My Short but Sweet Time in the United Kingdom

Su Jin Lim, Masters of Business

Short-term program: University of Exeter ‘International Summer School’

England (June/July 2018)

It had always been a lifelong dream of mine to study in the UK; therefore when I saw QUT’s Global Exchange Portal advertising the International Summer School Program at the University of Exeter, I knew I had to do it.

In order to make full use of my winter break, I made the choice to extend my trip and arrive 2 weeks before summer school began. In that time span, I took the opportunity to sight see around London and the beautiful Welsh countryside. I had the opportunity of visiting, Highgate Cemetery (The burial place of Karl Marx), shopping along Oxford Street, and most importantly going to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Leavesden (It would have been blasphemous for me not to do so!). I spent one week in Wales with my relatives at their smallholdings estate up in Lampeter. Over there we drove around to different places and visited historical sites and museums.

One of the “must-have” shots for anyone who visits the Harry Potter studios.

I then returned to Convent Garden in London where my summer school program began. By this time, London was experiencing one of the worst heat waves, which really was equivalent to a typical Brissie Summer, except it was a lot more humid. We were scheduled to stay in London for the next 4 days for sightseeing. The summer school coordinators planned the trip such that we had plenty of leisure time to explore the city on our own. Luckily for me, I managed to meet friends on the first day of the program, they became my travel buddies throughout the trip. During our stay in London, we were taken to see iconic places such as Tower Bridge, House of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, and the British Museum. The most memorable part of the trip was having the opportunity to watch Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale” at the Globe Theatre just like how people used to watch it back in the day (i.e. standing up for the whole play!). Never have I ever cried and laughed so hard watching a play, the acting and the whole experience of it was honestly quite moving.

Waiting for the play to begin at the Globe Theatre.

Bright and early on our last day in London, we boarded our buses for the 4 ½ hour journey to Exeter. The moment we arrived in Exeter, we were greeted with typical British weather which quite ironically I found to be quite warm and welcoming. I think it was because it was the English weather I was expecting to experience rather than the warm sticky weather. We were all assigned rooms at the on campus accommodation at the University of Exeter. Each of us had our own ensuite toilets, a bed, and a large desk. I technically shared a “flat” with 5 other students and we all had access to a common kitchen. Meals were not catered for, which allowed us full freedom to plan all our meals. Quick tip: I highly recommend you try eating-in when you can; it gives you the opportunity to learn how to cook for yourself but to also to learn the cuisine of other international students cooking in the flat as well. My accommodation was a 10 minute walk to campus and all its facilities which was really convenient for us.    

The Iconic University of Exeter “Rock”.

Class picture on our last day of class with our two module facilitators (Standing on the far left and right).

I enrolled for the “Adapting Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Improve Accessibility to Psychological Therapies” module at summer school. Classes were 4 hours a day, in 2 hour blocks. Despite the intensity of our classes, I thoroughly enjoyed them as it was highly interactive and very much hands on. I only had 12 other students in my class which gave us the opportunity to really bond with one another and having sessions better tailored to our needs. The assessments for our course were broken down into two parts. Firstly, we had to design a psycho-education leaflet tailored towards international students from a specific country/region. Secondly, we had to give a 30 minute presentation explaining our target sample, design of our leaflet, and how we worked together as a group. 

Visiting the underground tunnels of Exeter.

The town of Bath.

During the two weekends we had at Exeter, we made it a point to do as much sightseeing as we could. We took day trips to the town of Bath (a UNESCO World Heritage site), St. Ives, and we were even adventurous enough to cycle 44km to visit the nearby port town of Exmouth. All of these places were truly amazing and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Overall, I will say that the International School Program at the University of Exeter was amazing such that it allowed you time to learn and having enough time to sightsee, it was really a rewarding experience. Not only did I get the opportunity to visit the beautiful places the UK had to offer, but I was also able to form lifelong friendships with students from all other the globe. To anyone reading this and is interested on going to the UK, I highly recommend applying for this program. You will not regret it, I definitely didn’t J

‘Crisps’ or ‘Chips’?

One of the first things I remember being told about exchange is that assimilating into another culture can be hard. “It’s England,” I thought. “It can’t be that hard.” If I was to study in Italy or France, a country whose first language wasn’t English; that would be hard.  Now I’ll just get this out of the road and say it. I was wrong. It wasn’t ‘hard’ per say, but it was a lot different than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love England. I love the perpetual cold and rainy days, the history, the Victorian architecture. But there are a few things that confused the hell out of me and here they are.

