It was 4 AM when I stood with two of the best friends I’d made abroad and said goodbye to Queen Mary.
We’d stayed up all night, blasting Carly Rae and jumping around Flat 19 like we were at a middle school dance. Early morning fog mingled with the dim lights around campus, making for a somber scene. My Uber arrived too quickly.
I didn’t feel eager to return home. I wasn’t excited to have US-sized portions again, or to devour the green chile that my home state is famous for. I didn’t even look forward to reuniting with my rescue dog. (Sorry, Waylon.)
All I wanted was more time: another day, another week, preferably another semester, with the friends I’d made in the place that never let me feel bored. Sure, I’ve still got two more years of college, in a city that’s not exactly short on entertainment. But there’s no Regent’s Canal in LA, no hipsters barbecuing on the roofs of vibrantly painted houseboats. There’s not a Spoons or a Nando’s, and of course there’s no Dixie Chicken. Perhaps worst of all, there’s no 205 bus on which you share chips with strangers after a night out.
That last Uber ride took me past Brick Lane and the East London Mosque, past the Indian restaurant where I shared a curry dinner with my flatmates, and the brunch spot in Shoreditch that doubles as a Grime-heavy nightclub. Everywhere I turned, there was a familiar sight I wouldn’t be returning to any time soon. And I, someone who remained dry-eyed at the end of “The Fault in Our Stars,” shed a couple tears in that Uber.
I changed my background to a photo of the Thames, and I Facebook-message my abroad friends every day, but of course these are poor substitutes for my time in Chicken Shop Mile. And as my mother lovingly assured me, London won’t be the same when I next return. Study abroad is over, but I’m comforted in knowing that Saino’s, Beigel Bake, and Queen of Hoxton will always be there, welcoming the over-eager American back with open arms.
UK Paper Writing
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t care much for formal writing. I often find myself reading academic writing (in class, of course) and reflecting on how difficult it is to understand what the author’s trying to say. I think shorter, more common words are almost always better—Orwell agreed with me on that one—and that the no-contraction rule is stupid.
In the US, that’s fine. I’ll occasionally tailor my writing to a specific professor’s preferences, but I mostly skate by using contractions and colloquialisms without incident. At Queen Mary, however, this didn’t work out so well.
With one solid exception, every professor commented on the informal nature of my essay-writing. Professors singled out phrases that I didn’t even understand to be colloquial, such as “helicopter parenting.” They didn’t see my plain-speak as an intentional stylistic choice, but as a mistake for which to dock points.
With my British flatmates, I noticed a disparity in how we talk. They’d ask, “Have you been?” instead of, “Did you go?” and “Have you eaten?” instead of, “Did you eat?” Whereas Americans tend to use simple past for everything, my British friends consistently used the more formal, and perhaps more correct, past perfect tense.
By the end of the semester, I realized that my attempts to write in more formal language were futile. I received the exact same comments, albeit phrased more sternly, on the last round of papers as on the first. One professor warned that my “odd” language had reduced “the analytical force and subtlety of the argument.” Again, I believe in clarity of language over contrived sophistication and that trying to sound smart obscures the point you’re trying to make.
But though I’m still not sold on the value of traditionally academic language, I did learn a valuable lesson. The difference between American and British English isn’t as limited to accents and a few funny phrases (cheeky Nandos, anyone?). There are fundamental distinctions between the two dialects, and changing the language on Word to English (UK) won’t catch all of them.