Growing up, I really didn't watch a lot of TV. Yes, I know the title of this article is "How Disney Channel Inspired Me to Move From England to America," but just bear with me. We'll get there. So as I was saying, as a kid growing up in London, I really didn't spend a lot of time watching TV. I loved to read and write, but nothing on TV felt quite right for my age. There was a lot of kids TV, and then stuff for older teenagers, but nothing for everyone in the middle (at least nothing I could find).
Then, in 2005, my extended family went on a three-week long road trip around some of America's best national parks. One night at the beginning of the trip, my cousins were flicking through TV channels, and stopped on Disney Channel, which was showing an episode of That's So Raven. In the episode, Raven and her dad were competing on a cooking show, and in the process Raven accidentally eats mushrooms, which she is highly allergic to. What follows is a scene where Raven's face and hands swell up, making the intricate cooking much less dignified.
I have truly never laughed that much in my entire life. And just like that, I was obsessed. I had to be dragged away from Disney Channel to see the Grand Canyon, and it didn't stop there. A new show was being advertised, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and I caught the first episode just before we flew back to the UK. I loved it! Here were all these shows that were made for kids my age, that were so funny and had their own entire channel.
I'm sure you can imagine my disappointment, no, my despair, when I returned home to find out that Disney Channel was not available with basic cable in the UK. How was I going to keep watching That's So Raven and [Lizzie McGuire] and the new episodes of The Suite Life? I soon found out that it was possible to pay for a monthly subscription to Disney Channel, and so began my long campaign of begging my parents. I just wouldn't let up. I remember trailing my mum around the house, regaling her with how this would absolutely not be a waste of her money. Finally, I think mostly to shut me up, they relented. Let me tell you, that subscription was not wasted.
I was now a TV addict. Well, more specifically, I was a Disney Channel addict. I would run to the living room as soon as I got home to catch the new episodes that showed at 4:30 p.m. (not an easy feat, since my school finished at 4 p.m., and with London traffic, it was often very tight). I quickly realized, however, that England got new episodes of Disney Channel shows about six months after the US. It was pure torture knowing that half the world was finding out what Zack and Cody were up to while I was waiting impatiently at home.
Nothing was more built up for me than the premiere of High School Musical. This movie had gained worldwide media attention and even had a full page in my parent's newspaper. Disney UK was teasing songs and clips from the movie, but I couldn't wait for the real thing. Since, up until a few months previously, Disney Channel was still not carried by most UK TV providers, none of my friends shared my love of all things Disney Channel. HSM was big enough that almost everyone had heard of it. I went over to a friend's house to watch it, and had my parents record it onto a VCR so I could rewatch it later. And a good thing, as my friend clearly did not have as deep of an appreciation for the movie as I did, and kept interrupting Troy and Gabriella to try and talk.
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Right after the movie, a new TV show was premiering. Something about a girl who lived an ordinary life, but had a blonde wig and alternate life as a pop star. As a kid with a big imagination, who loved to daydream, Hannah Montana struck a chord with me immediately. In fact, my love of Hannah Montana was so strong that I carried not one, but two Hannah Montana lunch boxes with me (I had them on a rotation), well into middle school (ok, fine, and maybe high school too).
To me, everything on Disney Channel was larger than life. Sure, their antics were crazy, but there was also so much about American culture that was amazing to me, and I could hardly believe it was real. The food was bigger and more colorful and way more exciting — I remember Miley Stewart making a crazy peanut butter sundae on one episode of Hannah Montana. I'd never even heard of a sundae. In England you had one or two scoops of chocolate or vanilla ice cream, and that was it. Sure it was probably healthier, but it was way less fun. All the schools had corridors lined with lockers where all the drama seemed to take place (we didn't have lockers at all at my school). Even wilder than that, no one wore a school uniform! I was unspeakably jealous that these kids didn't have to suffer through the ugly, scratchy jumpers and synthetic shirts that we were forced to wear. It was clear to me, if life in America was anything like what it appeared on Disney Channel, it was the only life worth living.
