Observations From Studying Abroad in the United Kingdom

Interview from Abroad

I was privileged to be able to interview someone who is studying abroad in the United Kingdom during the pandemic. If you are thinking of studying abroad, here are some things that may surprise you!

This blog is unusual because it will be in a question and answer format. My questions will be in italics and the answers are not.

What things have you noticed that are different from or the same as your university in the U.S.?

Most universities in the United Kingdom (UK), at least, have only one person per room. Students from England are shocked when they find out that American students have roommates. They can't imagine how American students are able to study if there is another person in the room.

The university is a 3-year program, instead of 4 years, like the U.S. Other students say that this is common.

One surprising aspect of UK university life is that there is no dining service component. American universities usually provide a dining service program to students. In the UK, you need to find food in town or you can order food.

The buildings also are very unusual. Floor numbers seem to differ from building to building. There doesn't seem to be a uniform building code. For instance, in one building, the floors may start at 1 or 2, or basement, etc.

Other things are similar, like laundry service.

Are there things that you have observed as different or the same in the UK, as compared to the US?

  • Transit: The UK has a more cohesive national transportation system than in the U.S. On time and more options!
  • Health Insurance: Every citizen, including students with VISA's have access to the U.K.'s National Health Service, which is comforting to someone without insurance in the UK!
  • Electricity: Make sure to purchase adapters for your appliances. You will need to have special plugs, because the current is different there.
  • Customer Service: Don't expect too much human contact in the UK. Everything seems to be automated.
  • Language: Some vocabulary is different: kerb=curb; tank top=vest; fries=chips, etc. Some people do a "double-take" when they hear American English. Otherwise, it is fairly easy to understand the UK accents. Some accents are more difficult to understand; Scottish, for instance. Our student notes that the American accent sounds "flat" to the ear.
  • Food: Mayonnaise seems to be very heavily used in the UK, including pizza!
  • Entertainment: A lot of American streaming services are not available. Netflix does seem to have more content, including some shows that Hulu carries in the U.S. There are other options available!
  • Efficiency: This is something that was quite surprising to our student. Setting up a new bank account takes several weeks, for instance. Things do seem to happen more quickly in the U.S.
  • History: It is interesting to note that the American Revolution is being taught differently to UK students. UK students have been taught that the British chose to give the U.S. the colonies and that the British had not lost the Revolutionary War.

Do you know if anything has changed because of the Pandemic?

One depressing effect of the Pandemic is the number of businesses around the University that have shuttered. Many university or college towns suffered business downturns when schools closed in 2020. Like other businesses, many never recovered. If you walk around town, there are a lot of empty spaces.

Mask wearing is also very different from here in the Bay Area. In English culture, it is considered rude to wear a mask or face-covering. So, the group of American students who are studying abroad often find themselves the only ones wearing masks.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!

Books About the United Kingdom

United Kingdom, book cover
State and nation in the United Kingdom : the fractured union, book cover
Historical dictionary of the contemporary United Kingdom, book cover
England, book cover
Fodor's Essential England, book cover