Sussex, Brighton – What I Loved, Didn’t Like, and my Top Tips
For my exchange, I chose to go almost exactly halfway around the world – from Sydney, Australia to Brighton, England, where I attended the University of Sussex for 1 semester in 2019/20.
What I loved ❤️
- Town vibe: if you’re into that cute small town vibe, Brighton will be your favourite thing. Its small, but it has everything you need, especially food. The food was AMAZING, I’m a former vegan and have been vegetarian for 10 years, the vego options in this town are beyond compare. Every place had something. There were restaurants and cafes on every corner, not to mention cute little boutiques, vintage shops, tattoo parlours and a shopping centre if you need your basic zara’s, H&M’s etc. I loved it. Also there are quite a few different hikes you can do around town if you’re into that! I went to the Devils Dyke and the Seven Sisters.
Rollercoasters on Brighton pier
- Travelling/Transport was so easy: every odd weekend, my friends and I would catch a train to anywhere else in England – mostly London, but also Bristol, Bath, Wiltshire, even went to Cardiff once. It was super frequent, quick and easy to get around (in Australia trains/buses are unreliable, slow and not often).
- Accommodation: I chose to live in a university-organised accommodation at the Imperial Hotel, Hove. It was great – you get a roommate, cleaning service once a week, and a nice homeroom where everyone eats and hangs out – drinking, playing cards or studying. It was also right next to the beach, which meant magical walks or jogs whenever I wanted. Definitely a great experience living with other students – in Australia most students continue living at home with their parents during university. Also highly recommend choosing to live in Brighton/Hove over on campus, everyone hangs out in the city anyways and I would rather trek to uni 2-3 days a week then trek into the city every other day (Sussex was about a 40 minute bus from Brighton centre).
The beautiful view from my room
- Uni campus & culture: Sussex was great. Food-wise you had a few options (cafe’s, cafeterias and canteens) but there were these great food stalls on Tuesday’s and Thursdays! Class-wise, assignments and exams were pretty easy, most of my courses were made up of only 2 components – a midsem test and a final take home assignment (usually an essay or report). In Sydney your grade is made up of like a million things (weekly quizzes, presentations, homework submissions etc.), so just simply having 2 grade components made it easier to just focus on having fun, sight seeing and making friends. There were a lot of clubs and societies to choose from – I went to an art class with some friends once! The staff also seem to really care about their students’ wellbeing and often made exceptions for late submissions or missing class (I had to go to Cambodia for a week during my exchange – another story though).
- Nightlife/Clubbing: Definitely had your pick for nightclubs to go dance at, but had the odd 5-10 quid entry fee. I’m not sure how it compares to the US (as the US students I was with thought it was a bit boring) but the nightlife in Sydney is basically non-existent so I thought it was pretty cool. Sometimes it would be a bit dead though, so go a bit later (after midnight) and on Friday’s/Saturday’s.
Halloween @ the Imperial before a night out!
- Christmas: Nobody does Christmas like England, I don’t know why I didn’t expect it – Christmas in Australia in comparison is very lacking. But come November there are lights, signs and people dressed up as elves EVERYWHERE. It really does make it seem like a magical time, I’ve never been so happy every day to just step outside and feel the spirit hahaha
What I didn’t like 👎🏻
- Campus distance: I already mentioned Sussex was about a 40 minute bus from Brighton centre. I remember trying to squeeze classes to as few days as possible so I didn’t have to travel in, and TBH campus life was kind of dead anyways, the town is really where it’s at (shops, food, clubs). I would have the deepest naps every morning and afternoon on the bus to and from uni but they were great for recharging!
- Expensive: it’s true, England is definitely one of the most expensive places you’ll ever go. TBH it’s mostly because of the conversion, even if you just go to Poundland every day, 1 pound = more than you think. But I think for a once in a lifetime experience it’s worth it. Just make sure you plan things out and try to save where you can, and splurge when you need e.g. tickets, events or maybe clothes. Make sure you have a budget or an idea of how much you want to spend, but don’t be too strict on yourself, you’re there to have fun 🙂
The business building @ Sussex
- Homeless people: this wasn’t a huge deal but Brighton has quite a high population of homeless people (not that many in Sydney by comparison), it was a regular occurrence that a homeless person would approach you and ask for money, the locals seemed used to it and usually just ignored them. This kiiiind of broke my heart. I also had a terrible experience with some drunk people on the street once, but overall it’s not too bad safety-wise, just be aware!
- Culture was too similar: In comparison to Sydney, I wouldn’t say Brighton or England was THAT different, both’s main language is english, and in fact since Australia was colonised by the British and is part of the commonwealth a lot of things were very similar. I kind of wish I pushed myself outside my comfort zone more by going somewhere completely different – like Korea or Peru or Thailand or… you get the gist. Sure those places aren’t as trendy or basic like your typical ‘UK/US/Canada’ exchanges, but I think you’ll learn and gain more by travelling to these places. No regrets but next time I go abroad, will definitely be looking at non-english speaking countries first!
