By Laura Németh
Dear Zurich English Students- and everyone else!
“Beginnings are always messy” remarked the English novelist John Galsworthy and I have a feeling that the beginning of my attempt to write a blog about my life here in Manchester will be a particularly messy one.
This whole week I have been pondering on what you might be interested in most and whenever something funny or weird happened (both of which occurs quite regularly here) I wondered whether I should include this particular event or whether it’s too embarrassing/random/out of place after all and I had much better start with something totally different.
In fact, I still have not managed to make up my mind (which might not be too surprising for those among you who know me) about what exactly I will write about to you now. Shall I start by confirming all of your stereotypes about Britain and its quirky inhabitants? With the pools of water flooding the streets that challenge your long-jumping skills and at times get so large that you’ll inevitably land right where the water is deepest? With the fact that it rains even while the sun is shining? Well, it does. Or should I assure you that the British will never manage to prepare any salad sauce for your salad so that even in good restaurants you are made to feel like a rabbit? (response to that from my British flatmate Beki when I just read the text to her: “We do put sauce on our salad Laura- you cheeky foreigners!”). Or should I start with the amusing posters all over the campus proudly declaring “si se puede aprender español en la Universidad de Manchester!” and “Ja, du kannst Deutsch lernen an der Universität Manchester!” – which form a nice contrast to the fact that final year German literary courses are still being taught exclusively in English and with my having to abandon my brave hopes of improving my Spanish here and leaving the class early not being able to stop myself laughing for half an hour? Or maybe you think it’s worth mentioning that an NHS nurse yesterday officially confirmed to me that British girls are indeed very squeamish and also did not refrain from giving me quite detailed evidence for this popular belief from her work experience (not appropriate to be published here)? For the girls: you should know that yes the boys might not seem very hot-tempered at first glance either, refusing to kiss in public unless they are very drunk and the like. But do not let this first impression deceive you and be especially aware of the fact that they might ask for your number in such polite, complicated and indirect ways that you only realise the next day (when it’s obviously too late already) that that’s what they had actually asked for!
Others, and especially those of you who consider spending your Erasmus year in the UK might be more interested in the “official” student life at Manchester. Rest assured, while the courses are quite challenging- as really interesting courses tend to be – it’s perfectly feasible and the university offers an almost ridiculous amount of activities to balance your academic work. Manchester has the largest student union in the UK and an amazing number of over 300 so called “societies”. “Think of a hobby- and there’s a society for it” we were told during “Fresher’s Week” (a whole week before the beginning of teaching basically devoted to partying and meeting lots of new people). My friends home in Zurich wouldn’t believe this: “I mean, there certainly isn’t a society for knitting, is there?!”. Well, believe it or not there actually is a very active student knitting society called “KnitSoc” whose hilarious slogan is “stitch and bitch!”. If you are more into gaming Dungeons and Dragons, however, or ice-skating, gospel singing, sky diving, pantomiming, promoting gay marriage or practicing Bhangra (a type of Indian dance, apparently) do not worry: There is a society waiting for you in Manchester, too, and trust me they will not let you go and stop bribing you with freebies until you have joined them!
The culturally interested among you and those with itchy feet who have to face yet another semester stuck in our beloved and beautiful but at times rather monotonous Zurich, might want to hear more about the international side of living and studying in such a culturally diverse place as Manchester. 8000 out of 40’000 students at the uni are international students coming from over 180 different countries and I am proud to say that this diversity is very nicely mirrored in the flat that I live in on the campus. I only live with one other exchange students, all of my other 7 flatmates will be here for their whole three-year course and yet they almost all come from different countries and hence also from very different cultural backgrounds. It’s an absolutely unique experience! Every day you can have something else for breakfast- whether it’ll be miso soup, toast and tea, good old birchermüesli, noodles or- now already one of my favourites- my Indian flatmates homemade eye-wateringly spicy Chutneys which fill up half of our fridge!
Bearing in mind that international students have to pay 15,000 Pounds for a single year to study here (ie. 22,500 Swiss Francs!) it is obvious that many of my international flatmates come from a very privileged background and this fact has already resulted in various anecdotes. I won’t give everything away yet but let me tell you that every time Sara, my Egyptian flatmate cooks, we all fear that she will set our kitchen on fire and Akshata, freshly arrived from Bangalore keeps exclaiming while washing up (finally with hot water as I have had to teach her and most of the other international students): “Seriously guys, can’t we just hire someone to do the dishes for us?!”. Well, I should be the last to complain after spilling half a packet of pepper on the hot stove today and making it virtually impossible to breathe in our flat for two hours. The good news is that we can all laugh out loud with each other about these things and I must say that I love every single one of the eight girls that I live with.
Okay, so I think that’s definitively enough for a beginning. You have been warned that it will be a very messy one but I just wanted to give you a flavour of everything that is going on here. So please excuse the mess: next time I’ll focus more on just one of the aspects mentioned above. Or perhaps not. But I do hope you enjoyed it anyway and want to read more next time!
My love from Manchester,