Studying Abroad: In search of the full experience, American vs British perspective – Part 1 of 2

After some weeks of participating in EE, I have noticed that many of the readers are considering studying English abroad for a period of time, be it a short course or a longer exchange programme. I have been lucky to have lived and worked in both countries and, as I sit here tonight sipping on my glass of wine and reflecting on my own personal experiences, I have decided to write a short article on how the cultural and social differences between American and Britain may have an impact on your overall/total experience during the length of your course in either country.

What is a total experience? Well, when you are considering a destination to study English, I believe it is important that you consider all aspects of life of what will be your host city or country. You should take the opportunity not just to learn English but also to take this travel opportunity to expand your horizons and experience a way of life, a different reality, than the one that you know today. So, from my perspective destination matters as much as the quality of the school where you will study. After all, variety is the spice of life so I urge you to strive for the best possible experience when you choose a destination.

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Following is a very personal perspective of America vs Britain from a view point of a foreign student who will stay in the country 1 to 6 months. It is only my opinion but one that is based on several years of living in each of the countries and having travelled extensively in both regions. Of course, as any opinion it is biased towards my own preferences in life so I give you the material and let you make up your own mind.

Cities

The USA is a vast country with sprawling cities that feel like carbon copies of each other with little, if any, in terms of interest. They tend to be filled with endless rows of fast food places, large shops and even larger shopping centres, and oh yes, some very large people in some very large cars as well. After you get over the initial amazement at the size of it all, most cities have very little to keep a foreign student entertained or engaged. This is of course a generalisation as cities in the north-east and north-west coast do tend to have a lot more to offer. If you don’t have a car, it is simply impossible to see American cities, again, with a few exceptions in the regions previously mentioned. As a foreign student, unless you have the money to travel far and wide, you will be confined to a very narrow set of experiences.

I saw this film on the internet the other day, it won the Oscar for best short film last year. To me, it is a pretty good representation of American cities where everything is branded and logos and large corporations dominate the landscape. If you have ever been to America – this film will make lot of sense. It is brilliant in its capture of a certain, but large, aspect of American cities.

Part of the film

Official trailer

The UK in contrast is a tiny and very crowded place but with an amazing variety of experiences to be found by travelling only a few kilometres away from wherever you may be staying. You don’t ever need a car to enjoy the UK and if you know where to find the right deals you can travel across the county for a few pounds. In some of the cities like York, Bath or the small towns of the Cotswolds you just simply feel transported in time. My husband and I particularly enjoy the old pubs, specially those in the countryside where one can have a good beer after a good brisk walk while sitting in a beautiful stone building, surrounded by ancient wood and with a roaring fireplace – what a great British experience..!! There is an old pub just outside Oxford that has been an Inn or Pub for over 1,000 years. It is located next to the river, close to where the River Thames is born. It is said that Lewis Carroll would frequently stay there while writing Alice in Wonderland (1865) and, if you have read the book, when you walk in the surrounding countryside you can see the relationship.

Why does all this matter? I certainly hope that if you made the effort and expense of travelling abroad to study you will not be confined to your room and your classroom. Your chances of having much more interesting city experiences are grater in the UK than the USA, or so I believe from my own experiences.

Society

Britain, as most of Europe, is a far more gentler society than the USA. This stems from the basis of socialism where egalitarianism is seen as desired goal and not as an evil political ideology as it is seen in America. It is a far from perfect system but it does provide for better social integration. Many of the new property developments include social or low cost housing that is government subsidised so you end up with fancy and expensive apartments next to apartments for people that are on government benefits. This means that people of different economic classes may play in the same playgrounds, take the same tube to work or simply drink a beer in the same pub – all of this helps in the social integration. As a foreign student this also means that your opportunities for meet different peoples and integrate to your local neighbourhood are much greater than in America where, relatively speaking, the sense of community is practically absent and the rich and poor live very far apart.

One thing that pleasantly surprised me the first time we went for a walk in the British county side was the concept of “right of way”. This is an ancient law that allows walkers or horse riders to pass through private land on what used to be ancient trails, some of them dating back to the Romans. The fields may be planted or full of cattle or sheep but you still have the right to walk through them as long as you don’t disturb the crops or animals. This allows people access to any coast or places of natural beauty that are held in private land. In America if you enter a private farm, well, it is highly likely you will get shot at. If the bull attacks you or you fall of the cliff because the trail was not well maintained, well, in Britain that is your own problem, as it should be.!!! In America, no, you blame others and you sue for lots of money.

