An American abroad in Norwich, England

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An American abroad in Norwich, England


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by Vincenza Parella

Norwich is a beautiful, thriving college town that is situated about an hour from the eastern coast, and about two hours northeast of London by train. It is surrounded by a river and guarded by a large castle at the top of a hill; one of its acclaimed universities is the University of East Anglia. UEA in Norwich was ranked number one for student experience (by a Times Higher Education Survey in 2013) out of all the schools in the UK.

As of last year it also celebrated its 50th Birthday, so UEA is a fairly new but great place to study, explore and live. Some of their famed alums can probably attest to this; Tracy Chevalier (author of Girl With a Pearl Earring), Eddie Izzard (well-known British Comedian), Matt Smith (11th Doctor from the series Doctor Who) and practically everyone at BBC. So it’s no surprise that I would choose UEA as my home for the next five months.

My first night at UEA was difficult. I had just survived a day of chaos that started with my flight being cancelled, that led to the consideration of driving down to New York to catch a different flight, then possibly spending four hours connecting in Amsterdam. Thankfully, I was put on a direct flight to Heathrow Airport. Always, always, always ask airport staff about possible flight changes or anything that might make your day easier, they’re actually really nice and accommodating despite what Hollywood makes them out to be. I was put on a direct flight to Heathrow with a few clicks of a mouse!

Seeing London lit up, just before sunrise was breathe taking, as we soared over the stirring city. The whole cabin was asleep while I sat in quiet awe, taking in the glowing, vibrant cityscape, which was the capital of my new home. Once I arrived, I began sweating like crazy. While we are still dealing with blizzard after blizzard in New England (I’m so sorry), England was (and still currently is) enjoying a balmy 50 degrees. So I walked up and down the airport working a sweat while trying to navigate my way to the bus station (which they call a coach hub). Attempting to understand the locals’ heavy accents was a whole other matter.

After I made it to the coach station I had some time to clean myself up, so I took my bags into the bathroom, which they call the toilet (yes, the whole entire room is the toilet, I’m still getting used to that), and refreshed myself. I even had my first run in with Brit lingo as a girl came up to me in the toilet and asked “Are you queuing?” I stared at her blankly for a bit then responded with “Oh! I’m not in line, go ahead!” Then it was her turn to stare blankly at me.

After a long, drowsy bus ride to UEA (thank you neck pillows! Seriously, get one if you’re planning any trip, they’re a lifesaver even if they look weird) I had finally arrived. I was brought to my housing in the beautiful ziggurat styled dorms and settled in. The only real culture shock I went through was the very first night. I was by myself and I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t even have blankets (I had to use large skirts until I could get the ones I bought online). After a bit of crying and talking to my family, I went to sleep.

The next day I took in stride… by waking up late, and eating lukewarm oatmeal out of a plastic bag (I had limited food and no dishware!). So I ended up running out of my dorm and asking the nearest person where the Thomas Paine Center was. It turns out this girl was foreign as well (from New Zealand – I originally thought her accent was somehow British) and had no idea where she was going either. She later became my best friend, and together we discovered many other awesome people. Everyone in England is so nice and friendly! So my homesickness was short lived.

The most culture shock I feel now happens when I grin, become surprised or get frustrated at new things here. Like when I found out they don’t keep eggs refrigerated at the supermarket. They have a whole supermarket called Iceland dedicated solely to frozen things. Buying in bulk, or even bulk items aren’t a thing here, neither are dryer sheets. I have also learned that food here is actually delicious as long as you go for authentic pub food, such as fish and chips (fries), sandwiches, pastys (meat pies) and some sort of beer or ale. Also they rarely ever card you here at pubs, I’ve only been carded once at a pub. When I was carded it was because I was trying to buy butter knives of all things at Tesco’s (a local supermarket chain). I got many school supplies and kitchenware cheap at the Poundland and 99pence stores I saw, similar to our dollar stores. The rest I borrow from my flat mates (roommates).

UEA in Norwich is actually pretty similar to UMass in Amherst. They are both thriving college towns with beautiful city centers, they have large student populations, and they both have a lot of concrete buildings. The only thing I really miss is the buffet style Dining Commons at UMass. Everyone cooks their own food or orders in here which is fun but annoying at the same time when I don’t feel like cooking food. My cooking skills have improved greatly because of this though.

The academics here are very different than UMass’. Many of my classes are taught by multiple professors, a new one each week. They also don’t have GPA’s here, it’s either 1 (which is best), 1:2 (second best), 2:2 (third best?) and I don’t even know, something not good. I’m still confused by the grading system. Apparently getting a 60 here is our equivalent of getting a B in school, something which I still haven’t wrapped my mind around and probably won’t until I get my first papers back. Speaking of which, students only have an average of two graded assignments for the whole entire semester. So my grade is riding on two essays for each class, it’s a little daunting, dare I say I almost miss the extra work at UMass?

And then we only have 11 weeks of class, so I’m already almost done (we started class the first full week of January) and then we have almost all of April off for Easter vacation, then we have May and one week in June to take finals (if you even have any). I only have one final, so I will have one day out of five weeks taking an exam, then the rest apparently people spend traveling.

I plan to do a lot of traveling; I’ve already been to London, Cambridge and Cromer (a beach town). I plan to go to Oxford, Manchester, Leeds, Amsterdam at the end of February, Edinburgh, Paris, all of Italy in April (kind of like a grand tour all by myself from Venice down to Rome), Germany, Vienna and Prague. And by then it’ll be time for me to come back to the States on June 6th. For now though, I welcome you guys to join me on my crazy journey as an American abroad in Europe.

Vincenza Parella can be reached via email at [email protected]

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