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My Journey from the US to the UK

“So what’s it like studying in the UK?” – the question that I have been asked many times by my friends and family back home. And it is a good question. Before making the journey from the US to England, I was very curious, and a little nervous, about how things would be different.  What customs do I need to get used to? Are classes structured differently?

To answer this question, I will start by saying that there are more similarities than differences between the US and the UK. Many of my undergrad experiences have been echoed while here in Cornwall: going out for pizza on a friend’s birthday, bonding with my housemates over our love for Parks and Recreation, and spending a few too many late nights in the library with other coursemates, drinking coffee and scrambling to hand in last minute assignments. Sound familiar?

But of course one of the most rewarding parts about traveling is the unique cultural experiences, the “this would only happen in England” situations that I will remember forever. I am sure that everyone has a different perspective when visiting the UK for the first time, but I will highlight some of the things that personally stand out in my mind.

University Life

I went to a very small undergraduate university, so the small Penryn campus and class size is something that I am used to. But for someone coming from a large university in the US, this might be quite a shock. There are many advantages to this system that I have found greatly enhanced my educational experience. Due to the small size of classes, particularly on our 3 week field course to Kenya, I have gotten to know my professors very well. And as the drinking age here is 18, it is pretty normal to grab a pint with your professor and chat about anything from current events to favorite field work stories.

One thing I definitely had to get used to here was the grading system. In the US we are pretty accustom to A’s B’s and C’s. Here it’s a little different. The use of percentages to mark assignments is the same, but the standards vary substantially. Don’t be disappointed if you get a 70, that is roughly equivalent to an A and definitely something to be proud of.

In terms of extracurriculars, there are equally as many opportunities to get involved in activities as there are at US institutions. Exeter has a number of clubs and societies, from the vegan baking club to the Harry Potter association. There are also plenty of sports clubs to join (including American football!!). And you could always try your hand at cricket or underwater hockey (yes that is a real sport). I would say that sports aren’t quite so central to campus culture as they are at home – at least there are no big stadiums or homecoming games. However there are certainly opportunities to support the local sports teams, and there’s always a good crowd at the pub watching rugby or soccer on the weekends.

Food

My personal favorite. There is a lot of good food to be found in Cornwall, and England as a whole. Here are a couple of my favorite treats that you cannot find in the US:

  • The full English breakfast, complete with sautéed mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and black pudding. No pancakes, but it is super delicious and will fill you up right until dinner.
  • Fish and chips: while you can get this at home, I believe the true “chippy” experience must be had on a late night out, complete with salt and vinegar, or even curry sauce if you are feeling adventurous.
  • The Cornish Pasty: a delicious puff pastry filled with meat, veg and potatoes. There are plenty of other less traditional fillings as well, and Falmouth has a few vegan friendly options. These can be found at pretty much every other shop in Cornwall so there is no excuse not to try it!
  • Marmite: not my personal favorite, but if you have never had it, it is worth a taste.
  • Beans on toast, a classic British favorite that it seems can be served as any meal at any time of the day. Baked beans on “jacket” (baked) potatoes is another common dish.
  • Flapjacks: not the same as a pancake. It is kind of like a fresh oaty cereal bar, often made with dried fruit or chocolate chips.
  • Cream tea: tea is just about as big here as it is stereotyped to be. Get a cream tea for the full experience, served with a scone, jam, and clotted cream.
  • Sunday roast: a delicious plate of meat and veggies, always served with Yorkshire pudding and some delicious gravy.
  • Lots of good candy and chocolate. At this point many Americans are familiar with some of the delicious snack brands that we are missing out on: Cadbury, Kinder Bueno, Digestive biscuits, and many more. My strategy was to go the snack aisle and try all of them, and I highly recommend it.

Language

Everyone knows about some of the silly things Brits say, we’ve all bloody heard it from Harry Potter after all. But to be honest, before coming here I had no idea how many differences there are in American and British terminology. My first month I felt like I was learning a new word every day – eggplants are aubergines, the stove is the hob, you don’t vacuum you hoover. Some of them I find quite cute: saying maths instead of math, calling gnats “midges,” and my personal favorite, calling candies “sweeties.”

Though it takes a bit of getting used to, after living here for 9 months I’ve even started using some of the slang that I was so amused by when I first arrived. When my parents came to visit I actually found it hard to avoid using some of the British terms that I’ve picked up. Tomato, tomato right?

