For the spring semester, sophomore Emily Pachta of Wichita studied abroad at Newman University’s sister school in Birmingham, England, and nears the end of her adventure in blog No. 8.
Holy cow, guys, we made it.
Class is over and another semester is in the books. I am writing this on a four-hour train to Rome so I have time to gather my thoughts and share my final tips and thoughts on this crazy great experience. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if you are even considering studying abroad then do it. I feel like I have grown so much, and my understanding of different cultures and traveling is so broad now. But going alone in the depths of winter was definitely scary so here are some things I learned to hopefully help you.
I will not lie to you guys. Birmingham is known as the “rougher” area of the U.K. I wouldn’t say it is more dangerous but if you mention Birmingham to people from the U.K., they might give you a weird look or ask why you decided to study there. Be prepared as it isn’t the most incredible home base city.
There are good things about it though. You are in the middle of the U.K. so if you want to see lots of England and Scotland, most places are a train ride away. My train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland, was only four hours, London is about two hours away and Liverpool and Manchester are less than two hours. I was also able to keep my scholarship by going to Newman University here as Newman in Wichita has a specific program with them. It was 100% worth it to keep my scholarship, even in Birmingham. I appreciated that I didn’t feel super pressured to go out all the time or sightseeing because Birmingham is just another big city. As you can tell I have lots of thoughts on this, haha, so if you want to hear more of my opinions, let me know.
Now onto logistics. There is an app for the buses call NXBus mTicket. From here you can buy a mobile ticket and get a student discount. I got the student monthly passes for around £40 and that was unlimited rides that month. Each ride is £2 so it was worth it to me. This app only allows you to purchase tickets and doesn’t give bus updates but Google maps works great for finding the buses and stops you need to use to get where you’re going.
Trainline is a great app for train tickets and getting the 16-25-year-old rail pass was so worth it. The rail pass cost £30 flat rate for the whole year and works in all of the U.K. It takes about 30% off each train ticket and is great if you plan on traveling in the U.K. a lot. I used it for Liverpool, Edinburgh, lots of London trips, and smaller towns around Birmingham.
The weather is much more temperate than in Kansas.
From January to May, it got a bit warmer, and while a coat isn’t a bad idea, you won’t need a huge winter coat and super thick clothing. Layers are key. January was around 40℉ and now it’s highs of 70℉. While that might seem like a big difference, the 70℉ days are often rainy or cloudy so not too hot.
You cannot use your U.S. Amazon Prime membership for Prime benefits in the U.K. Basically, each country has its own Amazon. I used my Birmingham Newman email for a free six months of Amazon Prime U.K. and it was great. I obviously only need it for less than six months so I canceled it once I left the U.K. and never had to pay. I would highly recommend doing this in case there is anything you need to order that you may have forgotten at home. Also fair warning, Amazon U.K. doesn’t have as much as Amazon U.S. so you can’t rely on it for everything like in the U.S.
I have already talked about this but you need to download Revolut. It allows you to use Apple Pay and not be charged a conversion fee. You can also get a physical card but I would do it that way before you leave. It has been my lifesaver and it can be used for tons of different currencies, not just pounds.
You also need to download WhatsApp to communicate. It is a texting app that everyone uses. That’s it, haha, that’s all I have to say about that.
Food is different obviously. “Wow, Emily you have never mentioned that!” I know, I know. Just be prepared. Bring some familiar snacks so you aren’t as homesick at first.
Being homesick feels awful but truly it is a great thing. It means you have something or someone to come home to. I may be saying this to make myself feel better about feeling homesick, but many of the other study-abroad students and solo travelers I have met have agreed.
From my understanding, most European schools do a couple of assignments or exams at the end of the semester and that is worth your full grade. There are no weekly tests or quizzes that are worth a grade. You may have assigned readings that are recommended but often not required. This means procrastination is even more brutal and it makes it a bit harder to take online classes through Wichita Newman, but not impossible.
Newman is in a very suburban area. The city center is an hour bus ride away and most grocery stores are about 20 minutes by bus. There is a grocery store called Asda, similar to Dillons, that is a 30-minute walk or 15-minute bus ride but that is pretty much the closest thing to Newman. This can be difficult to go out sometimes because the buses stop running around 1 a.m. normally.
The campus is a similar size to Wichita Newman but there are a few different perks that I would love to see here. There are two coffee shops, a cafeteria where you can buy individual items, a small shop with crewnecks and sweatshirts with the logo, and an on-campus gym for all students. And of course, the on-campus bar but I think Kansas’ 21 age drinking limit might not allow that to happen in Kansas!
I am finishing this blog on my couch in Wamego, Kansas. While I am so glad to be back, I am so appreciative of my time in Europe and I cannot wait to go back. I was able to talk to some other students about studying abroad and it was so nice to be able to share my insights and see others embark on this journey. I hope everyone enjoyed reading my blogs throughout this semester and even if you don’t go to Newman, hopefully, I made you laugh, cry or be entertained. Either way, thank you for sticking with me and just remember, if you are thinking about taking that vacation, making a big career change or any life-changing decision — do it.
Change is exciting and you will learn things you never even thought about. Thanks again and for any inquiries, as always, my email is [email protected].
Study abroad opportunities at Newman University
Students are encouraged to participate in Newman University’s overseas study and exchange programs, which contribute to individual and intercultural development.