What are your favorite things about your host location thus far?
This question is deceptively hard. After three weeks you’d think that it would be fairly easy to pick something that immediately stood out and say “oh, well I love that I’m 45 minutes on train from London (still a surreal sentence – you can just go to London as a day trip!?!?),” or “I enjoy taking a walk in the park by the Roman ruins,” or perhaps simply “the accents.” Don’t get me wrong, these are truly incredible – and that’s what makes this so hard. There’s so many things here to love from the history of the area spanning from Roman times through the middle ages and up to the 20th century, to the culture and lifestyle. Something that I really like though, and that sticks out to me more than anything else is the amount of soccer/football that’s around you everywhere (I’m used to hearing other people say “football,” but it still sounds weird when I say it). Being able to go to the pub with the lads to catch a match – to me that is England. That’s the image I’ve had in my mind of daily life here since I started watching the Premier League years ago, and it really hasn’t disappointed. The atmosphere when you’re watching a game is incredible – you get all the cheering for goals and tackles and the almost-celebrations when someone hits the woodwork or the keeper saves a shot. There’s constantly soccer/football to watch and it’s great. It doesn’t stop at the TV though – people are playing everywhere – parks, fields, etc. There’s always soccer somewhere and I love it.
Tell us about the university, academic experience, the classes, student life, and clubs or activities you are involved with? How are the locals, are there any differences or similarities that have surprised you based on your expectations?
The university is one of the UK’s most international, which creates an interesting atmosphere. There are many different languages spoken and campus, and a myriad of cultures represented. Many of the other students I’ve met are international. My flat, for example, is comprised of a handful of Americans, several German and Chinese students, a Norwegian, a Malaysian, a South Korean, and a Romanian – it’s a wonderfully diverse group of students and the interactions crossing cultural barriers through language and food and games have all been really interesting as they present opportunities to both learn about another culture and simultaneously evaluate your own from a more critical perspective. I really enjoy spending time with pretty much everyone I’ve met here. We do have a bit of a joke though, given that we are all international students: “where are all the British people?” And in all reality, I’m not entirely sure. I’ve perhaps met a maximum of ten British students in my residence. I wish that during our orientation week, we had more events that were not just a large group of international students (as they are the ones that I live with and see the most), but integrated us better into groups that included students from the UK so that we got to know a few locals as well.
The majority of local students I’ve met have been in my classes, which makes sense as they’re English literature courses. These classes are quite enjoyable, albeit fairly reading-heavy; I often have to read 2-3 books per week, which adds up quickly. The good things is that it’s generally books with narrative and not textbook reading which I find to be more dense and time-consuming. My classes are ended up with a heavy focus on the early 20th century, as I’m taking WWI Literature, Modernism: 1890-1945, Children’s Fiction and the Turn to YA Adventure (from c.1800-1950) and International Journalism. Something that I found very interesting was the class sizes. The “larger” classes I’m in have 15-20 people. That’s one of the the smaller classes I can image having in the US. By this time in week 3, all of my professors know my name. It’s much more personal and allows for us to go deeper into what we’re studying than a class back home would allow, which I’m finding quite beneficial.
One other thing worth mentioning is that the lifestyle on campus is soooooo different to the US in terms of alcohol. Compared to the States, where alcohol generally isn’t allowed on campuses, here it’s sold in the Student Union stores, and in the two bars on campus. Not to mention the two clubs on campus. It’s a very different feel and creates a different atmosphere on campus, especially at night when people go to party. And people here party. A lot.
Did you experience culture shock when you arrived in your host country? How did your expectations about your experience compare with the reality of your day to day life? Is there anything you wish you would have done or researched more to better prepare you for your experience?
Nothing in my experience really stood out to me as experiencing culture shock. I find it hard to believe or say that I didn’t at all, but it probably just manifested as being unable to sleep or being anxious about some paperwork or another. Overall, my experience has been a bit different form what I expected, mostly because I’m living and hanging out primarily with other international students. This isn’t to say that it’s somehow “lesser,” or a “worse” way to spend time abroad, as I’m still learning so much about different cultures and places and people and having a great time. It’s just different. I pictured getting to know people from Sussex and London and Manchester or Leeds, not people from Madrid or Bergen or Konstanz or even California.
In terms of my actual day to day life, it’s much more food focused than I had really thought about. Because there’s no meal plan here or dining services, I’ve been budgeting and buying food (from the Tesco Supermarket, just like I might at the Bellingham Fred Meyer) and cooking. This is something that you think about when somebody moves out or if I was living off campus at WWU, but the fact that you need to grow up and get your own food isn’t necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when you say that you’re going to be studying abroad. I think it’s a really good experience though, as it’s forcing me to try new things and learn new, applicable skills for life in general.
I don’t think that any more research could have truly prepared me for my experience. There’s only so much that you can possibly know before you leave. At some point, you just have to go and experience it firsthand. Could I have looked up more about the process of Brexit currently happening? I’m sure. Could I have found out more of the history of the region of Essex and about the surrounding counties and their relationships, etc? I bet I could have. But I don’t think that all of that research would prepare me for the actual experience of being here. There’s nothing that I could have looked up to be able to explain what a “shelf” is in English to someone whose first language is Spanish, or how to order food at a busy pub, or how to ask someone to repeat something when you realize that you’ve not understood someone speaking to you in your own language because of a difference in accents. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that you need to research before you come: visas, culture, money, food, medicine, and so on. I did all of that and yet I still feel completely unprepared at times (not in any serious situations – that’s what you look up before you go). Those moments that you can’t prepare for or research, those experiences, are a huge part of why I’m studying abroad.