Life in Cornwall

Cornwall is absolutely beautiful. The people are extremely friendly as well – I once stopped someone in a car to ask for directions and they offered me a lift to where I was going! I went to school in Maine which I believe has a very similar vibe to Cornwall – there is a real connection with nature here. If you love outdoor activities this is the place for you. In just my first two weeks in Penryn I went surfing, rock climbing, sea swimming, mountain biking, and sailing.

As these are just the sorts of activities I am into, I felt right at home the moment I moved in. However, if you went to a big party school in the US, or live in a big city, the Penyrn/Falmouth lifestyle might be a bit of a culture shock.  There is one single club in Falmouth, which to both our pride and shame was recently voted by The Tab as the 4th worst club in the UK. However there are a number of great bars and restaurants in Falmouth, and as it is a University town you will always find some friends to meet up with for a night out.

My best advice for living in Cornwall is to take advantage of its beauty by getting out and seeing the sites. Find a friend with a car and drive to Godrevy lighthouse to see the seals, or go on a day trip to The Lizard. It is well worth it!

What I miss from home

There are of course things I miss about home that you just can’t get in the UK – 24 hour diners, going to baseball games, girl scout cookies…I have to say though my peak of homesickness occurred when I had to miss my very first Thanksgiving. I managed to Skype with my family on the day and was a bit overwhelmed with food envy. Not to mention seeing my friends and family all gathered together. I have absolutely loved my time here and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I will admit that being so far from home can be difficult at times.

 

Everyone’s experience in the UK will be unique, and the transition from the American to the British lifestyle can vary greatly based on exactly where you are coming from and what experiences you have had. The great thing about coming to the UK for university is that you get to live here. I have had a whole year to adapt to and embrace the UK lifestyle, and along the way I have had some incredible adventures and made life lasting friendships. Cornwall is not just a travel destination, but a second home. I am sure without a doubt that I will be back 😊

   May 18th, 2017    Miscellaneous


My third year at University of Exeter Medical School

It’s been a while since I’ve written for this blog, but I thought I’d share a few words about what third year at Exeter medical school is like. This year our cohort has been split, so half of our year went down to Truro for 3rd and 4th years and the other half stayed here in Exeter. It was a bit of a shame because a lot of friendship groups got split up, but people seem to be happy studying where they are. For 5th year we swap around, so those in Truro come back to do 5th year in Exeter and those in Exeter head down to Truro for 5th year.

I’m really not sure if the Medical School gave us enough warning about what a massive step third year is from second year. Last year we were spending everyday on campus with a few contact hours a day and just one day a month on placement, and now suddenly we’re spending 4 days a week on busy wards with hardly any structure or supervision. I’m not complaining at all, it’s so interesting and exciting and I feel more like an apprentice rather than a student, but it is hard work. I feel like last year if you didn’t know something, it was ‘alright because you’re just a second year’. But this year, I’ve heard of quite a few of my peers being reprimanded by doctors and consultants because ‘You’re a third year, you really should know that by now’. I’m not sure what they thought was going to happen over the summer, but suddenly a lot more is expected of us. It’s motivational though, the fear of being embarrassed drives you to work hard and make sure there are no gaps in our knowledge!

So, to elaborate on what the structure of the week is like this year: Monday is Academic day, where we have 2 hours of lectures and then either clinical skills session or professional practice group in the afternoon. Tuesday we begin our week of allocated placement and spend the afternoon having tutorials (1-4 hours of teaching sessions from healthcare professionals). Wednesday morning we have placement again and then the afternoon is free for self-directed study or sport (or working at Superdrug, in my case). Thursday and Friday we spend all day at placement. Our allocated placement changes every week, and often varies greatly from one week to the next. They are often specialities of medicine, such as cardiology, paediatrics, psychiatry, GP and obstetrics and we rotate so that everyone in the year spends time in each speciality. A week in each placement isn’t a long time, which is good if it’s not something you enjoy, but frustrating if you do enjoy it and don’t have time to really get stuck in. Some specialities such as cardiology, elderly care and psychiatry have more than one week allocated.

I’ve found I’ve got less free time than last year, and when we do have time off we’re usually so knackered from the week before that it’s harder to fit in activities like sports. Nevertheless, I still find time to work 20 hours a week at Superdrug and go to the gym 3-4 times per week, which I find keeps a nice balance to my life.

In terms of assessment, we have 4 Medical Knowledge progress tests and 5 SSU essays to write. We also have clinical competencies (performing examinations, taking blood, etc) both in clinical skills (a simulated environment) and whilst on placement. In addition to this, we have to write 2 reflective essays for our academic tutors to read.

