London 2017- The Things We Learned and the Fun Times We Had

Okay, So let me start off by saying this:

If life presents you with an opportunity that gives you a pit in your stomach……DO IT!

When I started college, I wasn’t sure how I felt about studying abroad. Never really cared to look into it. Kinda just wanted to get my classes over with, do the whole fraternity thing and be done with it. But then I saw so many of my friends cease the opportunity to study abroad. I recall looking at their photos and Snapchats from places like Europe, South Africa, and all around the world, with envy and regret. Unfortunately, being on my “victory lap” year at Towson, I missed my opportunity…or so I thought.

Mid September, I noticed an email from Towson’s Mass Communication department, advertising their class, “Corporate Communication in the UK” for the 2017 minimester. I saw it as the perfect opportunity. Two weeks in a foreign country? Bring my course load for the spring semester down to just two, easy classes? I’d be stupid not to! A little over three months later, I found myself at Washington Dulles International Airport, boarding a British Airways flight to London with over a dozen kids I’d never met.

group-on-london-eye

Luckily, I had known of two of these kids through mutual friends and Theta Chi brothers. It also helped that I had one of my Theta Chi brothers studying with another class in the city with us as well. Perfect. Not even a day into the trip, and we’d already formed a solid friend group…plus, the ratio made getting into nightclubs a cakewalk!

So here we all were, thrown into this foreign country together, up to us to navigate it and learn its culture. What follows are some key differences in media, communication and culture between the U.S. and the UK, as well as some of the other adventures we had. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Difference #1: Drinking

Speaking of which, I’ll be right back. Let me go get something to help enhance my writing skills. (Don’t judge, Hemingway did this ALL THE TIME)

Alright, so anyway…

If you’re friends with me, or any of my friends from this trip, be forewarned. We’ve all turned into beer snobs, and you’ll not likely hear the end of it.  I don’t think we went a day without stopping in a pub, as there was one that was always conveniently located near whatever site or attraction we visited. Upon our first pub visit, we instantly noticed the difference between beer in the UK and the U.S.

With craft breweries being the exception, beer in America is…..it’s just….

…It’s piss, okay? Sorry, I don’t know any other way to put it. It’s lite, it’s cheap, and it just doesn’t taste good. I hate to say it, but Budweiser, your commercials won’t work on me anymore.

The beer in England, oh man… it’s dark, it’s rich, it’s thick, it’s smooth, and it gets the job done quicker than most beers in the states. You definitely get more bang for your buck (or pound in this case) with the beers here. I think at each pub, each of us tried two or three different beers. There wasn’t one that we disliked.

Now, with different beer also comes a different drinking culture.

We all know how it goes here in America. We pregame from about 10 until midnight before hitting the bars, and indulge on Bud Light and Vodka Cranberries until we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re good dancers, all before collapsing into our beds at 3am.

In England, it’s very different…adapting to the pub culture took some getting used to. See, the purpose of drinking there isn’t having a contest to see who can get the most drunk and be the most entertaining subject of your friends’ snap story the next morning. The purpose of drinking in England is more social.

Now upon reading that last sentence, a lot of you will probably argue that drinking here in America is social too. Yes, I suppose you’re right, but it’s a different kind of socializing.

We’re so used to being crammed into bars and clubs where the floor is filled with people, and the music is so loud, there’s not really much more we can do than dance, take Snapchats, go order another drink, and occasionally yell to our friends “I’LL BE RIGHT BACK, I HAVE TO PEE!”….that’s the kind of socializing that we experience here.

Social drinking in England is more simple and slow, but there’s also a lot more personal connection and conversation. For example, one of our guest speakers said that pubs are often places where people bring their clients in order to strike business deals with them. The English pubs are the perfect environment for this. They’re very quiet, and the people that are in there often keep to themselves. It’s an easy process. You order your beer, and you slowly enjoy it as you dive into deep conversation with the person or people at your table. Rightfully so too. English beer is a delicacy that deserves to be slowly enjoyed.

