“Betwixt and Between…so this is Liminality.” By Alexandra Borges. London, England – Cardiff, Wales

Well, I’m finally here, sort of. I arrived in London Heathrow at approximately 11:00am UK time.  Aside from the serious jet lag, the experience quite pleasant. I mean I was expecting to be out of sorts with the whole driving on the opposite side of the streets thing, but to be honest it didn’t really bother me at all. I think what really got be were the accents. As soon as I heard them I started getting excited, not for any reason, but for the fact that now I was the foreigner. I was expecting to feel a little anxious and out of place, I don’t. Its not like the people, locals, around you care so much. I think its just that with arriving in an unknown country, we are more sensitive to the surrounding that we feel we do not blend in with.  It’s here where feeling “betwixt and between” comes in. We are at that stage which we described in the workshop as Liminality. This is a period that I think the best way to explain is that we have this longing to become part of the culture and society around us, to fit in, but we still lack the strength to let go of the things, stubborn characteristics, born from back home. Its a point where we want to blend in and change ourselves, but do not want to forget what makes us who we were back home. At this point I believe we don’t have only these two choices, though in the midst of this chaos it may seem so, but rather we have a third choice. This choice is a compromise, a half way point, where we can begin to embrace our surroundings slowly whilst holding onto the important characteristics of what we once knew (let go of others). To slowly create the changes we want to see happen by the end of our experience.

Although I have yet to reach Cardiff, Wales, I have the opportunity to explore London during first of two orientations. I think that this will provide me with an unique opportunity to compare the differences in culture and behavior between neighboring countries under the same rule. I look forward to the results and the experience of this little social experiment of mine. One thing that is a little difficult and will need to get used to, is that as far as I’ve seen London doesn’t like putting up street names (they are on the sides of buildings – after arriving in Cardiff on Thursday I notice they do the same thing), so you really need to get the map of the area down to really know where your going. Regardless of the missing street names (not missing I found them!), everybody seems to know where they are going, in a away it reminds me of how locals of New York City function.

Even with dealing with the new surrounding and this feeling of “neither being here or there”, I have found myself coming together with the other students part of the IFSA Bulter program. Though the majority will be staying here in London, scattered around different campuses, we all seem to come together beautifully. I’ve made many new friends outside of the students heading for Cardiff with me and even gotten in contact with my future flatmates through Facebook. This trip brings all of us together, international students, but something about exploring the city together and going through this experience with them makes all of these, otherwise scary and daunting, situations easier to ease into the culture and much more fun. In saying as much, Slimbach also talks about how these communitas can be a double edged sword. In other words while I, we, find comfort in these communitas because we now have a support system, we can become closed off to opportunities to meet new people and experience other things that will help us grow. Essentially, these communitas become a substitute for the familiarity of “home”. To avoid this, I have separated myself from, but not shut myself off from, those communitas that I already knew.  My fellow Cardiff goers, which I have been in contact with since August, I have met now in person and though it feels nice to know someone. It creates that sense of “home” and “belonging”. In order to keep me from constantly hanging out with them at dinner I sat amongst people I hadn’t met yet and through out dinner we began conversing and became acquainted.

London Eye

London Eye

Now, after dinner I could have gone out to explore the city with my fellow Cardiff University communitas, but instead reaching out of my comfort zone asked if I could accompany the group of girls and boys that I had met at dinner instead. Thus, I had branched out and made new friends and communities. I did the same thing after the play we were brought to in London and managed to see Big Ben and The London Eye, it was an amazing experience.

Big Ben

Big Ben

Slimbach’s chart on page 167 about factors affecting adaptation, I feel goes very well with our ABC’s of reflective practice. It will most certainly help me during this period of liminality. It goes hand in hand, with not only reflecting on things that you may have learned either culturally of personally, but also with how this reflective practice can help with how you react and adapt to the community around you. In Liminality stage especially with how you can reflect on the ways you thought, acted, and felt before departure and now after you have stepped foot in your host country. Also, it can help with the proving or disproving any previous conceptions about your country’s culture and way of life now that you’ve experienced it in person. By doing this is can help you break out of the liminality stage because now you can begin to establish a graspable idea about the community around you, expand your knowledge about it the way of life in your host country, and help you adapt to this new culture.