How will this matter to your experience? I believe that it is, relatively speaking, a lot easier too integrate into UK society due to the socialist nature of the society which puts a much higher emphases on communal living than American society which is based more on individualism.

Healthcare

The UK has the NHS which is a socialised health care system. The quality of this varies from hospital to hospital but you can get obtain some of the best health care in the world and it is 100% free. As a foreign student with a student visa you qualify for any type of treatment while you are in the country. Actually, even illegal people can’t be denied treatment.

In contrast, if you go to the USA, you better make sure you have some good insurance in Brazil that will cover you during your trip. In America you can, and will, be refused treatment if you can’t prove you can pay the exorbitant prices. It is interesting how the policies that Obama is now introducing in America, and that so many on the political right so fervently oppose, no Conservative Party of any European nation would even consider them as they would be seen as too right-wing, too uncaring and inappropriate for civilised modern European society.

Is free quality healthcare a human right or a benefit? Well, I am sure we all have our opinion, but regardless, it is something that you should carefully take into consideration.

This is now getting to long for one post so we will divided into two sections. The second part will discuss:

  • Newspapers & Evening News;
  • Music;
  • Safety;
  • Diversity and Internationalism;
  • and some conclusions.

See you soon !

Sobre a Autora: Meu nome é Luciana, sou professora de Inglês, leciono em São Paulo e recentemente criei o Inglês Interact. Morei e trabalhei por alguns anos na Inglaterra (Londres e Cambridge).

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44 comentários

  • 15/04/10  
    Renan diz: 1

    Olá, tudo bem? Descupa a indelicadeza mais quem não tem o inglês bem desenvolvido não pode acompanhar a matéria?

  • 16/04/10  
    Savan diz: 2

    Congratulations!
    Very good article. It will be a point of reference when I choose a city to study english.

  • 16/04/10  
    Pedro diz: 3

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience with us. The short article is just great, forgive me the pun. I never visited either of the contries, but I agree the most that you said. The only downside going to Uk to me is the listening, I think the british english more dificult to learn.

  • 16/04/10  
    Paulo Monteiro diz: 4

    Olá Luciana, gosto muito dos seus posts aqui no EE, mas tenho de admitir que fiquei de certa forma decepcionado com este artigo. Como alguém que passa sua experiência, que pode influenciar em decisões de outras pessoas, acredito que você foi muito parcial e tendenciosa; deixando claro que cada um tem seu ponto de vista, mas vendo apenas o lado ruim dos EUA e o lado bom do UK, sem contar o destaque desnecessário para as vantagens “socialistas” da Europa. Espero que na parte II do artigo você destaque o que pode ser bom e ruim em ambos. Na minha humilde opinião, esta seria a forma mais interessante para os leitores decidirem por eles mesmos qual o caminho a seguir.

  • 16/04/10  
    Patrícia Sales diz: 5

    Quero fazer um curso em Londres daqui um ano mais ou menos e os seus post tem me ajudado muito. Parabéns pelo post!

  • 16/04/10  
    Genesis diz: 6

    Muito bom o texto, apesar de eu não ter lido todo ainda(Li só a metade).

    Eu tenho uma pergunta a fazer para Luciana ou para os confrades do EE:

    Logo no 1° parágrafo tem:
    “…as I sit here tonight sipping on my glass of wine and reflecting on my own personal experiences”
    Eu entendi alguma coisa, mas não tudo que a expressão quis dizer.

    Agradeço a contribuição novamente.

    Abraços

  • 16/04/10  
    Eduardo Silva diz: 7

    Hi Luciana and everyone else!

    This article was too much interesting, because it showed a comparative between England and USA. Of course, it’s based on author’s opinion, but maybe she is right. We live in a world influenced by USA manner and sometimes when we are let to reflect, one main question comes upon us. Is this the best way to live, I mean, with all the violence, all the individualism and all the concurrence for more and more money? I loved the criticism on the world flooded by trade brands. This brings one diferent point of view about our current society. Wouldn’t it better if we could live without all the money, luxury cars and all the things that come together?
    I know it’s dificult to think about it because of the big influence for the rest of the world, but that’s a question for the entire world to think about…
    Luciana, thanks for the contribution. I wish to travel to USA someday, but of course, I’ll take into accout the things you said here, and sure, I want to go to England and enjoy all the pubs, landscapes and polite people who live there according to you…

  • 16/04/10  
    Eduardo Silva diz: 8

    By the way, Luciana!!

    I loved your article because one more thing: you wrote it in English. I could learn some words that I’ve never seen before… thanks one more time for your contribution…

  • 16/04/10  
    Juliana diz: 9

    Concordo com o Paulo Monteiro, o post foi um pouco “tendencioso” demais. Não há nada de bom nos EUA?

