50 Things to Know About Studying
Abroad in England
What every student should know
before they embark on the journey of a lifetime
Author: Shiffali Kals Singh
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it is lethal.”
Studying abroad is embarking on the journey of a lifetime. In the international student lounge at the University of Manchester, there was a sign that read, “Life is meant for good friends and great adventures”. This could not sum up the experience of studying abroad any better.
Chances are, as the day you leave for England is quickly approaching, you’re feeling excited, but also very nervous. This is completely normal. If there’s something in your life that both excites you, but also scares you, then you owe it to yourself to pursue it. Studying abroad will no doubt push you outside of your comfort zone in ways you did not think possible. However, it is through these great moments of discomfort, that you will begin to find your true self. Studying abroad taught me much more than all my years of traditional classroom learning ever did.
My advice to you as you embark on this British journey, is to go in with an open mind. Remind yourself that there may never be another opportunity in your life like this. Soak it in, be spontaneous, and make new friends along the way. The coming pages will be tips I wish I knew before I went to study abroad in England. Your adventure is just beginning, my friend. Hang tight and enjoy the ride.
- Pack Light
Packing light is something you have probably heard before, but I truly wish I would have listened. I know it can seem overwhelming when people tell you to pack light for an extended trip, but I promise it is not as scary as it seems. Plus, if you pack light then you have more room to bring souvenirs home. Before I went to England, I wish I knew about the retail chain called Primark. Primark stores can be found all over the country, and sell just about anything you could ever need at extremely affordable prices. Whether it be a comforter, a mirror, a pair of pajamas or a sweater--if you need it, Primark probably has it.
- High Quality Luggage
This one goes along the same lines as packing, but investing in a good suitcase is key to having a more seamless travel experience while abroad. Chances are your suitcases are going to be lugged around many airports, and withstand many delays and layovers with you, so you want to make sure they are durable and easily maneuvered. I personally did not do this well, and ended up taking a suitcase that would constantly tip over if I wasn’t holding the handle. I know this is going to sound weird, but I would even recommend practicing rolling your suitcases around the house and up and down stairs, to make sure you can easily maneuver them.
- Check Your Luggage Dimensions Before Leaving Your Country
If you are planning on traveling to different countries while you are in England, you are likely going to be using low budget airlines. Most of these airlines charge you a fee to bring any luggage larger than a very small carry-on item. I found that the dimensions were not the same as low budget airline carriers in the United States, so do some research beforehand and make sure you pack a backpack or small duffel that is within the proper dimensions. The most popular budget airlines I flew through were Ryanair and easyJet. Measuring your luggage ahead of time, will save you a lot of time and hidden fees. I once paid 100 pounds in fees because my carry-on suitcase was too large. My suitcase ended up costing more than my flight.
- Write Down Your Experiences
Photographs and Snapchat stories are great for capturing memories, but I find emotions are best captured through writing. Writing down your experiences while abroad will allow you to truly remember how you felt in that exact moment. There are so many ways to do this nowadays. For my study abroad experience, my scholarship required me to maintain a blog about my travels and this was a blessing. I still look back at it to this day, to remind myself of how I felt. You could start a travel blog to document your travels, or just simply write in a diary.
- Bring Something That Reminds You Of Home
Whether it be a stuffed animal, a photo of your friends, or a favorite hoodie, be sure to bring one comfort item with you that reminds you of home. It is only natural that when you move to a new country all by yourself, you will get homesick. Having a keepsake reminds you that no matter where you are in the world, your home base and your loved ones will always be with you.
- Take A Polaroid Camera Or A Disposable Camera
I highly recommend taking a camera that is going to let you capture candid moments. I know it sounds cheesy, but there is something so beautiful about a candid picture that is not perfected to capture the perfect angle or lighting. When I was in England, I had my Polaroid with me and took so many fun pictures from random situations my friends and I would find ourselves in. Many of these pictures are our late night food adventures, like going to the cookie dough shop in the middle of the night to get ice cream and cookies. These are the pictures I look back at most, and they all have the ability to bring back so many happy memories.
- Get To Know Students From All Over The World
A great part about studying abroad in England, is that many of the universities have international students from all over Europe and Asia. My biggest piece of advice is to make use of this network, and get to know as many people as you can. You may not become best friends with them all, but just talking to and learning how people from other countries communicate is invaluable. Also, getting to know people from all over the world is even better, because you have places to stay whenever you end up visiting those countries in the future. The accessibility to people from other countries is much more prevalent in British universities than American universities, and I highly recommend taking advantage of it while you can.
- Listen To Your Gut
This is something I feel needs to be in here, because my study abroad advisor told me the same thing right before I left for England. I found it to be invaluable. Studying abroad is all about having fun, being spontaneous, and going on new adventures, but it is also important that you are extremely aware of your safety in a new country. Once you get to England, you will realize soon enough that the second you speak, people will know you are not from the country. While most people find this fascinating, not every stranger has the best intentions. If you are getting a weird vibe from someone you are speaking to, listen to your gut and always put your safety first.
