A quick online search for ‘the most British things’ brings up a vast array of Britishisms but the most common seem to be: saying sorry, queueing, (bad teeth), separate hot and cold water taps, roast dinners, and tea and crumpets with the Queen. Naturally, everyone in the UK has tea with the Queen at least […]
Fifteen first impressions of the UK
September and October are busy times for Chevening Scholars. It’s the time when they are packing their bags and travelling to the UK having been awarded a Chevening Scholarship to study in the UK for a one-year master’s degree. For many of our scholars, it will be the first time they have ever set foot in the UK so naturally, it is the perfect time to find out what their first impressions of the UK were upon arrival. We selected 15 of the most unique first impressions from our class of 2018.
1. MERCEDES TAXIS AND BEST BEACHES
Brian Otieno, Kenya
‘This being my first time in the UK, I was really looking forward to have my first “culture shock” experience. The first one was when I first arrived at Cardiff University in Wales and saw a Mercedes Benz as a taxi. Back at home you would rarely see a Mercedes as a taxi or if it were; it would be very expensive for you to get the services. However, here in Cardiff, most of the taxis are state of the art vehicles like Mercedes Benz, Audi etc. and they offer services at normal pricing regardless of the make of the vehicle. Back at home, such cars are only for the rich.
My second one was the beaches! Having come from the coastal side of Kenya where we have nice beaches, I also looked forward to see what the UK coastline has to offer and I was impressed to learn that Wales, where my university is based, has Rhossili Bay which has been voted Wales’ Best Beach 2018 and 3rd in the UK in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. The place has breath-taking views and I really felt at home with the sound of the ocean bringing nostalgic memories.’
2. PARKS LEADING TO A GOLDEN ANGEL
Sergio Mendoza Reyes, Bolivia
‘I was sitting in the middle of the airplane cabin as we approached London and stretching my neck, I could see a lot of huge parks!
Deciding that wonders should be seen closely, I visited and walked through some of them such as Green Park when I was going to Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II lives. In this park tens of squirrels run on the grass, climb trees and make a funny noise (it was the first time I heard a real one in my life).
The first time I saw the palace I was amazed by the size, the beauty, and the hundreds of people gathered in front the bars, taking pictures of themselves with the palace behind.
Nearby I saw a golden angel with its index finger pointing to the sky. Under this, a sculpture of “Victoria Regina Imperatrix”.
The parks, palace, and golden angel were just a small part of the wonders that impressed me during my first days in London. I loved to find floors and floors of books in big libraries, houses of famous writers, and a super old wall built by Romans around 200 AD (that is 1800 years ago!) that is still standing among modern buildings in the city centre.’
3. CHARACTERS FROM HARRY POTTER
Flaka Siqeca, Kosovo
‘My first impression of Scotland is that it is an amazing country with super friendly people, lots of variations between rain and sun within a single hour, and above all, a home to outstanding universities.
This picture was taken standing in front of University of Glasgow Library, facing the Main Gate to this magical place! University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and its Library is amid the oldest and largest in Europe.
This everyday view of the Main Gate depicts students rushing to class and a delivery cyclist bringing breakfast to someone’s office and just for an ephemeral moment, when there are no (flying!) cars passing by, you cannot help but feel like you are a character in one of J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter books.’
4. A VERY LITERARY UK
Iknoor Kaur, India
‘Ever since I was a child, “I’ve wandered lonely as a cloud”, fantasising about this part of the world through words. I’ve romanticised Wordsworth’s Daffodils, befriended Dickens’ characters, cultivated Austen’s commentaries, enacted tellings of The Bard, traversed through the Diagon Alley and sensed the magnificence of Hogwarts. So, when I set foot outside the Cardiff airport in mid-September, I was lost in a hypnotic spin. It was everything I imagined and more.
My first month in the UK has been full of travels and explorations. From walking alongside the Cardiff Bay, watching the sunset atop the Cardiff Castle and trekking up a mountain in Caerphilly to scanning the streets of Exeter, and seeing my old Windows laptop’s wallpaper of the Stonehenge come alive in front of me in Wiltshire,; I feel like I’ve been granted the wish I so longed for.
I have always thought of the UK in a literary context. I fancied Wales because I read How Green Was My Valley, I dreamt of the Lake District thanks to Wordsworth’s poems, my whole idea of a Victorian London was through Dickens’ writings and all I read while growing up – right from Enid Blyton to Arthur C Doyle – made me believe there wasn’t a more beautiful a place than the UK. Thus, so far, I’m glad to say that I’ve had a visual that substantiates my belief. I don’t know if there’s another way to say it without taking away the charm, but this place is beautiful.’
