After returning from my semester abroad I was often asked, “How was studying in London?” Unbeknown to all, that’s a trick question. Just as Steven T & the boys declared in 1998, I was actually located A Little South of Sanity in Brighton, England at the University of Sussex.
“What’s the difference?”
Let me put it one way, to anyone thinking of signing up for Mars One* save your money because the one hour train ride from London to Brighton is actually the quickest way to get to another world. Not knocking London, I have mad love for the big crumpet, but “what’s the difference?” To put it another way, London has the eye, but Brighton is the sparkle in a Greek God’s eye. It’s Dionysus’** playground brought to life. In the land of tea, Brighton is the tiny, yet mighty drop of spirit(s) your eccentric Aunt dashes in her earl gray.
Brighton is a beacon of amusement, beckoning odd balls and rolling stones to join its rocky shore.
Smoothed by the new wave, the changing tides have left behind soft hills of stones forming an imperfectly, perfect, mix-matched mosaic of earth-toned design. Just like the stones of its shore, the souls’ of Brighton’s dip-dyed, tattoo-stamped residents, are free from hard edges. Rubbed smooth, as they are accustomed to rolling with life.
If every town had to be described in a single punctuation mark, many would probably assume I’d say Brighton is an exclamation mark because of its exuberance and pizazz. While the last part is undoubtedly true, no. If Brighton was a punctuation mark it would be a semicolon.
“Semicolon: Links two independent clauses to connect closely related ideas when a style mark stronger than a comma is needed.”
If Brighton is anything, it is a meeting ground for independent-minded souls, absolutely brimming with strong style, to come together and connect. Anything goes here. Want to dress as if you stepped out of Cher’s closet? Go right ahead! Not sure if I am referring to that clueless Beverley Hill’s teen or the Goddess of pop? Doesn’t matter! You could rock either style around town and no one would bat an eye. Speaking of punctuation, Brighton has the highest volume of punctured people living in one area I have ever seen. This includes men, women, old, young, and everyone in between. Ears, eyebrows, lips, noses… but don’t stop at one, I’ve seen two, even three rings adorning a single nose.
This leads me to my favourite aspect of Brighton. It has the making of being one of the best people-watching towns. More importantly I’ve always gotten the feeling that no one is “trying too hard.” Instead the head-turning, fierce or downright funky styles you see are a true reflection of the wearer. While it is definitively a uni town filled with youth, Brighton will be keen to remind you, “your grandmother was young once too.” Many times I’ve been stylistically schooled by residents 4 or 5 decades my senior. From the tops of its residents’ technicolour hair to the vegetarian shoe shop, Brighton is a bohemian paradise.
A disastrously, undiscovered epicenter of wonderment, reverberating shockwaves of personality, this town will stay with you long after you are gone. I am a prime example. This past summer was my fifth waitressing at the same restaurant. On one of my first days back some of the regulars noted, “you have a few more piercings since we saw you last.” Guilty.
In terms of volume, I’m not sure what’s louder, the bass-thumping music churning out of the clubs every night until the wee hours of dawn, or the colours of the street art found around every corner?
No square centimeter is safe from ordinary.
Random note, I have seen the biggest seagulls of my life in Brighton. Seriously I think some of them stumbled into some radioactive spillage and got their Hulk on. Theory two they’ve gotten fat and happy from stealing beach-front snacks.
A headline I could imagine being found in Sussex’s non-imaginary school paper, The Badger, “Extra extra eat all about it! This still in, newspaper-wrapped fish and chips by the salty sea shore. The only thing bent out of shape in this town is the taffy sold in the multitude of sweet shops.”
Sweet you rock and sweet you roll, Brighton rocks in more ways than one.
First: Brighton Rock is a candy unique to Brighton. It is stick shaped and made of multi-coloured confectioners surgar. However, tasting of peppermint, to me it is basically a horse of a different color of a candy cane.
Second: Brighton is the setting of Quadrophenia. The 1979 British film, which was loosely based on the The Who’s 1973 rock opera by the same name.
Third: My fellow North Carolinians know, short of sorcery, it’s impossible to leave the beach without sand stuck to you, yet in this magical little town sand isn’t an issue because Brighton is a rocky beach.
Calling all undergrads! If there are three things you should do while in college it’s; study abroad, study aboard, study abroad!
For starters, you will meet some of the best friends you never knew you were missing. Second, we all know the internet’s knowledge is vast and endless, but studying abroad will offer cultural expansion greater than any rabbit-hole of a google search could ever give you. I often say living in England for three months was a “culture shock” (complete with air quotes) because there were many more subtle differences I was not anticipating, such as certain colloquialisms… The one that would have been most helpful to know ahead of time is that in England pants are “trousers” and underwear are “pants.” I can only imagine what my flat mates thought when I’d say things such as, “I didn’t feel like getting out of bed for a while because that would mean I’d have to put pants on.” I know thinking before I speak isn’t my greatest forte, but geez. Approximately 1/3 of Sussex’s student body are visiting and international students, so in any one group of conversation you could easily hear accents from four different continents. Swoon… pâmoison, xìu, desmayo…
This time around I spent most of my days kicking it with old friends, making some new, and blissfully meandering around my old stomping grounds. The big three are: Stanmer Park, the seafront, and The Laines.
Stanmer Park is an open park that surrounds Sussex’s campus. During many a woods walk I’d spy cows, horses, and, on more than one occasion, a wooden teepee.
The Laines are actually two different areas of town. Made of twisting side streets, they are labyrinths of astonishment as you never know what you might find. Brighton is the irregular-shaped, mystery box wrapped in neon paper under your Christmas tree. It is the one gift you simply can’t wait to open because you are sure a brilliant treasure waits inside.
The South Laines are a bit more posh, here you will find your higher end shops and restaurants. The North Laines are brimming with tattoo & piercing parlors, vintage clothing shops, hip cafes, and enough record stores to push my suitcase over the 23kg limit… I found one shop where virtually every record was 1£, so naturally I bought 18!
*NASA’s project to establish a colony on Mars by the 2030’s
**Dinoysus was the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy. He was later considered a patron of the arts.
TBV Travel Tips:
1. When studying abroad or backpacking it is generously accepted that the timeline between strangers and friends is much shorter. Specifically in regards to studying abroad, when you only have three months to make friends/ see as much of a new continent as possible, use my line. After clicking with someone I’d say, “Hey let’s become friends on facebook let me know if you ever want to get a cup of coffee or visit a foreign country together.”
2. The task of packing for a multi-month adventure will be daunting. Here’s what to do: pack everything you think you will need, unpack, remove some clothing, repack, unpack, remove more clothing/a pair of shoes/random items, repack, and done… Trust me you won’t need as much as you think.