  • 16/04/10  
    Jurema diz: 10

    Hello
    Thank you for the article.
    What do you think about to go abroad and stay less than one month studing? Its better than not to go?
    Bye

  • 16/04/10  
    João B. L. Ghizoni diz: 11

    Hi, Luciana and EE readers!

    I found this post quite different from the usual ones, especially because it is much longer than the ones we’re used to reading. And this might be good or bad, depending on each one’s point of view.

    Overall, I think the text is well written, although I believe some proofreading should have been done before publishing it, mainly when we take into account the fact that it is coming from a language teacher and directed to language learners. Slips such as “more gentler” might have been avoided.

    Also, I think that in saying that “destination matters as much as the quality of the school where you will study” is too radical. Does the author mean that a good school can’t be located in a poor neighborhood and vice versa? It is risky to say so. And I tend to agree with Paulo that it was too biased towards socialism.

    All in all, this post provided us with a lot of information about both the US and the UK, and those thinking about choosing one of this countries to learn some more English can benefit from it.

  • 16/04/10  
    João B. L. Ghizoni diz: 12

    Genesis, o significado do trecho que você transcreveu é: “…enquanto estou aqui sentada esta noite bebericando no meu copo de vinho e refletindo sobre minhas experiências pessoais…”. Espero ter ajudado. Boa sorte. Bons estudos.

  • 16/04/10  
    Marco Brainiac diz: 13

    Very good Luciana,

    I would be thankful if you could add Audio to improve our listening.

    bye

  • 16/04/10  
    paulo diz: 14

    That’s nice article. Thank you for share your experience. well i think that your point of view was not inparcial, of course you prefer to england, and only mentions the good things in this country. Same goes like it’s great to read reports from people who know a particular culture and divides us.
    Thanks

  • 16/04/10  
    Luciana diz: 15

    Renan: a lot of articles in this blog are written in Portuguese so I though it may be a good balance to write articles in English.

    Paulo: this article is biased towards my personal preferences and I state this at the start as you do mention in your comments. My personal views and opinions are thus stated throughout the article. Readers should look at all angles of a story and I present but one, from my perspective which is tilted towards a preference for life in Europe.

    I would like to encourage other members of EE that have a different view and/or experiences to write an article presenting the case for study in the USA rather than Britain.

    Genesis: the simple version – I am sitting, drinking wine and thinking (Eu estou sentada bebendo meu vinho e pensando) – sipping (bebendo em pequenos goles)

  • 16/04/10  
    Otávio diz: 16

    Hello! excellent article! I didnt know that there were so many diferences between UK and USA. Well, following your point of view its better go to UK( though the british accent is a pain in the ass).
    I would like to know more about canada… Have you ever been there?
    Look forward to the second part:D

  • 16/04/10  
    Murilo Faria diz: 17

    Parabéns, ótima matéria!!!

  • 16/04/10  
    Elias diz: 18

    Great article, Luciana!

    I love all of your posts, but this one is just perfect!

    I’m anxious to read the second part.

    Congratulation!

  • 16/04/10  
    Claudio Victor diz: 19

    I liked so much this article. It introduces us more about these two countries. Congratulations Luciana. I have never been in either countries, but I wish I could go to USA, specially to New York. Like Pedro said, the only downside going to Uk is the way they speak, it’s a little different and hard to understand.

  • 16/04/10  
    Karen diz: 20

    Maravilhoso o Post! Parabéns!

  • 16/04/10  
    mili diz: 21

    Well I just read this article. I am too upset right now to make any comment. I will write something tomorrow….

  • 17/04/10  
    Paulo Boute diz: 22

    Prezada Prof. Luciana,

    Keep doing the good job!

    Yours,

    Paulo Boute.

  • 18/04/10  
    Luiz Otávio diz: 23

    Parabéns pelo artigo, Luciana, muito interessante! Mas tenho que concordar com o Paulo em questão de você ter mostrado apenas a parte boa do RU e a parte ruim dos EUA, e assim como ele, espero que você possa balancear isso na próxima parte. E tenho que concordar com você sobre a parte sobre o RU ser um lugar com pessoas mais educadas e tal, e obviamente um lugar melhor para um estrangeiro estudar, o único problema que vi nisso é o fato de eu não me interessar pelo inglês britânico e sim pelo americano, tanto na parte do sotaque quanto na parte da ortografia. :/
    Bom, é isso. Mas uma vez parabéns, fico aguardando a segunda parte.

