Maria Fischer

Global Engagement Fellow

Tag: Sheffield

Behind the Roses

Studying abroad isn’t easy.

If you ask other students at OU about their study abroad experiences, you will probably hear a plethora of positive adjectives. Amazing. Absolutely wonderful. Interesting. Rewarding. The list goes on. If you consult Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat, you will be inundated with beaming faces gesticulating to the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum behind them and goofy grins half hidden behind artisanal coffees and glasses of local wine.

These aren’t wrong. Although the stories may be condensed and edited, the pictures posed and filtered, study abroad is full of beautiful and inspiring moments that you will treasure for the rest of your life. That being said, this is only part of the experience.

I have not had any difficulties. I am in a country where everyone speaks English, I have not lost my suitcase or missed my train, I was able to enroll in classes that I can use for my degree, I have not been harassed or attacked or mugged. The worst thing that I have endured was falling ill in Switzerland and being forced to travel home early, forfeiting my nonrefundable tickets. I know travelers have faced much worse and I know OU students who have faced much worse, but nevertheless, this isn’t easy.

Think back to your freshman year at college, your first month at school. You were in a new place, you didn’t know how anything worked, and you were removed from friends and family. Studying abroad presents a host of similar challenges, set in a completely foreign environment. I expected things. I knew that it would be difficult to be separated from my loved ones, not only by distance but by a time difference. I knew that the classes would be formatted completely differently from those at OU and that I would need to double and triple check every requirement and deadline. I knew that I would essentially be living out of a suitcase, limited in my possessions by what I had brought with me and what I had room to bring back.

I did not expect the sheer volume of new input to be so overwhelming. My shopping excursions took ages as I flitted from store to store, unsure where to buy what I sought. I did not expect periods of excruciating boredom interjected with days of frantic productivity. The rhythm of coursework and errands and social life here evades my best attempts at synchronization. I did not expect the quiet constant unease stemming from the inescapable truth that no matter how beautiful my new linens were and how many new friends I was making, my time was fixed, running steadily through the hourglass, and this was not my home. Constantly poised on the edge of my seat, I hesitate to settle in, fearing to aggravate the sting of my inevitable departure.

I do not wish to dissuade anyone from studying abroad. I adore England and would make this choice again in a heartbeat. Every day is an adventure and every day I stop and think about how lucky I am to be here. I smile frequently, broad, genuine smiles that are rarely captured in photos. I am happy.

Just know, when you attend Study Abroad 101 and browse the programs and write your application essays reverberating with enthusiasm, studying abroad isn’t easy.

Destinations

It takes years to know a place. To settle in, to explore the forgotten corners, to take the roads less traveled. Most of us know our hometowns well and most upperclassmen would probably say they know Norman. Sheffield is entirely new to me. I have spent two months here and all my afternoon excursions and weekend explorations have only revealed a fraction of the city’s charm.

This morning, I took a bus into the Peak District, a nearby national park, and found out that I could purchase a student day pass for trips through the area for only £3. The expansive and gorgeous wilderness of Yorkshire was much more accessible than I had realized. This afternoon, I visited a new coffee shop and found out that the student who sits across from me in my literature discussion section works there. I savored my americano and worked through homework under artfully shaded Edison bulbs that I had never before noticed. I had often walked the bustling high street running out front but never stopped to sip a coffee on their plush teal couches. Last night, I was walking to a convenience store and stumbled upon a cafe connected to an indie cinema. It was only a short distance from the main train station and a mere block from the music venue I had visited the night before.

Although I have settled into a routine, attending the same classes, shopping at the same grocery stores, and the like, it is incredibly easy to try something new. I have an informal list of places I want to visit before I leave and despite my best efforts, I feel like the list is growing faster than I can check it off. Even though I am sure I will not be able to visit everything, I am glad that I will have seen so much of the Sheffield that is never included in visitor guides or on lists of must-see destinations.

Sandwich-in-a-Box

One of my favorite parts about studying abroad is the chance to immerse myself in another university’s culture. When you are at OU for nine months out of the year it is easy to forget that the university is a unique environment shaped by the preferences and habits of the student body. Crossroads, Canes, Lloyd Noble, the Blender, the clocktower, and many other campus mainstays have much more significance to the students than they would to a passing visitor. These shared locations and accompanying experiences are the perfect breeding ground for inside jokes and the foundation of a community. In the past month and a half, I have gradually been absorbing the student culture here at the University of Sheffield. The first and most important aspect has been the food.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am on a meal plan and have been adjusting to “eating out” rather than cooking my own meals. I usually make breakfast in my kitchenette and get lunch from one of the many cafes and coffee shops scattered around campus. Since some of the coffee shops do not have a full kitchen, the food they can offer is limited to pastries, fruit, and what I like to call “sandwich-in-a-box.” This refers to a prepackaged sandwich by Tiffin Sandwiches which can be found almost anywhere in the city. Here is a picture of the sandwich shelves at the main store in the student union:

There are many sandwich options and I have gradually been working my way through the flavors in search of the best possible choice. Unfortunately, most of the dining options close sometime between 2 and 4 p.m. which means that I often eat dinner at the Edge, a mere five-minute walk from my dorm. The Edge’s crowning glory is the £4 meal, an offering that rotates through a biweekly schedule. Particularly among international students, schedules are decided based on what is available at the Edge that night.

