September 20, 2010

I’m Actually an Anglophile

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England is not the lamest place in the world to study abroad. That distinction goes to Canada. I’m dying to meet that one person who has thrown a going away bash, started a travel blog and flown to Toronto to immerse herself in a semester of hockey and poutine. Short of a shipping off to Ottawa, the best place to go abroad and be lame at the same time is England. Your semester abroad is a time to experience another culture in a way that is inaccessible to casual tourists. Ideally you’ll also get kicked out of the Egyptian embassy, fall in love and buy crappy knockoffs of designer brands. If you’re smart, you’ll learn another language. Even if you’re already a native speaker of two, learn a third, few things in life are as satisfying.Many people study abroad in England because it’s easy. You don’t have to take language classes in Ithaca, you can enroll directly in a University there and with cheap flights to other European cities every weekend, your passport pages will look like Lebron’s arms. The caveat to my position is if you’re pursuing a well-defined course of study that you could only do at Oxford or Cambridge. Their thousand year histories and academic sub-cultures make them destinations in their own right. And make me jealous.Granted, there are some fantastic things to see in England. However, given the linguistic and cultural similarities between our two countries, at any point in your life you could deplane in London and strike up a conversation with an English bartender about politics or Beckham’s career in the U.S. The English might actually care about the latter. To do the same in Kuala Lumpur or Stuttgart would take months, but the rewards would be greater. In my first month in Quito, Ecuador, (alert — typical study abroad story, glaze over until I’m finished) I kicked the dirt in frustration over my inability to articulate myself in Spanish, my lack of Ecuadorean friends and the bureaucratic mess required to file my academic and immigration papers. Two months later the ease with which I sailed through my surroundings was a triumph; telling a joke about Ecuador in perfect Spanish was a victory hard-won. England offers few chances to feel the thrill of fitting into a truly foreign place.Furthermore, a semester in England affords you little chance to become an ethnic food snob. Yes, I understand, the malt vinegar on the fries blows you away. Try impressing your next date by taking her to an English pub and proclaiming that the Lee and Perrins Worcestershire sauce tastes exactly like it did in England. Even if you do feast on succulent braised beef tongue in London, that fantastic meal will cost you a lot more than it would in Lagos. My semester in Ecuador was the cheapest one I had in college, including my plane tickets there and my spring break trip to Peru. Those Inca, always D.T.F. If you want your dollars to go further, convert them to Rupiah, Quetzales, Kip or Gepantums, not Pounds Sterling. Okay, I made up Gepantums.Lastly, study abroad should be dangerous. There’s a world out there that doesn’t ask you for a waiver, doesn’t provide a handrail, doesn’t require a helmet and doesn’t say “no fires on the beach.” Maybe you get mugged, maybe there’s a coup, maybe you Jackson Pollock a toilet once a month from questionable street food. Ships are safe in a harbor, but that’s not where ships are meant to be. Unless you’re in Somalia, in which case you should stay the fuck inside the harbor. So take a risk. Ride on the roof of a bus, bribe a police offer, eat goose intestines or pretend you’re a Norwegian oil engineer — all of which are easier in Thailand than on the Thames. Have an adventure, not the fish and chips. And if you’ve never been outside of the “developed” world, clearly I think a semester somewhere other than Western Europe is a must. The best things in England — tea, curry and Freddy Mercury — all came from abroad anyway. Even the Beatles cut their teeth in Germany for a year as a house band. If you’re truly an Anglophile, then do what the English did 150 years ago and get out of the British Isles.Go to South Africa, where you can watch cricket in Africa’s largest economy. Pull a Jamal and find your Latika in Victoria Terminus in Mumbai, where you can see some of the most impressive British architecture in the world. Check out Hong Kong, Singapore, the former British Honduras, Jamaica, Zanzibar or Fiji. In many of these countries you can find university programs entirely in English, and Cornell Abroad sometimes requires only a semester of language study before you go. If you must spend a semester in England, remember to put a postcard in the mail to your friend studying in Vancouver. She’s dying to tell you about the maple syrup.Ben Koffel is a first-year grad student in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He may be contacted at bkoffel@cornellsun.com. Come Again? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Ben K.