I know we’ve still got so much time to decide which speciality we want to work in, but I’m keen on the idea of paediatrics. Although I haven’t actually experienced my paediatric placement rotation yet, so that may change in the future. The good thing about rotating placements every week is that by process of elimination we can decide which specialities we find interesting and which ones aren’t for us.

All in all, I’m still really enjoying my time here studying with Exeter Medical School. Although it is challenging at times, I feel so fortunate to have a place here and have also made it this far through the course. This year I’ve been given insight to what working on wards as a doctor is like and now I can’t wait to graduate and start working!

   May 5th, 2017    Studying, Undergraduate


A Vegetarian’s Guide to Exeter

Vegetarians. You either hate them or you are one. There’s no denying that vegetarianism and veganism are hot topics in foodie culture right now. And while I’ve been riding the veggie train for the last year or so, I promise I won’t use this blog to try to shame you into cutting meat out of your life. That being said, I’ve been working very hard (and eating a lot of halloumi) to bring you what I believe to be the best vegetarian hot spots in our little bit of Devon heaven.

 

Let’s start things off with on-campus eateries. Whether you’re in need of a quick lunch between classes or you’re just too tired to walk into town, there are plenty of amazing restaurants on campus for veggies.

The Ram Bar: We all know that the Ram has the best curly fries known to man. If you ever manage to look past the curly fries, however, you’ll notice that their menu is incredibly vegetarian-friendly. My personal favorites are the Nachos and the Jalapeno Poppers. Both are only £3.95 for a huge amount of food. The best part? The Nachos come with a giant helping of guacamole for no extra charge.

Grove Diner: This may be the American in me but I love the Grove. There is no end to the jealousy I feel towards the Lafrowda residents that get to live just steps from this American-style diner. Their Havana burger (£4.75) is one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had. Bonus points as well for being one of the rare veggie burgers to be made of vegetables instead of just halloumi. It has sweet potatoes and peppers in the patty making it an amazing fall and winter dish. If you ask me, Grove Diner’s burgers are a gift from God.

 

It’s very hard to go wrong with a restaurant in the City Centre. There are endless options for good food in town but there are a few places that have really won my heart (and stomach) this term.

The Old Firehouse: This one’s a bit obvious. You can’t go to uni in Exeter and not have late-night pizza at the Firehouse. In addition to the restaurant being a time-honoured tradition amongst students, its vegetarian (and vegan!) options are some of the best you’ll find in the city. They currently have seven vegetarian pizzas and four vegan options. You can never go wrong with a classic Margherita (£7.50), but their Greek pizza (£12) is definitely worth a try. It comes with feta, olives, and a bunch of other Mediterranean vegetables plus tzatziki sauce for dipping. The pizzas are huge so make sure you bring a couple friends to dig in with you.

Bill’s: Bill’s is a great restaurant for late-night dinners with friends or a fun date. Though it’s a tiny bit pricier than the other restaurants on this list, the food is heavenly and totally worth it. The dishes have a very home-cooked feel but with the addition of interesting and unique ingredients. My personal favourite is the Macaroni Cheese (£9.95) which has mushrooms, leeks, and truffle oil mixed in. I’m always a fan of a good Mac n Cheese but adding truffle oil has truly changed the game.

Curry Leaf: It comes as no surprise that Curry Leaf was voted one of Exeter’s top restaurants in 2014 and 2015. Their authentic Indian food is easily the best you can get in the city. Curry Leaf’s menu is separated so that vegetarian food has its own section which makes it incredibly easy to pick out a meatless meal. For starters, the Vegetarian Samosa (£3 for 2) is a classic can’t-miss and is paired with a delicious dipping sauce. The Vegetable Korma (£7) is absolutely fantastic and has the best Korma sauce I’ve ever tasted. For a side, you must try the Aaloo Paratha (£2.75). It’s traditional bread stuffed with spicy potatoes and makes up 100% of my carb-loaded dreams.

 

Some more fun places to try are Tea on the Green for a traditional afternoon tea (savoury option available as well) and the Gourmet Street Kitchen tent that pops up near the Forum on Fridays during term. There’s also Seasons, an all-vegan food store in the city that provides amazing ingredients for a classic, home-cooked veggie meal. Whether you’re a strict vegetarian or an open-minded pal looking for a meatless meal, it’s very hard to go wrong in Exeter.

   November 14th, 2016    Life in the South West, Life on Campus, Miscellaneous


From Reading Week up to Christmas: what to expect!