The people.
I now have many British friends, some of whom are from London. I have no problems getting along with these people – love ‘em to bits. But when I first walked through the streets of London I wasn’t met by friendly smiles, or people willing to help out the lost tourist. Instead they were steely eyed and hell bent on getting from A to B without disruption. At first it made me think ‘Oh god, why did I choose this country’ BUT I got used to it, it’s not bad it’s just different and that’s okay. Besides, now I know my way around I’m just another person on the escalator getting frustrated when some doesn’t stand on the right (this is a must: overtaking on the left, standing on the right).

Food.
You’d think being fairly similar countries the food in England wouldn’t be all too different from the food in Australia. For the most part that’s true but imagine my shock and disgust to open a blue packet of crisps (chips, I mean chips) to find not original, but salt and vinegar and that’s not the half of it. Cinnamon on donuts? Nope, sugar, sugar and more sugar. A bit of chicken salt on my chips? Ha, no. Pasito soft drink? Silly Australian, no again. Okay, I’m probably exaggerating slightly, the food is edible but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the days until I can buy a pie.

Obvious disapproval of being mislead by the blue packaging.

Language.
Yes we may both speak English but to say I haven’t had a few issues in communicating simply isn’t true. Among the few:
Pants. Get used to asking for ‘trousers’ when shopping or be prepared to have the awkward ‘ah actually I was looking for thermal trousers, not literal heated underwear’ conversation,’ you’ve been warned.
Capsicum.
My first Subway encounter went a little like this: “I’ll have the green capsicum too thanks”

Subway employee,”uh… the what?”

“Capsicum, the green stuff?”

Friend, “Emma. That’s pepper.”

*Sighs internally*

Orange squash.
Sadly I learned the hard way that this is in no way orange juice or at a stretch, soft drink. It’s cordial. It took drinking a full glass of the stuff to realise that. Safe to say the flat mates have no let me live it down.

And of course we have the obvious, thongs.
On multiple occasions I’ve gotten the ‘that’s way too much information Emma’ look when saying, “I’m just going to put my thongs on before we go.”

My point here is that YES England is an English speaking country, YES it’s very similar to home and YES it really doesn’t take that long to settle in. BUT there are some things (plenty more that I haven’t talked about here) that are simply going to confuse the hell out of you or make you feel uncomfortable so don’t be surprised or feel stupid when it happens. It takes a while and debates like ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’ still happen but I’ve finally managed to stop myself before blurting out ‘capsicum’ at Subway. Adapting is key. Enjoy England.

Life in Exeter

To most people, the prospect of living and studying in England isn’t really a challenge and in many ways it’s not. The culture is similar, the language is the same and university assessment is fairly alike. Until you get to a new country however, you have no idea what you’re in for. So… what’s it really like to live in Exeter, England?

Exeter? It’s a uni town. No hour long journeys to get to an 8.30am lecture or city protests blocking your way into campus. It has everything you need to get through uni; shops, clubs, scenery by the Quay and even Deliveroo. It’s a 3hour train from London making it the perfect place to study on the cheap but also close enough to the the big city to make weekend trips away achievable.

Day trip to London, Camden Town

The uni? From the outside it’s like being back at QUT. There’s never enough seats in the library, the food court is a nightmare and getting to the other end of campus is too far for a couch potato like me. What’s different though is the culture. QUT has societies and clubs but they aren’t a big part of student life. At the University of Exeter however, almost every student is a member of at least two societies. There’s a new social on every week and the students thrive on this sense of community. This is definitely something I’d love to bring back home to QUT.

Teaching? Assessment? Less contact hours is something I was pleasantly surprised by. Alongside a completely different teaching timetable. Weeks 1 to 11 are spent teaching, we then have a month break (which has just finished), followed by a month of exams. Assessment is fairly standard but only needing a passing mark of 40% is quite deceiving. Students rarely receive anything over a 65% and getting a 1st (equivalent to a QUT 7) is almost unheard of. So to say it was a shock when I got my first piece of assessment back is an understatement.

My flat? Thank God for uni accommodation; gone are the days when I have to get up early to make it to class on time. My flat overlooks the campus and all classes are a 5-minute walk away. The communal areas are cleaned 3 times a week and I have a bigger room than I did back home (winning).

View of Streatham Campus from my flat window

My flat mates? We have 4 English students, 1 Welsh, 1 Spanish, 1 French and 1 Australian. Living with so many people might seem like a struggle to some, but the only space we share is the kitchen/dining area. It has been the best opportunity I’ve had to meet people and make friends; living on campus is by far the best option when studying abroad.

Choosing Exeter for my study abroad experience is by far one of the best choices I’ve made. With only a month and a half left here I’m devastated at how fast the time is going. It’s made my time in England a home away from home PLUS J.K. Rowling studied here so would I come back? Definitely.