If anything, I think pubs are a wayyyyy easier environment for meeting people and making friends, especially if you’re normally an introvert, like me. I personally found it a lot easier to approach people, introduce myself, and start conversations. Now, because Europeans like keeping to themselves at these places, they first found it odd when I approached them. But after an introduction and a handshake, I found myself having conversations with the locals about things like rugby, Trump, the differences between soccer and American Football, Trump, Beer, Trump, Whiskey…oh, and did I mention, the Europeans LOVE talking about Trump? You might find this hard to believe, but they’re more fascinated and dumbfounded about his election than we are. It didn’t really bother me though. It was fun just to be able to talk to people from England, Scotland, France, The Netherlands, even Austria.

The one negative side to this? The last call at English pubs is 11pm. We learned this our second night there. Just as the beer began to dull our senses and we planned the remaining two or three pubs to stop at, the bar tender rang the bell. With a sense of disappointment and urgency, we chugged our beers before we were required to exit the pub and return home at 11pm. 11pm…seriously? Ah well, I’ll take a British pub over anything here any time.

And here I am now, back in America, forced to make do.  Guess I’m back to my regular habits of Heavy Seas and Jack Daniel’s…and being forced to yell my pickup lines at bars and clubs.

America, I learned that there are many aspects where the British have us beat, and beer is definitely one of them. Any arguments against this are invalid. We gotta up our game, plain and simple.

P.S.– To all my fellow Towson students, can we all please make a more conscious effort to make Kent House the move on the weekends?

Difference #2: The Media

Besides the sites and the beer, the main reason we enrolled in this class was to learn about media and communication in the UK. Every day, we heard from a guest lecturer who was an expert in Journalism, Media, PR/Advertising, and Organizational Communication. We even visited the headquarters of BBC and The Guardian, as pictured below:

(Photos by Tori Wolfgang)

So through all of these guest lecturers and site visits, we learned that the media culture in the UK is similar, but also extremely different from what it is here.

One aspect is the style in which media is reported in the UK.

I think this guy sums it up pretty well. But just incase you don’t have the three minutes to watch the video, I’ll fill you in. The media in the UK is delivered to people in manner that informs them and assures them that whatever the situation is, it’s going to be okay.

Ex: “The Ebola outbreak continues in Africa. Don’t worry though, British Troops and medical teams are currently deployed and are containing the virus.”

Now the U.S. on the other hand? Different story. It’s like the media purposely aim to scare us about whatever situation is currently happening in our city, state, or country. For example, remember the H1n1 Virus aka “Swine Flu”? Aka, that virus that was exactly like the regular flu, and ended up killing less people?

Remember how glued to their TV sets everyone was during this time? We’d watch reports like these, where a guy even tells us to “be worried next fall”, then spend the next day at school or work, wondering how long it would take for someone around us to be infected, then returning to the comfort of our homes to watch the same frightening reports, until the media found something else to scare us about.

It’s this ongoing cycle. They find one situation to scare us about, then when that one is either resolved or becomes bold, they find the next thing to scare us about, lather, rinse, repeat, so that we’ll keep running back to them to be “informed”, all to keep their ratings up, and their corporate owners happy (in my opinion at least).

I don’t know about you, but from seeing the differences in reporting style between these two countries, I think I’m gonna place my trust in UK reporting from here on out.

Also, according to our guest lecturer, BBC tries its hardest to be unbiased. She shared a story on the way they reported Brexit.

For those of you who still aren’t sure what Brexit is, you can read more on it here. I really didn’t have a clue as to what it was, but through listening to our guest lecturers and some of the locals, it’s basically the same type of phenomenon as our recent election of Trump.

Anyway, our lecturer went on to say that BBC’s reporting of the event was so impartial, and offered so many conflicting viewpoints, that British citizens complained that they had no sense of direction on what they should think about the issue………….

