HOW TO SURVIVE
STUDYING IN ENGLAND FOR A YEAR
During the last academic year I studied English Literature at Canterbury Christ Church University in Canterbury, the town from the Tales. It appeared my lecturers worked
very hard to incorporate Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales into every single course I took. I studied literature instead of
linguistics because I’m definitely more interested in the literary and cultural part of English studies. However, I did take one course on the past, present and future of the English language, which
I deemed just about enough. If you don’t want to miss out on the language fun, however, combining
two studies is completely normal in England, and this is very well organised by universities.
If you’re planning to study in England, and have been accepted into a university either through your Dutch university or an independent organisation, and have found a place to live, you will obviously be wondering: ‘What comes next?’ First, there’s lots and lots of uninteresting paperwork and administration to do, and then it’s time to say your goodbyes and get on the plane/bus/train.
My first piece of advice is: plan well! I arrived in England a month early, since the rent of my room started in June and I felt it was a waste of money not to live there. I also wanted to try and find a job to help me have a little more spending money throughout the year. However, once I arrived I found out that almost all jobs a student could do started in September, when university started! There was also no wifi in my house, so I was basically stuck in my room in an empty house for a month to ponder my existence. I managed to turn it into a good time by going into town a lot, baking cupcakes, watching loads of movies and taking many long baths, as I had the bathroom all to myself anyway. Preparation for university classes is not much different from classes here: most universities in England also use Blackboard. And yes, you do actually have to purchase really expensive study books on top of the massive fee for being granted the privilege of studying at an English university. However, if you are top of the class here, do not expect it to be the same in England. My university had a lot of international students, yet I was the only foreigner in my class, and my course was definitely not catered to international students. I enjoyed the lectures a lot, from English language to American studies to Old English. As you probably already know, history comes peeking around the corner a lot when studying English literature, for example when looking at the context of a piece. In their education before university, English students will definitely have learnt more English history than we do in Dutch schools. This often caused me to Google something under the table when the lecturer proclaimed ‘we all OBVIOUSLY know about this very important event in English history’. I also think English universities are less forgiving of things like odd sentences or spelling mistakes, since they are used to students being native speakers. Once, after I thought I’d written the best essay in my student career, I was told that ‘my ideas were good but I had to work on translating them into text’, which is a hard blow if you have worked hard on an essay. So that is also something to expect.
I definitely have mostly positive memories when I think back to the university itself. I had some great stereotypical lecturers. My Old English and medieval literature teacher was a man with very long curly red hair, and when he read an Old English poem, the class would sit in complete silence, admiring his pronunciation. My lecturer for American studies was an Irish man with a great Irish accent and a massive beard.
A last piece of advice: don't pretend to be something you are not in order to make friends. The idea of moving to a different country, where your trusted friends and family members are always a two taxis, four trains and a plane journey away can be terrifying. However, do not go crazy partying in fresher’s week or join sports societies when you don’t actu-ally like sports in an attempt to make as many friends as possible. Do, however, join societies that you are interested in! The fee is often small and it is great to have weekly meetings with groups of like-minded people, as there is always a society that caters to your interests. Go to the introductory free meetings of all the societies you might be interested in to rule out the boring ones. I went to the first meetings of the Anime, Creative Writing, Disney Appreciation, Doctor Who Appreciation, Feminist, and Harry Potter societies. I joined about half of them and went to quite a few meetups over the year. I have fond memories of the Harry Potter Society’s Halloween gathering. We sat around a long table in weird dresses, eating weird Halloween candies. I also greatly enjoyed watching lots of weird old episodes of Doctor Who with badly animated monsters, and the social meetings of the Feminist Society.
In England, almost all first-year students move into halls close to the university or actually on campus. However, I chose not to do this as it was ridiculously expensive and I could save an incredible amount of money by living in a private student accommodation. This meant my housemates were all second-year students. Two of them even studied English literature, which was great, as this meant I could borrow all their books and they could help me with my Old English translations. There were lots of stereotypical things happening in the house. My housemates continually made cups of tea during the day (except for the rebel, who proclaimed she hated tea and English culture) and have bacon and eggs for breakfast (except the health freak, who ate raw broccoli). My housemates were absolutely wonderful, and they were actually my closest friends during the year. I thoroughly enjoyed our board game and pizza nights and midnight trips to the 24/7 ASDA down the road. I was definitely very lucky to have these housemates, and whether you’re going to live on the university campus or find private accommodation, you always have to wait and see what your housemates are like.
Of course, I was still lonely at times. I went home twice during that year: once for a three-week Christmas break and once for a four-week spring break. I had never been away from my family, friends (and cats) for so long, so naturally I missed them and made lots of sad phone calls, trying to get my cat to meow into the phone.
My year in England was great and I would do it all again if I could, but it is always important to remember that it will not 100% fun all the time. And that is okay, too.
by Romy Esselink