- Say Yes Often
Obviously take into mind tip number eight above, but also do not forget to have fun. I am telling you, the most fond memories I have of studying abroad are the experiences I was not planning. You are already practicing saying yes, by choosing to study abroad in the first place. Be spontaneous, say yes, and go on adventures you would never get to go on otherwise. You never know where these experiences will lead you, and the amazing people you will meet. I met some of my best friends while studying abroad whom I cannot imagine my life without, and if I did not say yes to going on random adventures we never would have met. Life is really just one big serendipitous journey, and studying abroad is a catalyst for these types of experiences.
- Don’t Forget To Call Your Parents/Guardians
I know time differences can be hard and you’re going to be having so much fun that you may forget, but please remember to keep your loved ones up to date. Make sure they know where you’re going if you plan on traveling, not only for your own safety, but so they can have some peace of mind. Chances are you have never been this far away from home, so look out for your loved ones and let them know you’re doing okay and that you miss them.
- Add New Friends On Social Media
This may sound odd at first, but I promise I regret this so much. There were so many amazing people I met once or twice at different events while studying abroad, and I never got their contact information. The University of Manchester was a large school and I never was able to contact these people again. If you meet new friends who you click with, definitely make sure you get contact information so you can stay in touch. They could end up becoming your best friends.
- Make The Effort To Have Local Experiences
Sure riding the London Eye and seeing Big Ben are bucket list worthy, but definitely take the time to have more local experiences. If some of your British friends offer to take you to their favorite hole-in-the-wall pub, do it. At the end of the day, these localized experiences will make your journey unique and memorable. Not only this, but it’ll give you ideas of amazing places to visit when you come back to England one day.
- Pack A Portable Charger
This is essential and saved my life so many times. Chances are you’ll be using your phone a lot, whether it be to navigate or take pictures, so making sure you have an extra charge is extremely important. It’s better to be safe and always have a charged phone on you, especially when exploring new places.
- Get To Know Your Professors
If your British university is anything like the University of Manchester, your professors will be from all over Europe. I even had one professor from Brazil! It was so amazing to hear these professionals' stories and how they ended up in England, so definitely make an effort to get to know them. Who knows, they could be the reason you land a job based in England in the future if you choose you want to come back.
- Evaluate Your Experiences Often
For one of my courses, the final assignment was comparing differences we found between the British way of life to our home country, and how those differences had changed our perspective. This required me to document my experiences of culture shock throughout my trip and it made the program that much more influential.
- Try Local Delicacies
I think trying different types of food is one of the most rewarding experiences from traveling. As someone who never eats seafood, I knew when I went to England I would have to try a classic fish and chips. I did it and to my surprise actually enjoyed it. Now I always have an amazing story to tell about the first time I tried fish and chips.
- Do Things You’ve Always Wanted To Do
For me, this was getting my third ear piercing alongside my best friend while in Manchester. Now I’m not saying do something crazy and unsafe, but if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do and it’s safe to do it while abroad, go for it! It will make your experience that much more memorable.
- Attend a Football Game
If you’re visiting England you MUST attend a football (American Soccer) game! I was in Manchester, home to two football teams, and went to a Manchester City Game. My university actually had a bunch of opportunities where they gave out free tickets. So definitely take advantage of these freebies and get the true British football experience.
- Take Time To Visit Other Cities In England
I know when you go to study abroad in England, it’s a lot of fun to travel to different countries throughout Europe because they’re so accessible. I did this a lot too and it was extremely fun. But, it’s also important to see all that England has to offer. I went on day trips to Bath, York, Leeds, Liverpool and the Lake District in Manchester, and all were beautiful in their own ways. It’s amazing to see how England is one country, but the culture between cities (even just the accents!) vary so heavily.
- Use Various Modes Of Transportation
This may sound odd, but England is known for its amazing public transportation. When going on weekend trips, or even just going around your own city, switch up the types of transportation you use. You can hop on the double decker bus one day, use the tube the next, or even hop on an airplane. Public transportation says a lot about a country and its culture, and my commutes were always something I looked forward to.
- Do Things That Remind You Of Home
About a month into my trip, homesickness was starting to hit me. I realized there were just some simple things I missed. By simple I mean very simple, like getting my cup of coffee in the morning and seeing my baristas, as well as just going to a movie on the weekends. I started getting off the bus a stop early and going to my favorite coffee shop before class. My friend and I also decided to explore a more posh area of Manchester and found a beautiful movie theater where we indulged in a huge box of popcorn. It felt like we brought a piece of home with us to England.
