Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Eternal Expat (Series 2, part 2b) - The Expat student: A stranger in a strange land

For the first part of this series, and the first chapter of part 2 click on these links: part 1, part 2a

One of the brilliant things at English universities is that most people starting there have chosen to study as far away from home as possible, are all looking for friends, and all taking part in "freshers' week", a week-long introduction to all things of importance and of no importance at all at university. It was here that I met friends I still hold close to my heart.

Bristol Uni provided all first year students with accommodation and I loved my new little realm. There was a great, liberating feeling of freedom attached to knowing all my things could easily be packed in the boot (trunk for all you Americans out there) of a car and ready to move on. Move on I did, having a different place to live every year I was in the UK, and having to store my things during summers as well, during my first degree. Thank goodness my parents had organised 'surrogate parents' for me here, a lovely English couple, who used to live in Vienna and who took my things during summer and were at the ready for the odd 'family weekend' when I needed it. 

It was here that I lost my teenage habit of being too shy to go up to people. It was also here, that I adopted my trusty disclaimer "I'm an Austrian, not an American!", turning the immediate frowns, upon hearing my US accent, into smiles. And meet people I did. From all over the UK (learning Wales and Scotland are very different from England), France, Germany (One of them is now living around the corner from us!), Latin America and Australia and pretty much everywhere else in between.

Thanks to freshers' week, I was able to make lasting friendships with the English and share flats with them, unlike the Erasmus students, who came to Bristol only for a year and arrived so late in the year that they had no choice but to live with their country men and women, losing out on the whole point, in my mind, of being abroad. Some of my best friends are still in Bristol, and this, I guess, is one of the hard parts about being an Expat. Loving the freedom of living on your own, where you want to be, and at the same time missing your loved ones. 

Another thing being an Expat taught be is that you cannot please everyone. At each visit home there would be somebody annoyed that I had not got in touch, and it was always me who had to get in touch. I left after all, didn't I? By the end of my Masters I had gotten the hang of focusing on those friends who didn't complain. By the end of my PhD I had learned to focus more on who I wanted to see and what I wanted to do.

Incidentally I also ended up loving being one amongst very few in my degree course, as most other girls didn't seem to know what to talk about with me once they heard what I studied. One even asked me what it meant. Hello?! Aerospace Engineering.... what else could it be about than things that fly? I loved it so much, I shared a flat with four guys in my third year, much to the horror of the girly girls in my surroundings.

In the thick of things, in a university with students from all walks of life, I was able to make up my own mind about the big divide between English properness and their raw honesty, and sometimes downright rudeness, a polarity that fascinates me to this day. I learned balls were not just for dancing waltzes, but for big meals and playing (drunken) games. I was taught how to tell someone they are an a******e (w****r, etc... insert what you like) while still being polite, particularly in writing - something the English excel at, and I was always in awe of. 

And the food! Whoever says English food is terrible (the Germans are wont to do this; if in a glass house do not throw stones) has never had it. I have never eaten so many great cuisines from so many countries. Still, Hubby and I have not been able to find anywhere we can eat as good Indian food as in England, not to mention the Chinese and Thai. We regularly import Cheddar and English sausages. I know! We live in the country of sausage, but they are just too solid for us here. We like our meat with a bit of variety, some onion, chives, apple,..... in it, and the English sausages are great for that.

Not to mention the Cider. One of my first discoveries in Bristol, and the beginning of a long-standing love. I had not, as most English kids, got drunk on it with 16, and therefore had not learned to hate it at an early age. As it turned out living in the West Country was a a great place to be for lovely cider too. Then there are the pork pies, the fish and chips, the fish pie.... and the desserts! I am getting hungry just writing about them. 

The one thing I did not pick up , unfortunately for my Mom, was the English accent she so wished for, but I did pick up some choice and not-so-choice words, making it difficult for my family back home to understand what I was talking about anymore (loo being bathroom, knackered meaning tired.....). 

More about working as an Expat next time. Read you then!

PS: Das ist das Ende des zweiten Teils meiner Serie zum Leben als Expat. 


  1. Really nice piece of literature.
    I especially like your observations of the British and agree wholeheartedly on your
    comments on their cuisine.

  2. Thank you! Glad there is someone else out there who appreciates good English food!