When I first decided to sign up to study at the University of Northampton in Northamptonshire, England, I really had no idea of what to expect. I have seen British movies and television, but I wasn’t formally educated in the lifestyle and culture of the area. Before I left the States, I purchased several travel guides and books so I would be able to familiarize myself with areas I wanted to visit. Also I was sent many emails from the University and my academic advisor at Lander University in Greenville, South Carolina, but still nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to embark on.
Being passed the age that one would typically attend university and always have taken the non-traditional route in my education, you can imagine my surprise during my first few weeks at Northampton. The dormitory setting is not much different from those in the States, but I had never lived with a group of people before. I was happy to know that most of the other American students were in my flat as well as a few British girls. I have become quite close with both of my British flatmates and they have taught me a lot about student life in England. They are both very friendly and made sure I understood the differences in the terminologies and slang, which turned out to be extremely helpful. They also helped me with the bus schedule for Northampton and the tube routes in London. I don’t know if I would have been able to work out the public transportation without their help.
Also the girls took me out on several occasions to the Union and to pubs in Town Center. This is how I began to see how different the student lifestyle was in England compared to America. Everyone looks as though they have fallen right out of Vogue magazine. They are all so fashionable and wear clothes that I don’t think would be considered appropriate for where I live. I did, however, buy a few items that I will wear while at home that just might make the old men fall over. I also found British music interesting. Apart from the typical American songs that I would expect to hear at a club, most of the music is British bands such as The Ordinary Boys and Kaiser Chiefs. The differences I see in the music between the U.K. and America is that the students here tend to like boy bands and girl groups, whereas that type of genre is usually taken up by very young Americans. Even so, I like the music enough that I started a collection of it on my MP3 player.
Another difference I found between America and the U.K. is the educational system. The idea of a term that lasts pretty much a year is hard for me to believe. We have always separated our years into semesters that last a few months and once completed, the next semester is another set of classes. Also, having a lecture and then a seminar is very new to me. My classes back home usually last an hour but we have to go several days out of the week. Also the lecturers at Northampton tend to be more laid-back towards the students. I found it hard to refer to my lecturer by their first names because in America, you always use a formality and a last name. I just hope now I don’t go home and starting calling all of my professors by their first names!
As explained in one of my exchange journal entries, sports are different here in Britain than in America. The major American sports are football, baseball, and basketball. In the United Kingdom they are European football and Rugby. There is one similarity between the two, the pride and seriousness the fans take the sports. I assume that’s pretty much the same anywhere you go. I think people use sports as a way to show their patriotism towards their country. Although, if you try to compare American football to European football, some British will be quick to tell you that we stole their sport and ruined it. America also has it’s version of European football as well; soccer. Too bad soccer in America never quite caught on like it has over here. I enjoyed watching it while being in Northampton.
While here, I visited London on numerous occasions. One of those times, one of my British flatmates asked which I liked better, London or New York. I thought that was a very funny question to ask someone, but I understand why she did. When the British think of America, it’s common to refer everything to how life is in Manhattan. Just like I collected my knowledge of British life from the media and London, they do the same. I answered her question by saying they are really two different places; one is old, the other new. By saying old I mean that the Britain is much more historic than America is. Some of the buildings and architecture can be dated back centuries. Whereas in America, most of everything is new and modern. You can not see as much beauty in the architecture in America as you can in Britain. I guess it’s as simple as what you prefer. I can say I absolutely love both cities and don’t think they can even be compared because they are both amazing for different reasons.
While in England I thought many times of what I dislike and like about British culture and life. First, I really dislike the food. I sampled many different “proper” English dishes such as fish and chips, sausage and mash, etc. and did not have a taste for any of them. I especially don’t like Indian food and curry anything. I miss American fast food joints like Taco Bell and Chick-fil-a. I also really can not get use to the weather. It is always cold and overcast in Britain, especially in Northampton. Living in the southern part of the United States, I am acclimated to warm weather. It really irritated me to have to wear so many layers of clothes so as not to freeze walking around campus. I think I know now that I am not a cold natured person.
The things I do like here in England and Northampton is the shopping. I found the best deals and sales at some stores like H&M, Topshop, and Faith. Where I am from in America, we don’t have designer stores like that. I especially loved Oxford Street and the Camden Markets. Being female, I couldn’t help but skip a meal for a deal on a pair of shoes! Also, I love how inexpensive and easy it is to travel to other European countries. Companies such as Ryan Air and Easy Jet provided deals on flights to Italy, France, and Ireland that you can’t get anywhere. In America, it is very expensive to fly just to other states. I can also say that the airport security is much more relaxed in the United Kingdom which could be both good and bad. But Britain is very serious about CCTV. I don’t really like the idea of everything being recorded and prefer more privacy.
My experience in Northampton as well as other parts of the United Kingdom have exceeded my expectations and are something that I will never forget. I am proud of myself for stepping out of my element and enjoying a culture very similar, but also very different from my own. If given the opportunity again, I would definitely love to come back and hope that I can encourage more American students to experience the British life and culture!