Charlotte Andora Hylland, an Erasmus exchange student from University of Oslo, details her experience at the University of Brighton in the History of Art and Design programme.
As a Norwegian, it’s hard not to be fascinated by England, as samplings of British culture is so present in our own. Our second-grade teachers ask us “What’s the weather like today?” in the most English accent they can muster; our parents read Harry Potter to us on our bedside and Christmas isn’t really Christmas until the whole family has sat down together to watch Dinner for One. My own personal fascination with English royal history, as well as the faint hope that my Hogwarts letter had simply been lost in the post, made my choice to be an Erasmus exchange student in Brighton quite an easy one.
I remember the feeling of standing on the train station about to board the train to Brighton. I was nervous, excited, terrified and quite frankly clueless. I had never been to the city before, I had no idea how Oyster cards work (and still don’t), and I didn’t know where the University was. This is one of the first things I learned about English people. They are always ready to help you! Norwegians are notoriously shy, held back and highly allergic to confrontation. We might consider someone asking us for the seat next to us on the bus to be a confrontational situation. We are private people who don’t generally talk to strangers. But I had no idea what bus to take to the University or where I could get groceries, and so I simply had to put the lid on my Scandinavian anxieties and ask. English people are rumoured to be very polite and, in this instance, I was not disappointed.
Before long, the hiccups began. First, I learned that the University of Brighton has to separate campuses. The City Campus and the Falmer Campus. Depending on the modules you sign up for, you either attend the City Campus in the city centre, or you attend the Falmer Campus on the countryside of Brighton, roughly 35 minutes away from the city by bus. My modules were Women’s Fashion from 1740-1914, The Cultural Politics of Dress and After Modernism: Postmodernism and Beyond, modules from the first and second year of the BA programme in History of Art and Design. This meant that I was to attend the City Campus. I had, however unknowingly, applied for student accommodation at Paddock Field Halls near the Falmer Campus. Furthermore, when I arrived at the accommodation office at Paddock Fields, there was no sign of my application for a room. After a few hours, they did find a room for me, and things were looking better. And then, later that evening, I got very ill. I was ill for days, which resulted in my not being able to attend activities for the exchange students to get to know each other.
The reason I mention this, is that Dr. Annebella Pollen, Principal Lecturer in the History of Art and Design programme, as well as Bernie Happs, the programme administrator, made such an effort to make me feel welcome when I felt like the city and the exchange experience was rejecting me like a bad organ transplant. As I missed out on the activities for exchange students in Brighton, Annebella made sure some of the students got in touch to meet with me later on. When I confessed I wasn’t happy living in Paddock Field halls, she was very hands-on in finding me different accommodation. Any student who decides to exchange to the University of Brighton can rest assured that they will be well taken care of!
In Brighton, a lot of things are different from Oslo. I am not used to thanking the driver when I exit a bus, I am not used to be called “darling” or “love” by people I don’t know. I gradually got used to poached eggs, but I never quite got over my fear of sounding like the Norwegian Nobel Committee every time I opened my mouth. But the thing I find differs the most is the educational structure. To be frank, at the University of Oslo, students are responsible for themselves. You sign up for modules, buy the books, study independently and attend lectures in huge lecture halls. No one keeps track of you, and your learning outcome depends on you. I found the academic studies at the University of Brighton to be more seminar-based. In all three of my modules, our class would consist of roughly 10-15 students who had all read the recommended reading and came prepared to discuss it. My tutors at Brighton seemed genuinely interested in discussing and digesting the material together with the students, and have us think like actual historians, rather than have us memorize the material. In Norway I am used to being one of sometimes a hundred other students in a lecture hall where no one asks questions (because we are Norwegian). At the University of Brighton, you are not only encouraged to ask questions and participate, you are expected to and assessed on it. This was a challenge for me at first but I found that I learned so much more from this way of teaching.
My time attending the University of Brighton was sadly cut short due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. I had to rush back to Oslo after only five weeks in Brighton. But in those five weeks I got to meet so many wonderful people and make so many friends for life. My roommate from Brighton and I still keep in touch and my tutors were such an inspiration especially as they took me to Brighton Museum to introduce me to some wonderful exhibitions. I am so sad I had to leave early. Still, I think the University did a great job, keeping the academic semester on track via the conference app “Microsoft Teams”. I was luckily able to finish all my modules.
I learned a lot from my stay in Brighton. I learned the value of reaching out to find people are there to help you. I’ve learned the joys of exposing myself to a different culture and making friends across borders. In all, I advise all students to consider taking the exchange experience.