Being an international student from the United States, everyone assumes I had no problems transitioning to my new lifestyle here in Exeter, but that’s not true! Even though we speak the same language, there are still some differences that I’ve been getting used to. I had a great first impression when I arrived and realized how friendly and accommodating people are. I was walking down the train station stairs and people offered to help carry my bags, which I politely refused saying it’s okay I can get them. Whenever I appear to be lost, a kind stranger on the street always offers to help me or make a suggestion of where I need to go. It always makes me smile at how overly polite people are here, especially at the stores – there are a lot of thank yous! But the expressions always make my day, such as ‘Hiya!’ and ‘ok my lover’ – by far my favorite so far! I need to switch my brain to British English, or ‘the correct English’, as I’m told! It’s not a planner, it’s a diary, and they’re called wellies, not rain boots, you wear a jumper, not a sweater. Oh and by the way, it’s not french fries, it’s chips! I still keep forgetting that one.
So yes, I may have had it easier than some international students. However, I have been living in China for the past five years, so I would say that I had reverse culture shock when I arrived. I lived in a city of five million people, which for Chinese standards is considered a small city. Even at the London Paddington train station, it appeared to be crowded, yet not as crowded as I’m used to – especially during holiday travel! Imagine arriving at St. David’s with maybe 8 people if that, walking down the stairs with you, where usually I’m with hundreds of my closest friends walking out of the train station.
It was also weird seeing English signs again and very odd to speak English while asking for directions! Although a few weeks ago I did forget I wasn’t in China and found myself using body language at the store when I was looking for eye glass cleaner – but hey, I made someone laugh which is always a good thing! So see, I’m also still adjusting to my new life just like everyone else.
The food is completely different as well. I’m used to spicy Chinese food, such as hot pot, dry pot, dumplings and mapo tofu, but luckily there are some markets here where I can find some spices. But I do love how much British people love their sweets, and I have to say I have managed to have a cream tea or two. I also tell myself that flapjacks are healthier than cookies – hey, whatever gets me through the day. Luckily Exeter is very hilly, so I get exercise all the time!
So far, I really like the city, the people and my course. I always enjoy exploring, whether it’s going to a food festival, walking along the Quay or taking the Jurassic Coast tour in Exmouth. So if you’re new in town, why not explore more and see how many great things there are to do in Exeter and the surrounding area. Join a society, meet new people, discover the city with the free Red Coat guided tours, walk around Nothernhay Gardens, take advantage of the free museum on Queen Street, check out Gandy Street – the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley – or simply enjoy some sunshine while relaxing on the grass in front of the cathedral. After a day of exploring, why not try a minced pie, fish and chips or even a Sunday roast. It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and make the most out of your first year and find out just how great this city is!
– Erin Coyle