Foreign Correspondence: English Midlands Gets 'A' From Student

What's it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit.

Remy Baracco, 20, is studying this year at the University of Warwick, in Warwickshire, England. Baracco, from Port Royal, S.C., is a junior at the University of South Carolina.

Q. Your school is in the Midlands. Is it in a city?

A. No, the university is actually not in a town. Coventry is about 20 to 30 minutes away, by bus: There is no train to our campus. Coventry itself is about 20 minutes by train from Birmingham, the second-biggest city in England, and about 30 minutes from Leamington Spa.

Coventry has the reputation of being a bad city; this comes up when I tell someone I go to school near there. It has a reputation among the English for crime and for not being a nice place.

That's not to say, "Don't visit Coventry." There's some good history there.

During World War II, it supplied a lot for the war effort, so the Nazis really worked hard to destroy the place. The whole town was severely bombed. The town they built is apparently better than Coventry used to be.

The ruin of the bombed-out cathedral is still there. They built a new one right next to it.

Q. In the States, Coventry brings the story of Lady Godiva to mind.

A. In the city square is a building that has an outdoor Lady Godiva clock above it. It's similar to a cuckoo clock, in that it's a little statue of her — she's maybe 3 feet tall or something — where she rides out on her horse on the hour. And there's a larger statue of her in the city square.

I don't go around Coventry much; I just like Leamington better. It's a neat place to visit. It used to be called Royal Leamington Spa in Victorian times, but they since dropped the "Royal" from it. It's a small place but is a popular destination for shopping.

Leamington has student bars, plus some nice ones. It's a pretty upscale place.

For serious shopping, Birmingham is the place in the area to go. My parents stayed in Birmingham when they came to visit over winter break. There's a lot to do there, shopping-wise, but not that much to see beyond the obvious monuments, cathedral and stuff like that.

Q. What does the countryside look like?

A. Birmingham is urban, but the general area where I am is pretty rural. Going on the train, and when it's not foggy, you see a lot of greenery, farms and sheep. It's what you'd expect: country houses, livestock, crops and so on.

From what I've seen, you don't see the rural poverty that you do in some parts of the United States. Going past small communities on the train here, you see places where you'd want to get off for.

Q. Movies about English schools often show students wearing uniforms, professors wearing robes and so on. Is that how it is?

A. Warwick isn't an old school; it was founded in the '60s during a big wave of university building in Britain. Many of those other universities are struggling. There just aren't enough English students to fill the universities. But Warwick managed to come out on top. About a third of the students are foreign. Where are they from? No. 1 is China, followed by India, then the old Commonwealth nations.

As a result, the University of Warwick has a reputation for being cosmopolitan.

Even the teachers dress like Americans.

In terms of education, the University of Warwick is considered No. 4 in the country — it's up there with Oxford and Cambridge — and is one of the most expensive in England to attend.

The education system is a bit different than what I'm used to. I'm a history major doing first-year undergraduate modules. For each of the three classes I'm taking, I go to one lecture a week and one seminar, which is like a discussion group.

It's a lot more independent. I'm not required to go to class, and I don't have homework every night. I have a couple essays due every term — they don't have American semesters here — and each essay is something like 2,000 words. At the end, as an exchange student, I have to write a long essay or take a final exam. I get to choose.

Q. Thought for food?

A. A lot of meat and potatoes. Some things I like; some things are pretty gross. Traditional English food isn't so good. I'm not a big fan of pork pies and toad-in-the-hole. My flatmates make a lot of stir-fry with curry.

Q. How's campus life?

A. They're liberal about drinking, and I never get carded on campus, where there are actually three bars. One is in the student union, which was recently rebuilt. One that's set apart isn't just a student bar: People go there from the local area. You have the Warwick Art Center on campus, which offers plays and other cultural events — it's famous in the area — and after a performance they'll go to that bard. There's a place on campus called the Copper Room where there are performances — comedians and acts like that.

Warwick is a campus. You don't need a bunch of police outside a campus bar to keep people from fighting: These are very smart people inside. There is no special campus police. I've only seen a couple security vans driving around campus.

Q. On campus or off, are bars over there getting loaded to the max with flat-screen TVs?

A. There a few that are, but it's nothing like in America. There are sports bars, but a normal place might just have one or two TVs. The place I'm going to tonight has a bunch of them in the basement, but TVs aren't a central feature at the place.

People do watch TV, but you have to buy a license to own one. Nobody in my dorm has one hooked up to cable, though a few are connected to video players and games.

Q. Did the student body follow the Super Bowl?

A. Actually, they had a Super Bowl party on campus. It was in the atrium, and it was packed. The university doesn't have big-time sports. There are teams, but they're on a club level. There's even an American football team for students; its club members turned out for the Super Bowl. Other people did, too.

I think they were split between the American teams, but when the Saints started winning, people rooted for the Saints. The most popular team is definitely the New England Patriots. The reason? They've been good since people here started following American football.