Before leaving for my semester abroad, a number of people asked me where I’d be studying. Many of them asked, why Britain? Isn’t it the same as the US? Then, hearing that I wasn’t going to London, asked, why Bath? What is there to do? I’ll admit that at times I also wondered if I’d get a “real” study abroad experience being in the UK. How much of a difference was there actually between the UK and the US? Plus, I’d be participating in an American study abroad program, living and taking classes solely with students from other US schools and not at a British university. Would I even get to know Britain? And, what’s the point of studying abroad in the UK if you’re not in London? Just over a month into my program, however, I’m happy to report that these myths I had prior to arriving have been dispelled, and I have no regrets about my decision to study in Bath.
First and foremost, the UK is not the US, and while they are similar, I could immediately tell that I was not in America. The British accent was the first real indicator. I’m fairly certain I asked nearly everyone I interacted with my first day here to repeat themselves at least once. And in addition to the accent, there are small differences that I notice on a daily basis. Something as simple as a sign saying “Way Out” rather than “Exit” is enough to make me take note. Beyond these little things, though, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot more than I ever knew about Britain through my classes. Three of my four classes focus on various aspects of the UK, from their political systems to their history with the slave trade. Slowly but surely I have gained a better sense of the UK’s history, various cultural aspects, and some of the linguistic differences. And, contrary to popular belief, the sun does come out from time to time!
Secondly, Bath is the perfect study abroad site. Without trying to sound incredibly cliché, Bath is not too big and not too small. I get the perks of undoubtedly being in a city, without the overwhelming feeling of a hustle and bustle city like London. There are plenty of shops and restaurants, perfectly embedded in the beautiful Georgian architecture that makes Bath famous. The Advanced Studies in England (ASE) program houses it students throughout the city, and my own home is just a 10 minute walk from the center of the city in the village of Widcombe, which is itself a quaint corner of Bath that is wonderful to explore.
Bath is also a great home base. Just a 1.5 hour train ride from London and a 10 minute train ride from the city of Bristol, I can easily take a trip into either of these cities on the weekend for more fun activities. As part of the ASE program, I take a one-on-one history tutorial with an Oxford professor, which means that I also get out of Bath and take a train to Oxford once a week. But at the end of the day, it is nice to return to Bath, where I will never run out of new areas to explore nor cafés to fuel my coffee cravings.
Finally, a word about participating in an American program. One of the best parts about the ASE program is that they go above and beyond to ensure that we immerse ourselves in the city. Every week, staff coordinate various outings to the many events going on in Bath. In my time here I’ve gone to an event nearly every week, including attending a Bath rugby match, a poetry night, and a local youth theatre production. On my own I’ve even found a nearby church that I now attend regularly. Additionally, because the ASE program isn’t run through a university in Bath, it pulls professors (or tutors, as we call them) from various British universities like Oxford and Exeter, so I have gotten to know about them and where they come from as well. And while I do live and study with Americans, it is nice to compare stories about those small differences between the US and the UK, and to get to know students who don’t go to Georgetown.
Thinking back now to all of those notions I had in my head before coming, I feel sort of silly. Of course I was going to feel like I was in a different country. Of course I’d still get to experience “British culture.” But, the past few weeks of realizing all of this for myself has been a wonderful time–and even sometimes embarrassing, like the first week when I had to ask a cashier for help figuring out which coins to give her. I’m learning so much in Bath and am looking forward to all the learning and adventures that await me in the weeks to come.