Yesterday, during four separate conversations I was told I am sounding more English and less American as of late. I am sure my American friends and family can attest to this. Much to my chagrin they have made a pastime out of mocking my strange blend of accents and vocabulary. I can’t win either way, in England I am constantly corrected for ‘mispronouncing’ words (process, water, and patronize are frequent offenders.) But many words are changing, I have a bit of a lilt, my ‘u’ is sounding less American by the month, and I am using an increasing amount of British vocabulary. I sometimes catch myself sounding very English, but stranger than that, I am starting to notice my American accent at times.
My accent is not the only thing that has changed over the past 18 months. In fact, it’s the least of the changes.
James (my boyfriend) and I have very different political views. This was brought up the other day by someone who didn’t realiz(s)e that we have to be careful of how and when we bring it up to avoid full on debates. I said I thought that I am now much better at listening to his perspectives and compromising than when we first started dating. James thought this was because 1. I had matured and 2. I had been exposed to different perspectives. Initially I was a bit annoyed with the first assessment that I had “matured,” because I felt it insinuated that I had been immature. However on reflection, it has truth in it (don’t tell James). After all, I was 18 when I arrived, had never lived properly on my own (I lived in dorms before coming over but I don’t think that counts), had never been immersed in a different culture to this extent, and was (and am) in that Uni student identity-and-perspective-forming stage of my life. This process was, for me, taking place on another continent, in a different culture, without friends who shared my views, and an ocean away from my family.
I was put into the position of forming these worldviews by having mine massively challenged. I am referring to perspectives on things ranging from politics and beliefs about other nations to social behaviour and environmental responsibilities. I have matured in that I am more open to different cultures and perspectives and I know more about what I believe and why I believe it. Obviously a big factor in this maturity was being exposed to different worldviews. This has not always been an easy process, at times I have been frustrated that no one seems to understand where I am coming from. I would never have thought I was ethnocentric; I tried to make a point to expose myself to different cultures and perspectives. However, nothing makes you see your own cultural assumptions more than being in a culture that disagrees with many of those assumptions. I was, by default and environment, unable to see from more than my own cultural perspective.
Over the past year and a half I have become increasingly bi-cultural.
Before moving to the UK a friend was giving me some advice and warned me about ‘reverse culture shock’ saying, “It’s real. Read about it, study it, be prepared, because it’s not easy.” This was probably the most salient advice I was given. Upon arriving back in the US after the first year I was faced with a culture that I had grown up in but didn’t fit into. Beyond the surface of using words that people around me didn’t know I was approaching things from a perspective that people didn’t understand. The first summer home I had to work through a bit of cultural dissonance and decide what I wanted to take from English culture and what I wanted to take from my home culture. This has become easier, but it leaves me with the feeling of not really quite fitting in either place.
Overall I am very pleased to have grown in this way. I am happy with the person I am becoming and feel some of English/European culture fits me better than American culture does (e.g. a better awareness of the rest of the world). On the other hand, there are some aspects of American culture that I prefer (like strangers who smile back at you rather than being confused that you have acknowledged their presence.) So I am in the fortunate position of being able to pick and choose at this point. And while this is not always easy it is certainly a step in the right direction.