The first difference I noticed when I first arrived at the University of Manchester was that Manchester’s campus is much more sprawled out. I am about a 25 minute bus ride away from campus, and I am still considered to live in campus halls. This says something about English culture because the reason that the college’s administration can justify having student living located so far from campus is due to the fact that public transportation in England is phenomenal. Although the buses are dependable and arrive at most bus stops every 5 minutes, relying solely on public transportation was a tough change for me. This is mainly because I had a hard time figuring out exactly when I had to leave my hall to be able to make it to class on time. It turned out that there was no answer to this question because there is a ton of variety in bus travel time.
Getting acclimated to public transportation was not as big a challenge as adapting to language differences. A common greeting in England is “you ok?” and for the first two weeks of being here, I thought that my flatmates were asking me this because I was a foreigner. Although this is a trivial example, there are several phrases that are used that I had a difficult time understanding. Beyond picking up on common phrases, understanding certain accents was difficult at first. For example, I could not understand about a third of what one of my flat mates was saying for the first couple weeks. This is partially due to the fact that she is from Newcastle, which has a particularly thick English accent, and that she speaks really quickly. Some people have trouble understanding me as well, so the accent barrier goes both ways.
My English peers are friendly and are for the most part accepting of Americans. This is not to say that America, as a country, is well received in England because there are parts of American culture that the English despise. For example, when my flat mates think of America, gun violence, lack of health coverage, and pollution first enter their minds. This can get irritating when these topics are brought up in conversation because there is much more to America than a few policies. This negative view of America has affected how I am treated to a small degree. When these situations would arise at the beginning of the semester, I would usually stay silent. As time went on and I became more comfortable with my flat mates, I would usually point out that England isn’t without its flaws either, and that they shouldn’t act like you know everything about America if they haven’t even been there. My advice to future exchange students would be to handle this situation however you see fit, but that it helps to be prepared.
I have 3 pieces of advice for exchange students who want to travel during their time abroad:
1.) Find other exchange students to travel with. Before I went abroad, I thought that I would be able to meet English people to travel with. This was not the case because English students don’t have the incentive to travel around Europe because that is always an option for them. Instead, start talking to other exchange students to see if they have similar travel plans.
2.) Book flights in advance. Prices for the airlines that you will be using have been known to skyrocket within days. This is why exchange students should try to book trips as soon as they find people to travel with. This not only cuts down on prices, but it also allows students to focus on studying without feeling bad about not having enough trips planned.
3.) Be adventurous. Exchange students should not be discouraged if they can’t find people to do some of the things that they want to do whether travel or activities. For example, I traveled to Amsterdam by myself because I couldn’t find anyone to go with, and it was one of the best trips that I’ve taken during my time over here. The sense of accomplishment and independence that I felt after returning to Manchester is unmatched by anything else I’ve ever done.