Spilling Tea: The Truth About London

LONDON
London at first glance seems reminiscent of New York City, but when experienced immersively, its subtle discrepancies are revealed. (COURTESY OF SABRINA JEN)

By SABRINA JEN
Contributing Writer

If the millennial stereotype were personified, it would probably be a Fordham student with some sense of sarcastic humor and an unpaid summer internship. Take away the sense of humor and that would most definitely be me. This summer I interned for 45 hours a week and wasn’t paid a dime. But then again, if I were paid, my visa would have been violated, and I would have been kicked out of the United Kingdom. So despite the sad current state of my bank account, I would gladly do it all over again.

This summer, I got the chance to study at the beautiful London Centre campus in Kensington and intern at a large marketing research company in the heart of London through one of Fordham’s study abroad programs. To be quite honest, London was not as exciting as I had hoped when I first arrived: the food was nothing compared to what Hell’s Kitchen has to offer, unairconditioned rush hour buses redefined my idea of “crowded” and I desperately missed my beloved NYC grid system. The Old Smoke just did not live up to my expectations. The people I met and the experiences I gained in my short time abroad however, were invaluable and made everything — including the bipolar British weather — worthwhile.

Perhaps one of the reasons why London was not as intriguing to me as I had hoped was because it seemed so similar to the U.S.; there were no mysterious and magical elements of being abroad that I was looking forward to experiencing. The fact that I was taking a Fordham class with Fordham students also contributed to this feeling of familiarity that was maybe too comfortable and a little bit boring. The second half of the program with my internship was what gave me the chance to more fully immerse myself in an authentic environment, allowing me to slowly pick up on subtle differences between American and British culture that I came to appreciate.

During the two rounds of interviews for my internship, the hiring directors were quick to point out and ask about my ethnicity (I am Asian American). I have had one too many uber drivers in New York ask me about where I am from in ignorant and almost demeaning ways, but my British interviewers asked me with a sense of curiosity and bluntness that made me feel welcome and accepted. This seemed to be an apparent theme throughout my time in London, I noticed that the straightforward manner in which the British address each other rules out the opportunity for taboo topics to exist, eliminating assumptions that lead to the microaggressions that are ever-so-present in American culture.

This unapologetically blunt manner in which British people communicate allows for extremely efficient and transparent conversations in the office, which I quickly recognized. My colleagues were not afraid to speak up during office-wide meetings and seminars, and while a rigid hierarchical structure did exist, mutual respect was given and demanded by all. Even as a short-term intern, my opinions and input were very much valued and taken into consideration by not only my direct supervisor, but even the company’s CEO who took the time to have an authentic and genuine conversation with me about my future career goals — and ask me bluntly about my ethnicity.

I also learned to admire how passionate everyone in the office was about what they were doing at work and what their company stood for. For example, my direct supervisor (who is the head of her department), expressed to me that while her current job is not her ultimate career goal, she is still extremely invested in and passionate about the projects that she is currently working on. She shared with me that this mindset is very common among younger people in London, especially at the company I was interning at. I found that their full investment in the present and their inspiring focus on short-term goals allows for great motivation and dedication toward their work. This was apparent in the office as I quickly noticed in my first week the absence of smartphones, office gossip and wasted time. The environment was purely professional and as a result, focused and extremely efficient.

While I would choose New York over London any day of the week, being able to fully immerse myself in British culture through a working environment was a unique experience that I am very thankful for. This rare opportunity to discover London as a student abroad inspired me in unexpected ways and taught me things far beyond mastering the underground system and the joys of afternoon tea.

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