It’s undeniable that you’ll make mistakes while studying abroad; mistakes are an integral part of the experience that make the resulting lessons you learn that much more invaluable.
Studying abroad promises to be one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences of your life, but in saying that, it can also present itself as one of the most intimidating. A lot can be said about study abroad students and the fact that we are able to adjust not only our lifestyle, but our customs, values, perspective and even our language to adapt to a new and exciting culture; now that’s something that takes versatility. This doesn’t mean, however, that when we do experience a new culture, we don’t make mistakes along the way. Mistakes are one of the most inevitable parts of studying abroad and they help us learn a thing or two about vulnerability and humility.
Last year around this time I was heading to Leeds, England for a six month exchange at the University of Leeds. The first few weeks of my study abroad were filled with numerous trials and errors and it wasn’t until my last couple of weeks of classes that I truly felt comfortable with my environment. This isn’t because I didn’t like British culture, but because my experience was challenging me and teaching me new things every moment up until that point. Adjusting took quite some time and I certainly learned more than what I could write in one blog post.
Studying abroad in Leeds? Here are ten rookie mistakes to avoid that I had to learn the hard way while on my exchange.
1. Buying your produce anywhere BUT the Leeds Kirkgate Market: When you arrive in Leeds and go grocery shopping for the first time, you’ll quickly notice how different the grocery store is compared to home: produce is wrapped in plastic, the brands are different and even the layout of the store is slightly confusing. Your first instinct will be to shop in one place to spare yourself any stress. Sainsbury’s and Morrisons will probably be your two go-to shops, but once you discover the Leeds Kirkgate market, you might be kicking yourself for not making the extra trip in the first place. Three to four days a week, local farmers and grocers sell all kinds of incredibly cheap produce in the open area of the market. You’ll never find better prices at a grocery store, guaranteed. They also sell other products inside the market like fresh eggs, meat and pantry staples too.
2. Missing out on Bierkeller Karaoke on Tuesday nights: There’s something about karaoke night and cheap steins that draws in countless study abroad students to this German themed bar on Tuesday nights. Don’t question the unusual combo, just line up for a £4 stein or £2 pints of beer and cider, pick an oldie to belt on stage and grab a friend to dance with on the long wood benches. Entry is free and the crowds usually come around 10 p.m. (making this one of the earliest nights out during your week). There’s no other night like it, so keep your Tuesday evenings free!
3. Forgetting to wave down the bus: Your hands are filled with groceries and you’ve been waiting for your bus for the last ten minutes (the longest you’ll ever have to wait for a bus by the way). You see your bus coming and you get excited, but that excitement quickly turns to defeat when it drives right by you. You’ve just committed rookie mistake number 3: always remember to wave down your bus! Unlike in some parts of North America, bus drivers in England will not stop for you unless you signal to them that you want to take their bus.
4. Not shopping at Poundland for all your essentials: It may be convenient to shop for your toiletries and groceries at the same time at Morrisons or Sainsbury’s, but it’s certainly cheaper if you go out of your way to shop at Poundland. Its concept is as simple as it sounds: nothing in the store is over £1 (literally, they count the number of items in your basket and that’s the value you pay; taxes included!). When you’re in need of household essentials, this can be one of the cheapest places to shop. Be careful though, not everything is cheaper at Poundland—check out Home Bargains for competitive prices.
5. Not buying your alcohol at Home Bargains: Speaking of Home Bargains (located in the Merrion Centre at the start of the city centre), as odd as it sounds, you won’t want to buy your alcohol anywhere else but here. It might seem odd that a home essentials store sells cheap alcohol, but neither my friends nor I second guessed our purchases once we discovered this gold mine. They mainly sell cider, wine and beer, but their prices can rarely be beat.
6. Not investing in a bike for the semester: If you’ve been placed in a student hall that is a twenty minute walk or more away from uni, you’re definitely going to want to consider buying or renting a bike for the semester. I made the mistake of letting my right-hand side of the road instincts get the better of me and I opted to walk. Looking back now, however, I would buy a bike if given a second chance.
7. Not taking advantage of the free Edge workout classes: I don’t know about you, but my home university doesn’t offer complementary workout classes to students. When you live in student halls in Leeds, you’re automatically given a pass to the University’s gym, The Edge. Included in this is unlimited access to workout classes; they offer everything from yoga and zumba to body pump, spin and Nike Fitness training. The only catch is that you have to sign up for these free classes and they fill up fast. Set your alarm and download The Edge app on your phone so you can grab a spot multiple times a week in your favourite classes.
8. Never finding the Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen rooftop patio: All the locals know about it but not very many study abroad students ever find it. The Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen is located a short 10 minute walk from the University and its casual atmosphere is a great place to come for food and drinks with friends. When the weather eventually gets nice (patience is a virtue…), make sure you check out their rooftop patio; it’s a sweet spot when the sun is shining! The Belgrave also hosts other fun events like movie screenings, cabaret nights, comedy shows and retro game nights.
9. Always taking First buses: You’ll quickly figure out when you arrive in England that the transit system is privatized. This means that a select few bus companies compete for your bus fare on a daily basis. “First” is the most prominent company on the roads but that doesn’t mean they’re the only one. If you’re planning to travel anywhere along Woodhouse Lane and even down into the City Centre or to the train station, try and take a “Yorkshire Tiger” Bus—it’s much cheaper than First and in some zones it’s only £1!
10. Never buying lunch at Bakery 164: It’s the coveted lunch spot for half of the University of Leeds population. You’ll most likely walk right by it on your way to and from uni every morning and afternoon, but what you should really do is stop staring at it and get in line! Their sandwiches are to die for and the location couldn’t be any more convenient for making it your lunch spot.
by Roslyn Kent – University of Calgary – Canada