The Best Study Abroad Class

Exploring your host country is arguably the best aspect of studying abroad. Everywhere has something new, exciting, and different to experience and learn about. With that being said, i’m unsure if there is anything similar to this at other universities, but Kingston University has a class exclusively for study abroad students that I would definitely recommend. It’s called “British Life & Culture” (BLC) and consists of a weekly 3 hour lecture plus field trips! It did cost a bit extra in order to pay for transportation and tickets to places, but it was 100% worth it.

If it weren’t for my BLC class, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing and experiencing some of the places we went. Even if I did, it would have been a complete different experience since we talked about the background of places we were visiting during lectures. For example, one lecture discussed the film industry in England, how it differed from the film industry in America, etc. before we took a trip to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studios. Or learning about the cultural and religious backgrounds of UK citizens before visiting a Gurdwara.

What I got out of this class were some awesome experiences (and great pictures). Obviously all of the trips we took were fun, but going there for educational reasons also really helped me get a better grasp of British culture. One of my favorite places we went to was Parliament, and although i’m not a big political or history fan, I couldn’t stop holding onto every word the tour guide said. The UK government is run very differently from the US, and being able to walk through some of the chambers in which important meetings are held was so intriguing. We were shown where the Queen stands and waits before walking down a super long hallway and heard other cool stories.

Another place we visited was Bath, where we got to see and learn about the history of the city and the Roman Baths. We got a tour of some of the city’s historical landmarks and walked down the path Jane Austen writes about at the end of her novel Persuasion. Nothing about the city is modern, and it was a nice treat to see something so different from London. Very few things compare to the beauty of this small city, and it’s so out of the way from where I am I probably would never have visited on my own.

It’s sad to think about all the places I could’ve potentially missed out on seeing without this class. It also helped prevent a lot of culture shock considering our first class talked about English stereotypes and things we had noticed were different so far. Another thing that made it a great opportunity was that I knew who all the other abroad students were, so it opened the door for many to make new friends or at least see a familiar face on campus. We were just a bunch of foreigners in one big room.

The only con to this class was the workload. In my situation, this class isn’t transferring over as any other class for me. I took care of all my GE requirements freshman year. So it makes it quite annoying that I still had to put effort in so it wouldn’t negatively affect my GPA when it wasn’t going towards any class. I’m still unsure if it’s even gonna count for Liberal Arts credits because i switched into it after I got here, so I haven’t spoken to my advisor about it. I learned halfway through that I could’ve audited the course, meaning I would’ve been able to go on the trips but not worry about the work. So, if you’re thinking about coming to Kingston University, I highly suggest auditing this class if it won’t transfer over as a class you need. Definitely worth the 90 pounds.

Education Differences

When I walked into class my first day here at Kingston University I wasn’t really sure what to expect. There are a lot of educational differences between England and America, almost all of which took a few weeks to get used to. The contrast in our school environments have various pros and cons, and it really depends on one’s major to determine if there are more cons than pros and vice versa.

One of the first differences I learned was that no one is referred to as “professor” here, they’re a teacher or lecturer. Most of them aren’t addressed the way you would address a high school teacher either – many go by their first name. It’s a very informal environment, however it made the whole experience less intimidating. Back at New Paltz, I see a lot of familiar faces in my classes. Creative Writing isn’t the most popular major, therefore every semester when I walk into class on the first day there is a 99% chance I know at least one person sitting in the room. It’s been that way for me since fall of sophomore year, so coming here and not knowing anyone in my classes was a bit odd, especially since all the people in the class were already acquainted with each other from the semester before. It was sheer luck that my first class had another study abroad student in it, who ended up being in two of my other classes.

Almost all of the classes offered here are full year classes rather than semesterly. Since the classes began in the fall, it was a bit difficult playing catch up so I could understand what was being talked about in class. Thankfully, all of my teachers were very understanding. They told me the basics of what they had already discussed to alleviate some stress and gave me a better understanding of references made to the previous semester during class discussions. I also only had to do half the work that went towards the final grade since I physically wasn’t present the first half of the year, which was a huge pro.

