Here’s the first of a monthly series of columns I’ll be writing from abroad, as originally published in my hometown paper, the Barrington Courier-Review.
I remember in fifth grade when graphing calculators were the hot thing and everybody had one. It wasn’t that we wanted to do math and crunch numbers; we just wanted to play all of the games you could download onto them – most notably, Tetris. The time-pressure crunch of having to arrange oddly shaped blocks into neat rows proved addictive for many, but I for some reason never got hooked. Instead, I stayed true to my Garfield comics while watching the hardcore Tetris players from afar.
But now, as I write these words while looking out onto an English patio in an English townhouse in an English neighborhood in London, what comes back to me most vividly is that game of Tetris. One would think that adjusting to a country where everyone supposedly speaks your native language should be an easy process, especially when that country is the one that birthed you, in a historical sense, just a couple centuries ago. But it’s the little things that add up quickly, just like those blocks in Tetris that would come down onto the screen and were never the right shape and before you knew it you’d have a “GAME OVER” message blinking at you mercilessly. From the credit cards that use a chip and PIN system to British words (aubergine for eggplant, loo for bathroom) and a different sizing system for clothes, things are just (slightly) different here.
And so, when I tell people that I’m “studying abroad” on a Fulbright for the year, their immediate reaction is to ask, “Where?” When I tell them I’m going to be in England, their faces contort into a confused, even sorry expression: Continue reading