…….Wait a moment. You mean to tell me that BBC gave people unbiased information and left it up to them to think for themselves?

That’s exactly what the media should be doing!!! It should be impartial, it should give us different information and perspectives on these issues. It should not tell us what to think about the issue. It should inform us, and allow us to freely think, and come to a stance based on our own moral and ethical codes.

Are you taking notes on this, America?

Another thing we learned is that UK is more newspaper based.

We have our TVs, they have their newspapers. They’re everywhere. Some are even free for pick up at the train and bus stations.

We all know the story. Someone admits they watch FOX News, and then we look at them like they’re some sort of demon, or monster. Because its no secret that FOX News tends to have a more conservative bias in their reporting, where as CNN, NBC, CBS, VICE, BuzzFeed, etc do not (I think they’re all as left as can be. But that’s just my opinion, and I could always be wrong).

So in the UK, it’s a lot like that, except with newspapers. The newspaper or tabloid you read is a strong indicator of your social class, and political views.

To name a few, if you read The Guardian (see link above), your views are probably more center-liberal. If you read The Financial Times, you’re probably upperclass, and have a nice corporate/finance job. If you read The Times, you’re most likely a conservative (which is not a coincidence, since Rupert Murdoch, the man who owns FOX News, owns this paper).

If you read The Sun…you basically just want sports and women….yup.

As you can see, the media culture over there has a few similarities, but a lot of differences than the media culture over here. I think the media culture in the U.S. has become very dangerous, as it’s used as a tool to scare us and shape our thinking, instead of something that informs us and allows us to think for ourselves based on the information we’re given.

Be very leary of the media, my fellow citizens, I’m warning you!

Moving on!

Difference #3: History

This was my favorite part of the trip by far. I remember visiting places like St.Mary’s, Fort McHenry, Valley Forge and The Delaware River, for school history projects. I was fascinated that I was gazing upon structures and artifacts from the 1700s-1800s. If only I had known some of the things I was going to see in London and beyond, I probably wouldn’t have been as excited.

Let me show you some of the rich history we got to experience in England, France, and The Netherlands.

chesire-cheese

This is a picture I took inside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese…for those of you who don’t know what this place is, it’s a pub built in 1538 (rebuilt in 1667 after The Great Fire of London), and was frequented by people like Charles Dickens. Imagine drinking beer in the same room where Charles Dickens potentially put some of his ideas to pen. Also, this place confirmed that people back then were, in fact, a lot shorter. The only way I could avoid hitting my head on the ceiling (which happens enough here in America) was to squat the whole time.

british-museum

Here’s just a cool panoram I took of the British museum. What we found inside is way cooler…

On the left is a body that was found perfectly preserved….from 3500 B.C.

Next to that? Oh, no big deal. Just Cleopatra’s mummy…

eiffel-tower

Thomas Rhett is dead wrong. If you haven’t seen the Eiffel Tower at night, you haven’t lived.

Some old ads from our Ghost Signs tour. Dating all the way back to the late 1800s-early 1900s. I was utterly disappointed when I found out that John Brown Whiskies had since gone out business.

(Image on right via IWMCollections)

So the cheapest flight to a foreign country for our second free day was to Eindhoven, which is a small city in The Netherlands. I knew of Eindhoven from being such a big fan of HBO’s Band of Brothers. I watch the series every year, so getting to walk the exact same streets that the American soldiers and tanks rolled through (notice St. Katherine’s Church in each picture)  was so surreal. I can’t wait to watch the series again and say to myself, yup, I was there. I was right there.

Westminster Abbey, where the royal weddings that you all “oooo” and “aaaah” about, are held. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the main room, so the best I could could get is the building itself and this tiny chapel. Inside is not only the church, but also the tombs of some of the ancient kings and queens, as well as the tombs of Geoffrey Chauncer and Charles Darwin.

jtr-tour

Okay, Story time!!

