Going from Sunshine and Smiles to Grey Skies and the Unknown

Let’s be real, life in your twenties is full of daunting decisions, some you want to make on your own and some you want all the help you can get. One choice that you might want advice on is where to attend grad school; especially if you’re thinking about studying overseas. I’m the type of person that went in blind and got lucky, but some do like to prepare themselves, so there is a lot to expect and prepare for when you move from a country of sunshine and smiles to the country that’s known for its overcast days and somewhat reserved people.

Expect to always be cold

In California, unlike some States in the U.S., we don’t get the usual seasonal weather. As a California girl, when I think of winter, I think of 70°F (21°C). I live in a happy sunny bubble of tan skin, shorts and beach days. Let’s say when I walked off the plane I was rudely awakened to my new reality. It was still considered summer in England when I arrived and yet I was freezing, and I knew my first stop would be to the mall to buy a coat. I have been in Birmingham for two months, and yet, I have experienced more cold weather in these eight short weeks than I have in my entire life, and it’s not even winter. This fact makes all the native Brits laugh; that I’m wrapped up in 3 layers with a faux fur coat, and they are only wearing a regular jacket. So, if you’re coming from somewhere with warm weather, know that you might have to buy a proper coat or two (or ten) when you arrive in Birmingham.

Expect to miss your favourite food

I love my IN-N-OUT and Chick-fil-A. I will proudly say that I am that person who will go through a 1am drive-thru to get some greasy food. There is nothing like a double-double and animal style fries or a spicy chicken deluxe with chick sauce and waffle fries. There’s a real fast food culture in the US that’s missing in Birmingham and Europe in general. It’s probably a good thing and the reason why everyone here is generally more healthy, but honestly, sometimes you want that greasy fast food on those long study days.

But what they lack in drive-thrus they do make up for in some pretty delicious snack food. Little shops will litter the streets with many kebab and pizza stands all claiming to be the best in the city (picture ‘Elf’ with the best cup coffee), but most will sell easy and affordable snacks that will fill and warm you up on the go. Also, the coffee culture here is so good.  I know I can’t compare it to Italy, but I have yet to be disappointed by a cup of coffee.

Good coffee, good food, with good friends

Expect to miss your American Netflix

It never even crossed my mind that the Netflix wouldn’t be the same. I was watching Supernatural for the 4th time when I arrived in Birmingham, and I was no longer able to access my episode. I stopped, googled, and then called my best friend and complained for about 20 minutes.

The Netflix shows here are not terrible, but they cater towards the English audience. Most shows in the US are not available, so say goodbye to Supernatural, Criminal Minds, The Office, New Girl, and most popular US movies and TV shows.

But say Hello to new shows and movies that you have never heard of before, and you will quickly get addicted. Yes, I’m talking about Luther to everyone who is as obsessed as I am.

Expect to be in awe at least once a day

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t stop randomly somewhere because I see or hear something that takes my breath away. Yes, I know that sounds so cliché, but it’s the truth.

When you arrive here, you will instantly be in the tourist mindset of wanting to take pictures and videos and seeing the city with new eyes. My biggest piece of advice is not to lose that view on life and the city. Keep the tourist mindset while you’re living here because it makes life so much more exciting.

It will be so easy to get used to your surroundings after a week or two, but remember that you’re only here for a semester, a year, two years or possibly three. So, take as many pictures as possible, stop and look at a random house or flower because you’ve never seen anything like it. Or do something even scarier and talk to the stranger next to you and listen to the lift of their accent because when you’re back in the States, it will be far and in between for you to hear those soothing English accents.

Expect to make great friends

When I decided to go to UoB, I knew no one here, and I knew no one in England. I just said, “I’m okay on my own, I don’t need friends, I’m going to focus on my MA and nothing else”. Well, I was wrong, oh so wrong.

Actively going out to make friends is always such a hard thing to do. I consider making new friends almost like speed dating, but most of the time it’s harder to get rid of a friend than the potential love interest. So really there’s a lot of pressure to connect with the right people.

By merely saying hello to people, or asking them how they are or even just smiling at them I have made some of the coolest friends without even trying. A lot of people will be in the same boat as you and won’t have a group to talk to or hang out with; some people want someone to acknowledge them, so because I had a smile on my face I have made countless friends from all around the world.

Friends make your experience 100 times better

Facing your new reality 

Moving to another country can be the scariest thing you will ever do, but it can also be the bravest and the smartest decision you have ever made. You’re going to be uncomfortable and miss the things you’re used to, but I bet your new surroundings will make you happier than you ever imagined. Like me, you’ll soon get used to the weather and the food, you’ll meet some great people, and hopefully, you will wake up every day and think about how crazy it is that you’ve made it to Birmingham!

Gianna has just graduated in MA in English Literature and Culture.