Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against studying abroad. Actually, I wish I had taken more advantage of the programs offered through the UC system. It’s just that I think most students don’t realize that there are other ways to participate in another culture. I’m not talking about backpacking around Europe or Australia, which is one of the best and most fulfilling trips you will ever go on. I’m talking about moving into a different culture, working alongside the locals, and experiencing what living in another society has to offer.
My parents weren’t about to give me ten grand to go party in Ibiza for six months. I also didn’t want to study abroad; I figured that I would end up hanging out with my American friends the whole time instead of meeting the locals. This notion might be off base, but it turned me off to the idea anyway. So I figured I would work abroad. And because I don’t speak another language, I had to go to an English speaking country. Canada had no appeal to me, and the sheep-to-human ratio in New Zealand (something like 30,000-to-1) crossed the Kiwi country off my list. So it was between Australia and Britain. In the end, I decided to go to England.
After some research, I found out that this was easier said than done. Work permits are extremely hard to get, as an employer has to prove to the government why he can’t hire a fellow Brit instead of you. Eventually I found out about the British Universities North American Club, a nonprofit group that has an arrangement with the government allowing students to come and work in Britain. The application process was simple and quick (it only took 3 days for me to receive my work permit), and the BUNAC staff was eager to help me with any questions I had. Before I knew it, I was boarding a Virgin Airlines flight to London.
Besides the stereotypes (bad teeth, uninviting food, etc…), I had no idea of what to expect. After arriving, I checked into the BUNAC hostel in London, met some new people and went to what would become my local watering hole, The Queens Arms Pub. The next morning I attended a BUNAC orientation that gave me a rundown of my options (I was allowed to work in any job in the U.K.), was provided with several job leads and was able to ask questions to a very helpful BUNAC staff member. After two days of half-assed job searching, I landed a job as a waiter at the Chicago Rib Shack in London. The staff was mostly Brits, a few Kiwis and Australians, and only one other American.
London is to Europe what New York is to the U.S. You can walk out on the street at any time, day or night, and feel the energy of the city as you join thousands of people on the streets. Anything you want is available to you, which leaves you plenty of options for any given night. And because alcohol is part of the culture (you can legally have a beer with your meal when you’re 16), you can find a pub on every corner and join the locals for a pint of Stella Artois or Guinness. The clubs are world class (The Fridge in Brixton and Home in Leicester Square are always solid), the restaurants amazing (if you’re there, check out Little Italy in Soho and Belgo Centraal in Covent Garden), and the atmosphere is always insane.
My time in England was, simply put, amazing. I was also able to make enough cash to pay for my six months in London and two months traveling around Europe. I came back with way too many stories to tell here, but let’s just say that they include Jimmy Page and a hooker selling cocaine (It’s not what you think; they are two different stories). It was a time I will remember for the rest of my life.
Now I’m planning on going to Australia after my graduation in December. BUNAC offers the same work abroad program to the land down under, as well as to New Zealand and Canada. Word is that next year they’ll have a program to South Africa too. I can’t wait to go.
Suresh Samuel is a senior business economics major and a BUNAC on-campus representative.