Sunday, May 25, 2008

Laura's England List

I know I have several soon-to-be Readingites (I'll explain in a moment) reading this blog. Some have also contacted me via email and asked what tips I have for these future abroaders. Our college has had an affiliation with the University of Reading in England for over thirty years. Each year, 25-30 women have gone abroad and lived in college-owned houses while studying at the university. This is a great opportunity for study abroad and an experience I treasure greatly. I remember the summer before leaving I felt entirely overwhelmed! There was so much to remember. So here are some helpful tips I passed along to the girls. They would also be helpful for people considering a trip to Great Britain.

1. Follow deadlines. Do NOT delay working on your passport or visa, or else you could have problems getting into England.

2. Weigh your suitcase before you even get to the airport. Plan ahead if you think it will be overweight- the charges are annoying on the U.S. end and doubly expensive on the U.K. end.

3. Drink bottled water for at least a week when you arrive. Your stomach has A LOT to adjust to. I felt semi-sick to my stomach for about a month trying to adjust to new food combinations. Don't give your body foreign water just yet!

4. Be prepared for that sickness- there are few to zero preservatives in British food. While this is really healthy, it can get expensive (i.e. milk going bad in four-five days) and a change for your body to adjust to. I found, however, that it also made me feel healthier and helped facilitate weight loss!

5. Join the gym. Reading has a fantastic gym remodeled in 2006 by an Olympic gymnast. It is clean with convenient hours and wonderful machines. Avoid weekend evenings. Each machine has its own tv/radio hookup. Plus, you get reimbursed each time you go to the gym. It's a great way to get a daily break from your housemates while getting all the benefits of working out!

6. Remind your parents that suitcases or shipped boxes full of American treats are always appreciated and can never arrive too early. I was thrilled when my mom came for a visit with chili mix, stove top stuffing mix, and Kraft macaroni. You will never understand the value of such items until you get there.

7. Learn to cook. I learned to cook while there. The dining hall food there is ten times worse than our own campus- which is saying something. The portions are huge, the servings fatty, and the tastes questionable. I went there once. You get reimbursed for NOT eating in the dining hall. take that money and go to the grocery store- invest in chicken, beef, etc that you can freeze and cook for many meals. I cooked on Sundays and froze or refrigerated servings for most of the week.

8. Buy a sturdy umbrella- get them at TK Maxx (the British TJ Maxx) with the wooden handle and strong top. Trust me, you will need it.

9. On that note, invest in boots that go over your pants- even if they are not in style in the U.S. I bought these and had friends laugh before I went, but wore them nearly every day I had to trek on campus. It pours every single day. If you want to be soaked up to your knees, skip the boots. But trust me, they make life easier.

10. Bring earplugs, your own reading light, a music system/ipod, etc. It is really hard to focus in a house with 8-12 people.

11. bring a few formal dresses and pairs of heels- you will always find a use for them!

12. Look up crucial technologies when you get there. They sold really cheap 1GB memory cards.

13. Locate the fabulous used bookstores all over Reading. I miss these! Oxfam is great as well as the British Heart Foundation store. cheap prices and great rotating stock. Bring them back when you're done!

14. Pack study clothes. British washers are notoriously hard on fabrics. Flimsy shirts might not make it the whole year. Plus, you need layers.

15. locate your nearest Primark. This amazing discount store has all the basics you need-socks, underwear, extra towels, and cute clothing.

16. make friends with University of Reading students. This is a once in a lifetime experience and many of the students there are fascinating.

17. take advantage of the fact that your classes are pass/fail. Take something outside your comfort zone!

18. Look up Mobile World. I would not have survived the year (nor would my long-distance relationship have...) without my cell phone. The rates really weren't that bad, and I felt much safer traveling with a cell phone.

19. Make sure your laptop is in good shape. The power conversion can be rough on laptops. Or, like me, you might discover that your computer has peanuts inside (this is a long story.)

20. There are nettles all over the backyard. They don't sting that badly, but they can hurt and sting for about a day. My own experience with nettles is now my "most embarrassing moment" story, however! Watch out for them; don't jump into any strange patches.

21. Use the campus library. Coming from our small school, this huge library is an amazing resource that I truly miss. Make the most of it!

22. Exchange as much money as possible before you go. It can take up to six weeks for money to be transferred via check from dollar to pound. The pound is consistently kicking the dollar's behind, so I can't possibly explain to you the extent of the exchange rate. It will frustrate you greatly and you'll have to learn that the money you saved over the summer only goes half as far as it should. Find a job (check the malls- I sold jewelry on commission and made great money) and then you'll at least be earning in pounds. Keep in mind that British people don't tip in general- a waitress is lucky to get a pound at the end of a 50 pound dinner!


Sarah said...

Be careful when giving advice about getting a job - many student visa's will not let you work off campus or even at all. Make sure your visa will if you are planning on getting a job overseas. [or look for a place that will pay you under the table!]

As for the food/water, it's not as big of a shock. I spent a month in England and several other trips to Germany/Belarus and have never had a problem:) China on the other hand, haha...

Laura said...

Actually, for our students my advice is right on the money. Our program has been around for so long that students get a specific type of visa that allows work. Except for one student (my roommate) everyone in our group who wanted to find a job did so with no problem!

As for the water, I think it really depends where you're coming from, how much water you drink, what area of England you go to, and how long you actually stay there. Our program is 10.5 months and it can be a rough adjustment on either end.