Samantha Sigmon: On Becoming an Oxford American

Honors anthropology student Samantha Sigmon spent the 2008-2009 year studying abroad as a Libby Finch scholar at Oxford University in Oxford, England.

“I like salt, don’t I?” two-and-a-half-year-old Bailey said, pondering over his chips. He is constantly chattering and ends every single statement with a question. I’m quite sure this is something toddlers would not do in America.

England is like an upside down America. The faucets turn the opposite way, instead of one faucet with warm and cold water combining it’s two faucets–one for each. The cars go on opposite sides of the road, and the language is just a little different. When people talk fast they have to repeat themselves. There are almost no mirrors. I’ve yet to see a full length one, even in public restrooms. In America mirrors seem to be everywhere, even places they shouldn’t be. Words and their pronunciation really do make more sense. I get made fun of for saying certain things, most recently “trash.” The living room is called the lounge and the restroom is called the toilet.

I am staying in Haverhill with Dan and his girlfriend Laura and their three children, Bailey age three and twins Codi and Charlie one-and-a-half. Laura is actually younger than me. “I’ve always wanted to be a young mother,” she tells me as she warms up the peas and shoves bread into the toaster while giving one of the twins a cookie. She is very attentive to her children and cleans and cooks all the time, making me feel useless. I’m much more useful at school then I am sitting around her house trying to play with her kids and being a terrible cook. I wonder if I have ever felt this unable to connect before. Here is an English working class woman just my age, but our lives are completely different. I pretend to be interested in make-up and reading her gossip magazines, though the gossip magazines are actually quite interesting.

Haverhill is about 30 minutes away from Cambridge. It’s pretty small, but looks confusing with the rows upon rows of small brick flats, each two story and stuck on one another with brightly painted doorways enclosed by little wooden fences. Everything in England so far is really compact. Every desirable destination is fifteen minutes away – if it is longer, why really bother. Walking is much easier and all the cars are very small and indeed seem exotic to my American mind with names like Fiestas and Golfs until a Ford or VW emblem comes into sight. The cars are mostly diesel and manual. The shopping markets have the smallest isles with huge crowds of people. Sainsbury’s is like a Wal-Mart in the way they have everything, clothes and all, except the aisles are half the size and everything is packed in like sardines which makes me a bit uncomfortable. They have more vegetarian things than we do in Fayetteville at the market and even all the microwave dinners are good.

Sam, Dan’s brother and also a good friend of mine said all the similar little apartment houses were where poorer families live. Laura said Haverhill is a place for young mums, and it’s true that I’ve never seen so many buggies about a town in my life. They clog up every aisle and sidewalk. But I like that I’m here in the middle of modern working class life. It’s as much of a learning experience as school is.

I saw my first old church yesterday. It is beautiful, but the company I was with, Dan, Sam, and Sam’s girlfriend seemed to think it was quite shabby compared to most. It was standing just right in the middle of town, next to Lloyds, the preschool, and the local pub and everyone was passing by it like they thought nothing of it. America is not old, and I love old things, so I just wanted to hug the building as we passed.  They let me walk in, and I loved it. It’s called St. Mary’s and it has to be very old by the gothic style of it. I have never seen such stained glass before. I might go and read some afternoons while I’m here wondering alone, if I don’t get lost in the rows and rows of houses and alleys. I can’t wait to meet more people.

I love England, from the bits I’ve seen. Maybe I am a traveler after all. I feel like one, and I love it! I talked to my dad on the phone and he said “don’t like England too much. Remember you’re an Arkansas girl.” Yes I am, but he is right to worry because I am in love with England at first sight like I always thought I would be.

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