My most shocking revelation while studying abroad was that I was experiencing revelations at all! In the years immediately prior to my year abroad, I had traveled extensively through countries whose radical differences from “home” could be immediately and tangibly felt, seen, heard, smelled, and tasted. It was against this backdrop that I assumed that spending a year in England, studying at University of Bristol Law was a copout – an arrangement of purely academic expedience. This assumption, however, went into the rubbish bin along with many other assumptions shortly after beginning my studies, and new life, in Bristol.
The “differences” I experienced in England were far more nuanced, and required transplanting my life and studying there to detect. Studying constitutional law in a country without a written constitution is representative of the kind of nuanced differences I experienced. In debates in and outside the classroom, I found myself explaining, justifying, and occasionally defending the “American way” of doing things – what I had long taken for granted as common sense seemed exotic to my British classmates. I thus became less “married” to the status quo, the way things have always been done.
Playing [American] football in the UK was another experience whereby nuanced differences that initially offended my American sensibilities served to open my mind. The rules of the game were not different, yet the mindset and approach of players was – something I came to recognize not as more right or wrong than what I grew up with – just different.
Beyond the fond memories, lasting friendships and acquired habits, the most enduring souvenir of my “copout” year abroad is a new way of thinking.