Conalla with fellow student ambassador Charlotte

Conall Hirsch

October 22, 2018 | Hello, my name is Conall Hirsch. I’m an English major in the American University Cornerstone Program, and this is the story of my life studying in the UK! With my first post, I decided to revisit what my expectations were before coming to the UK, and what my experience has been so far in evaluating what I thought before and what I think now. I also would like to explore the culture shock and differences we’ve found between living in the UK versus the US.

City of London view of buildingWhen I was in the US, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I departed for the term. Being from the US I knew relatively what college was like there, and I had a degree of reference for what to expect. Despite the UK being the most “Americanized” European country, dialectically and culturally they are still quite distinct from one another.

A challenging aspect which we did not necessarily anticipate was the dialectic differences, especially in academia. The majority of the cohort, myself included, figured that because we spoke the same language, we could mostly understand our British contemporaries. I can say first hand, it’s not the cakewalk we were expecting. Here’s a quick list of translations, which pertain solely to academic language:

US vs UK

  • Professor = Lecturer (Only certain teachers are given the title of Professor in UK, it is much more prestigious than being a regular lecturer)
  • What course are you? = What’s your major?
  • Module = Class
  • College = University (Uni for short)
  • High School = 2nd Form/Secondary (I can’t tell you how many times a friend has said Secondary and I’ve given them a blank stare)

Bath Abbey in EnglandGrading System

In addition, the grading system is much different. In the US getting above an 80 on a paper is quite commonplace, if not expected. In the UK, above an 80 means a piece is so good it could be published, and the writer has essentially achieved the status of an academic deity. You surely can imagine I wasn’t keen on telling my parents I’d gotten a 65 on a paper before explaining the grading system.

The Accent

Getting back to the language difference, most Americans think of the English accent as your typical “Posh” speech, circa the aristocratic North London dialogue that we all tend to drool over whether we’re watching Benedict Cumberbatch or pretty much anyone on the BBC. The majority of the English that I’ve personally met are readily understandable, but others I simply cannot even try to comprehend. A good friend of mine and I were coming back on the bus after a night out, and his Scottish accent was so thick that he might as well have been speaking Mandarin to me. One of the Bath Spa administrators showed us this clip from the movie Hot Fuzz, which accurately portrays some of the accents we’ve had the pleasure of encountering.

The Weather

Finally, as stereotypical as it is, I feel obligated to address the weather. As far as we’ve been here, the temperature has hovered in the range of 8-15 degrees Celcius, about 45-60 Fahrenheit. This change hit several of us brutally, as the September sun back in DC feels tropical compared to the often cool and wet environment we now find ourselves in. As a result, many of us have gotten a fall cold, colloquially known as “Fresher’s Flu.” “Freshers” is the UK term for a Freshman or 1st year, and due to not having real classes the first week of term “Freshers Week” consists of socializing each and every night for a full week (It was quite fun until our real classes rolled around the following Monday). Speaking for myself, I can say that my first three weeks in the UK have been a blur, yet among the best of my life. It has not been all sunshine and rainbows: the UK system places a much greater emphasis on independence and responsibility, but I feel that my fellow students and I have risen to this challenge efficaciously. I look forward to sharing my fellow student’s adventures and experiences over the coming months.