Studying abroad can be a big move, and a bold one when you have not visited the city beforehand. This was the case for me: the first time I saw Bath was when I first moved here.
A little introduction: I lived in Shanghai, China, and Paris, France, before moving to Bath. I grew up in a French, Chinese, and German household. All of these cultures and places are very different from the UK and the British culture, despite France, Germany, and the UK all being in Europe.
I'm writing this guide especially for people who are unable to visit the UK or Bath itself before coming here, due to various reasons. This is something I wish I had when I was choosing countries and universities to study. I will be covering the pros and cons of studying in the UK and Bath itself, the British culture, administrative things such as banks and healthcare, and my overall experience and advice. I have also included lots of pictures for visual purposes, which I found particularly helpful when choosing.
Why the UK?
My main reasons for coming to the UK are the convenience of speaking English and the internationally recognised universities. The UK is also a relatively multicultural country, some cities more than others, which is usually shown in the wide range of cuisines. In contrast to American universities, UK universities tend to focus on one subject and are typically shorter. A Bachelor's degree is usually 3 years and a Master's usually around 2 to 3 years. There are no liberal arts, although a Foundation year is possible. In the UK, it is also quite common to work immediately after getting a Bachelor's degree, whereas, for example, in France, it is more common to get a Master's first (disclaimer: not applicable in every case). It is also relatively cheaper to study in the UK when compared to the US, although not necessarily when compared to the EU. And for those coming from outside of Europe, it has closer access to places in Europe; London and Paris are only a Eurostar train ride away.
What I noticed, that comes with the convenience of speaking English all the time, is your slowly, decreasing ability to speak your own language. You are likely to speak English all day, every day unless you are in contact with someone who speaks your own language (note: nothing wrong with either speaking English or otherwise, this is just something I've experienced and thought I'd share).
The University of Bath itself
The University of Bath has a high ranking nationally and internationally. It is ranked in the top 10 in the UK in general and for most subjects. The websites I used for rankings when I was choosing are The Complete University Guide and The Guardian. Internationally, it is ranked 173 out of 1000 in the QS World University Ranking. The University of Bath is also especially known for its placements. In 2017/2018, over two-thirds of its students graduated with a placement or study abroad. Obviously, you’ll need to check the latest ranking when you come to apply. Most undergraduate courses offer placements or options to study abroad, and they typically last between 6 to 12 months.
The city and its surroundings
One of the biggest reasons I chose Bath (and for most people) is because of its stunning surroundings. I have heard that Bath is a UNESCO heritage city before I came here, but you don't realize it until you are here in person. The architecture is gorgeous, and both the city and the campus are surrounded by green, which is great for people from big cities. Bath is also one of the safest cities in the UK for university students. Here is the university's guide to living in Bath as a student.
Gallery: Bath city centre
Gallery: greenery on and off-campus
Now watch this video of the bus ride from the city to the university.
The British culture
We've all heard of the "British weather". While it is more or less accurate, it rains less than you'd expect. I would say while it varies, it rains around once or twice a week. It is quite cold and you do need a coat during the winter months, and it only gets warm during September, April, May, and summer.
Living with British housemates has really exposed me to classic, homemade British dishes. Common ones include the classic English breakfast (otherwise known as a "fry-up"), Sunday roast, bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes), toad in the hole (sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter), and sticky toffee pudding.
There is a pretty big drinking culture in the UK and it took me a little by surprise. Although it varies, most people typically drink on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights at least. Common drinks involve Thatchers (cider), beer, vodka, gin, and sometimes whisky. For people who don't drink, you definitely won't be the only one, although you will be in the minority. However, you can certainly still have fun without drinking.
What I didn't know before coming here is that there are several versions of the "British accent". There is typically a difference between the "Northern" (around the Yorkshire region) and "Southern" accents (usually a bit milder). There is also British slang, words such as "peng", "peak", and "chun", which are definitely confusing at first, but you will catch up quickly.
These are things that you should take care of or consider before you come to make your transition easier.
I would definitely recommend getting Revolut. It is a mobile banking app with 0% exchange rate commissions. This app is widely used by international students and easy to transfer money with other Revolut users. However, I would also recommend opening a student account in a UK bank, since Revolut does not work everywhere. I have a Barclays bank account, and other options include HSBC, NatWest, etc.
It is definitely more convenient to get a British phone number when signing up for things, the main reason being that sometimes it does not allow you to enter the country code and the phone number needs to match the nationality of the address. I use and would recommend VOXI by Vodafone. You pay £10 per month and you get 12GB of data with unlimited social media.
You should register with the NHS and the university medical centre before or when entering the country. More information can be found here.
Overall experience and advise
I've had the unique experience of being the only international person in a household of British people. This is quite rare, as there is usually at least another international student. This also varies for accommodations, where, for example, Eastwood tends to have more British people and Polden more international. It can definitely be challenging at times to relate to the conversation and it takes time to adapt. The first few weeks can be confusing but worthwhile in the end.
If you're feeling lost or like you don't fit in, it is completely normal and you probably won't in the first year. The truth is, most of the British people you will meet have lived in the UK their entire life and grew up with the culture. It is quite impossible for you to match up to the same level. Also, being international is what makes you unique, and the difference in experiences and mindset is noticeable. There are also a lot of international students in the University and it is likely that you will find someone with a similar background to yours. Even me, with a French, German, and Chinese background, managed to find someone with the same! The international community is definitely nice to bond over moving to a new country.
To wrap up, I would say that it is definitely worth it studying abroad in the UK. I have met so many people from different countries and cultures. It is an overused phrase, but it does make the university experience so much more interesting and provides a sense of community. Immersing yourself in another culture can be scary and has its pros and cons, but you learn and experience so much more. This is also a great opportunity to gain an insight into how it is to study and live in the UK and decide if it is right for you.