- Learn To Cook A Traditional British Meal
One thing about England that shocked me, was how many students cooked at home instead of getting takeout. Basically all 10 people in my flat were avid grocery shoppers and cooked meals almost every weeknight. A lot of us would eat together and it was fun seeing what they grew up cooking. I learned to make yorkshire puddings, which are essentially a British version of the American Biscuit.
- Try A Traditional British Roast
As I was nearing the end of my British adventure, my local British friends told me I had to try a traditional Sunday roast before leaving. This is basically the British version of an American thanksgiving dinner. We dressed up really nice and ventured to a posh area of Manchester, and had a British roast. The experience was one I will remember forever, and the food was also amazing.
- Go For An Afternoon Tea
This is the quintessential British experience and you must do it at least once while living in England. I went to a tea house in Manchester that was inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and it was the most beautiful tea house I have ever seen. Not to mention, the food and tea were amazing.
- Attend A Formal Event/Ball
At the University of Manchester, the business school hosted a Christmas Ball. Let me tell you, going to a formal British event is a whole new ball game. It was interesting to see how British young adults contrasted to American young adults, especially when supplied with unlimited amounts of alcohol. The experience was extremely classy, and was one of the most fun nights I had in Manchester. I definitely recommend checking out a formal, black-tie event if you have the opportunity to when abroad.
- Go To A Local Farmers Markets
Farmers markets are a great way to gain a highly localized experience. It’s interesting to see how what is sold at a traditional British Farmers Market, contrasts to your home country. Definitely checkout at least one of these while you are studying abroad.
- Share Your Home Traditions With Your New Friends
I was in England during American Thanksgiving, and as you can imagine I was missing home a lot. However, my friend and I used this as an excuse to cook our British friends a traditional American Thanksgiving meal. It was such a fun experience and one we talk about to this day. Not only did it make us feel less homesick, but it also taught our friends about where we come from.
- Explore The Different Neighborhoods Of Your City
What I found was so unique about England, is that every neighborhood varied heavily from one another, even if they were in the same city. In Manchester there were countless different neighborhoods, each having unique people, with their own customs. The Pride neighborhood varied a lot from the Curry Mile, and Didsbury, which was the posh area, seemed like a whole different country all together. Take time to get to know each of these neighborhoods and what they have to offer.
- Embrace Your City’s Unique Fashion
Studying abroad is the perfect time to reinvent your fashion. I found each city in England has its own unique style and it varies a lot. Manchester is known for its funky style and I found myself wearing pieces I never normally would. It was a nice way to embrace the culture in a fun way.
- Explore All The Coffee Shops
British tea usually gets all the hype, but British coffee does not disappoint. I think it’s safe to say I went on a coffee tour of Europe when studying abroad. I was shocked when I found the coffee served at Ikea in Iceland, was one of my favorites.
- Learn To Cook New Cuisines
Not only is it important to eat all the amazing new foods you will encounter, but learning to cook them is a whole other experience in itself. Not only will it be a unique skill to bring back when you come home, but cooking truly brings people together.
- Get To Know The People You’re Living With
This may seem obvious, but getting to know your flatmates is so rewarding when studying in England. Obviously it depends on where you study in England, but I found Manchester to be such a diverse uni. My flatmates were from all over Europe and beyond, and it was nice to get to know each other and even learn to cook new dishes. We often did flat dinners and it was one of my favorite activities.
- Eat A Warm Cookie Dough With Gelato
No matter where I went in England, every city had one or two spots that were known for the best cookie dough. When I say cookie dough, it’s a hot freshly baked cookie topped with gelato and it is heaven. We went on many late night adventures to get cookie dough, and it’s honestly what I miss most.
- Checkout The Christmas Markets
A trip to England is not complete without checking out the Christmas Markets. Almost every city in England has its own Christmas market, and they start as early as September. My personal favorite thing to get from these were the dutch mini pancakes, but I promise they have something for every taste.
- Have Local Experiences But Don’t Forget To Be A Tourist Too
Obviously studying abroad and living in a new country is a really great time to embrace being a local and strive for all those local experiences, but it’s also important to remember to be a tourist too. I almost didn’t go in the Blue Lagoon when I was in Iceland because I thought it was “too touristy” but it turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of my entire study abroad experience. They’re touristy for a reason, so don’t forget to embrace those experiences too!
- Create A Routine
Obviously spontaneity and living in the moment are so important, but a big part of living in a new country is creating a new routine. You’ll appreciate your morning routine and grabbing coffee from your favorite shop on the way to class a lot. When you look back on your experience, you’ll remember those little moments and smile.
- Try The Croissants
You may be confused because this book is about studying abroad in England and not France, but I’m telling you, try the croissants! The one thing I noticed England did way better than America is the croissants. My mouth waters just thinking about them. Definitely try the ones from Lidl, they are only a few cents and I ate them for breakfast basically every morning.
