I left for England exactly one week ago as I’m writing this. Today was my first day of lectures and I am having an incredible time abroad. Leeds is an amazing city full of really nice people, which I know may sound a bit odd. However, I was worried that in leaving the south (My home school, Sewanee, is in Tennessee), I would lose the culture of friendly strangers I was used to. I was worried that I would struggle in a place with a different attitude towards strangers. Having said that, it’s important to not be immediately trusting in an unfamiliar city. Here are my initial impressions of smart and safe ways to explore your new home.
1. Go with a group
This one seems pretty obvious, but my home school is super small and I’ve never felt unsafe walking around at night on my own. However, Sewanee is a small campus and I know my way around like the back of my hand. Since arriving in Leeds I go everywhere assuming I might get lost on the way. If you’re going to get lost after dark, it’s much better to do it with a big group of friends to help you and laugh with you. Just be mindful to keep dinner groups small in Europe.
2. Have a plan
Know where you’re going as much as possible before you leave. If the plan involves starting in one place then going elsewhere, make sure everyone knows where both places are and no one has to go on their own.
Also, it’s smart to plan how many drinks you’ll have. This is so you don’t go overboard and put yourself in a bad situation, and to maintain your budget so you can do something next weekend don’t try to “keep up” with the people you’re out with. Know what you can handle, make a plan, and stick to it!
3. Wear comfortable shoes
I love the aesthetic of old stone sidewalks but actually walking on them can be tough, add heels to that equation and you might have a lot of struggles. I chose comfort over style for my first nights out and I had no regrets. Don’t worry about comfy shoes marring your “smart” style. Clubs and pubs aren’t well lit, so no one will be able to see your shoes anyway. You may as well make your feet happy!
4. If you don’t know something, ask!
Just this morning I nearly froze my bum off trying to find the library. I could have saved myself a lot of time (and frustration) by going into a building and asking someone for directions earlier. Eventually, I took the opportunity to see the student union and ask for coffee shop recommendations. If you’re out after dark and there’s nowhere to ask, ask Google! Google maps was a lifesaver for my group as we struggled to find our way to the club we were supposed to go to. It may not always take you the fastest way, but it will get you there.
5. Make sure you look the right way (make that the left way) when crossing the road
This seems like it shouldn’t be an issue but you’d be shocked how many exchange students I’ve talked to who stopped traffic by crossing the street at the wrong time. Because cars drive on the opposite side here, the old habit of looking right then left needs to be reversed. Always remember this alliterative phrase, “Look left!” Some locals will be more daring and cross before the light turns, but always wait. In the long run, one minute isn’t going to slow you down too much.
6. Know your emergency numbers and procedures
The number for emergency services is different here, while your first inclination is to call 911, in the UK, emergency services are reached at 999. If you’re traveling elsewhere, make sure you know the local equivalent. Both IFSA staff and the orientation leaders at Leeds gave me cards with these numbers, and I’m working on memorizing them. I hope I won’t have to use them, but I’ll feel better knowing that I know them just in case. Program the resident office emergency number under ICE in your mobile phone. If you live in a residence hall, it’s also a good idea to learn what to do in case of a fire or other emergency. Knowing where to go can keep you from panicking and making a bad situation worse.
Going out is supposed to be fun, but it’s important to take measures to stay safe. The most important thing is to be smart and trust yourself. If something feels wrong, avoid it. With that in mind, I encourage all abroad students to go out, meet people, discover new places, and have an amazing time!