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INTERVIEW: Ohioan in Bristol

Interview: Lindsay Mickles

Bristol, UK, 2011

Written by Richard Kemp

In 2010, MA International Communications student Lindsey Mickles decided to up sticks and leave rural Cincinnati and continue her studies in the land of tea, biscuits, politeness, punctuality and the stiff upper lip: England.

Mickles started a Masters course at the University of Cincinnati, but soon realised that she was looking for something more specific. Her previous job experience had ignited a fascination with internal communications and diversity activities while also making her hungry to see more of the world. With this in mind, she enrolled at the University of the West of England in Bristol (UWE).

But why England? Why Bristol? The city certainly has its cultural pulls: located in the heart of the English south west, it is the birthplace of Hollywood star Cary Grant, Wallace & Gromit and many of the 20th Century’s most ground-breaking music artists (Portishead, Roni Size, Tricky and Massive Attack to name but a few) – not to mention being Britain’s Smiliest Place (there are t-shirts to prove it). However, Mickles’ reasons for choosing Bristol were far more straightforward. “I have a friend of mine from Oxford,” says Mickles. “He told me he’d done his undergrad at UWE and recommended Bristol, so everything just fell into place.”

Mickles stands next to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol

One of the first differences Mickles had to contend with after moving to Bristol, apart from the Bristolian accent, which many confuse with a farmer on a caffeine high, was grocery shopping. “That was the first big difference: walking into a grocery store and not recognising any of the brands. You have a recipe, you think you know what you need and you go to the store, but it’s just not there or it’s called something else.”

The UK National Health Service (NHS) was something else for Mickles to get used to. While Tea Party members scream from the rooftops about the fallacies in Obamacare, Mickles has gained firsthand experience of the positive effects a health service can bring when it’s available to all. “I definitely support healthcare for everyone,” she explains. “I’ve only had minor illnesses while over here, but it’s been very easy to get in to see the doctor. It’s efficient service. I know, back in the States, sometimes I would have to wait 45 minutes to an hour after my set appointment time to see a doctor.”

The state of television in Britain was another new phenomenon for Mickles. Brits pay an annual TV license fee of £145.50 ($228.95), which keeps commercial-free programming, such as the BBC, alive. More intriguing though was the television “watershed”. Called the “safe harbor” in the States, the watershed is the time in British programming (between 9pm and 5:30am) when things of a more adult nature can be shown. This doesn’t mean an erotic free-for-all, more simply that parents are advised to send their children to bed at this point in the evening – or, at least cover their eyes and ears.  Mickles compares this to the US: “[In the States] they’re just starting to let a few [swear] words in. However, after nine o’clock, unless you’re watching HBO or Showtime, you would never hear certain words used. You would never see a certain degree of nudity,” she explains. “Although, violence is fine,” she adds laughing.

Mickles spends some quality time with good friends.

In addition to a surprisingly open view of what makes acceptable television programming, the British don’t seem to be as punctual as Mickles was expecting either. “I really haven’t noticed the strict adherence to punctuality. There seems to be a bit of give, which is surprising,” she comments. “It seems – at least in the company I worked with and in my family circle – that you show up exactly on time. If you need a service done, something fixed, you know, they give you a set time period and they show up. Here, it seems a bit more relaxed. If you show up five or ten minutes late, it’s not that big of a deal. Same with getting things fixed. It doesn’t bother me, it’s just different. I’m usually the person who has to be on time or five minutes early.”

Above all, the biggest difference Mickles has noticed while living in Bristol is the US and UK’s contrasting attitudes to university education. The learning style in the UK, Mickles feels, is far more student-led than that of the US. In UK universities, the teacher will give a foundation in class, but it will often be up to the students to do the necessary research on how to pass their exams. This style differs greatly from the US, Mickles says, who uses the direct comparison of having taken “Research Methods” in both Cincinnati and UWE. She found that passing requirements were much more spoon-fed to her in Cincinnati.

Apart from visiting family, friends and other important people, Mickles doesn’t plan on returning to Ohio any time soon. In fact, she has until May 2012 to hand in her Masters thesis at UWE. A self-confessed geek, Mickles is already considering another Masters in the UK after this one, eventually leading her to starting a PhD. Sticking around in the UK would also mean she gets to witness the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

Even with so much excitement yet to come, Mickles still misses certain things about home. If she could bring anything back from the US, it would be buffalo wings and ranch dressing – not forgetting, of course, family, friends and cat. For now, however, she is content just visiting every once in a while and further exploring the rich culture and history of the UK.

Article originally written in 2011 for the UWeekly.