Coming to Cornwall to study at Exeter University as an EU student was an adjustment from having lived in Brussels for around 13 years. It was not the first time that I had come to the UK – I had been to London on various school day trips to see musicals, theatres, museums and even to do some Geography by looking at Canary Wharf, as well as a school trip to Kent.
I still remember the day my mum helped me move into halls that September. We got up very early in the morning to catch the first Eurostar out with four suitcases and two backpacks. Then in London we had to catch the next train to Falmouth – you could say that we had a very long journey and were very tired when we eventually made it to Tremough Campus, as it was called then. After having picked up my keys and student card, we made our way to the flat I was allocated. All of my flatmates had already moved in when I arrived and they introduced themselves and seemed very friendly. I was really lucky compared to other people as they became some of my best friends whilst at university. It was quite overwhelming meeting all these new people… I was struggling to remember names! I took me a while to remember them all, as I had never been put in a position before where I was the new person or we were all new, as I had been in the same school since the age of four.
It is at university that the question “where are you from?” became one of the more difficult questions for me to answer. I always have to smile and look at one of my friends who knows the story. I end up telling them that my parents are Greek and Austrian, that I was born in Jerusalem and that I live in Belgium. I know that this is a lot to take in but such unusual mixtures of nationalities were very common at my school back home. It was just normal and everyone knew where everyone was from quite easily. I did not think that this was that special until I came to university and everyone made a big deal about it. I think it also had to do with that I was in Cornwall and not in Exeter, as there are more international students there than here. One of my friends at the beginning of term kept introducing me as her friend who speaks four languages, which I did find odd at first and also felt a bit embarrassed that this was the first thing they knew about me. The thing is that I grew up with all these languages from a young age and have also had to learn them at school to a high level. People always say to me that they feel lazy when they see me as they only know English and not any other language. In response to this I just say that I was privileged to have grown up in a multilingual environment and that with English you can still work abroad as most companies working language is English, but there are still plenty of opportunities to learn another language. The best way would be to immerse yourself into it by living in the country!
Since coming to university I have noticed how different the Brits like being compared to their neighbours on the continent. It is quite funny to notice these little things and to see how your flatmates react to when you point it out. There has been a lot of making fun of each other these past three years, which has been fun and will be missed. Especially with the way the washing up gets done and also with A levels, as I never did them but instead did the European Baccalaureate, where you have to write five written exams and have four orals as your final examination, as well as doing a total of 12 subjects in your final year. This was also the reason that I was shocked at how little work we had to do for my course in first year, where I wrote three essays for the whole year. This, in my view, did not prepare me well enough for second year, where the grades actually counted towards my degree. I was seeing how much work my friends from home had, who were in Germany, the Netherlands and France, which made me feel as if I was being lazy even though I was not, since there was no work to be done.
All in all I am very happy with the decision to have come to the UK to study as it gave me a different perspective on various views and I am better able to understand the British mentality, as well as having made some of the best friends. I would recommend to anyone thinking of coming to the UK to study to come and have a look for themselves, even if it is just coming to open days.
MC has just graduated with a degree in Conservation Biology and Geography and also worked as part of the FXU front desk team. She is Greek Austrian and lives in Belgium and loves playing sports and hanging out with friends.