by Angela Wagner (junior in Mechanical Engineering and former leader for FHP section M3)
Do: Prepare yourself.
Everything you’ve heard about English weather is true. It is cloudy and rainy most of the time in the winter months. While I made due without an umbrella, I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to buy one a few times. Looking back, it would have been an intelligent purchase, considering the best way to get anywhere is to walk, and walking through the rain is never enjoyable. Ten to twenty minute walks to campus are average, and fifteen to twenty minutes is typical for the grocery store. It doesn’t seem bad until you realize how heavy groceries can get after about five minutes.
Don’t: Be in a hurry.
A word that I have become very familiar with is “queue,” and anytime I hear it, my American stomach fills with dread and impatience. Queue is the British term for line, and in England queueing is a national past time. Brits like to take their time, and queues are the physical proof. At any store, going straight to the register (or till) without waiting, would be nothing short of a miracle. If you need to buy a train ticket at a peak time, you’ll probably have to queue behind seven or eight people before you get your shot at the ticket machines. Thankfully, the English are very polite, so when you do get to the front of the queue, you are rewarded.
Do: Learn your terms.
Coming to another English speaking country, I assumed I dodged the language barrier aspect of study abroad, but I was dead wrong. The little differences in terminology and speech patterns can be incredibly hard to understand. Add that to thick accents, and you have to ask everyone you meet to repeat themselves at least twice. The most useful terms to know are: bin and rubbish. Bin = trash can, and rubbish = garbage. It seems really simple, and it is, but if you call a bin a garbage can, you will get some strange looks. My personal favorite is the word for garbage men: bin-men. I’m not entirely sure if it is one or two words, but the way my roommate said it, it was one. I needed her to repeat it three times and define it, for me to finally understand.
Don’t: Try to speak in an English accent.
Just don’t. You will mess it up, and you will pay for it. The English are very proud of their language, and they will correct you.
No matter where you study, always take a few weekends to travel around. Conveniently, the university here in Birmingham offered weekend day trips for good prices to places around England. These trips took me to Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick Castle, Liverpool, and (my personal favorite) The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour. In addition to these, I went on weekend trips to London, Leeds, York, and Bath. These weekend trips were some of the most fun I’ve had on study abroad. In addition to weekends, we had a four week break in April before finals. During this time I traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, Munich, Rome, Florence, and Barcelona. There is no way I can go into detail about all of these cities, but to sum them up, they are all amazing places to go, as are many other cities in Europe and around the world, so do travel!
Don’t: Assume everything works like it does in America.
This seems like a fairly obvious “don’t,” but it’s something I have to remind myself of on a regular basis. A major part of American consumerism is the “customer is always right” mentality, but in Europe, the customer can definitely be wrong. I notice this at restaurants in particular. Waiters do not work for tips, so they are less inclined to put up with unruly customers, or even pay attention when you sit down. In Britain, almost all restaurants are actually pubs, so when you sit down, no one waits the table, you have to get up and order yourself, and then they bring your food, never to be seen again. Being used to waiters and waitresses who smile and come by the table to refill water glasses every five minutes, this was a little off-putting. I just had to remind myself that they aren’t being rude, it’s just how the English do it.
Do: Study Abroad!
Whether it’s a summer trip or an entire semester, studying abroad is an amazing and unique opportunity that would be hard to replicate. I’m in my last month here in Birmingham, and looking back, I can’t believe how fast it went. It truly is an amazing experience. Between classes, living in England, and traveling Europe I have learned more in this semester than in all of the previous ones. If you’re considering studying abroad, do it! Or at the very least, get more information. You won’t regret it!