Brighton bathing boxes
My top tips ✅
- Pack light: you’re going to buy a lot of shit (probably) – more than you think. I was reallllly lucky that during my exchange I was able to give a bunch of crap to someone who could take it back to Sydney for me before my exchange ended. My suitcase was still SUPER tight when I finally left. When you’re packing, ask yourself, can I not buy this where I’m going? Will I probably buy something like this? e.g. don’t bring toothpaste or shampoo or even blankets. When it comes to clothes, don’t bring anything that you won’t wear everyday, you’ll be buying commemorative sweaters and unique fashion pieces while there so leave the old shirts at home! Make sure everything you take you ABSOLUTELY need.
Boundary festival – my first weekend in Brighton
- Try to get involved with societies: I didn’t do too much but it would have been nice to be more involved with uni and make more local friends. I’m quite an introvert so I really stuck to the exchange student cohort, looking back I wish I ventured out more and met more English people haha
- Plan plan plan – but be spontaneous: I was realllly busy the year I went on Exchange so come September I just had a packed bag and no plans when I hopped on the plane to the UK. I just figured I’d go with the flow and work it out along the way. Looking back there are things I totally forgot to do, or wish I did, so make sure you have at least a bucket list. Don’t have every day and weekend planned to the T, because you want to be able to make room for spontaneous things like festivals, carnivals, concerts, random trips to random places! But yes, make sure you do some preparation because there were definitely times when I had no idea what I wanted to do and wished I had planned more.
Visit to Stonehenge
- Don’t wait for other people: because I hadn’t done much planning, I kind of relied on the friends I made to make the plans. Sometimes though, there were things I wanted to do like hikes or trips, but decided not to because my friends were busy or had other plans. Looking back, I should have just gone by myself. I guess I was scared or maybe embarrassed? to go alone. But really, FUCK IT. You’re on exchange, you’re there to make memories, and there’s honestly something so EMPOWERING about travelling alone, so if there’s something you want to do and there’s issues coordinating with big groups or friends, just go by yourself. You’ll have so much fun. And you won’t regret missing out on something for people you don’t really know. Take a leap of faith and embrace the fear and uncertainty! (I once spent 40 minutes alone at a train station scared and stressed about getting on the wrong train, pretty sure like 5 trains I could’ve got on passed in that time haha)
Hike at the Seven Sisters
- Don’t get too comfortable: your mentality on exchange should really be – YOLO. You don’t want to be doing a million things that you burn out, but set some rules for yourself as a guide. Some good ones for example would be 1. Don’t eat at the same place every day – I did this and at the end I totally started to freak out that I hadn’t tried all the food in Brighton yet. I just found places I really liked so I got too comfortable and ate there almost every day (human nature). 2. Go out at least every 2nd weekend. Because you’ll be there for months, it’s not like a vacation where for 2 weeks you have to cram in as much sightseeing as possible, there will be times where you need to stay in because you need to study, you’re sick or you simply need to rest and recharge. But if weekend after weekend you’re not doing anything, you might look back and regret getting too comfortable – this is where the planning comes in handy, review your bucket list every weekend! and 3. Say yes! Some of your best memories will be saying yes to things you never even imagined – I got a tattoo, went to my first football game, went to Wales, visited the Harry Potter studios, attended festivals and carnivals and so much more on a whim 🙂
Your basic London trip pic
- Pick a place that will challenge you more: my last tip is something I’ve already mentioned, I know the typical ‘UK/US/Canada’ exchanges are really enticing because of the fancy uni names or popular landmarks/places that you’ve seen pictures of a billion times, but you can always go to those places on vacation. When you’re on exchange, especially alone, it’s a time to challenge and immerse yourself. You’ll feel so empowered and gain so much more than ‘fun’ in places where the culture and the experiences you’ll have are so much richer. Try picking a place where you don’t speak the native language, or a place on a different continent/side of the hemisphere, or just somewhere that you know will be super interesting to you! Trust me, you’ll return with more than your eyes opened, and no regrets!
My Final Thoughts 💭
My exchange was probably the most exciting and beautiful experience I’ve ever had (so far), and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Brighton was cute, full of enchanting sunsets, and charming people. It felt comforting but also had just enough to explore, and convenient transport meant the rest of England was also up for grabs, so there was never a dull moment. I’ve never felt so free, so young, so curious yet so at peace with the world around me, and so happy. I don’t know how much I really learnt (education-wise), but it was definitely valuable because it taught me a lot about myself and what I want – life’s too short to be spent in 1 corner of the world, and I will definitely be living abroad again, whether its a spontaneous move or for work. If you’re worried, or scared, just take a leap of faith and don’t look back, you’ll thank yourself later for all the precious memories – for me it was the fancy high teas, nights out dancing, beautiful new sites, impulsive adventures, even the simple little moments of reflection or aloneness, and of-course all the incredible friends I made. It all feels like a dream now. But all I can remember is how much fun I had, however fleeting it was. It’s something everyone should get to experience, at least once.
One of the last sunsets I saw in Brighton
Credit – Renee Liang