PROS AND CONS OF BIRMINGHAM

Thinking back on our time in Birmingham it's easy to view it all nostalgically. Living in Birmingham was overall an excellent experience for us.  It wasn't all good and it wasn't all bad. It was like living anywhere. There were pros and cons and we decided to look at these and try to be even by looking at 5 of each. If you are looking to get a YMS visa like we did then maybe this will help you decide it Birmingham is the right place for you to live.

Lets start with the positive.

Pros:

Great location in the UK:
     Birmingham is in the West Midlands which is in the middle of the United Kingdom. This makes it a convenient location to live in order to travel anywhere else in the UK. You can easily drive to places all over the UK from Birmingham. There are trains going all over the UK that you can take from Birmingham. New Street Station is a massive train station so trains are running all the time. You only have to travel about 2 hours by train to get to cities like Manchester, London, Cardiff and Bristol. The cost of these trains is also very reasonable most of the time. It is easy to get great deals on train tickets out of Birmingham. There also happens to be an international airport making it easy to travel outside of the UK. The airport is well connected to the city centre. It takes no time to get there by train. If trains aren't your thing then there are cheap coach buses leaving from Birmingham like the Mega Bus. Birmingham is definitely not an isolating place to live as it's location makes it easy to leave when you want to.  It might seem like a bizarre pro but Birmingham is great because it is easy to leave. This worked out great for us since we wanted to explore the UK.

Affordable:
     Birmingham is the second city in terms of population but a much more affordable city to live in than London. I suppose that London's cost of living is easy to beat but Birmingham really is much cheaper for just about everything you can imagine. You will actually be able to afford to eat at restaurants, go out, see shows, and travel with the money you save. Obviously there are cheaper places to live but we found that for a big city it is a bargain.

Decent Job Market:
     We had no problems at all finding work while we lived in Birmingham. We were looking for entry level office jobs which seemed to be easy to get. There were only short periods of time that we went without any work. Being a bigger city there is lots of work in the city and the surrounding area in all sorts of industries. Chances are a job suiting your qualifications will not be hard to find. We liked using the temp agencies which made finding a job easier than we've ever experienced.

Huge Vegan Community:
     This was one of the biggest pros for us as we really enjoyed socialising with the Birmingham Vegans facebook group. They are very active and focused on fun social events. They have over 3000 members and  host 4 social events per month or more so it is an easy way to make friends. We met tons of people through this group. Aside from the large vegan community we met lots of people through work. Either people in Birmingham are very social or maybe it's the UK as a whole that is more social than Canadians.

Cultural Events and Entertainment:
     Being a large city there is a lot of entertainment options. There is lots of choice in terms of pubs, bars and restaurants in the city for going on nights out. There are also a number of music venues such as the Birmingham Conservatoire, O2 Academy, Barclaycard Arena, Genting Arena, O2 Institute, Rainbow Venues, and many other places to see live music. There are theatres to see plays like the New Alexandria Theatre, the Hippodrome, and the REP. Birmingham has many Museums and Art Galleries. Throughout the year events take place around the city or at Centenary Square. If you are looking for something to do, chances are there is something going on in the city.


Cons:

Poor public transit:
     One complaint that we had living in Birmingham was the public transit. It seemed to be expensive for what you get. I suppose it depends on where you live but we had to rely on taking the bus. The bus was often delayed by traffic and extremely crowded. Birmingham has a few different transit operators so you could get a National Express West Midlands bus pass but then you won't be able to get on buses operated by the other companies like Diamond. There is a network pass that allows you to use all of the different buses but it is more expensive. Then, if you want to be able use the trains and tram it is even more expensive.
     In British Columbia we were used to the bus drivers being extremely helpful. This is not the case in Birmingham. Whenever we talked to a bus driver they were rude, we couldn't hear then through the glass they were protected by and they couldn't give us any straight answers. In our experience they never knew how to give directions or help on where to get off the bus. We asked if the daysaver daypass expired at midnight or if it was good until the last bus of the night and the bus drivers didn't have a clue. Sometimes the bus drivers would just look at us blankly when we asked a question. Also the buses would get stopped all the time for ticket inspections which would take forever. The inspector would go around and check the tickets of everyone on the bus and give out penalties to people that had an invalid bus pass. We would often be there waiting for the authorities to issue fines to people. This would all take place during the morning or after work rush of course.

