I had the opportunity to study abroad twice. Once with a scholarship for a summer course in Germersheim in Germany and once for a semester on a scholarship in Sheffield, UK. Both experiences were very different.
In Germany, because it was a month course, and we were a group of people with similar interests (German language and simultaneous translating) we had a lot of things organized for us. Every weekend there was a trip, either to Heidelberg, or through the wine country or to see the cathedral in Speyer. We had culture evenings, where we were getting to know each other’s traditions, music and general fun trivia – it even included learning how to dance a Sevillana.
Sheffield was very different. The university is big and they get hundreds of exchange students from all over the world each semester. So obviously no spoiling us there. Personally, this experience was for me a coin with two very different sides.
The positive side were the people, meeting so many of fellow students, spending time with them, getting to know their cultures, having a laugh at the silliest things. With couple of people I’m still in touch, 16 years later.
What was the downside then. Well, the whole thing about British culture is, that you might think highly of it. The history, great literature, great scientific discoveries – most of it is still happening. But what you don’t know about is the drinking, subtle racism, class division and a way of thinking that shows complete ignorance for other parts of the world – even Europe (which by the way rose to the surface during the Brexit referendum). It’s not that everyone I met ticked all those categories – although most British people I met at that time were in a constant state of inebriation. A lot of students had no idea what was happening in the world – unless a British person was involved. They were surprised that the whole world doesn’t know things they grew up with, as if they were lacking imagination to see other countries having their own cultures separate to the British one. Being from Poland, which in 2002 was not in the EU yet, didn’t make things easier. I had a 10-minute conversation with a post worker who didn’t seem to understand the difference between Europe and the European Union. They were still placing my country in Eastern Europe – although the political reason for this divide wasn’t valid for over a decade and we are clearly in Central Europe. Not to mention some thought I came from Czechoslovakia – country that hasn’t existed since 1993.
A lot of it might be coming as a reminiscence of the imperialism, some of it might be the education system, some maybe due to what is being served on TV and boulevard press. All that led to a huge disappointment on my part with a country that I held in high regards. When I reluctantly moved to London in 2006, some of those opinions of mine got corrected for better and some have gotten even worse. To this day when I speak about my life in the UK I do it with mixed feelings and part of that is my semester in Sheffield.
One thing I have noticed after trying to find some nice pictures from Sheffield to upload here, is that out of almost two hundred of them (before the era of digital cameras) 99% were from different parties. So clearly, I must have had some great times. The only thing I can present to you here are the sheep and one with my friends who I still keep in touch.
One thing I want to make clear. The whole experience, good and/or bad, was fantastic. I wouldn’t change it for anything as the amazing things that I took from it largely outweigh any annoyances I might have had. If you, dear reader, ever get a chance to study abroad, take it! Without hesitation.