Fall Quarter Across the Pond

What is so great about England? Everything.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to visit the country that invented Rock ‘n’ Roll and “Rocky Horror,” frolic in the rolling hills of the land where medieval kings once walked and listen to the most beautiful accent the English language has to offer. As I am a senior this year, it was my last chance to study abroad and the decision of where to study was an extremely simple one for me to make.

Courtesy of Eli Heller

Courtesy of Eli Heller

England has a lot to offer an individual wishing to immerse himself in an entirely new culture. Though my time here is already half over, it has provided me with the most remarkable experience of my entire life.

Travel here was relatively simple — in mid-September I flew directly from LAX to London’s Heathrow Airport, stayed in a hotel in Covent Garden my first night, and spent the next three days sightseeing and exploring the city with the rest of the UC students participating in the UC EAP UK Fall Immersion.

The program’s orientation took us on a walking tour of London, gave us accommodation at the London School of Economics and tickets to a West End play — “Barking in Essex.” At the close of the orientation, 21 of us boarded a coach headed for the University of Kent, located in Canterbury, a beautiful town in the southeast of England where we have been living and studying ever since.

Canterbury:

McDonald’s, Poundland (the equivalent of the 99 Cents Store), a fancy pub, medieval ruins — these are the things that make up Canterbury. A fairly small city that has been in existence since the early Middle Ages, Canterbury is, in a word, amazing.

The city lies along the River Stour, and is home to one of the most famous landmarks in the country — Canterbury Cathedral, a structure built in 597, and one that still serves as the seat of the Church of England. The cathedral’s massive frame can be seen from almost anywhere in town, including the university, and entrance is free for students.

As an art history student, I could not contain my awe when I first visited it, as the windows are made of stained glass, and the building houses the sarcophagi of deceased Archbishops of Canterbury. Other medieval ruins include St. Augustine’s Abbey, named for the Roman saint who first converted Canterbury’s citizens to Christianity, and Westgate Towers.

High Street, the main road and walkway in Canterbury, is lined with many pubs and a few excellent restaurants, in addition to several nightclubs popular among students. There is also a section of the city devoted entirely to fashion, including TopShop, one of England’s most popular clothing stores.

University Life:

One of the best things about choosing to study abroad in an English-speaking country has been the opportunity to enroll in classes, or “modules,” with English students, join on-campus “societies” to make friends with the local crowd and live on campus. The University, or “Uni,” is located on a hill above the city, and is truly its own world.

Upon my arrival at Uni Kent, I moved into Darwin College, one of several residential colleges, complete with its own pub, Origins (get it?) and flats home to thousands of first year students. Because Uni Kent is an international-student-friendly campus (23 percent of the student body is from abroad), I have met other students from over 30 countries. The university also generally houses its short-term international students together. In Darwin, I share a kitchen with nine other short-term international students from all over the world. Seven nations are represented among us.

Academically, classes meet much less frequently than at UCI, and for much shorter periods. Much of the work expected of students is meant to be done independently, which in many ways is less stressful.

Social life in the UK is quite different from in the U.S. as well, but certainly for the better. The default social activity among U.K. students is to take a few friends and head to a local pub, or go on a bar crawl. Several societies organize bar crawls for their members, and because the legal drinking age is 18, every student can participate. What a concept! I have had a wonderful time socializing and meeting other students in pubs thus far into my time here. The best question asked of me: “Do you really drink out of red cups?”

Food:

I arrived in the UK expecting the food to be mediocre at best, and was very pleasantly surprised. Pub food, including burgers, chips (fries), and freshly brewed ciders, is truly delicious and makes for a hearty meal. I have also tasted traditional British foods, such as shepherd’s pie, roast beef, yorkshire pudding, and baked pastries, and all have been phenomenal.

Travel Highlights:

As England is in such close proximity to mainland Europe, the opportunities for European travel are endless. I recently returned from a long weekend trip to Paris, where I visited the Louvre, shopped at the Champs-Elysées, toured the Palace of Versailles and viewed the city from atop the Eiffel Tower.

Within the UK, I’ve visited the city of Bath — so named for the Roman ruins around the city’s natural hot springs and steamy pools — coastal Dover and its famous White Cliffs, and of course, London. Next, I’ll be leaving for Berlin, and Spain, soon after.

After studying here, I see that the place I was told about, where a bathroom is a loo, an ATM is a cash point, and an umbrella is a brolly, does not exist. England has friendly and welcoming individuals, spectacular food and more sunshine than you’d expect. It does not rain…too much.