Looking back to September 2016, I see a new MA student surrounded by UK-inspired questions. I wanted to know what to expect when I moved here, but I’d never been across the pond before. My Google search history was filled with queries along the lines of “What are the best places to visit in the UK?” and “What are some things Americans get wrong about the UK?”
The thing about the UK is it’s so much smaller than the US and Canada; public transport will get you to small towns and quaint villages. Moreover, travelling through the UK is possible on a student budget if you plan a bit in advance. If you have a penchant for weekend adventures, make sure to purchase a 16-25 Railcard!
If you’re on this website, I’m going to assume you have at least a marginal interest in living and studying in the UK. I’ll attempt to give you a taste of UK life with a short account of a trip I took in December. I travelled to Cornwall (and stopped in Bath along the way, but that’s another story) with a friend. We stayed with a host family our university connected us to.
Cornwall is the southwestern-most county in England; it's about a 3 ½ hour train ride from London if you book a direct train. Cornwall is not known for its posh metropolitan ambiance, a nice change of pace from London. Instead, it is a quiet county whose rich mining history dates back to ancient times. Now, what remains are farms, barren moors, eerie abandoned mines, and stunning views of the ocean. British surfers congregate in Cornwall as the beaches are so lovely.
I found Cornwall enchanting, but I did my research before boarding the train from London Paddington. I knew not to expect the posh cosmopolitan scenes and was certainly not disappointed when greeted by countryside that looked straight out of a Brontë sister novel. For me, Cornwall had an otherworldly sense about it as if its medieval personality still influenced the county’s modern-day mein.
Here is a short list of my favorite experiences in Cornwall:
1. The coastline at Torpoint (but I think most any bit of coast will do)
2. Bodmin Moor in Liskeard with the famous Cheesewring formation
4. Finally, there is a quirky debate between the counties of Cornwall and Devon (the neighboring county) about the best way to eat a scone. In Cornwall, jam is spread on the scone and then topped off with clotted cream (a delicious, British concoction that will surely clog your arteries). In Devon, clotted cream is spread on the scone first and then the jam is added.
Full disclosure: I prefer the Devon way—the taste of the clotted cream is a bit too strong for me and I need the jam to mask some of it. For the full Cornish experience, you must try a scone both ways and chose your side of the debate wisely.
I hope this post alleviates some of the uncertainty you may be feeling as you make the decision to move to the UK. You can expect cars to look a bit smaller, roads to be a bit curvier, and the sun to peek out a little less (well, depending on what part of North America you’re from). You can expect charming politeness from the British people you will meet and a myriad of public transport options at your fingertips. You can expect student discounts.
Most importantly, expect to be overwhelmed by history and beautiful countryside. Take weekend trips; don’t feel silly for being a tourist and aweing at the castles and cathedrals. If something inspires you, cherish the moment with it—that will give you energy for your assessments!
I’ll try to boil this post down into some practical tips:
- Do research student transport discounts in your area. Again, the 16-25 Railcard is your friend.
- If your university offers a host weekend—take it! The family I stayed with on Cornwall was lovely.
- Think about the best trips you’ve been on in the past and Google strategically. There is something for everyone in the UK: history, nature, shopping, nightlife. Different cities and regions have unique personalities.
- Do plan your trips responsibly around your exams and assignments.
- Do travel with friends when you can, but also don’t be afraid to venture out alone. I went to the Peak District as a solo traveller and had a grand time.
I wish you the best as you make a decision about where to study next year.. If you would like to find out more about studying in the UK, please contact one of our Advisors.