- Drink All The Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
I’m not sure if this applies to other countries, but as an American studying abroad in England I noticed England has fresh orange juice everywhere. It was harder to find the processed stuff than it was to find fresh orange juice. I bought a juicer when I came back from America and I never looked back.
- Be Prepared To Get Sick
Being in a new environment and living in a dorm, almost automatically means you will probably get sick. I literally spent the whole first month of study abroad ill, and I wish I would’ve prepared more and brought the medicines my body is used to at home. Definitely stock up on all the immune system boosting vitamins and remind yourself your body will take some time to adjust.
- Hot Water Bottles Are A Must
If I learned anything from studying abroad in the winter, it was that dorm room heaters were not the best. They weren’t even what I would call good. I definitely recommend buying a hot water bottle that you can use, to get you through the cold winter nights.
- Don’t Pack A Comforter
This is something I went back and forth about when leaving from America to England, but ultimately decided against it. One thing I found really strange about British comforters, is that everyone uses duvet covers with really annoying buttons. We don’t really use those at home, and the one thing I wish I would’ve brought with me, was an American duvet cover (I know this is a small problem but in the grand scheme of things it was so annoying!).
- Buy A Travel Sheet
The travel sheet is essentially a pillow case that is just a sheet, and includes a cover for the pillow. If you’re a germaphobe like me, this was absolutely essential, especially when I found myself staying in hostels in the middle of nowhere. Definitely one of the best purchases I made.
- Do A Little Good Wherever You Go
It’s important to remember that when you study abroad, you’re not only representing yourself and your university, but also your country. Especially with the crazy times we are living in right now, spreading positivity and shedding stereotypes is important. So wherever you go, try and do at least a little good, and I promise it will go a long way.
- Try The Chain Restaurants
This may seem lame because you want to try the local foods, but I found trying the chain restaurants in England was an experience in itself. I never used to eat McDonald’s in America, but I found the quality and options at the British McDonald’s were amazing. A lot of airports in Europe even have McCafe’s, and they serve the fanciest coffee for extremely cheap.
- Notice How The Education System Is Different
Although I do feel a lot of my learning while studying abroad was done outside the classroom, I did find it eye opening when I compared the British education system to the American education system. They are drastically different and I found bits and pieces of each that I liked more than the other. Learning how different countries learn and the emphasis placed on education teaches you a lot about a country’s culture.
- Get To Know People During Your Travels
Chances are you’ll be traveling all over England and Europe when studying abroad. Get to know people everywhere you go. Even if it’s just striking up a conversation with the Greek grandpa who made you the most delicious spanakopita in Athens, or the hip barista working at the fancy coffee shop in Paris. Getting to know people everywhere you go, reminds you just how similar we all are. It will surprise you how kind people can actually be.
- Get Involved In Extracurriculars
If you’re struggling to make friends in the beginning, getting involved in extracurriculars is a great way to meet people. In England they call them societies, and I found these organizations host a lot of fun events. Many of them even do trips to neighboring cities, so it’s a great way to find some people to travel with.
- Your Priorities May Be Different, And That’s Okay
When studying at my American university, I was very focused on my studies, never skipped class, and never missed an assignment. However, being abroad I had different priorities. I’m definitely not saying to skip classes and get bad grades, but if you want to prioritize the experience and having new experiences over studies, don’t feel ashamed about that. I found my university only counted study abroad classes as pass or fail, so letter grades didn’t even matter as much. This gave me freedom to truly experience the British way of life and I am so grateful I did that.
- Stay In Touch
This is more applicable when you’re adjusting to life after studying abroad, but definitely do your best to stay in touch with people you meet on your journey. Personally, three of my best friends today live in England, and I met them when studying abroad. I went abroad 3 years ago, and in that time they have visited me and I have visited them multiple times. I am so glad we stayed in touch and having cross country friendships is a beautiful experience in itself.
- Embrace The Moment You’re Living In.
Studying abroad in England is truly a once in a lifetime experience, and very few people get to experience it. It’s so important to embrace the stage of life you are in, the freedom you have, and soak it all in. There are very few moments in life where you realize you’re going to miss a moment while you’re still living it. That bittersweet feeling encompasses study abroad in a nutshell. Enjoy it, embrace it, and keep the memories with you forever.
Other Helpful Resources
- CEA Study Abroad Blog: https://www.ceastudyabroad.com/blog
- S. Department of State Travel Advisories: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/
- KChoi (YouTube vlogger who studied abroad in England twice): https://www.youtube.com/user/wonnju
About The Author
Shiffali Kals Singh, an alum of the University of Maryland, College Park, spent a semester abroad during her junior year of college, at the University of Manchester in England. Ms. Singh studied business coursework while abroad, but found most of her learning was done outside the classroom. During her time abroad, Ms. Singh traveled to 7 different countries, and countless cities within England, truly making the most of her time abroad.