the united kingdom - anonymous' reflections after years there in their 20s

posted by anonymous on 11/06/13.


Which best describes how old you were while in the UK?

I moved to the UK when I had just turned 18, and left at age 25.

What brought you to the UK? Where were you before?

I grew up outside of St. Louis, MO and moved to the UK after high school to start university. I was an international student at the University of Edinburgh.

Describe the city you lived in in the UK and your impressions of it.

I lived in Edinburgh for four years, and then lived in London for about three years. Edinburgh is: beautiful, architectural, cold, walkable, hilly. London is: busy, expensive, extraordinary, central, cultural, large.

How did the city you lived in compare to other cities in the UK?

I was drawn to Edinburgh because I had been on vacation as a child and absolutely loved it. I was drawn to London because of how much I enjoyed visiting. Also, it is very much the capital and was a good location for my job hunt, and most of my friends were also moving there after university, or already lived there. I'm not sure how to answer the "comparison" part of this question. London is significantly different from the rest of the UK in terms of demographics, but all cities in the UK have their particular good and bad points. I will say I think there is less difference between areas of the UK than there is in other, larger countries.

What makes the people of the UK unique? In what ways are they different than people in other places you've lived?

People everywhere are mostly the same. I think differences between people have more to do with social class, careers, age etc than they do with nationality. There are cultural differences, but those are not inherent.

Was making friends and meeting people in the UK in general easy or difficult?

It was very easy to make friends because I moved to the UK for university. So that is an environment specifically suited to socializing and making friends - I met people through classes, in my hall of residence, around the students' union, and chiefly through my main extracurricular activity (the student theatre society). Then when I left university I met people who were friends-of-friends and through work or volunteering. It all happened quite organically. I am finding it more difficult to make friends "back home" (in the USA) because of the lack of network I have here. Without a college-like setting, it can be hard to get out there and meet other people.

Did your race, nationality, gender, accent, etc. ever affect how you were treated or how people reacted to meeting you in the UK? Positively? Negatively?

I certainly don't believe my race or gender affected perceptions in the UK any differently than it would have in the USA. Nationality - was not always obvious, by the time I had spent a few years there my accent was very slight and it wasn't always picked up by people. In general being American was a good icebreaker when I was working and had to small-talk with clients or colleagues. People usually would have something to say about whether they had been to the US, where they went on holiday, or maybe they worked there for a time, etc and in return I could talk about what brought me to the UK. With my long-term friends, it was basically a non-issue, although I (very) occasionally got a joke about Americans being [obese, gun-crazy, ignorant of other cultures, whatever]. Always meant to be funny and not malicious, so it did not really bother me.

Any social/cultural advice for others who might come to the UK? How do people in the UK socialize differently than other places you've been?

I think my advice would depend on the particular situation. There is a perception that British people, particularly Londoners, are unfriendly but I don't think that's true. You are less likely to say "hi" to people on the street, or on the tube, but that's just politeness. And there are many Brits who completely buck that trend. Much socialization is built around drinking or going to the pub, so it helps if you like that. But again, there are exceptions to every rule. One thing (I think this is true when you travel anywhere) is not to constantly harp on being American and constantly comment on things that are different or that you find weird. Just because it doesn't really add anything to a conversation and it gets annoying.

What sort of work/school did you do in the UK? What's it like working (or studying) in the UK compared to what it was like where you lived before?

I did all of my higher education in the UK, so I don't have a direct comparison to the US, but based on what my friends and family experienced with US colleges, I think there are some differences. My university was relatively hands-off, without many amenities. Most students did not live in dormitories for more than one year, and many first-year students chose to get their own flats or live in "self-cater" accommodation owned by the university. We didn't have RA's or anything like that. The dining hall was only open at set times and the food choices were limited. I'm not saying this was bad, but it was very different than what my friends had with massive cafeterias, multiple food outlets, options 24/7. Academic life was also very hands-off (I only saw my advisor once a year) and based around 2-4 assignments a semester (essays and exams) with no requirement to attend lectures or seminars. I should point out this may have just been my course (History of Art) - I think science- and maths-based courses had more constant coursework and class time.

As for working - I have a job in the US now, so I guess I can compare. But I actually think it's basically the same. The difference is that I get less vacation time now, and I think it's easier for my employer to fire me because I don't have a contract (I always had contracts in the UK and the process of going through redundancy was difficult and long-term. I think this is because my job would be considered public-sector in the UK, but isn't in the US - I work in a museum).

Does your money go further or not as far as it does in other countries and cities?

Standard of living - basically the same. London is very expensive compared to where I live now, but that's a location difference and not a country difference. I have always been able to lead a comfortable life. But I have never bought property...

What things are more expensive than you are used to and what things are cheaper?

See answer above for what's expensive and cheaper. I think I would be more directly able to compare if I lived in a big city now that would be more the equivalent of London. But I live in the American Midwest now so it's really apples and oranges.

Do you have any stories to share about dating, relationships, gender norms, or sex in the UK? Or any impressions of how these things are different in the UK than in other places you've been?

I don't think the UK has any particular gender norm / sex / dating societal quirks. It is pretty much the same in my experience.

What are your favorite things about the UK? Least favorite?

My favorite things: I find it very interesting from a cultural, landscape and architectural heritage standpoint. I love London. The UK is very small and I miss the compact and usable system of public transportation. The BBC. Going to pubs and drinking beer. British politics. The NHS. There are really too many things to list.

My least favorite things: I guess I didn't like how expensive London was. I missed driving and going on road trips.

What things about the UK surprised you?

I can't think of any surprises. But I have a bad memory and am not sure about how I might have felt back in 2005, when I first arrived!

What did you miss about the UK?

I miss all of the above from my favourites list. I miss my friends and social network that I had built up over several years.

Would you recommend the UK as a place to live, travel to, or neither?

I would highly recommend the UK as a place to travel to or live. I think, as ever, people who travel abroad should be considerate and respectful. I think you get the most out of a place if you can stay there for at least a week. I do not regret moving there at all and I think it greatly enhanced my life.

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