The Return to America: Overcoming Reverse Culture Shock

Sep 23, 2021 10:00:00 AM / by Courtney Risner

She may have left the city for another, but there's still a lot of London left in her. See how Courtney adapts to big and small things back home after a semester abroad in her final blog post.

I can safely say there are some perks to returning to America. There are dryers in almost every laundry room, I don't have to remember to turn outlets on, ranch is available at every grocery store and restaurant, lemonade is lemonade and Sprite is Sprite, and iced coffee is everywhere. But, the more I readjust back into American life, I'm realizing just how much I miss about London.

Ranch Condiment

Tips and Tax

Since we’ve been tipping and paying taxes our whole lives, it may not seem like that big of a deal. But once you get used to paying the price on the price tag, it’s not fun to get to check out and have your $9.99 shirt actually be $13.00. Tip being included not only eliminates those two minutes of mental math at the end of the meal but ensures that the servers receive a fair and substantial tip each time! So, while one of my recent trips to Chile’s was a little awkward as I had to slink back into the restaurant and leave some cash on the table after getting all the way out to my car, I’m going to blame it completely on London and not my lack of ability to readjust to a custom I’ve practiced for 21 years. 

Accents and Dialects

If you are like me and you’re a part of the 99% of the population that loves a British accent, then you’ll totally understand this point. Growing up in the Midwest, I’ve heard the same dialects and colloquial sayings my entire life. My thick Chicago accent had never attracted me any attention until this summer. Suddenly, I was the odd one out in a sea of beautiful British accents. My hard t’s and long a’s always received a double take in the Starbucks line. I was the weirdo saying “aluminum” instead of “all-u-mini-em” and “Adidas” instead of “A-dee-das.” I called sweatshirts jumpers, checks bills, and made one too many situations awkward by forgetting to replace pants with trousers. So, you would think it’s a relief to be back around “my own kind” who speak the same dialect of English as I do. But man oh man, not even a little bit. I miss the lovely accents from all around the UK and learning a whole different version of English! I miss my friends being my mates, my apartment being my flat, and especially soccer being football because, let’s admit it, it really just makes more sense. Luckily I still talk to some of the people I made connections with over there and get to have my little fill of British banter every once in a while. But, I still find myself giving the occasional “cheers!” instead of thank you at the end of a conversation with a friend or when finishing up a Dunkin’ Donuts order. Whether it’s on purpose or not, that’s another conversation...

Work Environment

Out and about in London

Though I haven’t worked in a typical office environment in America, there are still so many differences between the European and American workplace that I noticed while I was at my internship. When I compare the work experience to the jobs I’ve had in America or even school, everything in London is a bit more relaxed, casual, and to be frank, fun! For starters, and of relative importance for a sleeper-inner like me, the typical workday starts at 10am rather than 9am like we are used to here. Also, a lot of companies make Friday a half day of work rather than a whole. 

Another thing I really appreciated was the relationship I noticed most people had with their coworkers. Everyone seemed to know each other on a genuine level, and in my office we often went out to lunch together or took turns getting each other coffee and tea. On the subject of lunch, our lunch breaks were rarely monitored for time because they trusted us to get our work done and manage our time effectively. My coworkers, fellow interns, and I often sat in Whitehall Gardens outside the office that overlooked the London Eye, bought lunch, ate, and chatted. The English work environment is a huge part of why when the job hunt begins for me next year, it’s going to begin in London!

The Tube

At a Tube station

I have to admit that I was not super stoked about taking the Tube in the beginning. It’s hot, crowded, and well, kind of gross at times. Not only that, but The Underground is such a big network and I was petrified about getting lost or taking it alone. In fact, I even avoided riding it alone for the first two weeks before I had to grow up and go to work! But, after I learned that it’s literally a color-coded system and that there are maps and attendants everywhere to help you, I realized why it’s revered as one of the best transportation systems in the world. It is efficient, easy to navigate, convenient, and cheap! From my flat in Maida Vale, I could get to Piccadilly Circus in Central London in 10 minutes on the Bakerloo line. I could be in Soho in 15 minutes with only one line change. Or, if I was feeling adventurous, I could get myself all the way down to Greenwich! And while there were some long rides, some hot ones, even some smelly ones, I sure miss not having to get into my car every time I want to go somewhere. In Missouri (where I go to school), it’s not uncommon to have a good 30-minute drive just to get Target or the nearest sushi restaurant. In London, nothing I needed was ever more than a few Tube stops away. I never thought I would long for my little walk to Warwick Avenue Tube Station, but driving 25 minutes to the nearest H&M has really shown me some perspective. 


Style inspired by London

Outfit of the day in London

Last but certainly not least, I definitely miss the fashion in London. I spent all summer putting together the cutest outfits for even the most mundane of activities like grocery shopping. Yet, this week in good ol’ Chicago, IL, I have found myself sitting across a woman in crocs at the bank. Not once, but twice. No, I know. You simply cannot make this stuff up. Believe it or not, I’m relatively over wearing leggings and an oversized hoodie every day. But sadly, that’s pretty much the college dress code in America. London totally changed my perspective on streetwear.

Our advisors briefed us before we left on what to expect fashion-wise: nicer daywear, monochromatic looks, jeans instead of leggings, blazers, sundresses, trousers, etc. so we wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb in our American flag hats and LBJ jerseys. It was so exciting to try out different looks in London. This summer was full of fun trends like bootcut jeans, corset tops, 70’s point patterns, strappy 2000’s sandals, cardigan dresses, and graphic band tees. The longer I was there, the more my style changed. I looked around me and took notice of the different outfits. I went shopping at stores like Bershka and Zara that help give inspiration to the fashion trends in London. By the end of the trip, a look at my closet could convince you that I actually lived there.

Throughout the summer, I realized it’s not that difficult and actually kind of fun to throw on a little sundress to hit a casual cafe or the mall. But now, I’m the one sticking out like a sore thumb. Regardless, I don’t think I’m going to totally convert back to sweatpants and Nike sneakers. I think I’ll keep a little bit of the fashion alive and show people how it’s done—London style. 

So, this is it...

My return to America has been educational, to sum it up. Sometimes relieving, sometimes difficult. It’s crazy how I could experience just as severe of culture shock returning to a country I have lived in my whole life as I did in the place I lived in for just three months. But just as I brought some America to England, I’m not going to let my takeaways from London slip away just yet. 

Thank you all so much for reading my blogs and following along with my study abroad journey in London. I hope I was able to provide some insight and advice and get you excited for your own study abroad experience. Just know that it will be the time of your life! Cheers, mates!

Thanks, Courtney!

Michaela Clarke

Courtney Risner is a CAPA alum and official CAPA London blogger for summer 2021. A Journalism and Political Science major from the University of Missouri, she studied abroad in London this summer.

See more of Courtney's posts and her journey in London.

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Topics: London, England, Local Culture