One memory that my parents in particular remember, was a holiday we took to Hawaii. This was the year before I started senior school (or middle school as you call it over here), and by this time I was begging my parents to take me to America during every school holiday. We spent an entire summer in Hawaii, one of the best summers I've ever had. But as well as memories of white sand beaches and stunning volcanoes, is the memory of watching Camp Rock. This was a movie I had been waiting for for months in England, and wasn't set to be released until the Autumn. But when I got to Hawaii, it had already been out for so long that you could rent it for free on the hotel's TV. We were in Hawaii for three weeks, and I watched Camp Rock every single day we were there. My poor parents. They would go out onto the balcony and watch the sunset, then come back in to join in watching the movie for the seventeenth time in a row.
On top of this, I was starting to see that life in America, in many ways, was just like Disney Channel. Portions of food were three or four times bigger than what I was used to, and even though it meant my parents and I would share one meal between three of us, and still not finish most of it, I loved the spectacle of these incredible plates of food. Nothing like the measly meals you got in England. People really did eat peanut butter and jelly here, and learnt to drive at just sixteen (you have to be seventeen in England, which felt like a lot older at the time). Schools had cheerleaders and sports teams that everyone went to watch. I was in love with this place.
So around the time I was thirteen, I started thinking that one day I would just have to move here. The best option seemed to be to come out to college, and I eventually told my parents about my big dream to move stateside for university. They thought I was absolutely crazy, and that this was a phase that would pass. Most of my friends were going to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, and as both my parents had gone to Cambridge, I think we all just thought I'd probably do the same. But, like the Disney Channel subscription, I was not about to give up. After years of pestering my parents, and researching, and convincing them that I was serious, they finally started to see that I wasn't going to give up.
The summer that I was fifteen, we went back out to America for another road trip. This time though, it was to look at colleges. In the end, we spent two summer's touring America and different universities, and although there were so many amazing choices, I ended up falling in love with the University Southern California. It was the most American university I had ever seen, and with it's proximity to Hollywood, it had the Disney Channel charm I wanted. Plus, it had incredible academics and a gorgeous campus. Luckily my parents were on the same page, so I started to study for my SATs. This was pretty stressful, as I was already studying for my A Levels (final exams you take in your senior year in England). We don't really have multiple choice in England, and I hadn't done math since I was sixteen, as we take fewer subjects in our last years. Luckily, a lot hard work and long nights paid off. I was actually sick in bed the day I got a package from USC. I didn't want to open it, because I was so scared it would be a rejection and would make me feel even worse. Luckily, my aunt convinced me to be brave, and I was greeted by a thick red envelope, and words stamped in gold: Welcome to the Trojan Family. I jumped up and down, I screamed, I called my mum at work. It was hard to believe that after hoping for this for so many years, and working so hard for it, the moment had finally come. I was going to America!
Now, I'm going into my senior year. These past years in America have been the best of my life. Even though real life isn't always like Disney Channel, it's pretty wonderful in its own way. The cultural differences that made me fascinated with American culture are something I love learning about every day, whether it's a word we say differently (aluminium instead of aluminum), or just getting really excited about going to American football games. Often, when people hear my accent, they ask why I wanted to come all the way to America for university. I always say: "well, growing up I was just really obsessed with Disney Channel, and I wanted my life to be like that." They always laugh, but it's completely true. Although I don't watch Disney Channel as much any more (although I definitely love to rewatch some of the shows I grew up with when I'm feeling nostalgic), it inspired me to do one of the most exciting and adventurous things I've ever done.
Although a lot of the antics on those Disney Channel shows are completely crazy, a lot of the cultural stuff that no one really thinks about was incredibly exciting to me, growing up a world away. Disney Channel inspired a lifelong love of America and American culture in me. And I still crack up whenever I watch that episode where Raven has the mushroom allergy.