After an overnight 9 hour flight from Miami to London, then a 1 hour flight to Manchester, and then a 1 hour train ride to Blackburn, and a short 5 minute bus ride, I’ve finally arrived at my new home for the next 6 weeks, the Royal Blackburn Hospital!
My first impression of Blackburn when I arrived by train is the beauty that surrounds the city. Located in a valley, Blackburn is a cute little town surrounded by gently rolling grassy hills that stretches for miles and miles. The hospital area is located on higher grounds and from here, you can see almost the entire city below. Blackburn is also a very ordinary town, not somewhere you’ll likely find on a tourists’ itinerary. So being here, it’s cool to see what the “real” UK is like and feel like a local!
As I had previously agreed to meet with the program administrator at 1500 (or 3pm), by the time I got to the hospital grounds with my luggage in my hands, I was 17 minutes late, and so I decided to walk directly to the Learning Center where the administrator’s office was. The program administrator was incredibly welcoming and made sure that I was comfortable, and offered another time we could meet up if I was feeling “shattered” (which I’m guessing means “tired” in British English). I was indeed exhausted, but excited nevertheless about my arrival, and insisted that I was ok to proceed with the orientation. She introduced me to many people at the hospital, including the librarians, nurses at Occupational Health, doctors, and other people who work with the students from AUC. Everyone I’ve met here at the hospital have been really nice so far, and I can tell already that they are very happy to have us here. It seems like I’ve found a clinical site with a very positive atmosphere for my first rotation.
After the administrator took me to get my ID made, register with the library, and gave me a wonderful personalized tour of the hospital facilities, just me and her, I finally got settled in my dorm rooms. I am here with 5 other AUC students, 3 of which I know from my class. The other two are a few semesters above me. One of the students has already been here for nearly a year while the others had arrived a week before me and had already started on their rotations. So far, every student I’ve talked to here from AUC have had really great experiences here in Blackburn and say that the preceptors look highly upon AUC students and really enjoy teaching us here, and giving them a lot of clinical hands-on experience. I think this is a great sign, and I’m really looking forward to my rotation.
The dorms here are single rooms, furnished with a bed, bedside table, study desk, bookshelf, drawers, wardrobe, chair, sink, and mirrors. Each room has a heater, and comes with blanket, bed sheets, pillow, towels, and clothes hangers. The pillows are a little flat though, so if you come, I would suggest either buying one here or bringing your own. All of us AUC students live together on the same end of the hallway in the dorms. We each have our own bedrooms, but we share a bathroom (2 showers, 2 toilets), as well as a kitchen and TV lounge. There are stoves, microwave, and fridge in the kitchen, there are plates, silverwear, and cups available for us to use. There is also an iron and ironing board for us to use for free, as well as coin washers and dryers. The showers and toilets are cleaned everyday, and every week, a housekeeper comes by to deliver clean bed linens and towels for free, as well as dump out your trash for you. The rest of the dorms are occupied by UK students from Manchester (University of Manchester maybe?), staff, and doctors.
After I settled into my dorm room and got some rest, I ran into the other AUC students here in the hallway and we all went out for dinner at a local pub called The Postal Order, which was actually more like a restaurant than a bar. Before I came to Britain, I had only known that they ate fish and chips in the UK, and haggis up in Scotland. Coming to this restaurant was perfect because I was eager to find out what real British food exactly was. The first thing I saw on their entrée list when I opened up the menu was their “award-winning” Steak and Kidney Pudding, which was served with a side of mushy peas and chips with gravy. I was amused. I had no idea what it was but I knew I had to get it. In the United States, a dish name like that would have made people lose their appetites… never had I imagined I’d ever see the words Kidney and Pudding together in the same dish name.
As I expected, the dish turned out to be much better than how it sounded to my American ears. While the dish indeed had chunks of steak and minced kidneys (which is so subtle that you probably can’t even taste it if you’ve never had kidneys before), the “pudding” was actually not the chocolate or vanilla-flavored corn-starch glob that us Americans are used to eating, but a flaky-crusted puff pastry, like on chicken pot pie, which was filled with the steak and minced kidney and gravy. The mushy peas, however, is exactly what it sounds like, sweet green peas, mushed, like mashed potatoes. I already like sweet peas as they are, so I don’t understand why mushing them would make them any more appealing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. The chips turned out to be just French fries, which they gave me gravy to dip them in. So yeah, that was my first meal in Blackburn, England.
Afterwards, we went to a really really local pub called “The Observatory.” It’s a really small place with hardly anyone there. The people who are there are all regulars from around the neighborhood. There’s the elderly group that comes in at the same time every night to play dominoes, people who reminding me of my grandma and grandpa. Then, there’s the guys at the bar swaying and singing together loudly to a Coldplay song, karaoke’d by one of their buddies, and then there’s the three kids with the rebellious hair dancing (or maybe just jumping around) to the karaoke’d music on what seems like the smallest dance floor in the world, if you can even call it that, as it also doubles as the place where you play darts (on the single dart board). My fellow AUCers and I played some pool, and some “spot the difference” puzzle games, and got to hang out and get to know each other. When we were on the island during Basic Sciences, we never really hung out in the same social circles or even sat in the same areas in the lecture hall. It’s pretty cool that now after Basic Sciences, we are all suddenly reshuffled, and form new bonds together. I really like our little AUC community here in Blackburn. As we are all here together in a foreign country, we are each other’s greatest supporters.