What do you think of when someone mentions historic landmarks, fish and chips, vintage cafes beach, nightlife, parks etc., You might think of UK, but these things don’t give the whole picture because they say nothing about the UK people. Last summer, I got a real taste of UK life and self-reliance when I spent two weeks with a host family in the Bournemouth.
After much preparation and many last-minute errands, my departure time arrived. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous. All I knew about my host family was that it consisted of parents and three kids. I knew I was staying in a place called Wimborne in central Bournemouth.
My host father picked me up at the train station and drove me to Wimborne. Arriving in Wimborne, I knew I couldn’t have asked for a better setting. There was one store, a bakery, a church and something most Swiss towns require: a train station. I couldn’t have asked for a better host family, either. They made me feel like part of their family. I don’t have brothers or sisters,so living with the family of three kids was quite different, but I genuinely enjoyed the company of host’s siblings.
One of the best things about living with a host family was not feeling like a tourist. I wasn’t traveling around Europe seeing the major sights; I was immersed in a different culture. I participated in my family’s day-to-day activities, whether helping to pick berries in the garden or going to friends’ houses.
During my stay I also visited places like Bournemouth aviation museum, Christ Church, Poole Harbor, Bournemouth International Center, Tower park and Shell bay night clubs. While on my two day trip to London I saw London eye, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Wax Museum, Wembley Stadium, Undergrounds and Big Ben.
While some aspects of the UK culture are similar to India’s, there are lots of differences, too. The trick for me was to keep an open mind. Sometimes I caught myself thinking, What are they doing? For example, my host family left their windows open – without screens – all the time. At first I thought, Oh my gosh! all the bugs are going to get in and eat me alive. Why don’t they close the windows and turn on the air? But then I realized there weren’t many bugs and I really enjoyed the fresh air. The environment in UK is a lot cleaner too.
While there, I participated in a week-long Bournemouth beach community service project which was the main reason I had gone for, with nine other people from Greece, Russia, Japan and the Italy.. The ten of us helped in changing of beach sand which is done once in 10 years as it is an artificial beach. It was not easy, but I enjoyed every minute of my stay above the clouds.
I became more self-reliant as a result of my two weeks stay. My host parents were busy and worked a lot, so if I wanted to go somewhere, I had to take the train by myself. When I landed in UK, I carried my cultural baggage: my beliefs and ideas shaped by the India. Conversely, I did not want to enhance any stereotypes Europeans had of Indian.
I found UK people very open-minded, much more so than Indian, probably because UK is a country permeated by many cultures. The UK people were very friendly and treated me kindly; I hope they would say the same about Indian.
Having an open mind was essential to my successful cultural experience. I didn’t want to think, My way or the highway. Also, being okay with failure was imperative, as I put myself on the line every day.
Signing up for a cultural exchange was probably the biggest risk I ever took, but it was also the most rewarding. I don’t want to say it was life-altering, but living in UK did change my perspective on the India.
I still keep in touch with my host family via email. I hope to return and stay with them for a year, which they have encouraged me to do. When I left, I promised I would return to Bournemouth. There is more to UK than historic landmarks, fish and chips, vintage cafes beach,-nightlife and parks.