This is the only photo I got of the Jack the Ripper tour. The guy in the middle was our guide, named Johnny. He took us to the very spots where the bodies of Jack the Ripper’s victim’s were found. (If you think Ramsay from Game of Thrones is messed up in the head, go research Jack the Ripper). After the tour, we asked him where a good pub and some food would be, to which he replied “Follow me”. Now of course, when you’re up late in a foreign city, no idea how to find your way around just yet, and your phone is almost dead, the best thing to do is follow a complete stranger. Anyway, he lead us down some empty streets, then into a back alley, and then…….opened a hidden door which revealed one of the coolest pubs I’d ever seen. Full of friendly locals and food. Even showed the NFL playoffs on TV. And our guide? Ended up being one of the friendliest people we met in London. Sat down with us while we ate our food and drank our beers, before telling us which bus to get on to get to our apartment. One of the best nights of the trip.

Here’s Hampton Court Palace, home to many of England’s ancient kings and queens. Absolutely incredible to be able to walk down the same halls as historical figures like Henry the 8th, who in my opinion, is one of History’s iconic a-holes. But hey, his gun room (far right) was cool. Yes, he has an entire room with over 2800 muskets, pikes, swords and battle axes. I can only hope that some day, my gun collection will be as admirable as his.

windsor-castle-pano

Here’s a cool pano I took of Windsor Castle. What a sight. Built by William The Conqueror in the 1100’s. Filled with more tombs, ancient dining halls, and weapon rooms. This is also considered the Queen’s home. It’s a shame she wasn’t there that day, cause I’ve been meaning to ask her what it was like to jump out of that helicopter with James Bond during the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.

TOL Pano.jpg

Here’s yet another pano I took of The Tower of London.

The Tower of London included some of ancient London’s armories, the Crown Jewels, and royal torture chambers.

To someone who’s never been to London, these all might seem like just ordinary museum tours to you. No…here, it’s different. In America, so many historical artifacts, which aren’t nearly as old as the ones in London, would be fenced off or encased in glass. In London, you’re able to walk halls, and touch walls that date all the way back to the 1100s…almost 1,000 years old. I still can’t believe it. Trust me, when you experience it yourself for the first time, you’ll feel the same way as I do. There’s nothing like it.

So again, as far as history goes, Advantage UK.

Difference #4: Organizational Culture

Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures of Organizational Culture, because we really didn’t visit a sight that had to do with Organizational Culture…also Organizational Culture is an intangible concept. But, I’ll explain to you some differences you might experience if you choose to work at a company in the UK, versus if you work at a company in America.

So for this subject, we had a guest lecturer, by the name of Paul Kypriandes, who I believe, is director of Internal communication at his firm. Basically, what we learned from him is this:

In the UK, the dominant management style is something called “Top-Down Management”. In Top-Down management, CEOs and upper management reach independent decisions that change major policies within a company. The authority remains with the top management, while employees spend their time performing their work duties, like good little subjects.

Sounds fun, right? Didn’t think so.

While every company should have some form of solid leadership, this management style has lots of problems. What if there’s a bad leader manning the helm? Not really much the employees can do. As many people believe, firms would run better if employees were allowed to bring forth their first-hand knowledge of the job, and use it to help make better decisions for the company. Also, when employees aren’t valued in company decisions, they become demotivated and won’t produce efficient results. It also leads to a “them and us” attitude, which if you’ve worked at any place ever, you know causes problems for a company.

On the other side of the pond, the U.S. has what’s called “Consensus Management”. Consensus management values the input of all employees in decision making. Any proposal must be acceptable to all group members, and if it isn’t management asks what needs to be changed in order for the group member to be on board with the decision.

Though this can be a more time-consuming approach, it empowers each employee, which in turn, increases productivity and job satisfaction. So many companies in the U.S. use this approach, like Google. Seems to be working out pretty well for them, right?

