This article is written by April Huynhha who’s studying Biological Science at The University of Edinburgh, UK.
International exchange programs are popular nowadays. As visiting students, you can experience a different learning environment, culture, and history. You can also develop cross-cultural friendships and a global perspective. But don’t let that put you off. Studying abroad may sound like a challenge, but I assure you it is gratifying and lots of fun! Many Australian students choose the UK as their study exchange destination, and this article describes my typical day as a university student in the UK.
My not-so-typical days in the UK
During my first year in Edinburgh, my days were unstructured except for class time. Weekdays were colourful thanks to the various activities hosted by the Student’s Association. On weekends, I wandered around the beautiful, vibrant, and welcoming city. It was fun exploring the hidden corners, narrow alleys, centuries-old castles, world-class museums, and art galleries. Old Town, New Town, and West End are well-known for architectural beauty. It’s a sightseeing experience of rich cultural and architectural history. And ideal for Instagram posts, too!
On holidays, I travelled to different areas of Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. Their rich culture and history amazed me time after time. Oh, and as a side note, there’s plenty more to celebrate besides the world-famous UK’s music festivals. I still remember vividly my memories of Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Hogmanay (Scotland), Notting Hill Carnival (London) and Bonfire Night (around the UK). Fireworks, processions, open-air concerts, street performances and parties were spectacular!
That was all well and good for me, as a foreigner, to explore the diverse scenery and rich cultural heritage of the UK. Many fascinating experiences! But now, in my final year at university, I stick to a daily routine, which makes my days productive but still enjoyable.
Early start for a refreshing day
Like most university students, I consider sleeping a luxury – especially when approaching assignment deadlines and final exams. But I always try to live every day by this proverb: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”.
Waking up early frees me from anxiety of being late and rushing around. I’ll have time for a nutritional breakfast and a relaxing walk to the bus stop. I often review lecture notes while commuting, because I live quite far from the campus. For exchange students, most UK universities now offer on-campus accommodation or homestay opportunities. So, your journey to class can be much shorter than mine.
I also love to indulge in my favourite pastime – losing myself in a non-uni book while on the bus. Knowledge is power, be it related to my major or not! Reading books and taking nice walks in the morning are my ways to reboot my mind. Some of my friends beat stress through punting and hiking (quintessential British experiences), but I can’t do that every day, can I?
Debunked: Misconceptions that make you ‘fear’ the UK
There are many famous clichés about living in the UK, such as the greasy breakfast and the thick fogs. But, like most stereotypes out there, such clichés don’t always reflect the reality. Most UKers (and Brits) don’t eat bacon, egg, sausage, black pudding, fried mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, and toast every morning. Unless you’re staying in a hotel or B&B, full breakfast is mostly eaten as a weekend brunch (not a day-to-day meal). A special treat once a week doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
The weather isn’t all that bad either. And it depends on the city you’ve chosen. UK climate is moderate – not boiling hot, not freezing cold. Some areas get a lot of sunshine in the summer, some get more rain and lower temperatures. But mornings (and afternoons) are generally perfect for walks, fresh air, and light exercise.
Time at university
As a biological science student, my timetable is composed of lectures, tutorials, computer workshops, lab-based and problem-based learning sessions. Classes take one to two hours, except lab sessions which may take longer. I could never complain though; hands-on experiments are lots of fun! My timetable changes every semester as I take new compulsory and elective courses. But classes never start before 9am nor finish after 5pm.
I normally have classes on three days per week. On other weekdays, I work part-time in the university’s gift shop. And yes, that exists – selling merchandise, apparel, and souvenirs for visitors. When not in class or at work, I spend time on independent study. Reading around the subject is vital for my studies (and possibly yours, too). Most courses in the UK require students to write essays in final exams and in-course assessments. So, I regularly go to the library for its excellent online and hard-copy resources.
Since I often stay at the university till 6-7pm, I try to prepare food every morning and bring it with me. Yet another reason for my early riser habit! If I happen to forget, I’d buy food from a student-run snack bar or café. The campus cafés and gardens are ideal for catching up with friends at lunch and tea/coffee break.
Evening and night activities
My university has a great diversity of clubs and societies. I assume it’s the same for other UK universities. Non-academic activities really make student life more enjoyable and exciting. You can join societies to have fun, develop social skills, and make friends with shared interests. Although I’m not an official member of any society, I frequently get involved with campaigning and fundraising events. They help with my personal development and I can support a good cause, too.
A guide to nightlife in the UK
After long days at university, I like to go out for a bite with friends. It’s worth noting that British cuisine isn’t boring or tasteless. Here’s another cliché about UK food: fish & chips. In fact, there are various hearty traditional dishes (such as Shepherd’s pie, Bangers and mash, Sunday roast) and diverse fusion dishes influenced by Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, among other cuisines. Your campus may have restaurants and bars, but it’s a good idea to try more options in the city. As in Australian culture, pubs are a huge part of nightlife here in the UK.
If you’re a fan of music and performance arts, the theatres have got you covered. Musicals and ballet shows are famous here in the UK. But the artists have more to offer – orchestra, opera, drama, stand-up comedy, variety show. My all-time favourites are Les Misérables, Wicked, and shows of English National Ballet or Scottish Ballet. But truth be told, any classic and modern acts are great for you to get a feel of the UK history and culture.
Student offers and discounts are common for shopping, dining, buying cinema and theatre tickets. So, don’t forget to ask the staff and have an affordable night out in the UK!