One dining option that is not university owned but is essential to student life is a small trailer called John’s Van. Serving burgers, bagels, and wraps, the traditional meal is a sausage or bacon sandwich served with either coffee or tea for £2.10, £2 if you bring your own mug. Parked outside the mathematics and physics building in the middle of campus, John’s Van is able to capitalize expertly on the tired and hungry students who pass the intersection daily.

All in all, I know I still have a lot to learn about this university and about Sheffield but I sincerely appreciate feeling more at home each and every day.

Miles between Us

Compared to the United States, England is very small. I am frequently amazed by the number of historical sites that lie less than an hour away. The country is so densely packed compared to midwestern states. Anyone who has driven between Norman and Dallas or between Dallas and Austin can confirm the open stretches of fields and farmland. I cannot drive down the highway here without passing a town that has existed for centuries every thirty minutes. I might be exaggerating slightly, but as someone who goes to school in a state that has only existed for about a century, it is mind-boggling.

Curiously, most local students have not seen much of the British Isles, much less mainland Europe. Some travel to see football matches, commute to school, or visit family, but it does not seem common to go on day trips, or even weekend trips, to other cities only a few hours away. I am intrigued by this perception of distance so very different from my own.

This difference is just as interesting when reversed. Since the U.S. is so large, students want to know where exactly I live. Of course, this often leads to slight difficulties, since most people here are not familiar with Oklahoma. I cannot blame them since I am wholly unfamiliar with the internal geography of other countries. At one point I was explaining that Oklahoma is slightly left of Tennessee, which led them to believe it was next to California. Given how much of U.S. life is broadcast around the world in the form of news, movies, literature, and music, it is interesting to see which small distinctions are still unknown.

In my short time here, I have explored Sheffield and small parts of London, Manchester, and Leeds. Despite the modern buildings and business that have accumulated over the years, they still retain a beautiful charm of history. Plaques and neon lights are scattered in front of glass facades and ancient stonework. Even on my university campus, sleek, modern buildings with geometric designs stand next to ones that could reasonably pass for an unprotected castle. Given the many similarities between the U.S. and the U.K., I have struggled to explain to other students why I find the U.K. so interesting. I think this juxtaposition of old and new plays a major role.

The First Month

It has now been about a month since I arrived in England and I cannot believe the time has passed so quickly. Since neither my hometown nor Sheffield are home to a major international airport, I spent almost forty hours traveling from my front door in the U.S. to my new home in the U.K. Although I ran into a few difficulties during my travel, everything since has been smooth and simple. I stressed about switching into the classes I needed but the add/drop period here is three weeks so I had plenty of time to sort everything out.

I am staying in university accommodation, in a single room with a communal bathroom. I am on a meal plan, which is very nice, and I have access to a small kitchenette on my floor as well. It is amazing compared to the towers at OU, although I have been told this is terrible compared to Australian dorms. My floor has only international students, about twelve in all. I have met more international students in the past month than students from the U.K. because we all came here alone, or with one other student, and are trying to make new friends.

My classes are very different from classes at OU. I spend a lot less time in class and there is a greater emphasis on individual study outside the classroom. Rather than the professor teaching you all the information you need to know, he or she simply points you in the right direct and then you are expected to research and learn the material yourself. So far, I quite enjoy this method of learning. I feel more connected with the subject and I tend to dive deeper into the material than I would otherwise. In order to make time for this independent study, classes rarely assign graded homework. Most of my grade is based on the final and one or two other assignments that are due at some point in the semester. I am nervous about the lack of feedback throughout the semester so I will be checking in with my professors throughout the semester in office hours to make sure I am on track with the material.

Overall, this first month has been amazing. People in Sheffield are more reserved than in Norman but their friendliness still reminds me of southern hospitality. The university is large and well-organized, boasting all of the resources I have needed and then some. My housing and flatmates are great. The city itself has every sort of store and restaurant and park that I have wanted. Most importantly, my classes have been captivating and I am in love with this style of learning. I feel at home and I am looking forward to what new adventures the coming months will bring.

© 2019 Maria Fischer

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