Wow. After all that, we’ve finally come to one advantage that America has over the UK. Now that would be an awesome job. Spend a few years working in America, then move to England and work with organizations to help them improve their internal communication and management style…kinda gives me an idea.

Difference #5: Display of Emotion

If you’ve made it this far without getting bored, I thank you for sticking with me. We’re on the last part I wanna talk about, which is the difference in display in emotion between Americans and Brits. I know, it’s not as interesting as the beer and history, but it’s something that I thought was cool.

You know those people who say “American has gotten too soft”? Well……..

So before we left for this trip, we were forewarned about this thing called the “Stiff Upper Lip”. Now before I learned what the Stiff Upper Lip actually was, I always just thought of it as one of my favorite AC/DC songs.

Basically, the Stiff Upper Lip is the lack of emotion displayed by the British people. If you’ve ever been to London, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They’re not overly friendly, and don’t get overly sad, angry, or scared about…..anything really.

This concept is best demonstrated in one of my favorite stories from the trip…

So our first weekend there, one of our friends acquired the name of a club promoter. We contacted him and he told us the address of the club to come to that night. According to Apple maps (this should already spoil what’s about to come), the club was only a twenty minute walk away. But once we reached the address, we found no such club. So we re-entered the address in someone else’s London app and found out that the club was a 20 minute Tube ride in the opposite direction. So we found the nearest tube station, and hopped on the appropriate train.

about 10 minutes into the ride and all the sudden, the train completely stops and the lights flicker. Over the loudspeaker, the train operator tells us that the electrical current which powers the train was out, and we’d be stuck until further notice.

stuck-on-tube

Now naturally, our first instinct was to take this selfie to document the event. Otherwise, how else would people know it happened? Anyway, we would end up being stuck on the train for an hour.

Upon hearing this news, we all starred at each other in shock and burst out laughing…you know, like we do when someone says or does something really, REALLY funny?

While all this is going on, I turned my head to observe the reaction of the rest of the people on the train. I found no reaction at all. I think I saw one guy quickly glance up from his newspaper and then return right back to reading. For the next hour, we loudly giggled and babbled on, and every five minutes, one of us would loudly say something along the lines of “OMG, what’s taking this so long?!”.

Not the Brits. Nope. This petty stuff means nothing to them. As we’re carrying on, all I saw and heard from them was sitting still, keeping to their books and newspapers, and the occasional throat clearing.

This basically dictated how the rest of the trip went. If you greeted someone, you wouldn’t be given the same friendly smile or enthusiasm. Most of the time, you were given a straight face, and monotone responses. Now as time went on, this is what I came to recognize as friendliness. The unfriendly people only gave you a grunt and walked away. Barely any emotion whatsoever.

In America, we’ve created a culture where any event or anything anyone says or does, demands some kind of emotional response.

Again…Learn from this, America. We HAVE gotten soft. You hear me? We gotta be more like these people!

Conclusion

Well, that’s it. I think I’ve made this post long enough. As you can see, I learned so much on this trip. Not only about media, and history, but myself. I experienced a lot of personal growth over those two weeks. Now I feel like I’m able to take on more challenges, and have more of an urge to step out of my comfort zone.

It probably sounds really smug of me to say this, but these two weeks were the most fun I’ve had in my life…ever. There was just something about being in a foreign country with a bunch of kids my age, and being responsible for finding my own transportation, buying my own food, basically just sustaining my own life there. I got to see so much rich history, and experience life and culture in three different countries.

Plus, I got seven new friends out of it…

last-night-in-london

See? Look how sad everyone was to leave…except Jackie apparently. Alrighty then, Jackie.

Anyway, I wanna finish by thanking Towson for providing us with such an amazing program, my parents for letting me go on this trip, and my seven new friends from this trip for making this experience the most fun I’ve ever had.

As I said in the beginning, if life ever presents you with some nerve wracking opportunity, be it a study abroad trip, an investment, or a promotion, you jump on it immediately! You’ll only get something positive out of it. This is living proof of that!

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