Student Life in Sheffield

Getting used to life in England was quite easy for me. Therefore, when thinking about what unfamiliar aspect of English culture to write about, not much came to my mind. Furthermore, when I heard ‘unfamiliar’ I automatically thought about things that are rather negative. What was something unpleasant that I had to get used to? As soon as I stopped thinking that ‘unfamiliar’ had to be something negative, the topic for this post came to my mind: university culture.

Although the university as an institution and the way of teaching differs from university in Switzerland, that’s not what affected me significantly. What was totally new to me was to experience life as a student at an English university. 

What was totally new to me was to experience life as a student at an English university. 

How is university in Sheffield different than in Bern? In Bern I see university primarily as a place to get educated on the subject I’m studying. I go to lectures and seminars, I revise at the library, then I go home. My fellow students are a heterogenous group of people of different ages with different qualifications. In my spare time I do a lot of activities that are not linked to university and I meet my friends who don’t go to (the same) university. That is life as a student for me in Bern.

Being a student in Sheffield means something different. People even use the terms ‘home life’ and ‘uni life’, which describes the situation quite adequately. Most undergraduate students move to a different city to study. There they have to start from scratch. They have to adapt to life in a new city on their own without getting the usual support from family or friends. Unlike in Bern, where people come to uni from so many different stages of life, most students in Sheffield find themselves in the same situation as other freshers. I suppose that this common experience amongst others results in a sense of togetherness at university. Such a team spirit at uni was a completely new and exciting experience for me.

For example, even the structure of the campus supports togetherness. Unlike in Bern, where the institutes are spread in different parts of the city, in Sheffield all university buildings are in one area. The peak of community in form of a building is the Students Union. On one hand, there are many places to get support and information there. On the other hand, it contains multiple premises to come together and socialise. There are canteens, a coffee shop, a club venue and even a pub! Whereas I get that for many people a uni pub and uni parties may sound contradictory, they do really help to build team spirit. Furthermore, the Students Union maintains over 370 societies. You can join a society to follow your interest, to try something new, to make friends easily. While there are more ordinary societies like sports and dance societies, there are also rather unusual groups, like the Gluten Free Society or the Quiddich Society. In societies, students practice their hobbies but they also organise socials. A social can be any event the members attend together; it doesn’t have to be related to the interest of the society. I know an exchange student who joined the Cricket Society and did not play cricket once. He joined the society because they’re known for organising fun socials.

Another significant part of the student experience is the housing situation. Since most students move to Sheffield to study, the majority of the 28’000 students of the University of Sheffield lives in the city. Combined with its rival, Hallam University, there are 58’000 students living in Sheffield. That makes up ten percent of the city’s population. I lived in a private student flat and I was quite surprised when I arrived. It wasn’t like the ‘WGs’(flatshares) I know. Every door had a room number and a fire door sign on it, which to me looks strange in a private flat and the interior generally didn’t look really nice. Furthermore, there were almost no items that were shared. For example, even though the six of us used the same kitchen, everyone had their own utensils. Each of us had their own pan, their own cutlery and so on. I guess that is because oftentimes students live in different flats every year and this way, they can move all of their stuff without fighting about what belongs to whom. But do we really need six salt shakers in one kitchen? However, after visiting other student houses I realised that my flat was not much different than other accommodations. Nevertheless, I enjoyed living with my flatmates since it was nice to have friends around at any time of day.

Even though the aspects I’ve mentioned definitely make up a large part of the student experience, there are many more themes that I wasn’t able to cover here, for example student loans or varsity. Being a student in Sheffield does not simply mean going to university to study a subject. To me, being a student became an identity and a lifestyle.

Janka Szücs

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