I did it. I did the thing. I studied in a different country for an entire semester and lived to tell the tale. I also drank a lot of tea through it all. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty scary. But it was also pretty amazing, too. I want to share every single moment with you, but cramming four months of experiences into one post seems a little difficult to manage, so I’ll go through the highlights.
The first month was a whirlwind. After packing everything I thought I could possibly need in two suitcases (and then some) and taking a nine hour flight straight into Birmingham, England, I landed on the Queen’s soil. Arriving on January 4 and beginning school the next Monday on the 8th was a bit of a struggle. I had just unpacked, was in the middle of beating some very real jet lag (England is 6 hours ahead of Illinois), and had already gone through international student orientation. Was I ready to start a new semester with third-year students who were graduating in the spring? No, not really. Did I go to class anyway? Yes, of course.
I quickly learned that while my three modules were relaxed during class time, and our only homework was reading, people really prepped for those discussions. It wasn’t a “read the minimum amount of what you need to contribute” type of class. It was a read, then re-read, then read some secondary texts and come to class with questions and comments type of class. And it all culminated into 10 weeks of discussion that prepped us to write a 4,000-word essay that was worth 100% of our grade. Talk about pressure.
To combat the sometimes sleep-inducing amount of reading and writing I had to do for class, I turned to tea. And yes, the English do revere tea as much as Americans do coffee. In the U.S., you can pretty much go into any place that serves drinks and get a classic, steaming mug of coffee, or something a little fancier. In England, the same is true for tea. Almost anywhere you go, you can just ask for a warm, hearty breakfast tea to break the ever-present damp chill of English rainy days.
Tea at Costa, the English equivalent to an American Starbucks
It’s classic, comforting, and probably one of the things I miss the most about England. Some of the best days were spent with my friend Gillian at Boston Tea Party (ironic, I know) or BTP as we like to call it.
The top floor of Harborne’s Boston Tea Party (often empty, also where I wrote most of my essays)
While it seems like a small part of the study abroad experience, appreciating the English love for tea allowed me to seek out new places, meet new people, and was one of the first steps toward feeling like I fit into this whole new country I was living in. The tea is also pretty delicious.
The only thing more English than tea is rain, and yes it is as rainy as you think. My friend told me about a joke he’d heard from someone who went to England for a few weeks and it went something like this:
“It rained twice while I was in England for the last five weeks, once the first two weeks and then again the last three weeks.”
That’s about how it felt. My raincoat became my second skin, and I feel a bit bare not needing it now that I’m back in Champaign and it’s 90ºF every day. Oddly enough, it wasn’t as depressing as a rainy day is in Champaign. Maybe it’s because everyone is so used to it, or because everything stays greener during the winter, or because it gives you an excuse to go get a nice cuppa, but the rain is almost comforting there.
It’s all of these odd bits and pieces of life that culminate together into a study abroad experience, and I wanted to share a couple of the more mundane parts with you to better explain what that means. I did go to Paris, Copenhagen, Florence, Barcelona, London, and various places in England. But I also experienced a small day-to-day life as a student in Birmingham. I went to Sainsbury’s to get the yogurt I liked, and 2-for-1 burger nights at my favorite pub. I spent hours of countless rainy days, drinking liters of tea, at a cafe trying to write 12,000 words that hopefully string together to make three intelligible papers. I made friends with my flatmates and navigated asking for help on how to do basic things like registering for a GP (doctor) and getting a dentist appointment. Not every day was the most exciting, but it was all of the little things that I learned to appreciate that made it an experience I’ll never forget.