover pastries from the day.

Although our conversation was brief, I learned I was wrong about a lot of things. I was wrong when I expected that everything would be different than from home. I learned that not everyone hated Americans. In fact, some aspired to study in the United States, just as we dream of studying in the many wonderful countries throughout the world. They taught me that working hard and getting an education is just as important in their culture as it is here. I learned that their dreams and aspirations aren’t all that different than mine. I learned that the people there are a lot more like us than I originally thought. Or, maybe we are more like them.

By: Cailyn Andreasen