Published: Birmingham Live article

Listicle – An American student in Birmingham: The many things I LOVE about Brum – and a few things I don’t

Jessica Quinlan has moved more than 4,000 miles from her home in Cleveland, Tennessee, to study at Birmingham City University

Cleveland, sited near the famous Blue Ridge Mountains, has a population of just over 40,000 and was once home to the Cherokee Nation.

Today the picturesque city has a thriving tourist industry, with many visitors travelling to enjoy its famous annual Apple Festival.

Here Broadcast Journalism student Jessica, 31, reveals what she loves about Birmingham – and a few things that she doesn’t!


1. Verbiage

One thing that has struck me the most are some of the words or phrases that Brummies use.

For example, when saying goodbye some people have said to me “Cheers!”. Whereas in Tennessee we would typically say, “Have a nice day.”

Yet I am getting to quite like this and have to say it’s actually fun to say “Cheers” to someone as we are departing.

Another phrase I’ve had to get used to asking, “Where is the toilet?”

(Image: Birmingham Post and Mail)

Being American, I normally would ask, “Where is the restroom?”

But I quickly learned that I had to ask where the toilet is after getting many blank stares!

Another phrase that throws me off is, “You know what I mean?”

Often I don’t! But, being an American I don’t want to be rude and say, “No, I don’t know what you mean.”

This phrase is probably the main one that’s been the hardest for me to get used to.

2. Transportation

New Street Station

Having good transport is extremely important for me, seeing as how I don’t drive in the UK.

Learning to drive on the opposite side of the road kind of scares me. So I’m probably going to stick to catching the trains and grabbing an Uber when needed.

I normally ride a West Midlands train to Birmingham New Street from Coventry, where I’m living.  I have found it an extremely useful mode of transport.

The fact that a train normally runs to New Street from Coventry every 15 minutes during the week is extremely helpful for me, when getting to class meets or a professional meeting.

3. Bullring Shopping Centre

(Image: Birmingham Mail)

Not only is this my first stop after I get off the train, but it makes my journey coming into Birmingham all the more convenient and pleasant.

Often I need to go clothes shopping. So with all of the stores conveniently located inside the Bullring shopping centre, I have found it convenient and fun to walk off the train to do some shopping.

Shopping like this is still quite different compared to shopping back in America.

In Tennessee, as well as other states, have enormous malls. The ones I typically go to is in the Chattanooga and Knoxville areas in Tennessee.

If I want a larger selection of shopping department stores or malls, I can take a two hour drive to Atlanta, Georgia to even larger malls.

4. The Buildings

The Library of Birmingham (Image: flickr / Gethin Thomas)

The architecture in Birmingham is astonishing.

There are many unique buildings in the city, from the Bullring shopping centre to the Library of Birmingham.

On the campus of Birmingham City University lies Millennium Point. It’s architecture is beautiful.

My own university – the University of Tennessee – also had many fascinating buildings, from Ayres Hall to Neyland Stadium, where football games are played.

Jessica and pal Diane Hutton at football game in Knoxville

That’s definitely the beauty of older cities, they tend to be filled with more history and buildings with interesting stories.


1. Parking

Parked across junctions and pavements (Image: Sparkbrook Police)

Parking on the side of the road here is very different to America.

When I see cars parked in some places I think, “how is that a legal parking spot?”

Back home the parking laws are very strict, yet often when I am walking around Birmingham I see so many cars parked in the strangest places.

Even back at my apartment in Coventry it still surprises me that legally my neighbor who lives below me can legally park in front of my apartment.

2. There’s no Walmart.

While enjoying places like the Bullring I still very much miss Walmart back in America.

Walmart typically consists of groceries, clothing, house décor, mechanics necessities, and pet supplies.

It practically has everything you could possibly need or want jam-packed into one store.

(Image: Graham Young / BirminghamLive)

Probably the closest I have come to finding something like Walmart in the Birmingham area is the new Primark that has just opened up.

All that Primark is missing is a grocery section!

3. Apartments and houses are SOOO small

(Image: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

While the little apartments in the Uk are cute, I sure do miss big bedrooms and big closets. 

Coming from America, houses and apartments tend to be typically bigger compared to that of British homes.

Also, prices for homes and apartments are pretty high as well in England in comparison to American housing pricing. 

In America, you can normally get a decent size house plus a big lawn to put a swing set on for a good price. 

But it seems like here, space is very limited and you don’t typically get a spacious living area. 

For me, living in an apartment, I have had to get a very creative and attach wardrobe extenders to create a bigger closet space for my clothes. 

4. No central heating and cooling

Back in America, heating and cooling is in almost every household. Yet, here in England, that is not always the case. 

Most properties in the Uk have heating units, a fireplace, and fans. This makes for a miserable summer at times! 

I have to place a fan in each room and open all of the the windows, which creates a huge problem with bugs and flies coming into the apartment, because there are no screens on windows to keep them out. It can just be quite a battle to keep the apartment at a comfortable temperature at all times.

During the winter, I find myself blasting the heater and having to keep all of the doors closed so that the heat stays in each room – leaving the hallway freezing cold because  there are no heating units there. 

And when I still can’t get the apartment warm, I have to turn to the fireplace for comfort. 

You may view a copy of this publication on the Birmingham Live website.

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