Not everything is so simple though. I’ve learned that many classes here are only once a week, but English majors tend to have class twice a week. I didn’t think this was weird per say, it’s the equivalent to how English classes at New Paltz are primarily four credit classes whereas classes for other majors are only three. What was weird about this is that I had two different teachers for the same class. I’d walk in on Monday to Matthew, and walk in Friday to Fred for the same class. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a bad thing, but it did leave me to think I walked into the wrong classroom. This also made it confusing when I had a question to ask for an assignment. Which one do I email? Does it matter? Should I email both of them and see who responds first? Then when I did send an email, there was the anxiety of awaiting an answer. Should I have mentioned I wasn’t sure who to ask? Maybe I should’ve just asked someone in the class instead? It didn’t help that teachers here are not as quick to answer their email as New Paltz professors are. I understand that some professors are better at responding in a timely fashion than others, but like, imagine a professor you’ve emailed in the past and didn’t get a response for days, possibly not until right before the assignment was due. Apply that to pretty much every single teacher here no matter what your major is. I will admit there were a few lovely teachers who would respond in a timely fashion, though. Shoutout to Elly and Sarah!

Another thing is their citation format. Who the heck has every heard of MHRA? What happened to MLA, APA, Chicago? Were these just American things? Thankfully a few of my classes allowed myself and other abroad students cite in whatever format we used back home. Unfortunately, one of my classes required MHRA, a format I had never heard of and had to learn quickly if I wanted a good grade on my paper. The internet really is a beautiful place and I immediately found a bunch of style guides on how to use it. I’m not sure why I thought MLA and APA were universal formats, but just an FYI, they’re not. So be prepared to learn a new citation format in case your teachers don’t allow you to use what we’ve been learning since 8th grade.

Ultimately, there are about 10 pros for every little con. Just because things are very different doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad!

What Do You Mean “No Sweatpants!?”

I’m your average college student. I try to avoid 8a.m.’s at all costs, drink too much coffee, and sleep every chance I can get. I’m comfortable enough with myself to not care about how others think I look when I go to class. After all, who am I impressing? (If you said no one, you’re damn right.) I function by rolling out of bed 15 minutes before my 11a.m., throwing on sweatpants and whatever shirt I can grab first, and showing up 5 minutes late with a cup of Starbucks. About two years i’ve been going through these motions, arriving comfortably to class and not making my bed in the morning so I can crawl back into it once I return to my dorm. With all this in mind, you can just imagine the shock and disappointment on my face when I learned that this is a huge no abroad. No sweatpants to class? What?

I’m 100%, with every fiber of my being, a leggings/joggers/sweatpants enthusiast. Jeans? I don’t know her (unless i’m going out, then it’s jeans or nothing). I think I wear jeans to class once every semester, twice maybe. They’re just so uncomfortable, how do people concentrate wearing them? It’s a mystery i’ll never solve. Which leads me to the fashion culture here in London. Ladies (or gents, whatever floats your boat), tights are your best friend. There are atleast 20 different kinds at your local Primark from basic to patterned, extra small to extra large, all at a reasonably low price. Tights are paired with a skirt or a dress despite the freezing bitter weather and biting winds. Or, you know, just wear jeans instead. Guys dress relatively similar to those back home, but the one thing i’ve noticed is everyone has fashionable jackets. Whether it’s a bomber, a utility jacket, or some fluffy wool-looking coat – if they’re not wearing North Face they’re wearing something that looks really cool. Maybe it’s the fact i’m in a city school and everyone in cities tends to be more fashion forward, or maybe it’s a British thing.

