Cheltenham, United Kingdom
Students studying abroad through Brethren Colleges Abroad (BCA) United Kingdom (UK) attend the University of Gloucestershire, a British university enrolling approximately 6,700 undergraduate students that is divided into three principal faculties: Media, Arts and Technology; Business, Education and Professional Studies; and Applied Sciences. Some of the most popular majors from Elizabethtown to attend the University of Gloucestershire are within the biology, business, communications, education, fine and performing arts, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology, and social work departments. However, many students otherwise can fulfill their Elizabethtown College Core Program courses in Cheltenham, which is a very popular option for most students. Registration takes place entirely before leaving for the semester abroad through Denise Kendry, BCA resident director in the UK. Students must review module offerings on the university's website and submit their preferences to Denise. Most of the time, all students receive the classes they need as long as they submit them on time. British professors grade very differently from American professors and achieving an A is often very difficult, even though a 70 percent and above is considered an A. In addition to standard university classes, all BCA students take the course "British Life and Culture" for one credit with Denise, which discusses various aspects of British life ranging from healthcare to the political system to diversity.
"Classes there are not based on regular homework or projects; every professor assigns two or three major papers at the beginning of the semester and they will not mention them again so get them done as soon as possible. One class I would personally recommend is RPE 104 Introducing Islam. It fulfilled an Elizabethtown core requirement and we went on two field trips to mosques. It was a fairly simple A and super interesting." (Kelly Clayton '12)
"It is important to remember that British students have been studying their courses before they get to college, so be careful with upper-level classes and certain areas of study like music or the arts." (Sarah Poulle '12)
City and Local Attractions
Cheltenham Spa is a borough in England with a population of about 112,000 people. It is located in southwestern England in the British county of Gloucestershire within a larger picturesque rural region known as the Cotswolds. Although the town itself is not large in comparison with many other British towns, there is still no shortage of attractions both in Cheltenham and in the greater Gloucestershire area for international students.
Some of the primary attractions for students to visit include:
- The Promenade
- Pittville Park
"Cheltenham has an amazing downtown area where there are plenty of places to eat, drink, and shop. In the fall, Cheltenham hosts a literature festival where many prominent authors come to speak. In the spring, it hosts the Gold Cup, the largest horse racing event in all of the United Kingdom. The town is buzzing all weekend with excitement." (Michael Behounek '11)
"Cheltenham is an awesome town and it is surprisingly big. There is lots to do there and in the surrounding areas; if you need ideas, just ask Sandy or Denise (your English moms) and they will take care of you. If you go just twenty minutes outside of Cheltenham you can go to Gloucester and see the Gloucester Cathedral where much of Harry Potter was filmed. While I was in Cheltenham, I visited London about eight times and still didn't get to see everything that I wanted." (Kelly Clayton '12)
Students who study abroad in the UK often recommend buying a cell phone in the UK in order to communicate primarily with study abroad friends and British students. The most common telephone companies from which students will buy cell phones include Vodafone. Most students buy pay-as-you-go phones, which cost on average about £5, and students buy additional minutes as necessary throughout their semester abroad in increments of £15. Students recommend communication with family and friends in the United States through Skype or a similar video chat program. All rooms at Regency Halls come with an Internet connection free of charge to the student. There is a post office near the university and most students have mail delivered directly to their host family's house.
"Adjusting to life in the UK isn't as difficult as it might seem at first. It is similar to American life. However, reverse culture shock was very difficult for me because I had made such a wonderful connection with the UK. It really depends on the person." (Michael Behounek '11)
"I didn't necessarily have culture shock; I really missed home for the first week or so, but once I made some British and American friends I was fine. The lack of academic standards was initially one of the hardest things for me to experience. The British students did not seem to care about their grades or schooling, and it was hard for me to ditch the books for the night and go out dancing. I was ready to come home after more than four months of being away from my family and friends, but I did not experience reverse culture shock until I went back to Elizabethtown in the fall, where things with my Elizabethtown friends and Elizabethtown life were so busy. Life in the UK was busy traveling and having fun, and while Elizabethtown is fun, too, it is full of work and "must-dos." I did get back into the swing of things, but it took awhile and was hard for awhile." (Kelly Clayton '12)
"Culture shock came more in the form of small things. At first the direction of the light switches and traffic confused me. As I had more time interacting within my new environment, the easier adjusting became. Reverse culture shock coupled with homesickness made it difficult when returning to the United States." (Heather Robertson '11)
"I had a little culture shock upon arriving in the UK. They speak English there, but it is a totally different way of life. There were LOADS of new words and sayings. Upon returning back to the United States, I had major reverse culture shock. It was hard for me to readjust to life back here. I had much less freedom and I missed the way of life there. I missed my English friends, and no one was around who understood English life so I felt like I was alone in my Englishness." (Stephanie Smith '12)
During the fall semester, BCA UK offers a weekend excursion to the British county of Cornwall, the southernmost county in the UK. Students visit the towns of Newquay (the self-proclaimed surf capital of the UK), St Ives (an old fishermen's village), and Land's End (the southernmost point in the nation). Additionally, the program provides optional day and weekend trips during the semester. Locations have varied in the past but typically include visits to Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, the Roman baths in the town of Bath, Stonehenge and the adjacent town of Salisbury, and Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, to see a play.
BCA UK students are also invited to attend the weekend-long BCA-sponsored International Student Conferences in Derry, United Kingdom for fall semester students and in Strasbourg, France for spring semester students. The conferences are open to all students studying abroad in a European country through BCA and feature speakers related to divided societies for fall-semester students and American-European relations for spring-semester students.
"We went on about seven trips and it seemed that every other weekend we went somewhere. The best part about the BCA trips is that you don't have to worry about anything; BCA handles the transportation and the actual event. Go on the BCA trips; they are all worth your time!" (Kelly Clayton '12)
The program directors of BCA UK provide all students with a monthly food stipend, which equals approximately £10 per day. Generally food prices are similar to American prices, however British portions are considerably smaller. Students have the option of using the money to eat out at local restaurants or go grocery shopping and cook for themselves in the apartments. Many students recommend the latter option and saving some of the stipend to put towards personal travel. British food is fairly similar to American food and some commonly served meals include baked beans, chicken, pasta, potatoes and other fresh vegetables, and pies such as shepherd's pie. The British tend to eat most meals later than Americans, including breakfast around 9:00 AM, lunch between 2 and 3 p.m. and dinner around 7 or 8 p.m..
"I have Celiac disease, which means I am allergic to gluten, so if I found food to eat so can you. Some popular places to eat in Cheltenham were the Two Pigs Pub and JD Wetherspoon (go before 7 p.m. because the prices are cheaper). Many places double as a restaurant and pub so they won't serve food after 6 p.m., so plan accordingly. The British tip if the person serves you your food; most likely if you are eating in a pub, you get your food from the bar yourself so there is no need to tip." (Kelly Clayton '12)
The vast majority of Elizabethtown students studying abroad in the UK choose to use their American bank accounts in the UK and not open a separate British account. Automatic telling machines (ATM) are widely available throughout the country, but it is important to remember when withdrawing cash from ATMs that there will be transaction fees of varying amounts depending on the bank. Most students recommend taking out large sums of cash infrequently to avoid paying these potentially large fees. It is also important to keep currency conversion in mind as you travel to the UK. The official currency of the UK is the British pound, which can widely fluctuate with the American dollar. Most Elizabethtown students spent between $1,000 and $4,000 on personal travel and other expenses.