I have now lived here in Birmingham for two and a half months, and already quite a few stereotypes of British people have proved right: they do call you sweetheart in corner shops, they are as polite as they are said to be, and they do apologize a lot. Even though I have always loved the British accent, the culture itself wasn’t the main reason why I chose to apply to the UK. I wanted to improve my studies during the exchange and to be honest, even though I knew how to speak English I was quite jealous of people who were really fluent and natural with it. So I thought that maybe an exchange semester in the UK would provide interesting courses and give me more courage to speak English at the same time. So far I have been happy with my choice; lecturers are really engaged in the subjects they are teaching and assignments that we are given are interesting and close to practice. There are many discussions held within lectures and I have found it easy to be part of those discussions as well – even though I’m often the only exchange student there. My English is also more fluent now, but unfortunately I am not yet able to grasp the strong British accent.
Birmingham itself wasn’t so familiar to me before I came here. It is actually the second largest city in the UK with almost two million residents. Almost half of its residents are migrants and you can really notice the ethnic diversity everywhere you go. It surprised me as well that there are more canals in Birmingham than in Venice. However, the canals are less of a prominent feature than they are in Venice, since Birmingham is much larger than Venice. Birmingham is often said to be the ugliest city in the UK but it has its beautiful places as well, and in my opinion this is really a compact and nice city to spend an exchange semester. You get the feeling that you are living in a big city but at the same time distances are not too long. I am particularly happy to live here at this time of the year as they have the Frankfurt Christmas market in the city centre. Almost the whole city centre turned into a Christmas wonderland in the middle of November with beautiful Christmas lights and lovely stalls selling food, drink and Christmas ornaments.
The location of Birmingham is also perfect for exploring England. Public transportation is fairly cheap and as Birmingham is located in the middle of England the distances are not long. Most of the exchange students here prefer organising trips on their own but the Student Union organises trips to other cities in and outside of England as well. I’ve myself visited London, Liverpool and Oxford and we are planning a trip to Manchester.
People from Birmingham are called ”Brummies” and they have this really strong ”Brummie accent” here which caused some problems in communication during the first weeks. Even though I still sometimes struggle to understand what some students say in lectures or what people say to me in the street my overall picture of people here is a really positive one; for example one Sunday I went for a run in the morning and some nice old man shouted good morning to me as if it had been the most normal thing to say to some random girl.. That really made my day! People might also start a chat with you in cafes or in a library.
The application process went smoothly and I found the personnel of the university very helpful – they answered to all my emails very quickly and were willing to help me with all my questions. Birmingham City University guarantees accommodation for exchange students, which was quite relieving information when I first got accepted to the university. In other words I didn’t have to worry about the flat, I just registered on the university’s website and ticked a few boxes and that was it – after a few weeks I received an email from my university offering an accommodation. I live next to my campus so it takes five minutes to get to the lecture and two minutes to the university’s gym. I share my flat with five other exchange students. Even though I was used to living alone in Finland I have been more than happy to share a flat with other exchange students. It is one of the easiest ways to meet new people and to get used to living abroad as you are all quite lost at the beginning.
All in all I have had a splendid time in Birmingham and I can warmly recommend an exchange in the UK. Especially if you’re a friend of tea, love good music (no matter where you are, at the gym or in a bar, it’s always surprisingly good) and want to spend you’re exchange in a lively city and explore England at the same time.Mira Rantatupa Birmingham City University (Management and Organization, 9/14-12/14)