Nine undeniable truths about moving from England to study in Belfast
How did you ever live without Buckfast?
It takes less than an hour on the plane, much quicker than a lot of your sixth form pals take to get to their universities back in England, but sometimes it feels like you’re in another world.
Here are nine truths about being an English student living in Belfast, from someone who's lived them.
1. Everyone loves to go home
Back in England, university is your first chance to get away: A new city, new independence, no surprise visits from your parents. See you at Christmas mum – I’ve fled the nest.
In Elms village however, it struck me how quiet the weekends were. People go home every chance they get, and it can be very easy to get lonely.
All you need to do is find your people: stick with international and GB friends in the same position, convince your Northern Irish friends that you’re much cooler than their parents and maybe even get invited home with them one weekend. That way you'll get to enjoy their mum’s home-cooked Sunday lunch.
These quiet weekends can have their benefits. It’s the perfect time for parents to visit and you have your choice of seat in the library so maybe you’ll actually get some work done!
2. Making friends can be hard at first
“You may be nervous now, but everyone else will be in the same boat trying to make friends” is what you're told numerous times before going to uni, and it is true.
Unless you go to uni in Belfast.
I found I was in the minority by coming to Belfast on my own, as most people came together with their school or hometown friends so had their friendship groups already firmly established. I felt a little cheated. It was difficult for a newcomer to break into an already long-running group of friends. But in some ways, it turned out to be a blessing. Through my course, nights out, and societies I found that every time I made a new friend, it linked me to about five other people.
All you need is for one person who you see in class every day to invite you along to a night out and boom! You’ve been fast tracked and now know a whole group of new people.
3. The good old English North/South divide is irrelevant
Only with my first year Mancunian flatmate was this ever an issue. We would argue over whether it was called a barm cake or a roll, he would suggest going for “dinner” and then show up in the kitchen ready to go at 1pm, and he’d ask if I wanted “owt from shop”.
To us, he was Northern and I was Southern, but as soon as we stepped out of our rooms none of that mattered any more. The North and the South mean something very different in Belfast. To everyone else, we were both English so may as well have been next door neighbours because we both appreciate a good old trip to Spoons.
4. Taxi drivers are the friendliest people you will ever meet
First visit to Belfast. Taxi driver is already telling us where to get 3 strawberry daiquiris for a fiver tonight 😆
— LNR (@eleanorc) October 4, 2017
Do you remember the days where you’d get into the taxi, say “busy tonight mate?”, say nothing for five to 20 minutes, and then say, “yeah anywhere here is fine mate”? Me neither.
They are part of a past life. The taxi drivers of Belfast could collectively write my biography. They will chat away to you for the whole journey, asking about this and that, telling you bits and bobs of their life, crack some banter.
As you get out they’ll tell you to make sure you get in safe, and you’ll really want to give them a tip. You won’t of course, because you’re a student and you can barely justify buying bread at the moment.
5. “I’ll come and visit you” is the biggest lie ever told
Every single time you go home and reconnect with old friends, they will excitedly tell you that they want to come and see you, they want to see Belfast!
At the time, they really mean it, and the first few times, you really believe it. But after a while life gets in the way, and flights are a bit too expensive. You try and arrange a date that’s good for both of you – before you know it it’s December and time to come home again.
6. But, it means you’re really good at long distance friendships
Only getting to see each other a few times a year makes you appreciate all the time you do have together. You can gossip to them about people they’ll never meet, and you’ll laugh at old jokes as though you never were apart.
7. The English don’t like your new cash
Speaking of home, save yourself some awkwardness and don't try to pay for anything with your Danske Bank notes. You will find yourself insisting it's "legal tender", but nine times out of 10 your attempts will be fruitless.
Unless it's got a nice picture of the Queen on it, maybe keep it in your wallet.
8. Some of the food is a bit weird
Generally speaking, traditional English and Irish foods are not exactly worlds apart, but there are weird little differences you will find when it comes to dining in Belfast.
Firstly, what is up with potato bread? Is there even any bread in it? Why is it called bread? It’s starchy and heavy and an unnecessary addition to what was originally a bloody decent fry-up (or fry, as you must now call it).
You will try Buckfast, for the full “Belfast experience”. Somebody will probably try to tell you that it’s illegal in England. Upon your first taste you will recoil in disgust – it’s like an alcoholic, sickly sweet cough syrup. But then you’ll see it’s only about £4 a bottle and gets you drunk pretty quick. The caffeine content is high and will keep you going all night. Soon enough, you won’t know how you ever went out without it.
There is a Spoons, but cocktails are two for £14, not two for £12 – a heart-breaking discovery. I’m still not sure what a tip-top is.
9. You have never felt more independent
You will soon enough find that you have made a little life for yourself here. You will grow to understand the jokes and the slang will creep its way into your vocabulary. Your heart will become a little heavier every time you have to leave, and you will be proud of yourself for taking the risk.
Although your roots lie in England, this small but incredible city will soon capture your heart. It only takes a short time for you to call it home, and an even shorter time for your mum to hit you on the arm and say, “this is your home!”
Soak up everything Belfast has to offer, allow it to become a part of you, and watch yourself grow here. Your degree may only be a few years long, but you know you’ll be back.