This is a guest post by Nicole Subik.
“A fine old city, truly, is that, view it from whatever side you will.”
-George Borrow, writing about Norwich in the 19th century
When I tell people that I studied abroad in England, they usually assume that I was in London. It is almost akin to telling people I grew up in New York State and the familiar and repeated automatic assumption of a Manhattan upbringing. Although I did spend some time (about 2 ½ weeks) in London, my heart belongs to Norwich, the city where I spent the majority of my junior year as a student at University of East Anglia (UEA).
Norwich (pronounced Nor-itch) is a city located in Norfolk, about a 2-hour train ride northeast of London. With a population of over 125,000 people, it serves as a professional and cultural hub for the surrounding areas making the population appear larger. Boasting a large university, football team, cathedral, and 12th century castle, its rich medieval past stands alongside its stunning modernity to produce an alluring juxtaposition of old and new.
The city itself is conspicuously urban in many ways, but the pockets of historical architecture and preserved history allow for a spectrum of “moments” as a study abroad student. The famous open market that has been around for almost 1,000 years is a stone’s throw away from a Top Shop; a little closet-sized store selling meat pies is a couple of doors down from Marks and Spencer; the Castle Mall (now known as The Mall Norwich) was named for its proximity to William the Conqueror’s castle. I remember one day taking a bus from the university into the city center and buying a McFlurry with Cadbury Crème Eggs (don’t judge me unless you’ve tasted one!) before heading off to do some exploring of historical sites relating to Julian of Norwich. I got lost but was fortunate enough to meet an elderly life-long Norwich resident who walked me (very slowly) to where I was headed; I enjoyed the sleepy, ancient sites, headed home, and then later went clubbing at one of the numerous night clubs in the city. All in one day.
My undergraduate institution has a total enrollment of about 2,500 students and is set in a quiet suburban setting. UEA has nearly 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students and is situated on the outskirts of a bustling urban area. Studying abroad, for me, was not only a chance to experience the different culture of a foreign country, but it was also an opportunity to try out life at a larger university and bigger city. The program I attended allowed me to live in a dorm with other UEA students, mostly native English freshmen who were decidedly not having a study abroad experience. I felt that integrated me into the culture in a way that may not have been possible in London. Having a residential campus as home base gave me footing within the university community. In addition to my life as a full-time student, I attended campus events, wrote and directed a piece for a short play festival, and made loads of British friends who I still keep in touch with 10 years later. The location also gave me a chance to travel around England and other parts of Europe with ease.
Studying abroad was one of the best decisions of my life. I did not quite know what I was getting into, but it turned out that Norwich was a perfect fit for me. I have not been back since I left in June of 2002, but I think often of returning to England. When I plan this trip in my head, I envision flying into London and spending a few days taking in the sights, but my travel daydreams always, always land me back in Norwich.
Nicole Subik is a Learning Specialist at Villanova University.