„Be open for everything!“ This was a sentence I encountered a lot of times before I went to England. Now I must admit that even though it sounds natural and simple to achieve, it is the most helpful and importand advice I was given. And I assure you that if you bear this sentence in mind and if you really try to be open and not being expecting anything too particular, you will be prepared for the exchange.
I spent my exchange year on the south coast of England, in a town called Bournemouth. My host family (Michael and Susan, my host parents) and I lived in a little, typical British brick house with a carefully maintained garden. Fortunately, I lived there with another into-exchange-student from Finnland (see left one on picture). We got along fantastically and I must say that in many situations I was indeed thankful to have someone at my age to talk to. This was especially important to me because my host parents had rather been distanced and cool when it came to feelings. I had expected too much interest and I thought they would be eager to show me some nice places and traditions of their country, but in the end I had to accept that they would not take me anywhere and that they expected me to plan trips by myself. They also usually didn’t ask me about my Swiss life or my family and reduced their participation to my exchange year to the essential things which were part of their into-contract (such as cooking or doing the laundry).
At this point it is necessary to mention that British host families are paid for taking students. I am pretty sure that this was the main reason my host parents were hosting students and during my stay I could feel that they did not really consider me as part of the family, rather a guest who is paying a rent. I was also astonished how strictly the food was ruled in the house. My host sister and I were not allowed to take anything from the fridge except butter and milk. Things such as yogurts, salad, meat or cheese were taboo. Another important fact about the British food is that most of their meals involve potatoes, baked beans or toast. You really must be aware that most British people unfortunately are not as wealthy as Swiss people, so you will probably not get the luxury you would expect. For example: A common tradition in Britain is the famous „Sunday Roast“. A dish which is in most families served every Sunday. Here you’ve got a picture: Every Sunday my host parents’ daughter would come over and have a Sunday Roast with them and their own children. While they were eating, my host sister Ella and I had to wait upstairs until they had finished. Afterwards our host mother would arrange two more plates for us which we then warmed up later on in the microwave and ate on our own. I was pretty disappointed that we were in such a way excluded of the family life, especially since participation to British life was one of the aspects I was there for.
Bournemouth itself was simply beautiful. Even though the weather was pretty awful most of the times, the coast line was amazing and the range of shops large. Since Bournemouth is one of the most popular destinations for student exchanges, you have to be prepared to encounter loads of foreign students on buses and in town center. In summer I almost daily heard Swiss or German people talking to each other in Primark or on one of the buses. So if you are looking for the „traditional Britain“ and a distinct English environment, I would recommend choosing a location more northern. Since the prices in England are much lower than in Germany, my friends and I could eat out or go to the cinema regularly. I really recommend the local pubs, which you will surely find everywhere all over the country. The food is simple but good and convenient and the atmosphere is simply fantastic, sociable and always friendly!
During my stay I went to a local school. I didn’t have to wear a uniform – thank God – but I could only choose three subjects and consequently had a pretty empty timetable. I only had 14 lessons a week and no offers for any extended courses as for example sports, arts or the like. I was really disappointed of that, but I am pretty sure that I was simply unlucky in this case. Other exchange students who went to England was a huge range of school activities offered. The empty and irregular timetable complicated meeting new friends regularly or building up relationships, though, so I spent most of my free lessons and lunch times with my host sister or other exchange students. Other than in Switzerland, you only take real exams at the end of the year. There are only assessments during the terms which are used to assess your progress, strengths and weaknesses. I would really recommend taking one scientific subject or history, because you will improve your English exceptionally well by writing essays or reading historical extracts.
Since my host parents did not show me anything of England, I decided to organise some trips by myself. The cheapest way to travel was by coach (similar to a Swiss „Car“), for which we even got a discount as students. Trains were much more expensive. I always decided for a town and did some research on local attractions and shopping destinations. My other exchange friends would then give me the spots and locations they would like to see and which I used to plan a day programme. Our favourite destination was London, of course, since shopping and culture was on the top of our „to-do-list“. I especially recommend the Camden Market and the British Museum! But of course you must not miss Oxford Street either! On other occasions, I visited towns nearby such as Brighton, Bristol or Cambridge. In the latter case, I visited Cambridge to take the Cambridge English Advanced exam (CAE), which I would definitely recommend you to take too since you get a certificate that proves a B2 level in English language. I would contact into or a local school when you are in England, because most of the foreign language schools there offer the exam as well as a preparation course. Another way to travel were the trips offered by into itself. Even though they are a bit expensive, the prices are reasonable! I went to Scotland’s capitol Edinburgh together with my host sister (pictures below) and it was definitely worth the money, so I can only recommend the offers. The programme was flexible and included a destination for every kind of taste: museums, shopping, a Halloween tour and also some casual sightseeing as for example a walk to the Edinburgh Castle were part of our stay.
I hope my report has informed you the way you were looking for and that you now feel a little more safely about your decision whether to visit England or not. All in all, I would always go on an exchange year again because the experience as well as the independency are simply unique and the language another huge advantage you will be thankful for a lifetime. Just believe in yourself and make the best out of it!
Take care and „Be open for everything!“ Kisses Zoe