This word would come to identify my time in England; it was not so much a beverage as a ritual that would knit me to the country. When I told friends I planned to study abroad in the UK I was met with many courteous smiles and people generally would add in “at least they speak English there”. Everyone I spoke to believed England to be a jollier more accented version of America with absolutely no chance of culture shock. I believed this too, until one day I found myself sat in a Starbucks in the middle of Bristol, England’s city center complaining that everything was just wrong. To preface this, us four Americans had started out that day with the clear intentions of finding something as American as we possibly could, and that thing was Starbucks. We all chose to boycott the traditional tea in favor of something we were used too, coffee. The four of us sat there for two hours watching the rain fall and complaining. We didn’t complain about one thing or two things but two hours worth of things. Our coffees were drained and our spirits were down by the time we headed out into the rain. It seemed like we had stumbled into a foreign land where we understood the language but little else. The idea of assimilation seemed laughable on the day we chose Starbucks but I am glad that we overcame that hurdle and began to meld into the gloriously grungy, alternative city of Bristol.
Sitting here months later I am trying to pinpoint the exact moment I felt comfortable in England. I’ve made a list of events ranging from taking the bus by myself for the first time, to making friends in my classes. But I realized I didn’t become part of England but England became a part of me. The day that England took hold of me, in all of its rainy glory was the day I popped round to the store and bought myself my own tea mug. I must warn you at this point that ones first mug is like a gateway drug to buying more and more mugs, but I digress. I brought my gorgeous baby blue mug with the delicate magenta roses home and placed it lovingly amongst all my flat mates mugs; it looked quite natural snuggled between a union jack patterned mug and a dainty Peter Rabbit cup and saucer. I used that mug at least twice a day; it was voyeur as I got to know my British flat mates and also my new American friends. The routine of making tea came to be my favorite part of the day; it signaled the chance to catch-up, the chance to plan and the chance to experience something new. With tea time as a cemented social aspect of the day I quickly began to realize that this brown beverage was responsible for bringing people together all over the country. I drank tea in cafes, in my flat and I even got a loyalty card for a grocery store so I could get a free cup everyday.
The Americans and I returned to that Starbucks several times during our stay but each time it seemed like a weak reminder of home, now we fancied ourselves natives who drank tea and ate scones so naturally our café preferences changed. It was mid February when we truly experienced the majesty of a little café known as The Boston Tea Party. I associate this café as a tea drinker’s paradise where the tea pots were mighty and the atmosphere cozy. As time went on the baristas learned our names and knew what we wanted when we came in. I swelled with happiness when I would enter the doors and see familiar faces and I would sit for hours with friends and sip tea and talk about the beautiful thing that becoming part of a new culture is. From what I have entitled the Café Chronicles or maybe more accurately “Assimilation through Tea” I have learned that it’s ok to be unsure in a new place but there will always be that something that ties one to ones new location and never lets go.
Now as my time in England has come to an end I am left with the fond memories and friendships forged over something so simple as a beverage. It does not take a mighty event to make ones time abroad spectacular but simple everyday pleasures that will make your heart ache when they seem so far away. It seems only fitting that as I type this I am joined by my blue flowered companion, the vessel that holds my best and most cherished memories of living in England for six months.
Kaitlyn Sheehy is a student at Franklin & Marshall College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Bristol in England.