While Northern Ireland is technically just another part of the UK, it has its own micro-culture which sets it apart.
1. The language
There is nothing that will boost your confidence more than getting the chance to practice your language skills abroad. However, my ability to speak and understand English was questioned straight after I got off the plane and into a Belfast taxi. During the drive to Queen's Accommodation, I was trying to make conversation with the driver, silently praying that my 'Yes', 'No' and ' Oh, really' would actually correspond with what he was saying to me. The conclusion: the Irish version of English is rather different from ' English English'. People here speak much more quickly, with a different intonation and even use different words. For example, 'craic' means fun, 'Fair play'- well done, 'grand' – something like 'great, perfect' … and that’s just the tip of the ice berg.
The good news is, you will start to pick the language up at some point without even noticing it.
2. The weather
As many foreigners will know, London can be cold and rainy but not quite as much as Northern Ireland can be. When I first moved here, I didn't bring any warm clothing, as in London when it was 'cold', I would be totally fine in a coat. Here, in Belfast, I quickly acquired a 'foreigner's survival kit' consisting of warm boots, fur jacket, gloves, tights, 5 pullovers, scarves… and a bunch of umbrellas, because none of them survived more than a few months due to a very strong wind!
The good news is, you do get used to the weather, too (I personally, found myself super-happy to come back to Belfast with its +16 after Moscow's +35 C). Plus, you will notice – the air in Belfast is very fresh and it's a very green city. So even if you don't get to enjoy great weather, you will still have an opportunity to enjoy some great nature.
3. The calmness
I think everyone has an idea of London as a big ant-hill that never sleeps. You always have something to do there, transport runs all day and night long, and you can stay up till the morning. Belfast is different. It is much smaller than London, and therefore much calmer. This is especially evident on weekends when a lot of people come back home to spend time with their families and the city is not as hectic. You can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the city without getting trampled by the hoards.
4. The shopping space
While a lot of UK shops and food chains operate here, there are lots of home-grown local brands too. Personally, I was desperate to find my favorite Pret-a-manger coffee shop chain which was a life-saver during my London’s life, but quickly discovered Clements instead. So, be prepared that the high street in Belfast can look slightly different to London. Another thing to note: most shops in Belfast close at six (with the exception of malls like Victoria square which stay open till 9 pm). One Sundays, everything opens at 1 pm (which is a good reason to stay in bed for a bit longer, right?)
5. Strangers will talk to you
One of the most surprising things I found in Belfast is that people here are very eager to talk to you. In London, it is quite unusual to see people talking to strangers (on the tube, in a queue, at an exhibition, in a pub, etc). In Belfast, it’s the opposite – people can start a conversation on a bus or approach you in a pub, and sometimes these ‘small talks’ can even grow to friendship.
More reasons to love Belfast
PhD (Hons) History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics| 2nd Year |Russia
I am a second year PhD student doing research on ISIS propaganda. Before coming to Belfast, I lived in London for three years and Moscow for two years. I’m getting used to living in a smaller and calmer city and am now totally in love with Belfast. Through my blog, I hope to tell everyone about my experience of living and studying in the UK. In my free time I love doing Argentine tango, reading and travelling.
More from Anna's blog