10 Things American Students Should Know Before Studying Abroad in the UK

This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to meet with incoming University of Edinburgh students from the Boston area. It was 95 degrees and humidity was at an all-time high but I can tell you I was probably sweating just as much from the heat as I was from the innumerable questions that I received from students and parents alike.

Let's be real, though: I love blathering on about my school and the fantastic city I have the privilege of living in. I mean, isn't that like half of what this blog is all about? So of course I had tons of fun chatting to incoming freshers and study abroad third-years alike, answering their most frequently asked questions about the University of Edinburgh and all it has to offer. It was actually so refreshing to not only meet so many study-abroad students coming to Edinburgh this year, but also some full-timers who were about to embark on the crazy journey I took two years ago- if I'm being honest, it made me feel all mushy and nostalgic.

While I often think that my unsolicited advice and lengthy stories about my experiences being an American abroad are a bit unnecessary to my family and friends, I now realize that this is the perfect time to put my guidance to good use.

Why now exactly, you ask? Well because it's the year of study abroad for all of the lovely people I graduated with! And because of this, I suddenly find myself to be the go-to person to ask about study abroad programs whether at Edinburgh or elsewhere in the UK. So I thought that in today's post I would round up some of the most important things Americans in particular should know before jetting off across the pond- whether for study abroad or the full four years!

Trust me: I've been there, done that.

First things first, get your Visa sorted // It may sound confusing and annoying, but you have to sort out your visa before you can even think about frolicking in the English countryside and paying Big Ben a visit. This is something that should be done a few months in advance, but if you find yourself a bit behind, you can always rush these sorts of things. You'll just have to be willing to pay for it.

Pack less warm weather clothes than you think you need // You will straight up not be wearing shorts at any point in the UK- whether it's September, December, or June, the weather never really warms up enough to justify shorts. The Brits themselves can often be spotted sporting shorts and sunnies when it's a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside, or what the Scots like to call "taps aff" (tops off) weather. But their version of "summer" is not the same as ours. Stop being so optimistic about your cute instagram photos and just bring enough sweaters, jackets, and tights (girls don't forget tights!) to survive. You can thank me later.

One of those rare moments when I could go bare-legged in Edinburgh.

Find out the best way to bank for you and your family // This might mean setting up another bank account. It might seem like an extra hassle, but you'll save yourself a lot of money in foreign exchange fees in the end. Especially if you're going to be in the UK for longer than just a few months, you should definitely consider getting a credit card that your parents monitor. This should be for emergencies only or for the kinds of things your parents would normally pay for but can't because they're so far away.

Orientation week has nothing on freshers week // Okay so I've never actually been to an American college orientation week but from what I've hear from my brothers and friends it's basically just a series of meetings and lame team-building activities. Freshers week though? It's all kinds of intense in the best way. From coffee crawls to city ghost tours to endless (and I mean endless) club nights, you'll never get bored. So get out there, meet people, and have fun! P.S. Freshers weeks is open to first years as well as study abroad third years!   

Understand the British grading system before you get stuck into your lectures // I noticed that this was more of an issue than I thought it would be when I started explaining the foreign grading system to a group of wide-eyed parents and students the other day. As far as I know, most universities in the UK go by this scale: 70% or more gets you an A, 60-69% is a B, 50-59% is a C and so on and so forth. However, this does not by any means indicate that UK universities are easier than US universities. I've actually found my classes to be quite difficult. So get used to earning 68% on an exam and being dang proud of it. Speaking of grades and academics...

Be prepared to be independent // In most classes (or at least pretty much every single one I've taken thus far), you will be told your exam date as well as the date of one longer essay assignment (or maybe two if you're lucky). From there, you essentially have to attend lectures and tutorials in preparation for your essay and exam (which will likely each count for 50% of your mark). No one will be mapping out how to study or how to write essays for you. You're on your own there, kid. But take the learning curve in stride and embrace the independence- I promise you'll be better for it.

Don't expect a dining hall // I was lucky enough to have a dining hall in my first year of uni, but that was fairly rare for a British university as far as I know. Self-catering is the norm here, even if you are in university accommodation. So be prepared to cook for yourself right off the bat- which is made even tougher by the grocery stores generally not being as big or expansive as American ones (you'll be missing Whole Foods and Trader Joes). Brush up on your cooking skills with a few of my favorite student-friendly recipes in this post.

Change your phone number right away // Get a new SIM card for cryin' out loud. Even if you're only in the UK for a few months, you're not going to want to rely solely on wifi. You and I both know that you're gonna want to snapchat every moment, text all your home friends (and your parents), and Instagram at will. I'm currently with GiffGaff (after having a bad experience with Lebara which was advertised on campus) and am very happy with how it's turned out.

Get used to short days and long nights // And no, not the normal 4:30/5:00 sunsets we're used to in the wintertime that give us a mild case of the winter blues. I'm talking about 3:00 sunsets where you're walking to your first class of the day and it's already dark. Quite frankly, if you spend all day indoors, you'll likely not see any sunlight. So to beat the cabin-fever and get your daily dose of vitamin D, it's especially important to spend some quality time outside when you're living in the UK. On the flipside, though, the sun doesn't set until 10 PM in the summer. Talk about #summergoals.

The winters are brutal, but the summer sunsets are more than worth it.

You won't come back with an accent, but you might pick up a few new words // You can fake it when you head back to the states, but a British accent (and there are hundreds of them for that matter) doesn't come easy. Even after two years, my American accent is still going strong. Heck, I can't even do a standard Scottish accent when I try! Still, after a bit of time across the pond, you might find yourself saying a few things a bit differently. It's only natural, but just try not to annoy your American friends with the new slang too much ;)

Speaking of friends, the last thing I will say about American students studying abroad in the UK (or anywhere) for any length of time is that you should really try your best to make friends with British students! Don't just limit yourself to other Americans (as lovely as we all are), but the whole point of going to another country to study is to immerse yourself in that culture- and what better way to do so than through a British bestie?

So I hope you found this post helpful- please feel free to share with anyone you know who is planning on studying abroad in the UK! And if you are an American studying abroad in the UK let me know if there's anything absolutely crucial I missed!

Good luck to all you American freshers!  

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