After finally reached Cardiff, Wales, I’ve realized its quite different from London, but the people are much friendlier and generally happy people. As of right now there are only two people in the flat including myself. However, the other student is also American and we had already met in London. I have however met one of our neighbors, a girl from South Wales. We spoke awhile about where we came from and we explained to each other the differences in education programs of our home countries. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she is a first year, but shares the an interest in medicine as I do. I look forward to becoming friends with her. I feel that having another American student, especially one I’ve already grown close to, to being a challenge in terms of Slimbach’s doubled edged definition of communitas. Since, the rest of my flatmates move in this weekend, I will try my best to interact with them and my neighbors more freely once more people move in. A lot of people in building have yet to move int. Until then, I will continue to grow my friendship with my neighbor and American flatmate.

It’s still a little bit strange being here and not back home, the liminality stage kind of catches you of guard even though you know its coming. I guess coming to an english speaking country psyched me out, but there are quite a few differences that make one feel out of place. For instance, I and a couple of  international students, two from America and one Brazil, went to the grocery store, but we had no idea how to get the cart out because they were attached with this reoccurring chain. When we asked a woman passing by how to get a cart, she kind of looked at us funny and asked if we were serious. Once we established that we really were serious she showed us that we had to insert £1 to release the lock and explained once we return the cart and lock it in it would return our £1back to us.  It was really disconcerting to be scrutinized like that, it was a bit uncomfortable, almost as if we were stupid. However, I realize that this situation wasn’t anything I should take to heart. As Slimbach stated, “Making sense of an unfamiliar world is the central cognitive process in intercultural learning and a critical part of successful adaptation” (Slimbach, p.171). Although, a bit frustrating and even a little embarrassing the situation was, I learned something new and will continue to do so. My plan or strategy to gradually shed this feeling of paradoxical phase and “adapt” is to explore the city and immerse myself in the community. Thus far, I have already gone walking around the surrounding area to get a feel for the community. My living accommodations are quite a ways from the main campus, which is further in town, so I went exploring that area and saw the student union area as well. The student union area is a bit on the big side, but with the time that I still have before classes begin I’m going to explore that more in depth. I think that area will be really good to check out because hundreds of students (upper and lowerclassmen) are in and out all the time and a lot of student functions supposedly happen there. It’s a great way to meet new people/students and make friends.There’s also the induction week coming up that is filled with pretty amazing events, so I’m definitely going to be checking that out. To add to this I am planning on joining societies/clubs on campus after attending their fair here, as Slimbach suggested. Also, something pretty cool over here is the Rugby World Cup is about to begin and rugby is really big in Cardiff especially since, one of the games will be played their stadium. I am really looking forward to that, supposedly the block off quite a bit of streets and Cardiff goes into walking traffic only and all sorts of events will be held. It will be an amazing experience and I cannot wait, I and a couple of students I met here are trying to possibly get tickets to watch the game!

This strategy, I’m hoping, will help me with what Slimbach describes as, “entering our field settings with “both eyes open” enabl[ing] us not only to set reasonable learning goal[s] but also to take appropriate measures to build on the strengths and compensate for the weaknesses inherent in each set of influences” (Slimbach, p.166). Each experience and situation is going to be different and won’t be like the slightly embarrassing situation today, but I’ve learned from that and I’m still transitioning into life here in Cardiff. It is only day 1, but I certainly am looking forward to tomorrow and all the days following until my departure.

"There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don't Allow yourself to be one of them." - Ralph Marston

“There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t Allow yourself to be one of them.” – Ralph Marston

So I picked this picture quote because I think often in this time of being torn between not being home, but not being a part of society in your host country can get a little overwhelming. This picture/quote reminds us in this critical point and in this confusing stage of liminality, we need to reflect on who we are and what our purpose studying abroad means to us. If we do this and take a step back, we are more likely not to become part of our obstacles, but rather gain the strength and wisdom to be able to overcome them and achieve your goals.

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