3 Things I Love About You: An International Student’s Guide to Soton

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I thought moving to Southampton would be like moving into a Dickens novel. And whether you’ve been in Southampton for two years or two minutes, you know how funny that is. (And the fact that I ever even entertained that idea lets you know I’m American).

But that’s the kind of the point, isn’t it? When you move somewhere new, you’re filled with all kinds of hopes and expectations about where you’re going and who you’ll be when you get there. And if you’re moving from another country, those fantasies are just supersized. But even though Southampton doesn’t quite have the Victorian glamour I’d been dreaming of, it’s still found a special place in my heart for reasons I never anticipated. And if you’re an international student too, here’s a little teaser of what you have to look forward to.

You’re Automatically Interesting

(Not really). At least, I know I’m not interesting. But apparently, no one else got the memo. Because it doesn’t matter if I’m in a taxi, in line at Sainsbury’s, or having a chat at the bus stop, somebody is going to ask me where I’m from. There will also be the inevitable (read: inexplicable!) ‘I love American accents!’ or that moment when you overhear someone tell their friend, ‘I just met an American!’ (Another pro tip: when they yell out, ‘The American!’ at Stakks, that can be describing both the style of pancake and me).

After almost a year in Southampton, it’s funny to me, but it’s also one of my favourite surreal experiences. Because being an international student makes you think of yourself differently. Suddenly, you’re not just you anymore—you’re someone else’s window to another culture, even if you’ve never thought of yourself or your home as all that unique. So, take advantage of it! Cultural differences make an awesome conversation starter and it opens the door to loads of new experiences. Enjoy it!

You’re Kind of a Permanent Tourist

But in a fun way! Sure, part of that means making silly mistakes—like my very sincere conviction that Slug & Lettuce was an up-and-coming hipster bar and I’d discovered it (thanks again to all my British friends for bullying setting me straight on that one)— but it also means that everything is a little more wondrous. Because Southampton, and all of England, is new to me, nothing’s lost its glamour yet. I get to be excited about the history of Southampton, and yes, I’m a sucker for castles, old buildings, and even old walls. I get to immerse myself in a new town and a new culture, to care about what’s going on locally and in the country as a whole. I’ve had the fun of discovering new places that evolve into cherished favourites, to forming new relationships and creating a home. The place where you’re from will always be special to you, but there’s something different about the home that you adopt. So, dive in! Let your local friends give you all the touristy facts and teach you the stuff they’ve grown up with. Take every opportunity to make your new home yours.

Southampton Has its Hidden Gems

Okay, so maybe Slug & Lettuce isn’t one of them. (I’m still not convinced, but whatever). And sure, Southampton isn’t London, but it’s got a lot going for it, especially when it comes to local businesses and the people. (Shout out to SO: Cake, the actually unique little cake shop which is rapidly becoming my house). One of the perks of a town like Southampton is that it’s big enough to feel like a city—sort of—but small enough that you can also become a regular at local restaurants. It’s also small enough that, in my experience, people are still willing to take time out of their day to give you directions, answer your questions, and make you feel welcome in their city. They’re willing to make an effort to connect with you and make you feel at home. Plus, SUSU has a lot of great resources for supporting international students while they adjust, and that’s not even counting karaoke night at Stag’s.

Southampton may not be everything I imagined, but I think it wound up being what I needed. And no, it doesn’t have a beach—I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a deciding factor in my choice to come here—but it’s close to quite a few different beaches and close enough that you can easily go to London for the day by train. It’s also just a few miles from places like Winchester which, yes, is definitely closer to the Dickensian glamour of my dreams. (Seriously, that cathedral is amazing). And between the people, the tutors—all of whom, in my experience, are 1000% dedicated to genuinely helping you—and the local places to love, there’s a lot to be said for Soton at the end of the day. All you have to do is be ready to embrace it.

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