  • 18/04/10  
    Denis Albuquerque diz: 24

    Este artigo tem muitas verdades mas é muito imparcial. Concordo com o Paulo Monteiro… “Espero que na parte II do artigo você destaque o que pode ser bom e ruim em ambos.”

    • 18/04/10  
      Alessandro diz:

      Denis,

      Você não quis dizer parcial no lugar de imparcial?

  • 18/04/10  
    brenda diz: 25

    olá,queria saber todos as palavras com traduçao que usamos muito no dia-a-dia em casa,escola e outros lugares e tambem os verbos em ingles obrigada xauzinho♥

  • 18/04/10  
    Renatho diz: 26

    Good article , but it’s difficult for whom is begining.

    anyway, thank you for this article.

    Genesis… sobre o tua pegunta…

    Ela disse que equanto estava setada naquela noite tomando um copo de vinho estava refeletindo sobre a suas esperiecias pessoais.

    obs: nao é traduçao letra por letra ok, fiz a analise do que ela disse.

    take care
    bye bye

  • 18/04/10  
    Lucas Carioca diz: 27

    Que delícia de artigo! Para aqueles que não conseguiram entender o texto, taí uma excelente oportunidade para estudar mais.
    Para aqueles que criticam a preferência da autora pelo Reino Unido, é compreensível, afinal, todos temos nossas preferências.
    Já estive algumas vezes nos Estados Unidos e sempre a trabalho. Falta agora visitar Londres.
    Eu sei que uma viagem de negócios não é como morar no local, mas já dá para se ter uma ideia da cultura apenas pelos simples contato com as pessoas. Apesar da viagem ser de negócios, se conversa sobre outros assuntos, principalmente as diferenças culturais.
    Parabéns!

  • 18/04/10  
    Franco Luigi Mendes diz: 28

    Hi Guys,
    I think what would be really nice if you made a post with tips on how to use either or, neither nor and so…
    Thank you in advance,
    Franco Mendes

  • 19/04/10  
    Patrícia Pereira diz: 29

    Muito bom o texto para pratica da Leitura…

    Patrícia

  • 19/04/10  
    Fabio diz: 30

    Algumas pessoas estão mencionando que o post foi tendencioso, porém acho que não entenderam oque a autora quis dizer… ela menciona que é uma posição dela, e que de fato prefere a inglaterra do que EUA.
    Acho que todos deveriam agradecer por ela expor alguns pontos de sua vivencia e não criticar sua posição… Acompanho o EE há alguns meses, e está sendo de grande valia para meu aprendizado no ingles… parabéns a todos que fazem parte do projeto.
    Também gostaria de agradecer à Luciana por nos contar um pouco de sua vivencia e nos proporcionar mais esse modo de interação com a cultura dos dois paises.

    obrigado, e concordo plenamente com sua posição.

    Fabio

  • 19/04/10  
    Luciana diz: 31

    Thank you for the feedback.

    Some general comments:

    * Article discusses my point of view and opinion and thus not intended to be impartial.

    * I believe it is important for readers to be presented with different points of view and/or perspectives of any given subject. We don’t have to agree with all views but it is important to understand them.

    * Articles should spark debate and maybe even controversy, this is how we develop views and opinions.

    * Spelling mistakes – umm…yes, some got away – but I can always blame it on the wine ;-). I write for fun in one sitting and if I went back to proofread I would end up rewriting the article. Maybe we can play a game – find the spelling mistakes :-)

    I encourage members of EE to try to write in English, it teaches you a lot about a language.!!

    Maybe someone can write an article to balance this one out – any takers?

  • 19/04/10  
    Flávia Magalhães diz: 32

    Luciana,
    Que tal comparar alguns aspectos com o Brasil também?
    regards

  • 19/04/10  
    jose diz: 34

    quando se mora fora, penso que é preciso aprender nao só a lingua, mas a cultura, e também respeitá-la.

  • 20/04/10  
    João B. L. Ghizoni diz: 35

    Que bom que você fez essa perguntinha ali, Alessandro. Muitas pessoas confundem as palavras “parcial” e “imparcial”. “Ser parcial” é ser tendencioso, é “puxar para um lado”, ao passo que “ser imparcial” é, obviamente, o contrário, ou seja, é não demonstrar preferência por nenhum lado, é ser neutro.

    Acho que o prefixo “in-” (que nessa palavra se transforma em “im-” por causa da letra p que inicia a palavra “parcial”) faz as pessoas pensar que “imparcial” é a palavra “negativa”.

