London 2012: Olympics provided a unique perspective on living abroad
By Sarah Binion ’01, ’04
As an American living in London, you’re somewhere between tourist and local. Your accent always indicates you’re an outsider but when you wince at the loud Americans on the tube, you know you’re a local. Living abroad makes the ordinary details of day-to-day life seem extraordinary, but it also underscores the differences between your home and host country.
Living in a city that is hosting one of the largest events in the world has been an exercise in awe and frustration. Last summer I stepped off the Eurostar train from Paris and caught my breath as I saw the newly hung Olympic rings in St. Pancras (the international station where trains arrive from Belgium and France). Suddenly the reality began to settle in that I would be living in this city when thousands of the world’s finest athletes would be coming to compete. I watched as London began to put on the finishing touches of years worth of preparation – sprucing up tube stations, posting helpful signs for confused tourists and completing construction projects (among many other things).
As a local, I was annoyed by the constant tube closures, necessary of course, in order for London’s massive Underground transportation system to be in perfect working order for the thousands of additional riders during the games. As a tourist, I was struck by the sight of the Olympic rings hanging under Tower Bridge while crossing the Thames. As a local, I was annoyed by tourists who were chattering loudly on public transportation, oblivious to the cultural norm that the English are very quiet while riding the buses, tube and trains. As a tourist I was inspired by all of the men and women who had traveled so far and at great cost to watch their friends, family and compatriots compete for medals.
I had the opportunity last week to watch the women’s semifinal football (soccer) match between France and Japan at Wembley Stadium. I caught myself yelling at the referees and cheering (loudly) for France. I suddenly realized that the rest of the people in the stadium around me were noticeably more quiet – a clear indication that I was a loud American, whereas the Brits around me were more reserved. I’m sure they all thought with a sigh, “Tourist.”
It is an understatement to say that living in a city hosting the Olympics is an experience I’ll likely never repeat (although, if someone would like me to move to Rio in time for the 2016 Olympics, send me a note), but having the opportunity to experience it as a Londoner and an American has been truly phenomenal.
Sarah Binion earned her bachelor of arts degree in mass communication in 2001 and her master of arts degree in international studies in 2004 — both from Texas State University. She is currently writing the dissertation for her Ph.D. in international development from Tulane University while residing in London.