Either way, my class outfits are nothing like the British norm. Making the switch from sweatpants and leggings to jeans every day was more than a little rough. I’m sure for most people this isn’t a problem at all, but everyone has their days – maybe even week – where they need to throw on comfy clothes for their lecture. I haven’t seen anyone here experience that. I swear, they don’t even own sweatpants. There is not a single time I can recall in the past 3 months that I saw someone in class or in the hallway dressed like they were ready to climb back into bed once their lecture was done. Further, I can’t recall not seeing a girl who didn’t take the time to do her makeup for class. Almost everyone looks like they’re ready for a night at Towers, like, 90% of the day. I’m not judging these people or criticizing them for wanting to put effort into their everyday appearance – it’s just crazy how different it is. I’m aware there are people at New Paltz who put effort into their everyday appearance as well, but that’s only a fraction of students. New Paltz also has people who don’t shower and walk around in 30 degree weather without a shirt, so. It’s not difficult to understand why literally every person around me dressed with such effort every single day is different, even a bit intimidating.

Honestly, I have respect for these students for putting so much effort in. They probably don’t even realize it, it’s become a social norm for them, the way sweatpants are a social norm for us. If you plan on coming here to study, just make sure you pack more jeans than leggings so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb.

A Quick Guide to Understanding British Lingo

A common misconception about choosing to study abroad in an English speaking country is that you will not face any sort of language barrier. I’m here to tell you this is false. No, you won’t face a barrier the way one would when going to somewhere like Spain or Italy, but there are still a handful of words and phrases you definitely will not understand the first time seeing or hearing them. Often times their accents make it a tad difficult to understand words you actually do know. Yes, their accents are attractive, but they add to that language barrier everyone assumes you won’t have (plus, the more I talk to them the less difficult it becomes to understand them).

A lot of the words i’ve heard but did not know are used in everyday conversation. Some of them I did know but did not instantly understand the context they use it in. I’ve learned a lot of things here by analyzing the context of things, which isn’t as hard as it sounds, really. For example, instead of calling their trash can a “garbage” they call it “rubbish,” and the cans will say “litter” on them. Or they call the bar the “pub.” I’ve heard the word “knackered” and came to understand it means you’re exhausted, mostly used after a night out. As for school I didn’t hear others call it class, but a “lesson” or a “lecture.” It took hearing it a few times for me to grasp the context in how they use these words.

The most trouble i’ve had identifying what a word here meant falls under the category of food. For some odd reason, they take the names of certain foods and change it completely. As someone who loves food possibly more than anything this really grinded my gears because I would read a menu and have no idea what some of the ingredients were. Below i’ve comprised a list of all the words i’ve seen on a menu that made me pull out my phone and (frustratedly) type into Google.

  1. Rocket = Arugula
  2. Aubergine = Eggplant
  3. Chips = French Fries (but you probably knew that one)
  4. Courgette = Zucchini
  5. Bubble and squeak = fried cabbage with potatoes, sometimes meat
  6. Jacket Potato = Baked Potato
  7. Bangers and mash = Sausage and mash potatoes
  8. Burger Sauce = A mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup
  9. Crisps = Potato chips
  10. Pudding = Not really like our pudding, but more of a custard. You won’t find a snack-pack here.
  11. Black Pudding = Not really pudding at all.. it’s some sort of mixture of animal blood, fat, and oatmeal that many Brits eat with their breakfast. In my opinion, it looks as bad as it sounds. Taste is TBD (maybe).
  12. Biscuits = Cookies, crackers
  13. Double cream = Heavy cream
  14. Prawn = Shrimp
  15. Scone = Biscuit – their scones are really just a plain scone/biscuit so they can put some sort of jam or butter on it, whereas in American we can just grab a cranberry orange scone or something of the sorts.

Some of these may seem a bit self-explanatory, but you can never be too sure when you’re in a different country! It did take a few weeks to remember these new names for things, but I can proudly say I no longer need Google’s assistance every time I go out to eat now.

Living the London Life

My journey across the pond began with a very early flight leading to a very cranky me. It’s crazy to think I woke up to get ready to leave for the airport at 4:30a.m. and didn’t land in London until around 10p.m. Although, once I landed in the iconic Heathrow Airport, I was absolutely thrilled to finally be in London. I wasn’t sure what intrigued me more, the accents or the classic double decker red buses. I felt like a rescue puppy trying to soak in every little bit of its new home but being too excited to notice everything. After years of wanting to visit the city of London, I was finally there. For a solid 4 and a half months.