5. FROM SUN TO RAIN IN MINUTES
Elhadj Tidiane Diamilatou Diallo, Guinea
‘This picture was taken two days after my arrival in the UK while I was on my way to the University. The first impression that I had was about the weather which was very cool compared to what I have left behind, and its sudden change from a sunny to a rainy sky in a matter of minutes in Manchester was different for me. Thus, getting used to this kind of fast changing weather was a bit difficult for me especially when I see people walking under the rain without an umbrella. However, after few days I am now getting used to the Mancunian weather and have fully adjusted my thermometer for the upcoming year.’
6. COLOURS OF AUTUMN
Ahmed Fizal, Maldives
‘I come from a country where it’s tropical all year long; the Maldives! Therefore, I’m new to the four season climate system that’s here in the UK.
I found autumn quite mesmerizing. These pictures are from a park just opposite to my residence here in Manchester.
I noticed some trees turn yellow, some turn golden brown, and some even turn red; only to eventually lose all their leaves.
I guess this is nature’s way of saying “winter is coming!”‘
7. NOT ALL TALL TOWERS AND GLASS BUILDINGS
Hawwah Abdullahi Gambo, Nigeria
‘A lot of people have this impression of developed countries as somewhere where everything natural have been replaced with tall towers and glass buildings.
But England, and especially Bournemouth, turned out to be more natural and climate friendly than my home country! With green forests intact and captivating me for miles on end, it is all very pleasant to look at.
Soon after experiencing the greenery, I had my first encounter with a beautiful sunny beach full of seagulls where the waves are wild and free – it was enchanting.’
8. BEE-UTIFUL TERRACED HOUSES
Stephen Machua, Kenya
‘As an Urban Development and Planning scholar, I had the impression that all cities in the UK are full of skyscrapers because of the developed country tag but shock on me!
Terraced houses from Manchester airport all the way to the city centre gave me the hope that I would find a different side of the city if I explore further during my time at the University of Manchester. The urge to see different houses around Manchester got me to sign up for city tours and field trips during the student welcome week.
I was lucky to go on three trips within Manchester City in my first week. Some of the fascinating sites were the canals that served as transport channels in the 19th century when the wind of industrialisation blew across different parts of Greater Manchester and the Museum of Science and Industry, which documents some of the world’s greatest innovations.
My arrival week coincided with an art trail known as “Bee in The City”. The trail was a symbolic show of Manchester’s history as the world’s first industrial city. Bee sculptures were strategically placed in streets, parks, and public spaces.
Following the art trail provided an opportunity to explore the city more and see different aspects of the city beyond housing. In fact, I even got a chance to eat Kenyan delicacy “Nyama Choma” during the exploration!’
Nandy Lima, Cape Verde
‘I am representing my country Cabo Verde at the University of Bath where I am now doing a Masters in Architectural Engineering focused on Environmental Design. It is my first time in the UK and I am absolutely loving every second of this new experience. Bath is hands down the most beautiful European city I have ever been to. The city’s scenery is such an eye-catcher. Its green tapestry is filled with cute farm animals, houses mounted on hills and the river graciously gliding through. People here are extremely sweet. Most of the people I have encountered on my way to school either say “good afternoon” or greet me with a nod. Either way, they always smile at you and that makes me feel welcomed. Adjusting to the accent was hard at first but I was absolutely delighted to learn new words. My favourite one is “cheers” and now I say it all the time after being here for only and a half weeks. Another difference I have had to get used to is that the driver seat is on the opposite side of the car! I find it hilarious now but it wasn’t so funny when I first got here and was looking at the wrong side when crossing the road at a zebra crossing (crosswalks are called zebra crossings!! Love it!).’
10. HISTORIC MODERNITY
Gulnoza Kuldosheva, Uzbekistan
‘My earliest impression of London once was that the city seemed to be so historical in every single element. But as I became more familiar with the city and started to engage with it, I realized that London has the perfect harmony of modernity and history as it holds the latest advanced technologies in every step of life while keeping its history alive too. It seems totally ancient from the outside, but when you enter the city, you can enjoy the modernity too!’
11. IMAGINATION OF A CHILD
Parizad Baria, India
‘I come from a land that is very different to the UK, and yet shares a history with the country. I grew up in a relatively small city in India, reading vivid descriptions of the UK countryside by one of my favourite authors, Enid Blyton. The mysterious castles, rolling meadows, scones, buttery crumpets, and midnight feasts were some of the tempting things I could only imagine.
