I have been in the UK for two months now and slowly I am getting used to all the different ways of doing, the weather and the people here. I am still not able to call halls home yet and I don’t think I ever will be able to, because home is where your people are, but at least I am feeling more at home. I have been wanting to share this list with you for a while but between the late nights in the InDesign labs and the bon fires, I am only finding time now, and I think it is the right time to share.
Here are the 10 things I have learnt in my two months living and studying in the UK so far:
1. Living in halls is very noisy
Ok so for my South African friends, halls is res, but it doesn’t come close to the traditions and sense of family we have in res back home. Halls are literally just a place to stay, flats owned by the university. I had hoped that staying a in postgraduate hall would mean less noise, but unfortunately my room looks out on the car park which is shared with the undergrads. You know you’re getting old when 3 o’clock Bohemian Rhapsody sung by drunk students makes you feel like you’re being punished for going to bed at a sensible time. Also they are obsessed with fire doors in this place! There are a million of them and this also means that no door can stay open and if you don’t keep the door from slamming, it knocks half the screws out of the wall with the force of it closing. Of course my room is right by our flat’s front door so I have woken up numerous times in the night, scared that someone was breaking down the wall only to realise it’s my roommates forgetting to close the door quietly. As the semester draws to a close (only 4 more weeks) the noise is finally calming down, now been replaced by the nights on end of fireworks…
2. Public Transport
So if you come from a country like mine where public transport is your last means of getting around, then this will be the biggest challenge for you as well. I never used to like driving but I can’t wait to get back to my red Auris and go wherever I want to go, in one straight trip and knowing that if I am late, I can do something about it. It took me almost an hour to get to work this week, a trip that shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes. Why you ask. Well because buses are never on time, and I mean NEVER! You are welcome to check the schedule, or even check the electronic board at the bus stop, but you will either wait or you will miss the bus. And remember to press the stop button way before the stop you want to get off at because buses do not stop at every stop on their route. I have reverted to walking, a lot of walking. The other day I came back from the train station and I had to walk into town for 15 minutes to catch the bus, when I got there the bus said it would only arrive in 20 minutes. So I decided it would be quicker to walk back to halls, and it was. Me and my suitcase beat the bus by far. And if you want to go anywhere in the early hours of the morning, taxis are the way to go, but don’t expect it to be cheap. So in short, walking is just as good for your sanity as it is for your health.
3. The Food
Of course the food is different in any new country. In England however food is different for two very distinct reasons. One, food here is so expensive! I basically only buy on special because of how expensive food is here, not even to mention what it costs to eat at a restaurant or pub. Buying food on special however also means that you will have to eat the food quite quickly as the expiry date is within the next two or so days. I have reverted to only buying frozen food because at least it lasts. The second reason why food is different here, it is mostly well, tasteless. I don’t think they are very fond of salt in England and you can taste it. I have been salting my food to a point of killing it and borrowing strange spices from my Iranian roommate just to make my food taste like something. Despite the food being really expensive and pretty tasteless I am fascinated by the fact that you get mushy peas as a side dish with almost every meal you buy, I usually pass on these though… One thing that is good (as long as you salt it generously) is the beer battered fish they have here. It’s well worth the money because the fish is huge and up to now it’s been the only uniquely British dish I have found.
4. English people love their tea breaks
That does not however mean that they are drinking tea, Starbucks is the winner here. It does however mean that we have a lot of breaks during class. It must be a well-inbred tradition though because neither myself or any of the other international students understand it, but slowly we are being converted to the ways of the tea break.
5. Everything is (literally) 20 times more expensive
Even if you are not from South Africa which means I have to times everything by 21, it is still extremely expensive here. Once again specials have never been as attractive and you will proclaim proudly that you are a student in every store you come, just in case they have a student discount. You will also start to appreciate loyalty cards, coupons and any form of free give aways. Saying you are a poor student here is a legitimate excuse.
6. The weather will confuse you and days are really short
Now we have all been told that if you come to the UK you should expect rainy, dreary weather. I was prepared for that. I was however not ready for the 95% humidity and sweat running down my back from just walking to class (it’s like Durban on steroids here and honestly it’s a blessing they don’t have warm summers). We had really nice weather for the first month and a half and now it has started getting cold and the grey has started to set in. Last week is was so misty for a whole day that I felt like I was living in some mystical mountain land. Today I saw a little sliver of blue sky for a moment, but it soon passed. Those of you who know me will know I absolutely love winter, but I have to be honest, I miss the light. I love the grey skies and my nose turning red from the cold, I however do not like the fact that the sun only comes up after 7 and sets by 4:30 already again. It is basically dark when I walk home from class already and then all I want to do is go to bed. The darkness does not make for much productiveness.
7. You will meet amazing people from all over the world
This might only be because I am a student and our course is 90% international students, but it really is an amazing experience to get to know so many different people from so many countries. I am so excited for my time after studying when I can go visit all my new friends all over the world. I have also learnt so much about different cultures and I have realised that we are not that different from people in America, yes I know who would have thought. This is probably the best part of my whole experience in the UK, the wonderful people I have met.
8. Skype makes everything better (and Whatsapp as well)
There is WiFi everywhere here in the UK (even though it might not work all the time it still a 100 times better than back home and you have no right to complain about it really). This makes using Whatsapp to share anything any time so easily. It really does make it feel like the boyfriend is just a little while away and not 11 hours flight. Skype is also one of the most amazing inventions of modern man I believe. I have been able to see my parents, grandma, little nephew, cousins, aunt, best friends, boyfriend and even my rabbit and my dog at least once a week. It’s wonderful to be able to speak Afrikaans to them and to share my highs and lows. The distance is terrible! No matter how independent you think you are, being on another continent from the rest of your family, missing family events, missing outings with your friends and simply missing everyday home things, is difficult. It makes you realise how important your people are in your life and makes you appreciate the small things. You never know what you have till it’s gone, yes, at least I can go back to mine.
9. You are in a centuries-old city/country, there is always something to do
I almost feel as if I don’t have enough time here. Every moment I am not working on an assignment or studying for a test I try to do something unique, visit a new place, browse an interesting shop. It is never ending. My favourite thing is just getting on a bus to London and spending the day in the great city. It’s so easy. I never used to like travelling on my own, but now I love discovering new places at my own time. Also very interesting fact, basically all museums in the UK are free to visit. Perfect for the student budget!
10. It will get better
I have gone through all the stages of denial, loneliness and regret. Most days I still don’t feel like it is really me living this life and that it is some kind of a dream. There are good and bad days. On the bad days I have Skype, heating in my room and tea, on the good days I have autumn leaves, movie nights, bon fires, fireworks, wine and wonderful friends. Like I said at the beginning I don’t think England will ever feel like home, but it can be a place where I have learnt how strong a person I am. Slowly you start to realise that this is not permanent, that you are extremely blessed and that you are changing, but that it is all for good. All the struggles you go through here will make you the person you will be tomorrow and you will know you can do anything after being here. Every day is easier. I still look up and wish I was on a plane on my way back home, but I am more accepting of my situation and I am using every moment, every experience, because this is a once in a life time thing. And slowly you realise that tomorrow you will simply get up and live, experience and grow again.