After a bit of a messy start to my dorm hall, I was relieved to have made a few friends and embark on a mini tour of Kingston Upon Thames led by someone at Kingston University. Walking through Kingston market gave me a Woodbury Common’s vibe, which both excited and comforted me. From Starbucks to TopShop to North Face, the stores seemed endless. I couldn’t wait to dive in head first.

Admittedly there wasn’t much culture shock. It’s a major concern for many students and parents that the differences in environment will overwhelm the student. I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be badly affected by that because I thrive for experiencing new things. By coming into London with an open mind about the experiences and pushing and insecurities to the back of my mind, I was lucky to eliminate all those insecurities within the first few days of being here. My biggest concerns included finding friends, knowing how to get to my classes and to the campus from my dorm, and how to navigate my way into town. Thankfully I accomplished all these fairly quickly, giving me more time to focus on other aspects of adjusting to my new home. Like the coffee. In England, and I assume it is the same if not similar in surrounding European countries, you cannot just order a “coffee.” Everything to them is coffee. You want just a regular iced coffee? No, you want an iced americano. Don’t drink your coffee black? You want a white americano. However the worst adjustment for me, by far, was their cup size difference. Most of my motivation and productivity comes from my venti iced coffee, but the largest size at most places is equivalent to a Starbucks grande cup for iced drinks. So you can see what my struggle was for the first few weeks (okay, month. I like my iced coffee, okay?). It took a few tries to get used to ordering an americano, and even longer to get used to drinking hot coffee.

The only other thing I had to keep reminding myself was normal here is when someone says “are you alright” they’re basically asking “how are you?” The first few times I was asked I had to pause for a moment, wondering to myself “do I look extra tired today or something? Do I look sad? Why are they concerned?” only to snap back to reality and realize they’re just asking how i am. So far Kingston has been a dream. It somehow feels simultaneously calm and busy and I look forward to see what else it has in store.

 

Edit: I have recently discovered there is a venti size, but it is smaller compared to America’s. Have you ever seen a cat with stubby legs that looks all cute but it’s small because of them? That’s what the vent cup here reminds me of. Give. Me. My. LARGE. Iced. Coffee. 

Getting Back to Normal

 

As the days tick by and I get closer to going back to New Paltz, I get more nervous. I haven’t been to New Paltz in a year. I know as soon as I get there I will remember how it felt and get back into the swing of things, but the feeling of New Paltz is foreign to me right now. I just need to get settled in and then everything will be better. I am excited to be back on a campus where everything is only a small walk away. I will also not need to worry about cooking, which is a nice plus!

Home At Last!

After a long flight and the long wait, I finally got to greet my family in New York. I was finally home! I could just lounge on the couch and watch TV. I could also hold my cat—and give her a ton of kisses and pet her a lot. I think I missed the smell and feel of my home the most. Yes, I did have my own room, but that isn’t the same as your home. Nothing feels like your home does.

Leaving England, I was a little sad, but I was ready to be home and see my family. I will miss going into London whenever I wanted, but I love my little town. London is great, but it can be overwhelming with the big crowds. I will miss hearing the British accent a lot, but that is only because the way they say things makes everything sound much more posh than when we say it. But nothing is like home.

I didn’t really have culture shock when I returned to the United States. The food upset my stomach a little bit, but not too much. London was fast passed, so getting back to the incredibly fast paced New York was not that big of a shock for me. I did have a little bit of jet lag, but it only lasted a day. I went to bed at 10 PM and woke up at 5 AM ready to take on the day, but the following day I slept until 9 AM. I will miss London, but I am enjoying being home.

Preparing to Go Home

I have loved it here in England, but I am so happy to go home. I have missed my family’s home cooked meals. And our junk food! England’s junk food is healthier than ours. It isn’t as greasy and as yummy. I want New York pizza and bagels and our sweet chocolate! It isn’t just the food that I have missed. I have obviously missed my family, but I just saw them a little bit ago, so I’m still excited to see them, but not as excited as I would have been if I didn’t see them during Thanksgiving. But I am so excited to see my cat. I have missed animal affection so much. I will be hanging out with my cat the entire day I land. I will play with her and hold her even if she doesn’t want it. My room is another thing that I have missed deeply. I miss my bed. Being able to take a nice shower once I get home will be amazing. The shower here is very small and can have its good and bad days.

