Recently I was perusing my Facebook feed to see what friends were up to. I noticed a college girl posting a stream of pictures from her study abroad in the UK. The smiling, waving kids — who seemed to be doing a lot more sightseeing than actual “studying” brought back a flood of memories.
When I was 19 my dad — a math professor at BYU — took a sabbatical leave to do research at a university in Leeds, England. Being the youngest, I went along for the ride with my parents.
We stayed in a bed and breakfast in London for a couple of weeks. We visited Big Ben, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckinham Castle (and the crown jewels), Tower Bridge, and more places I can't possibly recall. I became accustomed to low ceilings, shared bathrooms, toilet paper that was more akin to waxed paper, and not understanding plain English.
When our tour of London was complete, we let a flat on Grove Lane. (I hope you appreciate my best attempt to remember British jargon.) During the days, while Dad worked, my mom and I scoured the country side. We loved having cress sandwiches in tea rooms and I will never forget the day the woman behind the counter who — steadfastly and without explanation — flat out refused to sell me a kidney pie, in plain site in the glass display case. That turned out to be a good move as I later found out it meant actual kidney, when I had assumed kidney bean.
I became accustomed to small cars, driving on the left, tiny refrigerators, odd room configurations (a toilet room with no sink, a tub and sink on the exact opposite side of the flat from the toilet), walking a lot, rain, cold rain, castles, cathedrals, things far older than anything in America, Levi's “paint on jeans,” and not understanding plain English.
During our months there, we attended a wonderful LDS congregation, I performed quite a bit, we assisted with missionaries, did some genealogy, did more sightseeing, bought kilts and yarn in Scotland, and purchased my “trousseau” find china (Royal Doulton, Diana) and had it shipped back to the states.
I am not much of a traveler. Sincerely, I prefer home to just about anywhere. And without question I had bouts of homesickness, even though I was with my parents.
But there is something about actually living someplace else that brings understanding that can be gained in no other way.
I can't hear anything about England without it bringing up warm memories. It feels a small part of me. And I'm sure that's what my young friends are learning as they travel.
If you are looking for a great opportunity to understand other cultures, think about taking a semester to study abroad. There are universities in the UK, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Russia, or just about anywhere you'd like to go that offer study opportunities. BYU (my alma mater) offers 150 programs in 56 different countries. One is sure to fit your cultural desires. But, of course, I highly recommend the United Kingdom.