For first year students and those lucky second years (myself included), reading week is upon us. But as you hear this term ‘reading week’, you can’t help but wonder what’s it all about? Well, as most people decide to go home for a few days, reading week can be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of a packed out term. Reading week is largely about enjoying the freedom of not buying and cooking your own food, of being able to watch TV, and of course, catching up with family and friends. However, not to be forgotten is the true purpose of this week, to catch up on academic work and basically organise yourself. First term can be a little overwhelming for anybody, living independently in a completely new place, making friends and adjusting to student life. Reading week is also just a moment to breathe.

From my experience, I advise: don’t waste your week! The second part of first term can be insanely busy and can fly by with deadlines, house hunting and exams looming. Here’s a few tips on how to deal with the period from reading week up to Christmas!

1) Use your time effectively in reading week:- catching up on any missed work (we’ve all been there), or start planning/writing your essays/reports etc. Also, as silly as this sounds, take advantage of home cooked meals! This is also a chance to bring anything back to uni you may have forgot,such as a Halloween costume. A Christmas jumper also always comes in handy in December (socials, flat meals etc)

2) In November, start looking for houses for next year. Make sure you’re clear on who you’re living with and commence house hunting! A lot of them are released in November and there’s a mad rush which leads up to the Housing Fair. You won’t want to leave this issue until when you have exams, it’s just unnecessary stress!

3)Don’t leave all work until last minute! Leave yourself enough time to do the research, write out a draft, edit the draft, and also enough time left in case something goes wrong (illness, losing work etc)

4) Go to lectures. As simple as this tip is, I know it can be hard on a freezing cold Monday morning dragging yourself out of bed for an 8:30. However, it is worth it, as missed lectures can slowly add up and when the time comes to revise, you’ll realise that you don’t know half of your course!

Lastly, enjoy this festive time of year! Exeter also has a fantastic Christmas market, which is something to look forward to!

   October 25th, 2016    Exams and Assessment, Life on Campus, Studying, Undergraduate     , , , ,


Fresher Realities

It’s always difficult to start a new school year—the stress of what’s to come, the frantic buying of textbooks, and the hopefulness for a good professor have been major stressors in my life the last few years. This year, however, was so incredibly different. Instead of gearing up for another year of studying with my friends in Florida, I packed up my bags and moved to Exeter.

As soon as I stepped foot on Exeter’s campus two years ago during a summer abroad, I knew that I’d be coming back in the future. The thrill of moving to a new country and living a glamorous, jet-setting life was all I could think about for the longest time. I was fully expecting postgrad to be some lifestyle/travel blog come to life. The thing is, those lifestyle/travel bloggers only show you the pretty bits—not the “holy crap I don’t know what I’m doing” parts.

For me, this feeling manifested itself most prominently the first time I climbed Cardiac Hill. I started strong and confident as any young adult with good health would. About halfway up, I started feeling that burn in my legs and the pressure in my chest that comes with an intensive cardio workout. By the time I reached the top I was pulling up Expedia to see how much a plane ticket back to Tampa cost. ‘Surely,’ I thought, ‘students can’t be expected to walk up this hill every day?’ A month later I’m still asking myself this question.

Though nothing else has hit me as hard as Cardiac Hill there have been so many moments in my first month here that have really shown me what it’s actually like to be living away from home for the first time. The thrill of going out to a new club with girls you just met in class the day before. The panic of going to a society event during Freshers where you know absolutely nobody. The relief when someone tells you they also have no idea how to turn on their radiator. Worst, the weird feeling in your gut when it gets a bit chilly outside and you can only think of your mom putting up the Christmas tree.

This last month has felt like a lifetime. For every bout of nostalgia or homesickness I’ve had, there have been a million more moments of excitement, new friends, and realizing just how lucky I am to be living this life. Though at times it can feel scary and lonely, I’m so excited to be here and I cannot wait to see what Exeter holds for me.

Some key tips that I think any Fresher should keep in mind are:

  1. Putting yourself out there and attending Fresher events are the quickest ways to meet people with similar interests.
  2. Almost everyone is going through the exact same thing—as brave and extroverted as some may seem, they’re just as nervous as you are.
  3. You don’t have to make yourself completely uncomfortable in the name of making friends. If you don’t want to go to the “wildest, sleaziest night out,” you really don’t have to.
  4. It’s not at all lame if you Facetime your mom and ask to talk to your cat—trust me on this one.

   October 24th, 2016    Freshers Week, International, Life on Campus, Postgraduate