But even though there are things that I make me wish these last days to pass by quicker, there are a lot of things that I will miss. I will miss being only twenty minutes from London and having the ability to just pop into Central for a day and come back. I will miss being forced to exercise and walk places to get food or to do something that I want to do. I will miss walking down the street and seeing all the houses right next to each other and thinking, this is just like the movies depicted it. No humidity has been great and my curly hair is not ready to go back where it is humid every other day. The weather has been very nice while I’ve been here. It has been low forties yet it hasn’t felt that cold. I will probably get to New York and be very cold, but I am enjoying not having to bundle up so much here. And the museums in London! There are so many that I have gone to, yet I haven’t been to nearly half of them.

I will definitely come back to London, but for vacation. I have enjoyed living in a city that is bigger than New Paltz, but I can only live in a big city for so long. I like the small town vibe. London has been a great experience, but I am happy to be going back to a small town. I will be back London—and Florence, and Rome, and Dublin, and Galway, and Munich, and Bruges.

Family Trip Abroad

The past week, my family came to visit me. It was very nice to see them, but it was even better to travel with them. My family has traveled a lot of the East coast of the United States, but we never traveled abroad together. My sister is the only one that ever got out of the country and that was because she studying abroad. We stayed in London for a few days where I took them around to the museums they wanted to see and the stores they wanted to go to, but then we were off.

Our first stop was Florence where my sister studied abroad. I have studied Italian for 6 years, but I never got the chance to actually go to Italy. Florence was by far my favorite city I have been to. The town is just so cute and small, yet so Italian. I am definitely going back there with my sister in a few years. The food was also very delicious. Also, for future reference, the streets are all cobblestones so don’t wear heels or shoes you care about because they will most likely get ruined. There are so many museums there and so many famous artworks there. I highly recommend everyone see Florence.

The final stop on our trip was to Rome. Rome was very different than Florence. Rome has historic sites very spread out where it is a long walk to each. We didn’t do much while we were there since everything is spread out, but what we did see was amazing. We went to the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. They were all beautiful, but we walked so much while we were there. If you go to Rome, make sure to pack sneakers and make sure you have a break at the hotel/hostel during the day.

Traveling on My Week Off

Half way through the semester Kingston has what is called Enrichment Week also known as Reading Week. This week is supposed to be where you get ahead on the work for the next half of the semester, but no one does that obviously. It is like spring break at New Paltz. People are supposed to do work during it, but that barely happens (unless you have a paper or test right when you get back). Since they barely give work here most kids either go home or go on trips. As a study abroad student, I obviously made plans to go somewhere during this break.

My first stop was to see my friend who is studying abroad for the full year in Munich. She was kind enough to let my friend and I stay in her apartment the few days we were there. She was a huge help in showing us around and the fact that she understood the language really helped. She was a great tour guide and showed us everything we wanted to while we were there. We even were luck enough to see a Russian opera in Munich. It was so nice to catch up with her and talk about everything and anything with her. Munich is such a pretty city and I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about going.

My next excursion—after a day or two of rest and exploring London—I was headed to Amsterdam with a tour group. We didn’t have much time in the city itself, but it was still a lot of fun. We had two nights there and the days were either traveling or seeing some of the cities around Amsterdam. We saw Edam and Volendam, which were both beautiful and worth the visit. I also got to go to Anne Frank’s house. That is definitely something you want on top of your list when you go to Amsterdam. You do need to get tickets ahead of time, but it is worth it. You walk through their hiding space and walk in the same space they lived in for two years. It is a moving experience and is definitely a must see.

I had a great time seeing different countries during my week off. I wish I had more time to explore more countries, but that just means I need to return to Europe in order to see more countries that I wanted to see. The week was a lot of fun and made me want to travel more. I highly recommend traveling to as many countries as you can while you study abroad because it is so easy to get around—as well as is very cheap to travel.