While studying abroad in London, I wasn’t expecting to notice many, if any, cultural nuances related to sex and dating. I was visiting a country where I already knew the language, but once the plane landed, I immediately noticed the differences unfolding that went far beyond just accents. As I went through my semester abroad, I realized speaking the same language didn’t necessarily mean we spoke the same language when it came to sex and dating.
One of the first things I noticed was the general visual contrast between the professional, trendy fashion that stood out distinctly from California’s laid-back style. Many people around London wear suits because they’re either going to work, coming back from work or on the way to the pub from work, and I can’t stress enough that men who know how to dress themselves automatically are more attractive. Many adults in London transition into the workforce straight away if they choose not to pursue a career in academia, contributing to this well-dressed impression.
When social networks came up in my course “British Life and Culture,” I noticed that connections within the U.K. are tight-knit and people often constrain themselves to their social circles from grade school or work. Even our teacher relayed that she met her husband through a group of friends she had known her entire life. The U.K. is not the country in which to expect strangers to approach you in public, which is typical behavior for Americans. The British define themselves as polite and proper, while Americans are generally more friendly and conversational.
Studying abroad, however, can serve as a unique characteristic that draws in attention from other university students in the dating world. If you’re having trouble finding a date, turn to online apps to help ease you into the culture of the country you’re visiting. Sooner or later, someone will ask you out, and that can bring up more serious issues of communication and commitment. As soon as you open your mouth, people will know you’re not from the area. When out at bars, my accent and hometown were always sure to be conversation starters.
I was fortunate enough to not have a language barrier during my time abroad, but this can differ depending on the country you study in. I think I had the hardest time adjusting to various differences in vocabulary, for example, calling a zucchini a “courgette.” Learning to ask for rubbers instead of condoms was an easier vernacular switch.
On the topic of condoms, be sure to recognize the options of your health insurance in a foreign country. Before engaging in sexual behavior, identify clinics that are open to international students. The National Health Service in England provides free kits for testing commonly transmitted sexual infections. Make sure you’re able to access proper birth control methods that suit you where you’re studying.
As you go about navigating sex and dating abroad, an important communication technique is to always double-check translations and recognize connotations of words. Use your time abroad as an opportunity in private tutoring in that language you’ve been trying to learn since high school. There are words in different languages that don’t even exist in English to capture the exact mood of a moment. Real-life conversations, from first dates to hookups, will teach you those words that your textbook won’t cover.
Studying abroad is about experiencing new memories, so don’t be afraid of taking a new approach to the way you traditionally see dating and sex. Your time abroad serves as a moment in life for you to experience new situations and to confidently experiment outside of your comfort zone.