One of my favorite parts about studying abroad is the chance to immerse myself in another university’s culture. When you are at OU for nine months out of the year it is easy to forget that the university is a unique environment shaped by the preferences and habits of the student body. Crossroads, Canes, Lloyd Noble, the Blender, the clocktower, and many other campus mainstays have much more significance to the students than they would to a passing visitor. These shared locations and accompanying experiences are the perfect breeding ground for inside jokes and the foundation of a community. In the past month and a half, I have gradually been absorbing the student culture here at the University of Sheffield. The first and most important aspect has been the food.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am on a meal plan and have been adjusting to “eating out” rather than cooking my own meals. I usually make breakfast in my kitchenette and get lunch from one of the many cafes and coffee shops scattered around campus. Since some of the coffee shops do not have a full kitchen, the food they can offer is limited to pastries, fruit, and what I like to call “sandwich-in-a-box.” This refers to a prepackaged sandwich by Tiffin Sandwiches which can be found almost anywhere in the city. Here is a picture of the sandwich shelves at the main store in the student union:
There are many sandwich options and I have gradually been working my way through the flavors in search of the best possible choice. Unfortunately, most of the dining options close sometime between 2 and 4 p.m. which means that I often eat dinner at the Edge, a mere five-minute walk from my dorm. The Edge’s crowning glory is the £4 meal, an offering that rotates through a biweekly schedule. Particularly among international students, schedules are decided based on what is available at the Edge that night.
One dining option that is not university owned but is essential to student life is a small trailer called John’s Van. Serving burgers, bagels, and wraps, the traditional meal is a sausage or bacon sandwich served with either coffee or tea for £2.10, £2 if you bring your own mug. Parked outside the mathematics and physics building in the middle of campus, John’s Van is able to capitalize expertly on the tired and hungry students who pass the intersection daily.
All in all, I know I still have a lot to learn about this university and about Sheffield but I sincerely appreciate feeling more at home each and every day.
Compared to the United States, England is very small. I am frequently amazed by the number of historical sites that lie less than an hour away. The country is so densely packed compared to midwestern states. Anyone who has driven between Norman and Dallas or between Dallas and Austin can confirm the open stretches of fields and farmland. I cannot drive down the highway here without passing a town that has existed for centuries every thirty minutes. I might be exaggerating slightly, but as someone who goes to school in a state that has only existed for about a century, it is mind-boggling.
Curiously, most local students have not seen much of the British Isles, much less mainland Europe. Some travel to see football matches, commute to school, or visit family, but it does not seem common to go on day trips, or even weekend trips, to other cities only a few hours away. I am intrigued by this perception of distance so very different from my own.
This difference is just as interesting when reversed. Since the U.S. is so large, students want to know where exactly I live. Of course, this often leads to slight difficulties, since most people here are not familiar with Oklahoma. I cannot blame them since I am wholly unfamiliar with the internal geography of other countries. At one point I was explaining that Oklahoma is slightly left of Tennessee, which led them to believe it was next to California. Given how much of U.S. life is broadcast around the world in the form of news, movies, literature, and music, it is interesting to see which small distinctions are still unknown.
In my short time here, I have explored Sheffield and small parts of London, Manchester, and Leeds. Despite the modern buildings and business that have accumulated over the years, they still retain a beautiful charm of history. Plaques and neon lights are scattered in front of glass facades and ancient stonework. Even on my university campus, sleek, modern buildings with geometric designs stand next to ones that could reasonably pass for an unprotected castle. Given the many similarities between the U.S. and the U.K., I have struggled to explain to other students why I find the U.K. so interesting. I think this juxtaposition of old and new plays a major role.
It has now been about a month since I arrived in England and I cannot believe the time has passed so quickly. Since neither my hometown nor Sheffield are home to a major international airport, I spent almost forty hours traveling from my front door in the U.S. to my new home in the U.K. Although I ran into a few difficulties during my travel, everything since has been smooth and simple. I stressed about switching into the classes I needed but the add/drop period here is three weeks so I had plenty of time to sort everything out.
I am staying in university accommodation, in a single room with a communal bathroom. I am on a meal plan, which is very nice, and I have access to a small kitchenette on my floor as well. It is amazing compared to the towers at OU, although I have been told this is terrible compared to Australian dorms. My floor has only international students, about twelve in all. I have met more international students in the past month than students from the U.K. because we all came here alone, or with one other student, and are trying to make new friends.
My classes are very different from classes at OU. I spend a lot less time in class and there is a greater emphasis on individual study outside the classroom. Rather than the professor teaching you all the information you need to know, he or she simply points you in the right direct and then you are expected to research and learn the material yourself. So far, I quite enjoy this method of learning. I feel more connected with the subject and I tend to dive deeper into the material than I would otherwise. In order to make time for this independent study, classes rarely assign graded homework. Most of my grade is based on the final and one or two other assignments that are due at some point in the semester. I am nervous about the lack of feedback throughout the semester so I will be checking in with my professors throughout the semester in office hours to make sure I am on track with the material.
Overall, this first month has been amazing. People in Sheffield are more reserved than in Norman but their friendliness still reminds me of southern hospitality. The university is large and well-organized, boasting all of the resources I have needed and then some. My housing and flatmates are great. The city itself has every sort of store and restaurant and park that I have wanted. Most importantly, my classes have been captivating and I am in love with this style of learning. I feel at home and I am looking forward to what new adventures the coming months will bring.