The Art of Exchange: Embrace student housing


In September 2012, Kenzi Green travelled to Norwich, United Kingdom, to do a semester abroad at the University of East Anglia (UEA). This is the second of three installments about her experiences with education, travel and culture on the other side of the pond.


University accommodations are never, by anyone’s standard, Shangri-La. While I was lucky enough in my first year to be placed in one of UVic’s newer — albeit minuscule — rooms in the Ring Road building, the fact remains that, whether at home or abroad, you should not expect the royal treatment from campus housing.

But hey: slumming it in dorms is what university life is all about, right? In first year it sure is, but didn’t we all give the “I’m so glad I had the experience but I’d never do it again” speeches once we left our concrete jungle abodes behind? Well, if you’re planning on exchange, you’d better gear up to be thrown back into the life of a freshman.

At UEA, campus living was different from the UVic experience in several ways. Rather than each student having his or her own room (or sharing a room with one roommate) and eating in a cafeteria, the residence buildings are divided into flats — generally housing anywhere from eight to 14 people in their own rooms — each equipped with a kitchen and dining area. If you hated the meal-plan system at UVic as much as I did, you’ll be thrilled with the UEA arrangement. I was thankful to be able to choose and cook whichever food I pleased. In my building, we each had our own bathroom as well, although in others, several communal bathrooms were shared by all flatmates. From talking to friends who have been on exchange in other countries, it seems UEA’s setup is the norm for schools overseas.

Being back in dorms, you may feel like you’ve regressed several years, but my advice is to embrace it. Do what you did in first year. Get to know your housemates, go to the flat parties and welcome the rare opportunity to feel a few years younger.

And this time, there’s a twist. The drinking age abroad is younger than it is in B.C. — in England, it’s 18 — so all the freshman (who are, of course, the ones who populate campus housing) are fired up and ready to dance the night away at the club. Even if you’re like me and prefer a casual bar hop to a night of sweaty grinding to Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj, the option to go downtown with your freshman pals is a welcome break from dorm parties.

For some, I know the thought of a second bout of life in campus housing could be tormenting, but it’s not your only option for accommodations while on exchange — it’s just the easiest choice and the one that worked best for me. Most universities provide assistance to students looking for housing and will be happy to point you in the right direction.

I know it’s scary. I was terrified prior to departing for England. Heck, I’d never even been there before — what if I hated it? I’ll give you the same advice that a close friend gave me before I left that changed my outlook on the whole experience: think of the people you know who have gone abroad, for school or otherwise. Have any of them ever said they regret it? I didn’t think so.