    Gostaria de aproveitar para corrigir dois errinhos que fiz no meu comentário anterior: a) no terceiro parágrafo não deveria estar lá a palavra “in” antes de “saying”, na primeira linha; b) na penúltima linha do último parágrafo deveria ser “these” em vez de “this” antes de “countries”. Sorry for these slips.

  • 20/04/10  
    João Santos diz: 36

    Oi, parabéns pelos 2 artigos! muito legal.

    Se você ou alguém pudesse falar sobre a Austrália/New Zeland/ África do Sul sobre esses assuntos… seria muito interessante.

    Anyway.. parabéns!

  • 20/04/10  
    Denis Albuquerque diz: 37

    Isto Alessandro. Quis dizer que o artigo foi parcial. Obg pela correção. Abraços.

  • 21/04/10  
    Allan Medeiros diz: 38

    I really liked it.
    One more please. ;)

  • 21/04/10  
    mili diz: 39

    Luciana I wish I had time take it because I really didnt agree with you….

    I totally agree that you have the right to say your opinion, but that doesnt give you the right to say things that are NOT true at all…

    The reality is you had a bad experience and now is trying to blame it in the country (culture).

    I lot of people who visit Brazil also have had bad experiences….

    I was so disgusting when I read about the society and you said that people who visit private farms can get shot at. That is so untrue that I asked myself how could she says such a bulshit! There are a lot of things I dont remember right now because it was a 2 min reading, but I intend to read it all over and then show you how wrong you are about it

    I’ve been very busy but as soon as possible I will reread it and tell you my opinion based in facts not in fiction!

  • 22/04/10  
    Alessandro diz: 40

    Caros leitores,

    Diante da repercussão do artigo eu gostaria de expor a minha opinião a respeito.

    O English Experts não é um site de cunho jornalístico, ou seja, nós não temos obrigação nenhuma de publicar matérias imparciais, vamos deixar essa tarefa para o Jornal Nacional, a Revista Veja, Época e etc. Se bem que eles muitas vezes são falsamente imparciais.

    O nosso objetivo aqui é publicar dicas e a experiência das pessoas no exterior. É muito bom ouvir a opinião de uma pessoa que tem clara preferência pelo Reino Unido. O máximo que nós podemos fazer nos comentários é concordar ou não com a autora e justificar o porquê.

    Achei o artigo brilhante e vou incentivar a Luciana a escrever mais artigos a respeito. Volto a repetir, ela não tem obrigação nenhuma de ser imparcial.

    O EE está de aberto a colaborações, se você quer publicar um artigo em resposta a este, basta enviar para nossa equipe. Acesse o link abaixo e saiba como colaborar.

    http://www.englishexperts.com.br/contribuir/

    Abraços e obrigado pelos comentários de todos.

  • 22/04/10  
    mili diz: 41

    Alessandro assim como voce, provavelmente outras pessoas gostaram deste artigo. Agora falar que a intencao aqui eh dar dicas, eu diria que eh um pouco desvantajoso dar boas dicas de um e falar pessimas /falsas coisas do outro. Deixa eu citar um exemplo: se ALGUEM mora em Sao Paulo e escuta um outro ALGUEM dizendo o Rio de Janeiro e otimo, mas Sao Paulo eh uma vergonha total. Se voce for ao Rio voce encontrara muitas belezas naturais mas em Sao Paulo voce soh vai encontrar favelas, desempregos, roubos e etc….
    Voce nao acha que se um paulista escutasse um carioca falando assim de sampa nao ficaria chateado?

    Pois eh eu moro em US e conheco bastante pessoas e sei que nao eh nada disso que foi citado ai. Pelo menos nao ate onde eu saiba.

    Eh como muitos gringos que acham que o Brasil eh soh carnaval / macacos, bananas e mulheres peladas….Nos sabemos que o Brasil eh muito mais que isso. Muita gente tem medo de visitar o Brasil, pois acreditam que somos extremamente violentos.

    Nao seria bom se estas pessoas que tem essas informacoes erradas tivessem a oportunidade de nos conhecer melhor?

  • 13/05/10  
    mary ziller diz: 42

    Mili,

    I would be interested in reading what you experienced in the US.

  • 15/05/10  
    Fabi diz: 43

    Hey Luciana,

    I´m the owner of a school in Ubatuba,SP, called Inove Idiomas and a member of our staff found your article, you´ve put into words all my experience and thoughts, I lived Brighton, UK for 7 years and visited the USA many times, please kee us updated on your material because I want to share tht with our students, if possible.
    I would also like to invite you to visit our school, maybe we can organize a lecture or something…it´d be great !!!
    Keep in touch