Concrete Jungle:
     First of all I want to stress that the city centre of Birmingham is great with all sorts of cool buildings and architecture. There is also a surprising amount of parks in Birmingham such as Cannon Hill Park. That being said there are quite a few parts of Birmingham that are not easy on the eyes and fit the concrete jungle reputation that Birmingham has. There is lots of industrial looking areas, some of the areas look abandoned, there are neigbourhoods of attached houses that go on forever. Sometimes it's hard to tell where you are in Birmingham because all the neighbourhoods look pretty much the same. Birmingham also has a lot of litter all over the ground in the city centre and in quite a few of the residential areas. A lot of this stuff could be said of any big city to be fair.

Weather:
     The UK has notoriously dark and gloomy weather. It did seem like the weather in southern England was much sunnier than Birmingham. We would go to London and it would be pretty nice weather and then get back to Birmingham and it would be miserable. We didn't really have summer weather then whole 2 years we lived in Birmingham. Dryers are not as common place in the UK as they are in Canada. We had to hang up our clothes to dry them so it seemed like we were always battling the constantly changing miserable weather in order to have dry clothes. Maybe this is why the English are known for complaining about the weather.

Brummie Accent:
     The accent can be difficult to understand if you're not used to it. As outsiders we didn't know that much about the UK's different accents. We had seen British movies and British TV so we knew there were different accents but we didn't know there were so many variations. We knew that Ozzy Osbourne was from Birmingham but that's it. It turns out that the Birmingham accent, or Brummie accent, is pretty distinctive and quite thick. We found it difficult to understand what Brummies were saying at first because the accent was so strong. They also had a hard time understanding us to be honest. This made things awkward a few times.
     Also, everyone was telling us not to pick up the accent if we could avoid it. It turns out that the Birmingham accent doesn't get much respect from the rest of the UK. The UK has major class issues. The close by Black Country "Yam Yam" dialect gets lumped in with Birmingham a lot of the time which is even more difficult to understand. We did get used to the accent eventually. Recently we watched a travel show with Ozzy Osbourne and we were able to understand everything he said even without the subtitles the show added whenever Ozzy was talking. Was this because we lived in Birmingham for 2 years? Maybe.

Crowded:
     Birmingham is the second biggest city in the UK. The UK, especially England, is already crowded by our standards. Canada is not very crowded. Birmingham has tons of people walking all over the place in the city centre and it can take forever to get from A to B in the morning and after work. There are down times of course. Before and after work, traffic can be a slow painful crawl. There were so many times we were taking the bus down Hagley Road and saw people walking almost as fast as the bus was moving. This actually inspired us to walk to work rather than bus since the bus was so expensive and it barely saved us any time at all. Birmingham is definitely not as crowded as London but still quite crowded during rush hour. One thing to add is that in London people are used to the crowds, know how to walk and keep to the right on escalators. In Birmingham it is more chaotic. People are walking all over the place and standing wherever they want on the escalator so it is harder to move through the crowd in Birmingham.



It was easy to get sucked in ranting about the cons but, just in case it isn't apparent, we felt that overall the pros outweighed the cons. Living in Birmingham is something we are going to remember for the rest of our lives and it was such an enjoyable experience. We can't wait to get back to Birmingham in a few years to see how much it has changed and see our friends. There is all sorts of construction and plans for Birmingham so it is going to be very exciting to see all the changes when we get back there.


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Have you ever been to Birmingham? What kind of pros and cons do you have about this city?

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