American Perspectives in the UK

Posted on 12/11/2010


First of all, I apologize for not writing in almost 2 months. These 2 months of adjusting, acclimatizing, and “assimilating” have zoomed by. Literally. I won’t try to re-cap everything that’s happened, but I will give a brief overview 😉

My classes at uni officially began on September 27th, so I am pretty much 1/2 way through the semester now. I really enjoy my course and my classmates. As for my classes… the content is good, but I feel as if I am not being challenged as much as I am used to. I am only in class for roughly 6 hours a week (1.5 hours being an optional discussion class) and the reading outside of class is not overwhelming. No worries, though, I’ve found some ways to take advantage of my “free” time. More on that in a bit… My classmates, however, are superb! I am the only student that speaks English as their first language, which definitely makes things interesting, and there are students from all over: Malaysia, Greece, Cyprus, Thailand, Korea, Argentina, Japan, China, Oman, India, Iran, and Poland among others. I really enjoy spending time with and getting to know my classmates! They’re a blast and a half.

Back to how I am spending my free time… I have started volunteering at St. George’s Church in Leeds City Centre helping in free English classes they give to refugee immigrants in the Leeds area. I observed for two weeks and this coming Monday I will be teaching my own class! Eeeeek! I am not sure whether I should be excited or really nervous :/ I will be working with beginners, meaning they know little to no English. It will definitely be a challenge, but the students are very motivated and willing to learn. Most of the refugees come from Iran, and there are also a considerable number of refugees from African countries as well. I think volunteering will not only give me a very worthwhile way to spend some of my free time, but it will also be a way to gain hands-on experience in Teaching English as a second language.

The weather… the weather is COLD here now. It’s not unusual for the wind speed to be about 20 mph and the temperature to be around 40 degrees fahrenheit, which when raining and overcast makes for a SUPER cold day. Earmuffs, gloves, and my tri-climate North Face jacket are daily essentials. My rainboots (called Wellingtons here) have also become an essential as November is known to be a generally wet and rainy month here. All this crummy weather definitely makes me miss my Alabama sunshine.

Even so, the weather hasn’t kept me and Ele from doing some traveling around Yorkshire and Lancashire (those are like “States” in England) as well as hosting a visit from a good friend of Ele’s who is studying in London. We took a day trip to Whitby, a quaint seaside town where Bram Stoker was supposedly inspired to write Dracula. It is a lovely little place that I would love to visit again in the summer when hopefully there would be better weather. We also visited Blackpool, another seaside city on the West coast of England. Blackpool hosts an annual event called the Illuminations where the main avenue is decorated with “designer-like” lights and light displays. It was fantastic and definitely worth the train ride, even if we did have our first missed-train experience 😉 When Lucia came to visit us from London we re-visited York and saw another illumination event where York Minster (an important gothic cathedral in N. Europe) was light up with illumination art that accompanied a poem being read over speakers. It was spectacular as well.

In general, I have to say we’ve, for the most part, adapted to the Yorkshire life style. Some general things we have learned are:

  • Most things close at 6pm (except for grocery stores and pubs which are generally open later).
  • Buses WILL leave you, even if they see you running in their mirrors (I learned that the hard way, as some English guys screamed “run, Forest, run…” from their car window as they watched me run in vain towards the bus).
  • There is no general rule for which side of the sidewalk you should walk on, or which side you should move to if someone is walking towards you. This generally causes a bit of chaos 🙂
  • Flashlights are called torches–learned that as my professor began talking about how she used to read under the blankets as a child by “torch” light.
  • Radiators do not emit the same heat as Alabama central-heating, thus we have purchased a space heater and electric blanket.
  • There is no such thing as Crystal Light, Kool Aid, or an equivalent. There is squash, which is not the yellow vegetable that I LOVE, but a concentrated liquid you add to water to get a sort of kool-aid like drink.
  • The cereal aisle is 1/100 the size of the average cereal aisle in Wal-Mart back home. That will take some getting used to.
  • Umbrellas do NOT work here. The wind will destroy them. There is no use in even trying to use one. Don’t. It will end badly.

I don’t want to give off a negative vibe so let me list some of the things we have really come to love about Yorkshire/UK:

  • The variety of fresh flowers and how cheap they are. Makes for a cheery home 🙂
  • The Leeds Kirkgate Market where you can practically find anything you could want including the best and freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses in Leeds, all at a VERY reasonable price.
  • The public transportation–even if it does leave you behind sometimes, it functions on a reasonable and dependable schedule, it’s clean, and the drivers (for the most part) are friendly and helpful.
  • The green spaces. Under Queen Victoria, green spaces were created all over England. Leeds is no exception. There are lots of parks sprinkled throughout the city, adding color and tranquil spaces to the sometimes hectic city life.
  • The way people in Leeds call you “love,” as a term of endearment 🙂
  • The AMAZING indian samosas they sell at the Market! Delicious…
  • The general tolerance and mixing of cultures and nationalities. Leeds is a city full of many different religious and ethnic communities, all of which help to create a vibrant and unique city environment that I love.

And just in case those two lists weren’t enough, I’d like to share a few of the things I am really missing from back home:

  • My family (including Penny, Tommy, Daisy, and Pepper–our cats and dog).
  • Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, Fruit Loops, and Lucky Charms
  • Chili’s, Moe’s, Chik-Fi-La, Five Guys, Mexican Restaurants in general, and Southern food
  • American cheeses, i.e. Colby-Jack, sliced Mozzarella, and “American” mild Cheddar
  • American Peanut-Butter
  • Fireflies at night
  • Current season showings of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Modern Family (even though I keep up with them online)
  • Pandora (it doesn’t function in the UK)
  • The WARM beaches in Pensacola…

Okay, I think that’s enough for now. I’ve posted lots of pictures on Facebook of our travels and adventures so be sure to check them out… Hopefully I’ll write again before two months pass 🙂

Posted in: In the UK