Her Story: Being an Adult – The Differences Between at Home and Abroad

I’m sitting in my residence hall room in London, and it’s nothing but rain outside. I’m finally used to it. At least that aspect of the country isn’t so shocking to me anymore.

I’m a study abroad student from the United States, so of course culture shock was a major thing for me when I first landed in September of 2013. I’m one of the few that have stayed for an entire year, versus a single semester. Because of that decision I had the opportunity to celebrate my 21st birthday in the one city I wanted to be a part of for as long as I could remember.

The one thing that really hit me the most about the culture in England is the way they regard people my age as “adults” already. Back home, I’m a third-year student at the George Washington University. I’m majoring in political science and will be off to law school in a year to pursue an LLM in media and entertainment law. That means I have four more years of school ahead of me.

But that’s not the case here.

As an undergrad in the UK, you can study law and graduate with an LLM by now. Anyone my age is either done with uni this year or already has a degree and a job. Yes, a real, full-fledged, let-me-put-on-a-suit job. The age of 21 is a fully functioning adult here. Back home, 21 is the first year you can drink and probably the year where you make a lot of mistakes before heading into senior year and taking in the real world bit by bit.

I was slightly jetlagged on my birthday, so to be honest, I didn’t do much – but that was completely okay. It gave me a chance to think about the differences between being on your own as an adult here and being an adult in a couple of years back home. It’s all relative.

I turned 21, and the first thing I did was go to the bank and go grocery shopping. Exhilarating, right? I went out for a couple of drinks with a friend just to say “cheers – I’m 21.” I wasn’t carded. It wasn’t a big deal. It was just … well, it was nice. It was the first time I really felt like a proper grown up, and that might be the reason I realized something.

University culture is different in the UK from back home in the sense that there’s no Greek life, no one throws dorm parties every night of the week, and there’s no UPD roaming the halls telling people to keep it down – because there’s no need for it. It’s not so crazy here, and I’ve learned to love it more than I ever thought I could.

Walking home from my night out, I realized that, yes, I most definitely still have my childish moments -- especially being that I film YouTube videos in my free time -- but living so far away from home for so long really helped me grow up. It opened my eyes to a lot.

When I was little, I used to ask my family what they wanted for their birthdays or other gift-giving holidays. I always got the same answer: “nothing.” Every adult I ever asked used to say, “I don’t need anything,” and I would always respond with “Yeah, but what do you want?” I had a clear distinction between the want and need as a kid, but it wasn’t until this semester that it really sunk in as to why adults always said this to me. It was the first year I didn’t just say, “I don’t want anything;” it was the first time I ever said “I don’t need anything.”

I sat back and realized that something as simple as that really makes a difference in your mindset. I didn’t want anything, and I didn’t need anything. The only gift I could have asked for was everything I already had – I was, and most definitely am still, happy. My family back home waited until midnight GMT to Viber and Facebook me birthday wishes, and I saw that I had family on the other side of the world who care so much about me. I saw that I was in the country of my dreams, studying what I want, so I could do what I love. I was having fun with my life and going somewhere with it.

If anything, this 21 revelation has not only changed the way I’m looking at gifts, but my life as a whole. If I keep working hard, whether here or at home, I’ll be okay. I won’t want anything. I won’t need anything. As long as I have a smile on my face and family and friends to share it with, nothing else matters.

Being an “adult” isn’t about age; it’s just the way we think. And the way we think is really affected by the things around us. While I know I grew up and learned a lot about myself in London, I know I’m going to go back to DC and live it up again -- just like every other college student I’ve ever met. But there’s definitely going to be a difference in my thought process thanks to this year I’ve had in London.

It’s just something to think about, but I wish I knew this a little bit earlier. I could have started applying it to things sooner, but better late than never, right?