I’m going to Spain! I get to meet my cousins that I haven’t seen since I was about six years old. They live in Alicante (on the coast, a few hours south of Barcelona). I’m flying out on Saturday morning and heading home on Monday night. I’m missing classes Monday (sorry, Mom) but I know people in them so I can get the notes. The weather is supposed to be sunny and in the low 80s so I am beyond excited to lie on the beach and experience Spanish culture with some great people! There’s an island called Tabarca Island about an hour boat ride off the coast of Alicante that I’m hoping to check out as well! Who knows what the weekend holds, so stay tuned to hear about some adventures in Spain!
I did laundry on Tuesday for the first time and it was a little different than in the U.S. but nothing major. There are only four washing machines for the whole Digby Hall (almost 300 students) so that could mean walking several blocks to one of the other buildings if they are taken. I brought as many socks and underwear as I could though so hopefully I won’t have to do it too frequently. Speaking of differences, I realized that I haven’t really gone into detail about the differences between life here in the U.K. versus life back in the U.S. so that’s what this post is going to be dedicated to!
Transportation in England is extremely different than in the U.S. Here they drive on the other side of the road, which took some getting used to when crossing. They also drive extremely fast and they do not slow down when there are pedestrians near the road. It seems that they just assume you know what you’re doing when crossing. Public transportation is huge here, which is really nice. The double decker buses pick us up from campus and our residences and bring us to the city center and back every ten minutes until 11:00 every night. There are also buses that only go from residence halls to campus that are super long; about the size of two buses put together! They are really bumpy and cram way too many people on board, but they get the job done. Transportation from England to the rest of Europe is also really nice. There are low cost planes that take you pretty much anywhere. They are pretty small but sometimes you can get round trip tickets for well under $100 (depending on the time of travel).
The education system is also quite different. Here, they have a three-year course to get their degree. Their semester also begins a lot later and continues into January. Most courses are only graded on an essay and an exam, no other small assignments. The exam period is after Christmas, which is why study abroad students have alternative essays instead of the exams. They also receive a classification for their degree, depending on the grades they receive throughout. One thing I found surprising was that if a student decides to change their major in their second or third year, they have to start all over as a year one student because they do not have general education classes here. Back home, students change their majors right up until their senior year, and often many different times, so that idea was new to me.
Food and Drink
After nearly a month in England, I am pretty sick of the food served at the dining center. I never thought I would miss Wilkerson but it’s a lot better than here in my opinion. Every meal consists of white rice and potatoes of some sort, no matter what. They switch up the meat and vegetables but they’re usually pretty similar from day to day. For example, variations of beef and sauce and veggie pie are commonly served. The food in restaurants is really good, though. They serve a lot of paninis and cold sandwiches, often with chutney on them. As far as drink goes, cider and beer are pretty popular. It seems that not many people drink milk with their meals (it’s not even an option at dinner in the dining centers). Coffee and tea are commonly served while pop is less common. Speaking of tea, that’s what they call meal times here. Some girls in my house said that they missed tea and I was confused until they explained that they had missed dinner.
Money and Shopping
Here, the British Pound Sterling is used, which is worth a lot more than the U.S. Dollar. Each pound is worth about $1.60. This took some getting used to, as I would think, “Oh, that’s only £5,” when in reality it’s over $8. It’s especially difficult when eating out or having drinks. The shopping here is pretty comparable to back home. Their version of Walmart is called Asda. I struggled the first time I went in because each aisle is labeled differently than what I’m used to. For example, they have a “biscuits” aisle full of cookies and a “tinned” aisle full of canned goods.
The clothing is pretty comparable to the U.S., just more trendy. I think that I’ve only seen skinny jeans (no boot cut) and a lot of girls wear shorts over tights. You don’t really see people in sweatpants here, which I struggle with. Hoodies and yoga pants are the go-to for early classes at UND, but here you don’t see too much of that. Maybe as the semester progresses people will start to get lazy and dress up less for class (hopefully, anyways). When we went out, a lot of the girls were wearing platform heels that resembled the ones from the 80s. The boys dress quite preppy in my opinion. They also wear skinny jeans with short boots or sneakers and are pretty polished overall.
As you probably noticed in my pictures, the architecture is a lot different. It varies quite a bit depending on which city in England you are in. Salisbury was very Gothic, Bath was Georgian, and many others are Victorian. I love that the original buildings are restored and still used. Leicester is actually known in England for how many of its original buildings still stand today. Another thing that is present in the U.S. but more common here are the vines growing on and around the buildings and trees. It really makes everything feel enchanted. Even a simple walk through the park or some neighborhoods can feel like something out of a movie.
As most people know, it rains a lot here in England. There’s a kind of damp, humid feel to the air most days. I don’t mind the rain but it’s a different kind of cold than I’m used to. It takes forever to warm up after walking across campus in the rain, whereas back home it only takes a short time after stepping inside from the wind and ice to feel warm and dry again. The temperatures are much warmer here though, and they don’t get much snow so that will be nice come November and December. The sunny days are really beautiful, especially during this time of year. I took another walk through the Botanic Garden on Thursday and the fall colors were incredible.
I haven’t had the opportunity to explore too much of the landscape yet, besides looking out the window on the train. So far, I’ve noticed rolling hills, scattered forests, and lots of pastures. Everything is very green, giving it a fresh and healthy look. I’ve noticed that there are a ton of sheep grazing in most pastures, especially around Stonehenge. I’m hoping to take a trip next weekend to the Lake District, a mountainous national park, to explore more of the great outdoors of England.
Drinking is a pretty prominent form of entertainment here and you can do it at 18. When the first year students arrive, there’s a two-week-long event called “Freshers Festival” in which the University sponsors two weeks worth of parties, usually held in the club underneath the Student’s Union. Coming from a dry campus, this was strange to me. It’s totally acceptable to have alcohol in resident halls here, as well as walk around with open drinks. There was even a society at the university dedicated to drinking real ale and ciders. Most of the other societies host bar crawls throughout the semester as well. On Thursday night, we went to Gone Girl at the theater downtown, so that’s an option for entertainment too. There’s also a racecourse near town that hosts horse races every couple weeks. Though we haven’t discovered too much yet, I’ve also heard that there’s a lot of live music downtown, and holiday markets as well.
I’m sure as the semester progresses, I’ll notice more and more differences in everyday life in England versus the United States, but hopefully this gave you a general idea. Please don’t hesitate to comment if I missed anything that you’re curious about!
Thanks for reading!
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”