Author: Emily Gustin
Location: Cambridge, England
After a few weeks, I feel I am finally settled into life in Cambridge. It was not the easiest journey to get to this point, but I am glad for the struggle– it has let me grow in ways that I never would have otherwise.
Culture shock is a strange experience and difficult to describe because it affects everyone in different ways. For me, I was finding it hard to talk to the people in my classes. In British universities, students choose a course of study and take modules (classes) in that subject with mostly the same people throughout their degree (unlike liberal arts schools in the US, where students take classes in different subjects). So, when I showed up to my first class, I was definitely the odd person out– everyone had already been taking classes together since the start of their first year, and they were already a tight-knit group. I felt self-conscious and concerned that I might not make any friends, since I was an outsider. It took a couple weeks, but some of my classmates have opened up and I feel comfortable having conversations with them– I just had to be patient and give them and myself some time to adjust.
Moving away from my family and friends has also been difficult for me, but I have found such comfort in talking to my cohort– we are all in the same situation, and I am so thankful to have them as a support system. Because of them, I know that I am never alone.
When I walk through the streets of the city, I feel like I am a part of it, fully immersed into a new way of life that did not seem possible a month ago. Getting to know the city has been one of my favorite parts of living here, but I also wanted to explore places outside of England. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Milan, Italy, for my first trip outside of the UK. I went with two others in the Cambridge group, Grace and Katie. Traveling is a wonderful thing, but we learned that you have to be prepared to be patient. It’s a lot of work just to get where you want to go, including many forms of transportation (train, bus, plane, metro, and others). After arriving in Milan, we had to figure out the metro system (in Italian, which none of us could read) to get to our hostel. Thanks to Google Maps, we were able to find the correct route to take.
We had two full days in Milan. The Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) is a beautiful, massive building in the heart of the city, and it’s hard to miss. It took over six hundred years to build and is the 5th largest church in the world. We were lucky enough to go to an organ vespers service, so we even got to go inside for free. All of the readings were Italian! We spent much of our time in Italy enjoying the art and architecture of Milan. The three of us went to Pinacoteca di Brera (Brera Art Gallery) and Castello Sforzesco (Sforzesco Castle), which had amazing collections of Italian art, as well as art from around the world (including Michelangelo’s last sculpture and Mategna’s Lamentation of Christ, which are both very famous). We also got to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie, which was an amazing experience; I couldn’t believe that I was seeing such a piece of art history.
Katie, Grace, and I did not have a shortage of Italian food; we had either pasta or pizza for every single meal while we were there, and I have no complaints. My favorite meal was homemade rigatoni with tomato sauce and burrata cheese on top, complete with custard pie for dessert– it was all so delicious. We also had gelato several times, which did not disappoint.
When we started the journey back to England, I think we all felt a little different, but in all the best ways. We had seen some of the most iconic architecture and art pieces in Italian history, eaten some amazing food, and mastered public transportation in another language. Though we were tired, I felt a sense of accomplishment. As the three of us headed for the airport once again, I watched the sun come up over the mountains and I felt a moment of stillness. It was such a beautiful view, and I was so thankful to have experienced it.
After taking a taxi, a bus, a plane, and a train, we made it back to Cambridge safe and sound. I think we all agreed that it felt a little bit like coming home.