When I was 11, I started reading Harry Potter. The wizarding world amidst the stone buildings, cobbled streets and castles only increased my longing to experience this country.
One would imagine that the building up of such high expectations would inevitably result in disappointment but it was not so! I arrived in Edinburgh early in September and I was enthralled, to say the least. Everything I saw seemed straight out of the books. I was transported back in time, into the nostalgia of just my own imagination as a child.
There are few places that can make you feel at home despite being nothing like home. Edinburgh has become home to me in just 3 weeks. A couple of hours in the streets of Piltochry while on the way to the highland wildlife park were especially memorable. As was the highland wildlife park itself. I am sure I shall continue to explore the country throughout the year with childlike wonder and amazement, all thanks to this wonderful opportunity by Chevening.’
12. JUXTAPOSITIONS AND PARADOXES
Adoniyah Benjamin, Guyana
‘I always thought the UK meant old stone castles and knights but my first impression of the UK changed all that! Naturally, my first impression of the Kingdom would be its “crown jewel” which in my view is of course London. So here is the beautiful and enchanted city on the Thames, the crown jewel of the Kingdom, city of juxtapositions and paradoxes; London.’
13. WHEN NATURE CALLS
Julius Deconte Jeh, Liberia
‘It is one thing to hear and read about a developed country, but it is an entirely different thing to live the experience. The UK has mesmerised me with its organisational prowess and attention to the simplest details.
Cardiff University’s coach picked us up from Heathrow Airport, picking other international students up as we headed to Wales. After a long flight from Monrovia through Brussels, nature only decides now that I must attend to it. The coach is picking the final batch of students at one of Heathrow’s terminals, but nature is pressing me further. Confused, but I muster the courage, asking the driver if I could find a bathroom somewhere in the terminal and if they could wait for me. He then shows me a bathroom within the coach I’m riding in. Wow! Imagine my relief and how marvellous this is to me! Yes, I am aware that it sounds simplistic to many but for someone who has never ridden a vehicle with such facilities, the significance can’t be discounted.
I have ridden trains in Cardiff and not once did any miss the timing, including when we were left standing to await the next trip at Cardiff Bay on October 13, my birthday, gawking at the train speeding off because we were just seconds late to embark.
I have visited Cardiff Castle and the Principality to watch Wales against Spain – places that would be quite rowdy and disorderly given my experience. I can only marvel at the soothing experience!’
14. UK HERITAGE
Guru Shankar Rengarajan, India
‘All over the UK, you will find that heritage and culture are preserved and have been maintained properly for centuries. I realised this during my weekend day-trip visit to Oxford organised by the travel club of University of Nottingham. I had visited different places of importance in Oxford including the various university buildings. However, I was awe-struck when I visited Radcliffe Camera Square and was impressed with the architecture. This was constructed in neo-classical style and built in 1737–49 to house the Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford University. I guess, any building in Oxford University, would have crossed at least two centuries and still the look, feel and heritage is maintained authentically. The UK is truly a land of heritage and culture.’
15. COLOURS OF THE UK
Phuong Anh Nguyen, Vietnam
‘I have explored London through the colours the city showcases such as;
Yellow: The colour of autumn. I can’t help falling in love in with London in this beautiful season.
Blue: the colour of the cloudless sky in the sunny days. I like looking up at the sky and seeing a tiny aircraft drawing an endless white streak cloudy.
Green: the colour of vast lawns in London’s Royal parks. I spent a day to go around Hyde Park, visited Kensington Palace, and played with birds and sit on the grass to enjoy my lunch under the sunshine.
Red: the colour of underground stations. When I first saw St Pancras station, I must say that “It’s beautiful like a castle”. From there, my journeys to discover London began.
Orange: the colour of my cosy room in London. Finally, in a strange city where I have just stayed for nearly 1 month, I had the feeling of Home, I feel safe, connected, and loved.
Rainbow: the colour of the houses I see in Notting Hill and the flowers in Portobello market. Although I wasn’t Anna Scot, I was still lost in this romantic street.
Grey: the colour of the rainy day. Not every day is a sunny day. I still found the happiness when enjoying a cup of tea and listening the songs about London.’
Thank you to our class of 2018 scholars who submitted pictures and stories to this theme and once again, welcome to the UK!
To submit your own pictures and stories to the latest themes, please check your most recent scholargram for submission details.
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