A few weeks before Boris Johnson finally closed the deal on his beloved Brexit, I was able to make full use of the fact that the United Kingdom was still in the EU and travel to Cardiff for my Erasmus + exchange. Beforehand, I thought I was very up to date on everything that British culture had to offer. I turned out to be very wrong. Prepare yourself for a deep dive into the ins and outs of (student) life in the United Kingdom, with experiences from students all over the world.
The university strongly recommended me to come to the city at least a week before classes began, as then I’d have time to figure things out in Cardiff itself. The week I gave myself to make friends before classes began turned into a week in which my friends and I would be introduced into every single thing Cardiff University student life has to offer. From the (actually scary) alcohol tolerance levels of British students to the unusual way of separating trash; Welsh student life is way different from what we were used to in our home countries.
At first glance, I didn’t see much of a difference between the way the University of Amsterdam and Cardiff University operate. Classes have a clear schedule with one lecture and one tutorial a week. One thing that did stand out to me is the level of teaching. We take it for granted, but being the number one in Communication & Media Studies in the world does make a difference. The level of teaching is significantly lower at Cardiff University, even though they come in at a respectable 25th position in the list.
Other students had different experiences. A French student, Clémence, was surprised at the level of interactivity during lectures. The lectures are more of a conversation with the lecturer, instead of a monologue accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. A Spanish chemistry student, Bea, was not used to lectures being recorded and being able to watch them back at your own leisure at a later date. This was a pleasant surprise for her to say the least!
Doors, doors, doors
A friend of mine once told me that you never really know a city until you’ve lived in it. This applies to Cardiff as well. The difference between your home city and Cardiff obviously depends on where you’re from. One thing that most of my friends agreed on was the outrageous amount of doors: Santiago, a Mexican student, told me that he had to use three doors just to use a toilet inside. When discussing it, everyone agreed with it. British people love their doors.
You never really know a city until you’ve lived in it
Something that we all had to get used to was brought up by Bea. British plugs are only giving power once you flick the switch on the plug, which can get annoying when you’re not used to it. Gianmarco, an Italian student, brought up a problem we’ve all faced in Cardiff. The British have an odd way of separating trash. None of us have quite figured out what is deemed as recyclable, but luckily the packaging often disclaims it. The streets of Cardiff are often full of trash, as people put their trash bags outside for the garbage truck to pick it up.
There is always a reason to drink
The Brits’ drinking behaviour is something that most Europeans are used to. However, in their own surroundings, British people are even crazier than you would expect. Hong Kong citizen Nissar was astounded by the low price of alcohol and the amount of public intoxication in the streets. You are very likely to find puke in the streets where people go out every night, something less common in other countries. There are even support groups for students who think they have a drinking problem, supplied by the university itself.
The drinking culture wasn’t the only thing we had to get used to. French student Fairouz really had to change her regular dinner routine, as British people have dinner and start drinking very early compared to what she was used to. Italian native Gaia was mostly surprised about the food in general. Cardiff is full of chicken shops that serve peri-peri chicken, something you wouldn’t immediately connect to British culture.
There are even support groups for students who think they have a drinking problem
Louna, a French student, touched upon something we were all quite frankly shocked by. British citizens don’t seem to mind the cold when going out. Regularly, we would see girls in skirts without jackets walking through the city like it’s the middle of summer, while there is a chance of snow on that night. The British girls also stereotypically spend a lot of time in front of the mirror before they go out, with fake eyelashes and faces full of make-up being a regular occurrence in British nightlife.
All these differences might seem a bit scary, but it’s a lot of fun to indulge yourself in a different culture. We could all agree that although it took some adjusting, we are having a great time living in a country that had so many secrets to us. I would personally recommend anyone to go out and apply for the exchange program, as it will give you experiences you will carry with you for a lifetime.