In 2005 I made a mistake by studying abroad at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England. The school was—and still could be—a study-abroad factory that marketed itself to foreign students because foreign students paid a lot more in tuition than English students. The school is consequently incentivized to pursue the international market. A friend and I were sufficiently peeved about the low quality of the school that we wrote an illustrated guide that warned our friends away from going to UEA.
Some recent discussion made me dig up “About UEA: What You Should Know Before You Go.” Reading it now, I see weaknesses in my skills as a nascent writer (I want to edit my younger self) but think the document might still be valuable for undergrads seeking UEA-related information. The photos convey some of the bleakness of that university; I remember the day I said, “Fuck it, I should put these journalism skills to use because I have to tell people about this” and went around campus to shoot them. By which point I realized I’d been conned by UEA’s marketing and that I should tell what the UEA experience is actually like.
Back then I didn’t have a blog—although I should have; I was writing a lot—so I only sent “About UEA” to other undergrads I knew who were prospective UEA students. Today, the combination of a blog and Google mean that “About UEA” could retain some value, which it definitely won’t on my hard drive. Perhaps I can save others from making my mistake.
That experience also informed “Europe, the United States, living standards, GDP, and the University of East Anglia (UEA),” and UEA also made me predisposed to believe Richard Posner’s comments about the shabbiness of England in the 1980s. From the perspective of Norwich in 2005, things hadn’t changed much.
Have they now? Maybe. I have no desire to find out firsthand. If you’re an American or Canadian student currently studying at UEA, however, you should leave a comment.
Before I went, I also noticed that my peers who studied abroad at UEA said they had a great time. After I came back, in more candid conversations, many of the same peers admitted to experiences much closer to mine. Culturally, I think we have a script that says study abroad must be a transformational, transcendental experience that changes everything about a person. It must be “fun” (and I put scare quotes around fun in a very Houellebecq way). It must be amazing. People who don’t have fun or don’t experience transcendence are viewed as defective or simply grumpy. Explaining what was wrong with UEA couldn’t happen in a casual conversation. The problems with it were obvious but weren’t acknowledged. This piece is an effort to rectify that silence.
EDIT: I’m pretty sure UEA administrators or PR people are monitoring the comment thread.