What is it like to be an American Student at the University of Portsmouth?

As an international student from North Carolina, USA, there are a few key aspects to my course (Creative and Media Writing) that are slightly different for me than perhaps a student from the UK.

Autocorrect is my best friend.

As the title suggests, I do a lot of writing for my course, but since I’m from the States, the way I spell a lot of my words is different from the standard spelling here in the UK. For a while I had to manually go through each piece of writing I submitted to make sure I hadn’t spelt anything the American way rather than the British way. For example, “mom” needed to be changed to “mum”, and “color” needed to be “colour”.

Obviously, this was rather difficult since my brain is not wired to see American spelling as incorrect. Eventually though, I discovered a feature in Microsoft Word that allowed me to change the proofreading language to English (United Kingdom) rather than English (United States). This helped so much, bringing to my attention many words I might have missed otherwise.

I need to let someone from the UK catch words I have missed.

This is similar to the previous point, but instead of just focusing on spelling, I have to be mindful of my word choice as well. Some words an American would say are not really words that would show up in standard vocabulary here in the UK. Words like “sweater”, “sidewalk”, and “fries” that would go completely unnoticed by me in stories I write, would practically jump off the page as obviously American to anyone else.

At another time, I was talking with my dissertation supervisor, and he suggested removing a reference to chipmunks in my story because they are normally only found in North America rather than England. This is another case where I assumed something that was common to me was common here as well, and the only way to avoid that is by having someone else read my work.

I have to be mindful of formatting.

Almost everything, from the normal dimensions of paper to punctuation, is just slightly different here in the UK. For example, I have to change the paper size of every document I create to A4 rather than the Letter size default I’m used to.

If I forget, the margins are incredibly messed up when I print it. Markings to indicate dialogue in stories are also different, and I have accidentally overlooked that on more than one occasion. Thankfully, the guidelines for this are available in every unit handbook on my course, so I have been able to reference those for the correct formatting.

It’s easy to think of inspiration for travel writing projects.

One of the types of writing I learn about on my course is Travel Writing. I hadn’t travelled much before coming to uni, but now that I’m in Portsmouth it takes 21 hours door to door to travel between here and my home. This provides plenty of personal experience and travel stories to write about for the unit that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t an international student.

I find Portsmouth’s literary history helpful and inspiring on my course.

Portsmouth is rather famous in the literary world. Charles Dickens was born here, Jane Austen set some of her novels here, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes story here, and the list goes on. These are people I’ve heard about and stories I’ve read on the other side of the ocean for years, so being able to write my own stories in the same city they did is perhaps a bit more inspiring for me than a local might find it to be.


By Madeline Hagan

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