Readers of my very first blog will remember I couldn't have been more excited when preparing for my inaugural trip across the Atlantic Ocean back in the early stages of 2012. There I sat, carving out the words of my long-anticipated adieu to the green and pleasant land of my birth, to live my very own American dream. But for all my palpable and overwhelming excitement, there was one nagging doubt that I couldn't fully shake after my mother first brought it up.
Maybe calling it a doubt is too far. On the days it drifted into my thoughts, my mother's question seemed more like the lingering horn of a faraway train; loud enough to notice, but distant enough for its hearer to not dwell on it for too long. That was of course, until another train passed by.
What if I didn't like America?
Although most of my friends and classmates could at the very least recall a trip to one of Florida's countless theme parks when they were younger, I had never, ever been to the United States. The most I could claim was the 30 minutes I spent in American waters while on vacation in Montreal when I was 13. Not exactly Disneyworld.
In early 2012, those advising me told me to be aware of culture shock. I was about to exist in an educational and social environment entirely different to anything I'd ever known, and they warned it had the potential to be the Achilles heel of a successful period abroad.
Now, in March 2014, I'm two years older and wiser, and more crucially I'm still here.
My early months in Maryland were about as American as could be. I went to a baseball game, drank from a Solo Cup, witnessed a Presidential election reach its climax, danced at Homecoming, stuffed my face full of turkey at Thanksgiving, and experienced real extreme weather. My friends and colleagues here have introduced me to so many wonderful things. They are the reason that when I'm in England, I put on baseball to actually watch it instead of using to doze off to.
There have been some subtle changes since 2012. I say "tomato," "oregano" and "basil" in ways I would have been reluctant to entertain even after I arrived in America. Crisps are now chips, chips have become fries, and I traded my rubbish bin for a trash can. I've even got an American twang. By and large though, I have remained myself, and it is American culture which has allowed me to do that. The enthusiasm my peers show towards English culture is great fun, and I can't express the amount of joy it gives me to be able to share stories about my country, our sports, and our way of life. They seemingly haven't forgotten my nationality either, always keen to remind me about the Revolutionary War.
The inspiration for this post came from a very specific moment last weekend, when my beloved Arsenal played Tottenham Hotspur in the North London Derby. The unwavering fervour and intensity with which I watch our games used to confuse my friends, despite the fact they all play themselves.
Why do you care so much? Calm down, George. Why would you get up at 7:45am to watch them on a Saturday? Do you have to shout so loud?
That's how it used to be. But it didn't bother me, because I knew our cultures were different.
During the game, though, something odd happened. My good friend Joe, before correcting himself, asked me a question in which he referred to Arsenal as "we." I've been doing it all my life, because that's how it is where I'm from. While using that phrase aggravates those who believe you have to own shares in a club to say such a thing, it was instead to me a poignant and welcome reminder of just how much my American friends and I have come to embrace and share one another's cultures.
I shall never forget my first day at practice, when my coach brought the training to a temporary halt and instructed the whole squad to form an unintentionally daunting semi-circle around me. In the 90-degree heat, heavily breathing and sweat pouring from their foreheads, one-by-one they shouted their names out to me.
"F*** me," I said to myself in my head. How was I going to remember all 30 of these names? In England, I would have undoubtedly said it out loud and made a joke out of it. Refraining from swearing at that very moment, so often commonplace in an English sporting environment, was to be my only notable experience of culture shock.
Since that moment, I've welcomed the American influences on my time here with open arms. Gratefully, the America I have grown to love has welcomed my tendencies too. Never to me has there been a truer confirmation of the fusion of our cultural fabrics than when the final whistle blew at White Hart Lane on Sunday. It turns out I wasn't the only nervous one.
Much like the train horn that persisted in catching my ear, the doubt I had in my mind about not liking it here has dwindled away into the night, never to be heard again.
Unlike Fred and Ginger, I'm not quite ready to call this whole thing off.
Until next time,