If you’ve taken a look at the ‘Our Bloggers’ page or know me personally, you would know that I have had a pretty international childhood, having moved countries about every 5 years of my life; therefore, as bizarre as it might sound, transitioning to the UK as I’m coming up to 20 years of age somewhat seemed only natural to me. This meant that unlike most of my 90 or so batchmates who were also transitioning from the Malaysian campus to the Highfield campus (for our third and fourth years as University of Southampton students), I strangely didn’t have any feelings at all about transitioning. To me, I somehow saw it as just a change in scenery; essentially, my university peers would still be around and I’d still be studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering in the University of Southampton. The only changes I saw were that I’d be in England, the campus would be much larger, and fittingly there’d be a lot more university students to fill it; and thanks to the numerous times I’ve had to move countries and switch schools, these changes seemed minor in comparison to those such as having to completely vacate my house and part from all my friends. My indifference baffled a lot of my friends and classmates, especially when they realised I was only planning to pack my bags a week before my flight to London Heathrow. To be fair to myself, I was only back from a short trip to Australia 10 days before my flight… But, you should definitely not delay packing your stuff like I did (or at least try not to cut it as close as I did), because I ended up being extremely pressed for time and stressed about it when I could’ve easily avoided putting myself in that situation.
Anyway, they were right to be confused; after all, we were all about to move to a country, in an entirely different continent, about 11,000 kilometres away. Although I couldn’t relate due to my unconventional upbringing, the transition to the UK for many of my peers meant a lot of firsts; the first time being separated far from family and friends, the first time living overseas, the first time dealing with a temperate climate, the first time being a foreigner and struggling to understand/be understood by others, and the first time having to realise which belongings are treasured enough to be painstakingly hauled across the seas, amongst just a few. Personally, it was fascinating to me to see what aspects of living in the UK came as a surprise or were different to my friends, who have mostly spent most of their lives in Malaysia. As I’m sure their initial thoughts and experiences are more useful than my own, this post will delve into the aspects of living in the UK that I’ve seen deeply impact my friends in surprise and/or admiration.
Spend a couple of days in Malaysia, and you’ll learn that even on the sunniest of days, it can really pour. Similarly, it has rained on sunny days here too; but normally in the form of a drizzle, leaving my friends really confused as to why their clothes could be wet without them feeling or seeing any rain. Drizzle, i.e. rain that falls as very small and light drops, after all, is somewhat of a rare occurrence in Malaysia, where the rain ranges from heavy to torrential, nothing less. Fortunately, here the weather doesn’t change drastically within one day as it does in Malaysia; however, what tends to happen is that the weather actually doesn’t change for a couple days at a time, meaning when rain comes, it won’t just be a rainy day but most likely a long and rainy week.
Walking and Public Transport
Prior to our transition, most of us already knew that we’d walking and using buses much more often once we were in the UK. Those who chose to live in the University halls get a free Unilink bus pass that, with the help of Google Maps to make sure you get on the right bus(es), allows you to get pretty much anywhere you need without much fuss. Since buses aren’t particularly a popular mode of transport back home, a couple of my friends struggled initially, so here are some tips so you can avoid things they experienced such as getting on the wrong bus and not knowing where they could take the bus back home! Firstly, the bus information available at bus stands tend to only show the major stops for the routes, such as the Highfield Interchange (the main bus stop at the university itself), so although the stop you’d like to alight at might not be listed, trust Google when it tells you which bus to get on. Secondly, to make sure you’re getting on the right bus, check not only the bus number but the location displayed on its LED screen! Whilst the number is attributed to the specific route the bus services, the location displayed indicates which direction the bus is going; so make sure you get the direction right, or you’ll end up like my friend who got on the bus only to find out she had gotten further away from where she wanted to be. Fortunately for Unilink buses (which can be used by the general public but has routes to effectively service University of Southampton students), they have a handy system where the bus code itself indicates its direction, for example, the U1C, U2C and U6C are buses that take different routes towards the city centre. Generally, for assurance that you’re on the right bus, you can always just ask the bus driver! They can be very helpful, equipped with enough knowledge to tell you which bus you need to take, where you need to alight to change buses and more to get where you need to be. And it doesn’t end there! With the trains, it’s just as easy to travel outside of Southampton; just last weekend I went to visit my sister in Bristol, and I was easily able to take a bus from the University straight to the train station, and once I arrived in Bristol again left the train station on a bus. Maybe once I’ve travelled to a couple more places in and around the UK, you can expect a post on that!
Absence of Cash
On the topic of buses, my friends were surprised by the fact that on most buses, you can get a ticket using your contactless card (known as PayWave in Malaysia) or digital wallet on your phone (e.g. Apple Pay, Google Pay).
In fact, you rarely see cash at all in the UK; card readers have become so common and integrated that most people can go about their lives only carrying around a cardholder rather than a wallet, or even simpler, just their phone which they would already have at all times. This is really handy and saves a lot of time that can be wasted fumbling around your wallet for the right notes and receiving change; with contactless cards (for purchases below £30) and digital wallets, transactions only take a few seconds, and cardholders and phones fit snugly in your pocket. With most supermarkets and convenience stores employing self-checkout services, this also means you can avoid the frustration when a machine decides to spit out your money! However, it is still very useful to have physical money on you (I once devastatingly chanced upon a bake sale but I couldn’t buy anything…) so a handy way to ensure that is either keep your wallet in your bag or fold a fiver or tenner to be kept in your card holder!
Daylight Saving Time
Daylight saving is the practice of varying the standard clock time during summer time to make the most use of the seasonal daylight, sacrificing normal sunrise times in the process. Daylight saving time, also known simply as summer time, has been observed since the 20th century. It is observed in the UK and the majority of Europe, and what it essentially means is that in spring the clocks go forward an hour, and in autumn they go back an hour and return to standard time. This is the reason why the time difference between Malaysia and the UK is 7 hours for part of the year, and 8 hours for the rest! In the UK and Europe, the clocks go forward on the last Sunday of March, and back on the last Sunday of October. Having grown up in the Netherlands, I can’t even recall when I learnt about the concept of daylight saving, but I do remember that every year when the time approaches, everyone would need to be reminded that the clocks would be changed.
Therefore a few weeks ago when October was reaching its end, I took it upon myself to remind my friends and classmates that the clocks would be going back an hour – after all, although the time would change automatically on devices such as phones and laptops, clocks and watches had to be physically changed. When I gave the notice of the extra hour of sleep we would receive (clocks go back at 2 am EST to 1 am UTC), it was met with reactions of surprise and confusion, and I realised that because it is generally not practised in Asia and Africa, the concept is only known and practised by a minority of the global population. Although I was definitely entertained by how fascinated and excited my friends were at the concept of daylight saving, please don’t be like my two friends who stayed up till 2 am to observe the clocks going back an hour… The best way to observe the end of summer time is using that extra hour for sleep!
I’ve only covered a small part of the transition experience, so if you’re interested in reading more, the other bloggers have written about their respective experiences too!