The good - and ugly - sides of a Fine City

Swiss exchange student Quynh Trang Do in Norwich... with cycle helmet.

Swiss exchange student Quynh Trang Do in Norwich... with cycle helmet. - Credit: Archant

So is Norwich 'A Fine City' for people from outside the county? Swiss exchange student Quynh Trang Do gives her verdict.

When I told my friends and family that I was going to Norwich for a semester abroad they all asked: 'Where now?' and my answer would systematically be 'It's a cute little town two hours away from London'.

My first impression of Norwich was that it was quite small, but in the good sense: the city centre has everything a student needs, it's not overwhelmingly busy.

On a sunny day, a walk by the riverside or the old part of town is lovely. It's also a place where history and modernity come together: the hyper-modern Forum building is a two-minutes' walk away from the St Peter Mancroft Gothic church, creating a dynamic landscape. Cobbled streets, red bricks, modern buildings intermingling with historical monuments, a Tesco shop and cute cafés at every streetcorner: Norwich is – in my opinion – England in a nutshell.

What attracted me the most though was UEA's renowned teaching of Creative Writing. The modules are taught in an interactive and profession-oriented way, offering us students multiple opportunities to meet professionals and expand our network. The learning material is diverse as well, which allows me to discover and develop a new set of skills, as I'm juggling between English literature, news stories, blogging, and media analysis.

According to a little survey I carried out asking exchange students what they liked the best and least about Norwich, one of the worst aspects of the city was… the weather. While this is not inherent to Norwich, the cliché of bad weather in the UK seem to be true; the sun has been pretty shy and it's still snowing in March.

In second position for worst aspect is this city's public transportation. According to the survey, it's too expensive to get around and too unreliable as well.

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I've lost count of the times I've missed a bus because it came too early or worse, the bus didn't show up at all. For its price, the service could and should be improved. For your reference, Swiss people are spoiled with a public transportation system that runs like clockwork, so when a bus or train is only thirty seconds late, you'll most likely be looking at the person next to you and they'll be rolling their eyes in dismay.

Now you could tell me that biking is a good alternative. Which it is, I was very happy to see how flat this city was when I first arrived, thus having a great biking around potential, and in addition I'd be able to do an effortless daily work-out. The thing is, there's a lack of bike lanes in this city and I've been insulted by both pedestrians and car drivers, which isn't a pleasant experience, especially if you're heading for your 9am seminar and people have already been aggressive towards you at this early hour.

Speaking of, there's a serious issue of street harassment in this city, often along with racist comments. Every single time I went out, in the evening but also during daytime, there has been some form of catcalling or cars pulling over to make distasteful comments on my ethnicity, which doesn't make me feel safe. I know that I'm not an isolated case either, as my female friends have had similar experiences.

However, this brings me to the sense of community and the kindness of the people I've met in Norwich. After getting used to random people calling me 'love', 'darling', or 'honey', I was pleasantly surprised when people I've just met offered to walk me home, made sure I was safe or just readily gave me a hand when I first got here and was completely lost. Compared to bigger and busier cities, there's a display of solidarity in Norwich.

Easter holidays are coming up and I'm going home during the break and this is what I'll tell my family and friends about this city: 'Norwich is a lovely little city full of that English je ne sais quoi. Its vibrant culture and history are reflected in the city itself. There are some issues that must be addressed, and some of them are already in that process. And, there's a great supportive community and a sense of solidarity only a smaller city can provide.'