I have been studying abroad at the University of Manchester since September last year. Now that I have lived in the UK for about four months, I am going to share my thoughts about what I learned about this place. If you are planning to study abroad in the UK this year for the first time, this may be especially helpful for you!
- Hooded coats/jackets are a must-have
Before coming to Manchester, I had heard from people that the place had gloomy weather. I was expecting a lot of rain, but how the weather changes so fast was more than I imagined! Even if it is a sunny day without any clouds, a few minutes later, it could be raining. You never know how the weather is going to turn out. You can always have an umbrella with you, but if you are too lazy to do that, just have something waterproof with a hood. My hooded coats and jackets with a large hoods have helped me a lot during the first semester.
- Riding the train is expensive; always book early!
The transportation system of a different country is quite confusing unless you experience it yourself. Manchester has different kinds of transportation, such as buses, trams, taxis, and national rail. There will be more choices if you go to London. When you live in Japan, the train fare is always constant regardless of when you buy it. Here, even if it is about a one-hour train ride on the national rail, booking early will save you a great deal of money. If you are studying abroad for a year in the UK, I recommend buying the railcard, which gives you 1/3 off every travel. I bought it last year during the Black Friday sale.
- The United Kingdom is not a single country
As one Japanese student that never lived outside of Japan before, I never had the chance to learn the history of the UK extensively and always thought of it as a single country. When I went to Scotland to meet my friend, my friend and their Scottish friend were joking about how people not from the UK often make the mistake of thinking that Scotland is not a country. I was confused at first, thinking, “Wait, wasn’t Scotland one region of the UK?”. But then, they explained that Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and England are four different countries, and the “United Kingdom” refers to their political union. I am so embarrassed that I did not know this, but interestingly, many of my friends had the same experience, so I thought this was worth sharing.
- Some purchases only admit UK bank account
First, I want to clarify that you can live without a UK bank account. I have a master and a visa card, which works perfectly fine in all the stores I went to. But sometimes, you may need a UK bank account, especially if you are purchasing stuff online. For example, there is this service called the “Veg Box People” where they give you a box containing multiple vegetables weekly. This only accepts “direct debit”, that only can be set up from a UK bank account. It is not difficult opening a bank account in the UK, in fact, many of my friends do own one. I am using Revolut, which you only need less than an hour to set up an account, and they also give you a UK bank account number.
These are my top picks which I thought were the most practical. Living in a new country is full of countless surprises, which are often common sense for the people there. Because of that, the above surprises (of what I did not know about the UK) came with rather embarrassing or regretful experiences. But that is the point of studying abroad; escaping where you know what “normal” is. Making mistakes that are normal for others makes you more understanding and kind to others and develops your personality.