Sorry Mom, I’ve Been Talking to Strangers

By Shannon Mahon (Villanova University, United States of America)

I am not a well-travelled person- well, not yet at least. My life has been limited to my small corner of the world in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. My social circle pre-departure closely reflected this fact- nearly all of my friends hailed from the same area, with travel history about as limited as mine. In choosing to spend my second year of university studying nursing in Manchester, I made a promise to myself. 

When you’re little, your parents make sure to instil in you the cardinal rule of childhood- don’t talk to strangers. Well, Mom, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to break that rule-because here is my promise:

If I do nothing else here, I am going to meet as many people as I possibly can. I’m going to throw myself out of my comfort zone and I am going to talk to anybody who will answer. I firmly believe that the best thing I can take away from this experience is a broader perspective of the world, and a greater understanding of cultural differences and how we can use them to be better to each other. That will only come from meeting new people. And with that, I packed up and I flew across the pond.

I have stayed true to my promise thus far, and the results have been incredible. I’ve learned that University of Manchester is a largely international school. In my first few days at the University I met people from eleven countries- three in the first night alone. Upon my arrival that beautiful Thursday morning, I met my first flatmate- she travelled here from Latvia to study biomedical science. We attended the first night of Welcome Week together, a ‘giant games’ night- where we met our new friend from the south of France. Further along in the night, we met yet another lovely girl who is from Estonia. So on and so on, the list of varying home countries I encountered grew exponentially.

Each individual, no matter how short a time I talked with them, had a profound impact on my perspective of the world. I am surprised to see not only the differences, but the similarities in international cultures as well. I came here assuming that I would have to adjust to and embrace a complete lifestyle change- I realized that wouldn’t entirely be the case when my first dinner here was Domino’s pizza with my flatmate (subpar greasy pizza is a universal treasure). There are, however, a few things I’m struggling to adjust to- the most prominent being how commonly used the bike lane is! I swear there will be a decent handful of near-accidents caused by my mindless crossing of that tiny lane I assume nobody uses, considering there are so few bikers in America the bike lane is merged with the rest of the road, and basically driven over by every single vehicle. These are quite small aspects of daily life that I’m mentioning, aspects that I’m sure many British people overlook as they are ingrained in their lives so seamlessly. It’s the little things that are making the biggest differences though.

But I digress- my main focus of this introductory post (and this entire trip to be perfectly honest)- is the people. One of the memories from this first three and a half weeks that stands out to me most is one lunch in the University Place cafe between my lecture and seminar one day. Me, the two other study-abroad students in my program, and three girls who live relatively close to Manchester spent the hour having an in-depth conversation comparing and contrasting British and American cultures and values. From political climates to colloquialisms to food, I gained a much greater sense of my temporary home, all while getting to share with others what my actual home is like. These kinds of exchanges are what I hope to have with many more people while I’m here; this is only the beginning.

So that being said, if you pass me on the street, please come say hi- I’d love to talk to another stranger!

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