“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? Read on to find out more…
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.
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.
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:
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 😊