Looking past London to the beauty of Brighton
I can’t tell you how many times, upon learning that I studied abroad in England, people assume I was in London. Of course, since it is the nation’s capital, it is obviously the most recognizable place and is home to many universities that Americans attend. However, my experience was a bit different, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This guest post is by Amanda Guarino.
Now, to set the record straight, London is great! I have only good things to say about that place – it’s a world-class city; the music and entertainment scenes are amazing; and there is always a historical site or museum to check out. I celebrated my 21st birthday in London, so I certainly am not underestimating it.
However, I only visited London about 3-4 times during the 9 months I spent studying abroad in England. Why? It’s simple – I loved my own city more. Located about an hour’s train ride south of London, Brighton is a classic English seaside resort town with a fun, laid-back atmosphere. There are two universities in the area – Brighton University and Sussex University, the latter of which I attended. With students making up a large percentage of residents (especially during term time), the city is certainly geared toward youth.
Officially called Brighton & Hove, this coastal city has a lot to offer, all with a special charm. The history of Brighton is worth mentioning, as references to the Prince Regent are continually made and the city’s past laid a solid foundation for its’ continual whimsical atmosphere.
In the early 19th century, a grand and lavishly-decorated pleasure palace was built for the Prince Regent, George IV. He came to Brighton to party and be free, and this spirit has prevailed in the area ever since. This Royal Pavilion, as it came to be called, defines the city. The building looks like it belongs in India rather than England, with its’ magnificent onion domes and elaborate Indian architecture. Ironically, this was the backdrop to my bus stop in Brighton.
It is this flamboyance that feeds the city’s character. As a result, so many things in Brighton & Hove are aimed at pleasure and fun. First, there is the sea. Yes the water is chilly and there are pebbles on the shore instead of sand, but there is never a dull moment. Visitors and residents lounge in the iconic striped deck chairs, exercise on the adjacent health walk, or enjoy carnival rides and Brighton rock candy on the pier. One can just smell the salty sea air, and that means that fish & chips shops are abundant as well.
Brighton & Hove is also a shopper’s paradise. One can spend countless hours at the Churchill Square Mall, or visiting shops such as Primark and TopShop on the high streets. For smaller unique and independent shops, the North Laine is a funky and colorful section of town behind the Royal Pavilion. With a lot of vintage items for sale, you never know what you may find.
Finally, let’s spend some time on the ‘study’ aspect of studying abroad in Brighton. Actually, Sussex University, where I went, is situated about 4 miles from Brighton’s city centre. The campus lays lost in the South Downs, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty consisting of stunning rolling green hills and pastures. My own flat was a very short walking distance from the cows. Adjacent to the campus is Stanmer Park, a lovely area with football pitches (soccer fields), wildflowers, a village church and an historic mansion.
While my flatmates and I often had a good time in Brighton, we also loved our immediate surroundings too. Having opened 51 years ago now, Sussex is not Oxford and Cambridge in terms of tradition. Sussex University is a place of continual innovation and has expanded greatly over the last half century. Some of my greatest and most inspiring lectures here were in the Art History Department. For some reason, it was almost always sunny on Tuesdays, when the fruit and vegetable market was set up in Library Square. Also, seeing as the pub is a staple of the English life, a week was never complete without at least one visit to the cozy campus pub, East Slope.
Higher education in the UK requires less classroom hours and more independent study than in the US. So it was in some of this free time when Brighton became my playground and place to explore. Since I was cooking for myself instead of going to a communal dining hall, I made frequent visits to my favorite supermarket, Sainsbury’s. Sometimes I went to the Brighton Marina to see the boats, chalky white cliffs, shops and restaurants. At nighttime, Brighton is a happening hotspot, with a pub for nearly every day of the year as well as dance clubs and music venues to suit nearly every taste. Much of student nightlife in Brighton takes place during the week when things are cheaper than at the weekends.
Since I was in Brighton for 9 months, I saw the changes in nearly every season, from the autumn foliage to the winter ice rink at the Royal Pavilion to the crisp summer nights with only 6 hours of darkness. I have the sense that I actually lived there. I learned some funny lessons along the way too. For instance, I learned to never leave the flat without an umbrella AND sunglasses. I also quickly discovered that if I ate a sandwich outside, I would have to share it with a seagull.
You see, there is more to England than London. Had I studied there, I may never have found this paradise. Had I studied in London, my experience would have been totally different because the surroundings and options of activities, not to mention overall lifestyle, are different there. With all these things to do in Brighton, I couldn’t be bored. I had what I wanted and loved at my fingertips, and now I can only hope to go back. I love you Brighton, you are my home.
Having graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in May 2012, Amanda currently works as a Homestay Coordinator, arranging for international students to live with American families in Boston, Massachusetts. Her passion for English life and culture has inspired her to create and maintain her website, I Love England Study Abroad. Amanda hopes to travel back to Brighton soon!
This guest post is part of a new project on The Study Abroad Blog about the Study Abroad Experience. The goal is simple: collect as many guest posts as possible, with posts written by current and previous study abroad students. While the topic can be just about anything, ideally students will pick a specific aspect of a city/country that they were most interested in or passionate about. If you would like to contribute to the project, head over to the contact page and send me a message!