As an American student who studied abroad for a year in Scotland, I had the privilege of experiencing college life both within and outside of the British educational system. While the University of St. Andrews certainly had its own traditions and charms, below are 19 things that are distinctly British, that only those who attended British schools would truly understand. So grab a pint and reminisce with me, as we walk down memory lane: made from cobblestones, of course.
1. We Don’t Need Sororities And Fraternities
British schools just don’t have them. Students bond over similar interests and activities through clubs and sports, and regularly visit the Student Union for fun events that draw people together and encourage camaraderie.
2. You’re Rarely In Class
Typical class study consists of a large weekly lecture with a professor and a hundred other students, followed by a smaller, accompanying tutorial with a graduate student teaching groups of 10 to 12 for focused, interactive discussion. When a full course load is only a couple of classes, you could end up in class two days a week. Yes, in Britain it is possible to have a five-day weekend!
3. A Holiday Means You Need Your Passport
A long weekend holiday means you could go to Ireland. Or France. Or Italy. Or the Czech Republic. Or anywhere in Europe, Asia, or Africa that Ryan Air, Easy Jet, or any other budget airline flies to for sometimes less than $20. Just be sure to pack light to avoid the sneaky add-on fees, and have a blast exploring the world!
4. Your Professors Will Give Your Ego A Reality Check
As Americans, many of us are likely used to getting high marks in school, padding our self-esteem and making us feel like we can all someday become President. This is not how the British operate. An observation made by host and comedian John Oliver so eloquently states, “We’re raised in a rigid class system, where we have all hope beaten out of us.” You’ll walk away from university being humbled, but a better person for it.
5. You Can Drink When You’re 18, And Your School May Even Sponsor Alcohol Events!
In Scotland, they take so much pride in their scotch, that the University of St. Andrews even sponsors a whiskey tasting for incoming new international students, along with haggis and Irn Bru, other classic Scottish staples.
6. School Really Does Feel Like Hogwarts
Quads that date back centuries, classrooms set inside what look like castle walls, cobblestone streets, and ancient traditions upheld with pride. Need I say more? School often feels like Hogwarts and we revel in it.
7. Residence Hall Meals Are Actually Good
Okay, occasionally there’s the baked potato or bad veggie lasagna for dinner on no-meat Fridays, but overall, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert all held their own in terms of quality, variety, and flavors.
8. For Exams, You Might Need To Wear A University Robe
At Oxford University in England, students take pride in the tradition of wearing University robes when taking exams. Exams are taken seriously, and the robe reminds all students of the weight and responsibility that comes with higher education.
9. A4 Paper Is Actually A Thing
If you’re an American typing away on your American laptop, and suddenly go to print, you’ll likely run into problems. That’s because British schools do not use 8.5” x 11” paper: they use A4 paper, which is longer and narrower, and can sneakily mess up your spacing and margins of that organized five-page essay. Or simply not print it at all! Be sure to adjust your computer settings before you make this mistake.
10. You Need To Learn How To Write
It doesn’t matter if it’s a paper on the economic effects of global terrorism or an exposition on computer science: it better be well written. Part of your grade is content and research, but a strong emphasis is placed on whether or not you can convey your original thoughts and articulate a well-reasoned point.
11. On Sundays, You’ll Entertain Yourself
In a lot of smaller British towns, most shops are closed on Sundays, to allow employees a day of rest and to be with family. Restaurant options may be limited, and the movie theaters may be closed as well. So make friends and make dinner: relax and entertain yourself.
12. Your Peers Will Have Great Gap Year Stories
Gap year really is a thing. Students who take a break between their last year of high school or secondary school often travel the world or gain real work experience. They then come to university refreshed, more mature and able to contribute to discussion, and (usually) ready to take things seriously. They’re not burned out.
13. Your First Year Really Doesn’t Matter
Unless you fail to show up and completely bomb every assignment, your first year won’t make that much of an impact on your graduation scores. More weight is placed on your more advanced classes, giving you a bit of breathing room and time to adjust to university life and expectations.
14. There Are Traditions
And you will follow them. And you will love them. If you’re a student at St. Andrews, you’ll know to never step on Patrick Hamilton, or rather, his initials in the cobblestones. You don’t want to fail your courses and not graduate, do you? On the rare if ever misstep, an audible apology to Patrick is acceptable. Then dive into tradition with the annual North Sea dip – a chilly affair held in May in the icy waters off the coast of town.
15. Going To Galas Is Legit
This isn’t a cheesy school dance where nobody attends. Galas are time-honored traditions that are a great excuse to dress up, drink, and dance the night away with your friends or significant other.
16. You’ll Redefine What It Means To Be “Raining”
If you live in Britain, you get used to rain. And various stages of rain. Suddenly a light drizzle no longer requires an umbrella when it happens nearly every day all winter. After all, it’s nothing compared to the downpours that fall!
17. When You’re Drinking At The Pub, You Might Run Into Your Professor
And it’ll be interesting! You’ll really feel like an adult discussing politics and international relations with your friends and professor over a pint. Don’t be intimidated: after a couple of rounds, your professor probably won’t remember that you fudged a statistic or two.
18. You Say You Went To “University” Instead Of “College”
It sounds a bit hoity-toity to the untrained ear but really, this is what British school alumni say: they attended university, not college.
19. In 4 Years, You’ll Walk Out With 45% Less Debt And A Masters
According to the College Board, the average cost for a U.S. four-year degree at a private university for 2015-2016 school year is $130,000. For a British four-year degree which could likely result in a Masters, Top Universities estimates that cost at $72,000. The savings is roughly 45% with a British education.
Featured photo credit: llunàtica81 / St. Andrews University via flic.kr
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