January 30, 2013

Letters from Abroad

Snowpocalypse Across the Pond

In 2010, I survived the infamous Snowpocalypse, the massive blizzard that blanketed the eastern United States in nearly three feet of snow. This year, I survived yet again. Snowpocalypse: UK edition.

According to most students I talked to at the University of East Anglia (UEA), here in Norwich, England, snow is not a regular occurrence. Most years, it snows once or not at all, and it barely ever sticks to the ground. This year, however, has been a rare exception.

As soon as the ground was covered, university students fled to the grounds of UEA’s campus, throwing snowballs and constructing snowmen, laughing with what can only be described as glee as the snow fell. And fell. And fell some more. The next day, I woke up to begin the long walk to my morning class. When I stepped outside, I was slightly dismayed to find that the paths had not been plowed or even salted. As I continued walking, I was further surprised to see that the public roads were just as obstructed. Several students rallied behind a car that was stuck at the bottom of the street, trying in vain to push it forward. I watched as other students struggled (and sometimes failed) to keep their footing as they walked. And, not too long after, I received word that the entire local bus service was suspended until further notice.

How much did it snow, you ask? Six inches.

As an east coast native, I barely blink at six inches of snow, so watching the entire city stop in its tracks was, to be honest, a little bit funny. I told one of my flatmates that we’d once had a snowstorm with close to thirty inches of snowfall, and her jaw literally dropped in disbelief.

But considering that the sidewalks and roads remained covered for the next week and a half, I can’t really blame her. Even though the snow was not much, I was both surprised and irritated that no one had salted the pedestrian pathways, particularly once it started getting icy. It seemed irresponsible, dangerous and just plain irritating.

As I’ve thought about it more, however, I’ve realized that what initially appeared to be a total lack of preparation is actually one of the more significant cultural differences I’ve noticed during my time here. If Americans live by the mantra “Worry about it until it gets done,” the Brits seem to subscribe more to a “Don’t worry about it, it’ll get done” school of thought.

Signing up for classes is a perfect example. At Dickinson, we are all too familiar with the Gateway crashes associated with course request period. People are so anxious about getting the classes they want that they will sit in the library and constantly click refresh on the Banner Self Service page until it loads or their index finger falls off. Here, the students were still signing up for and changing their classes through the second and third week of the semester, and they were completely at peace with this arrangement because, just as with the snow covered streets, they knew that they would figure it out eventually.

I haven’t noticed many major differences from American culture here. The accents, the obsession with tea and the comparative lack of trash cans all seem relatively minor to me. This attitude, however, this seemingly complete trust that everything will turn out fine and that people can manage for themselves is really what stands out to me. It makes me think about all the things I stress about on a daily basis that might not merit my worry at all.

So, here’s to the confidence that, until next time, I will be doing just fine over here in the good old UK. Cheers.