When planning my trip abroad, I of course knew that I would be exposed to vastly diverse cultures while traveling and studying. What I couldn’t image was the fun and excitement living among the English culture would bring. There were so many things I found to be different, but different to me seemed so new and exciting. Who knew that one of the most entertaining activities would be sitting around with our British friends asking the age-old question, “How do you say this?….” My hours of such dialogue and my experiences in the classroom in England provided me with insight into different areas of British life.
One of the most challenges aspects of English culture to get used to was education. As I quickly came to find out, a college education in England is dependent mostly on the student and his or her own discipline for gaining knowledge. The same is of course expected of American students, but in England I found there to be a definite degree of independence given to students by professors. This style of education is what I expect an American Masters Program to be like.
Unlike most of my English classes at King’s, at Manchester my coursework consisted of one large paper and a final exam. After being used to classes at King’s that asked me to write countless papers, complete worksheets for homework, and take as many as three tests throughout the semester, this change was scary and intimidating. The amount of literature I was required to read remained the same, but I no longer felt like my reading and comprehension was being monitored or assessed. I was assigned a book to read each week and attended one lecture and one seminar on each text. In the lecture, a professor provided his or her ideas and in the seminar we were able to share our ideas. After that one week, the class would quickly move to a new book, whether I had read or understood the last one.
The concept of a reading list in England was also new to me. At the beginning of the semester, we were given a reading list with all the books and articles that would be secondary sources to the main texts. Because English students only had 6 hours of class during the week (as compare to my usual 15-20), we were expected to put in about 40-45 hours of work outside of the classroom. During this time, we were to be delving into the secondary sources and reading any and all books on our reading lists. It was also brought to our attention that none of these books needed to be read fully, or even at all, but they were there for our benefit. So the choice was mine. I found it hard to keep up with the secondary reading lists because there were so many main texts. I did my best on flights and trains to keep up, and found myself doing a lot of extra work during finals week when I had a whopping FOUR WEEKS to prepare! (I also liked to joke that the English know how to take their time!)
With so few assessments and so much out of classroom time, I was very anxious and worried how my grades would turn out. Not only did my final grade rest on only two assessments, but the English system of grading was foreign to me and I was unsure as to what was expected of me to earn good grades. The British grading system is very different from the American system. A first class grade (the highest mark) is anything over a 70%. Therefore, anything above a 60% is also a very good mark.
Now that all is said and done, I can look back and appreciate the English education system. It allowed me to grow as a student and become even more independent in my studies. I learned to really rely on my own ambition because it was many times a challenge to fit in studies while travelling around the world. It was a good challenge, however, because it taught me to be studious even when not being monitored by graded work throughout the semester. I can see how this system could be difficult for first year students who have not learned the techniques of time management and studying yet. I can only imagine a naive first year looking forward to partying rather than studying and leaving all of their coursework to the end….so maybe the British system breeds students who are in college for the right reasons? I would say so!
Phrases, Words, and The Like
As I mentioned before, one of the best parts about living in England was making English friends who have different ways of talking, joking, and even saying ‘what’s up.’ One British phrase that I never quite caught on to or learned to answer correctly was the question, “Are you all right?” which in a shortened, passing by version sounded like, “You all right?” This phrase is not used like it is in America to denote worry, but simply to say ‘whats up?’ I can clearly remember the first time I was asked this. I had gone to my flatmate’s room next door to say hello, and when she came to the door she said to me “You all right?” I, being newly arrived to England and still on American brain waves, answered, “Yeah I’m fine, why?” It was not until a couple of days later that someone asked me the same question and I finally questioned why everyone kept asking me if I was all right. “Do I look sick or something?” “No! We are just seeing what’s up!” This made sense when they said it, but I have to admit that I never quite knew what to say when someone said it to me while passing by. Most times, I would be busy thinking of a response and they would be long gone.
I quickly learned that quid was to pounds as bucks are to dollars, and knackered means you’re really tired. Chips are fries and crisps are chips. “Can’t be bothered” means you just don’t feel like it, and “taking the mike, michael, or the piss,” all means joking around or pulling someone’s leg. “Cheers,” rather than being solely for clinking glasses in a pub serves as thank you, hello, goodbye, and really anything at all. If you are sleeping in one morning you are having a ‘lie in’ and going to classes is considered being “in Uni” (university). Also, high school in Britain is called college and college is called University. And, of course, one of the most popular differences between America and Europe, soccer is football. For me, I always had trouble with this one because the conversation usually went like this….
Me: “Are you going to the football game tonight?
British person: “Oh, you mean American football?”
Me: “No, I mean soccer! I’m trying to use your terminology!”
British person: “Well you might as well say soccer then, because we think you mean American football.”
But then of course I would say soccer next time and get told, “it’s football!”…..Just a one downfall of being American in England, I suppose.
I also found the British lifestyle to be different from what I am used to here in America. In general, it seemed like everyone took their time a bit more and didn’t worry so much about gettings things done ASAP. I remember many times being frustrated at the receptionists who never seemed to find anything urgent. What I mistook for laziness at first was simply a different mindset. Instead of forcing the issue until things got accomplished, they told me to just wait and things would work themselves out. Also, the idea of a vacation (or holiday) was something that all employees were welcomed and expected to take advantage of. As opposed to the American way of thinking that taking a vacation that is given to you could hurt your position or reliability in a company, British working people value the rest and relaxation that vacation brings and find it a necessary part of working and rejuvenating. I was given three weeks for spring break, four weeks to take finals, and a total of five months to complete a semester. Although I found it slow and tedious at times, it was nice to be able to travel in these weeks and learn to relax. I think we could all take a lesson from the British and just chill out and have a pint everyone once in a while.
There are a thousand more differences I could come up with, but the ones I mentioned are those that have stuck with me the most. But there is one last thing you should remember if ever going to Britatin…..a proper English tea always takes milk.