Making a Home in England: Advice from an International Student

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I’d like to say that moving to England is the easiest thing I have ever done but that would be a lie. The morning after settling in I woke up, walked into the kitchen and realized that I didn’t have a mug to make coffee in. I cried and I felt stupid for crying and that made me cry even more. I was on the other end of the world (figuratively, still on the same continent, after all), and I was alone, and I didn’t even have a mug to make coffee in.

Going to the Starbucks in Cartmel bar drove the point further home (or – abroad, as it were), when I ordered my usual and fishing for coins, realized, that I had no idea what any of them meant, or how much they were worth. Feeling foreign and humiliated I paid with a twenty pound note and took my venti and my sadness to my room where I cried for the rest of the day while trying in vain to comprehend English coins.

I found plenty of things besides the coins to confuse me, like the weather which consists primarily of rain but with too much wind for an umbrella. There’s the North-South divide which is not only a geographical but also a socio-economic (and linguistic) concept. There’s the Great British Bake Off, (which I had to start watching so as not to stand out) and have never in my life been so stressed out about cakes. Then the dinner-tea-supper conversation wherein to every person who ever said “I will make tea,” I had to ask “Do you mean the beverage or an evening meal?” The Manchester City vs. Manchester United debacle – I don’t understand, why can’t people like both teams? What’s wrong with that? I also don’t know anything about football. Oh and the daddy longlegs, which everyone knows are NOT daddy longlegs because actual daddy longlegs are spiders, and these palm-sized alien monsters have wings!

This list could go on and on. Everyone reading it who comes from abroad can probably add their own confusing English concepts –English breakfast (or as I like to call it, lunch), Northern accents, the concept of pre-drinks. Plus the weird politeness-off, when you say “bye” to someone and they say “have a good day”, so you say “have a great day” and they say “have a lovely day”, and before you know it you’re twenty minutes late to your lecture determined to have a bloody fantastic day.

Originally when I was writing this, I was going to give explanations for all these things and some actually useful advice, but the truth is, I don’t have any. You can’t understand the difference between North and South until you talk to a Northerner, you won’t comprehend the sheer beauty of English breakfast until you eat it after a night out, which you had after pre-drinks, during which you played Ring of Fire (the rules of that game are to this day entirely unclear to me, but I play anyway). The point is – there is no singular way to deal with moving to England. You can stock up on all the coffee mugs in the world before you settle in and still find something so wildly confusing and unfamiliar on your first day that you’ll end up crying anyway. And that’s okay. None of us would have moved here if we didn’t like a challenge. There’s a learning curve, and all these things will eventually start making some sense, and maybe they won’t – why is it called pie, if it’s not sweet, or even a dessert? I don’t know! I like pie anyway.

I have five mugs now, waiting for me to pick them up from storage with all my other things so I can move into my English home, in this English town, with my English flatmates. And with absolute certainty I can promise to every new fresher coming to Lancaster from abroad, worried and afraid that they won’t fit in, or they won’t like it, or they won’t get used to it – don’t sweat it. It will all be absolutely fine. Innit, mate?

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