Differences across the sea: what it’s like to move abroad


Photo by and used with permission of Michaella Walker

Michaella Walker, freshman, and her family stand by her previous house in Milton Keynes, England.

Moving between cities, or even states can be difficult. New surroundings, new people, new routine. However, moving from abroad presents its own set of challenges, especially when it comes to social and cultural aspects.

Earlier this June, Michaella Walker, freshman, moved nearly 4,000 miles to Lake Zurich from Milton Keynes, England with her family, due to her father’s new job. Aside from the obvious change that comes with moving between countries, Walker found that the social norms of English and American communities held some of the biggest differences.

“Accents. That’s the iconic [difference], and the way people behave. It’s really different from how people in England behave. People [in America] are really friendly. They’ll come up to me and say ‘hi’ and everything. In England, even if you say ‘hi’ to them, they won’t even acknowledge you in any way,” Walker said.

The distinctions between communities in England and the U.S. are especially prominent in the school setting, according to Walker, because there is “more opportunity.” For example, Walker participated in Portfolio Day at school, where art colleges came to school to present their programs and give advice on students’ portfolios throughout the day.

“That would have never happened [in England], especially [with] all of them coming to school and I can meet them all. It’s just amazing. [In England,] they would probably only have [that experience] for seniors,” Walker said. “School is so ‘American’, like the assemblies, the stacks, and the football field. It just seems like how you [would] imagine in the movies.”

Another aspect Walker found different is that clubs and sports are available at school. She says in England, one would have to go outside of school to participate in extracurricular activities. Here, Walker is a member of the Cross Country team.

“I like cross country and everyone’s really nice. I mean, it’s painful running, like you [feel like you’re going] to die. But it feels better afterwards and [my] Coach gives us lots of food,” Walker said.

Despite many of her positive experiences, moving to a new environment was not without its challenges. Although England and America share a language, English, a different communication barrier forms as Walker says participating in conversation is complicated.

“Knowing how to interact with Americans [is difficult] just because the way [Americans] interact is very different. How you talk and what you talk about. I found that hard, like, ‘What do I talk to these American people about?’” Walker said. “[In England,] it’s such a stereotypical thing, [but] we talk a lot about the weather. To start a conversation, [we’ll] be like, ‘Oh, it’s such a pretty day today. It’s not raining.’ It was easier to talk to people [in England] and I miss that.” 

However, having been in the U.S. for less than half a year, Walker still has a lot more to look forward to. Walker says she’s excited to have new experiences outside of school she would not have otherwise had, especially with the holiday season approaching.

“[For Thanksgiving], I can’t wait for the food and just see what it’s like,” Walker said. “And I can’t wait to see how crazy Christmas will be with all the lights and everything. We have [lights] in England, but I feel like the Americans sometimes do extra for decorations.”

The anticipation of new foods does not just stop at Thanksgiving. Walker also anticipates trying new everyday foods like deep-dish pizza when she visits Chicago for the first time. She says food in America has much “more variety” than in England, where she really only misses fish and chips and British coffee.

Walker says another thing she misses about England is her friends, though she still stays in contact with them through Whatsapp, a messaging app. Despite all the adjustments that Walker has to make, she says that she is adapting to and feeling “more comfortable” living in the U.S.

“You just miss where you’re from sometimes,” Walker said. “I’ve made some friends, but it’s a slow struggle. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been good, and I can’t wait to see what happens.”