Although I am quite used to having international students in my classes, it is a rather new experience being the international student. (I never really classified myself as an international student when I studied Polish in Krakow because all the students fit into that category.) When I first received the invitation from KCL to attend the three day international student orientation, I admit I was not particularly excited. How will I meet locals if I am lumped into a group without any Brits?
It didn’t take long to get over this childish fit and register, and this past week have been a wonderful time of meeting new people, exploring London, and becoming acquainted to life as a KCL student. A few key lessons learned:
The pub is not so much a building as a way of life.
From what I can tell, the nights end earlier than they do back home, but post-work Happy Hours are more frequent… as in (almost) every day. Bringing your backpack to the bar is no longer just for undergrads. At a one week assessment, it seems as if this is a great way to build community with your colleagues.
British English is a foreign language.
Sometimes its just my midwestern accent. Other times it is an the actual difference in definitions.
- Andrea: Excuse me. Do you sell sandwich bags?
- Tesco clerk: Sorry.
- Andrea: Sandwich bags.
- Tesco clerk: Sorry.
- Andrea: Sandwich bags. Ziplocks. Plastic bags for packing food. Gesticulate packing and sealing a ziplock. When you pack a lunch…
- Tesco clerk: Sorry????
- Andrea: Cling wrap or wax paper are sometimes used to wrap sandwiches. Plastic sandwich bags are also used…??? Or even tupperware if you have that… Cling wrap, Seran wrap, wax paper, packing a lunch…
- Tesco clerk: Oh! Aisle 10.
Come Christmas time I feel like I’ll be quite good at Taboo. I’ve decided to keep a running list of definitions to help with the language barrier.
Yes, there is a student discount.
Be it a bus fare, restaurant, hostel or theater tickets, there is probably a student discount. If you are not sure, ask. You are not considered cheap if you ask. You’ll just be considered stupid if you spend more than required.
The cost of living is indeed high!
Here’s a cost comparison between Ann Arbor & London to give you an idea. I knew this coming in, but there are still some sticker shock moments. The most painful purchase so far has been laundry detergent– £10 ($16.20) for 41 washes! Needless to say my expectations for how clean my laundry will be are pretty high. The positive aspect of living in one of the most expensive places in the world is that there is a collective poverty, or really, just a need to budget effectively. Identify the best method for transportation before you head out for the day, make meals at home, check drink prices before heading into a pub, and take advantage of student discounts!
Pedestrian lights are mere suggestions.
- If the street is clear, walk. If a car is in the distance, walk quickly.
- If a car is approaching but other peds are crossing the intersection, move with the crowd. If only one brave soul is crossing while a car is approaching, use your best judgement. If you decide to move, make eye contact with the driver. Do not be alarmed if the man in the left seat is texting in the car– he is not the driver.
- Use the directions painted on the street to remind you of the directional flow of traffic.
- Bikers ride in the road but follow similar rules to pedestrians. If you meet a biker at an intersection, give him the right of way. You will lose in a collision.
Public safety operates… differently here.
Clearly there are no rules against jaywalking, but laws pertaining to weapons are quite strict. For example, pepper spray is an illegal weapon and thus may not be carried. You may, however, use an item for self defense that is not explicitly a weapon. As presented by a London police officer, raking keys across an assailants eyes should do the trick. Woof. And Americans are stereotyped as being brutal.
Another interesting point pertains to sexual assault. Having attended many a required SAPAC (Sexual Assult Prevention and Awareness Center) information sessions at UM, it is taught that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Here, however, the language was much less explicit as the officer explained that when he receives a case he examines the victim, too: their appearance / dress, blood alcohol level, etc.
And this was just the first few days! Perhaps these were rather obvious observations, but I’m looking forward to learning about more of the nuances throughout the year.