Arriving in the UK and Trying to Adjust
As winter break came to a close, and the Student Exchange Program came closer, my emotions were all over the place. All of my friends were back in Columbus starting classes, while I still had three weeks until I began my semester in Manchester, England. I was so excited, but also horrified. I kept thinking about the worst-case scenarios. The “What if I hate it there?” and “What if I don’t make friends?” type of things. It almost felt like the beginning of freshman year happening all over again, except this time I was a little more confident, thinking that it would be easier the second time around. I was wrong.
Moving across the world for a semester was more difficult than the transition into university, even for an out-of-state student like myself, who didn’t know a single person when I first arrived at Ohio State. This time around, there were so many more factors in play. I completely underestimated how jet lag would affect me. I thought I was prepared, but it took me nearly two weeks to fully readjust my sleep schedule. Forcing yourself to wake up and fall asleep at certain times can be a lot harder than it sounds! I also had a hard time meeting people at first. I moved into my hall a week early, figuring it would be a great time to meet some people and make friends. I quickly realized that the students in the UK were still in their first semester exams and not many students wanted to be social. I hung out alone and with the few people that had finished exams for my first week until orientation came the following Friday. I was never made aware of many of the orientation events, but I would recommend asking about/going to any event that the school offers. We had a business exchange orientation that was super helpful to connect with and befriend other students. I made most of my friends at this event and in my classes.
It was nice that the Alliance Manchester Business School had an orientation program solely for business exchanges. We got more specified information and were able to connect with other students that we would be in classes with. This event also allowed me to meet quite a few lasting friends. Although they had activities planned for the entire day, most of the day was spent with all the students socializing and trying to get to know one another, along with making plans for the evening. At the end of orientation, the International Society told us that they were all going to a pub nearby and invited us to join, along with informing us of other good events to connect with more international students.
Moving to a different country on your own is scary. Even in an English-speaking nation, there are a lot of cultural differences. For starters, in my short time here so far, I have almost been hit by three cars, as they drive on the opposite side of the road. Many of the stores here also close very early, around 5 or 6pm. There are not as many large grocery stores, as many of the urban locations are more similar to a gas station or convenience store. Public transportation is used heavily, and you can often catch a bus every 2 minutes on the busiest streets. Another difference I noticed early on was the use of coins for the 1 and 2 pound rather than paper bills. I have also picked up that British cuisine relies heavily on potatoes, red meats, and a strong connection to Indian food. They also have way too many restaurants with strange varieties of food, such as fried chicken places that also selling pizza?? I love food and could talk about it for days.
Adapting to many of these differences was not super difficult, however I still get very confused with traffic and continue to have close calls. I get bored of the blandness of the food, but I try to find creative ways to add flavor such as adding hot sauce or spices. Stores closing early can make things difficult, especially since I have class going into the evening, but you are usually able to find something similar that is open late or 24 hours. Sunday business hours are very short, so I try to avoid shopping on Sundays. Many other differences are pretty helpful. I really enjoy how accessible public transit is and the use of coin money. For students studying in Europe, especially England, I would recommend using Apple Pay, as contactless payment is commonly used and some places will not accept foreign chip-cards that need a signature. This is also handy when travelling, as you do not have to worry about carrying a card and potentially getting pick-pocketed.
The coursework here is also quite different. I am enrolled in a Sustainability in Business course, along with a Team Management & Personnel Selection and Mental Health courses. I am most looking forward to the sustainability course, as I think it will present exciting material regarding the future of business. Many of my lectures only meet once per week, which leads to a lot of independent study. This allows a lot of flexibility to students, but it also makes students accountable for their own studies. The overall teaching style seems similar, but the assessment format is different. In the States there is a significant portion of most courses that includes homework or weekly tasks. In the UK most of the assessment comes down to either one final exam or final paper. One of my courses has a small portion that is marked on a group presentation, but the rest of my grades come from final assessments. This puts a lot of pressure on just a few assignments for the term. I enjoy this a bit because it makes every assignment feel like it has a purpose. I often feel that homework in the US is given and doesn't always have much effect on learning. It often feels like busy work. Here, it is easier to focus and give your all on assignments because they are more infrequent.
Some of my favorite things about my time here include the ease of traveling, the friendliness of the people, and the historic aspects of the UK. The UK and Europe are both super accessible and cheap to travel. I have been to Leeds, London, and Edinburgh in the UK, along with Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Nuremburg, Germany abroad. Being able to fly cheap and take trains most anywhere in the UK is very exciting and allows us to see so much more of the landscape and culture. The people here are also very friendly and often go out of their way to help out if you are lost or struggling with nearly anything. This seems to be a Northern England trend, as those in London were much more to themselves. The UK has so much to offer for history. London, a 2 hour train from Manchester, is a global, multicultural city that has endless museums and historic museums. Manchester itself was the home of the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and created veganism. The buildings here are also very old and there are many beautiful historic government buildings and churches. I know very little about architecture, but there are so many impressive structures to take in.
As the semester kicks into full gear, I look forward to exploring Manchester and the United Kingdom more, along with seeing how the different style of education alters my learning ability. I am excited to see what material is presented in my courses, as well. The semester is young, but I’m sure it will fly by faster than I expect. I can’t wait to see what is at store.