After a month- long process of applying to university, I decided the grass looked greener on the other side of the Atlantic. I couldn’t pass up the chance to move to a place with such a rich cultural history, where I could live my university years learning a different way of life and doing it for a much cheaper tuition price. So, here’s my journey of being an American at a UK university, and a few things I’ve learned along the way.
The Liberal Arts Question
Moving to the UK was not just a commitment to a different lifestyle, but also a different form of education. At a typical American college, you study for four years, with free reign to study different subjects before you hone in on a major. This also tends to include general education requirements, meaning you may need to study a subject unrelated to your interests or career pathway. In the UK, you normally study for three years, and commit to a course of study at the get-go.
While I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to study, it was still intimidating to make that selection right away. The way that I negotiated this was by studying a joint honours degree, which allowed me to pursue two subjects instead of one.
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Starting university is scary enough on its own, let alone when you’re in a whole new country. I worried that I’d stick out like a sore thumb; that the cultural differences would get in the way of making friends. And they did prove a hindrance at times. Suffice it to say that to know English doesn’t mean I always speak the same language! My first year, I had to ask people to repeat themselves an embarrassing number of times. I still have to remind myself that ‘Are you alright?’ doesn’t mean ‘You look sad.’
There are differences in humour as well. American humour is much more straightforward, whereas British humour tends to be dryer and more subtle. It’s a little awkward when you miss the joke, but mostly I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about these differences. I found there were very few misunderstandings that couldn’t be laughed off. And despite all my worries, I found that counter to the stereotype, most of the Brits I met weren’t cold at all. In fact, they made me feel incredibly welcome and at home.
What I Wish I’d Known As An American At A UK University
The least fun part of studying in a different country is the paperwork. Applying for visas, getting set up in the NHS, and sorting out your right to work can be a huge pain, especially when you have your regular university commitments to worry about on top of that. Living abroad also means that you have two of everything. Two sets of contacts, two bank accounts, two phone numbers. It can make simple tasks into a hassle. It’s manageable, but it’s worth knowing what you’re getting into.
When you’re living abroad, homesickness can be a big struggle too. It can be overwhelming, especially at first, but picking up the phone always helps. I was also lucky enough to have a great support network of friends that I could always talk to.
The UK is far from perfect, and I sometimes miss the sunshine. But I’ve made some wonderful memories here and, I would absolutely do it all over again. If you are considering moving or studying abroad, I say go for it! After all, life’s an adventure.