LIVING IN THE UK
What is it like, being a study abroad student in England?
In the words of someone who immigrated to London and became one of its most famous residents, “In London everyone is different, which means everyone can fit in” – yes, he is fictional, but the idea is right. This is a truly diverse, international city, where nearly 40% of the population was born outside of the UK, including 25% born outside Europe. Everyone is different and that means somehow everyone fits in.
As a study abroad student in London, you are balancing things – being a university student, with all that entails in terms of time management and work; being a tourist, living in one of (if not the) world’s greatest cities; being a newcomer, someone navigating somewhere new. Using a language which in which you are fluent but speaking differently, with the most familiar words – course, class, paper, final not only mean different things than they do in the US, they can mean different things at different British universities.
As a student you might feel, at first, that you have much more “free time”, with much less “in class” time. Except that “free time” isn’t actually free, because there’s a much great expectation of independent work outside class, and guidelines such as one hour of class = six hours of reading. Or you might find that the way you are taught requires a much great time commitment (labs are very different here) and your schedule looks packed in ways you’d hoped it wouldn’t be.
But the important thing to remember how you use your time is up to you. Your “free” time might not be as free as you thought, but it is flexible, so you can figure out what works best for you. Study in the morning, go exploring in the afternoon. You can go to a market on Thursday, and the library on Saturday. Be a tourist during the week and avoid the weekend crowds. Go in the evening – many museums have special late night openings.
Don’t worry about feeling you don’t know what to do. When you’re living abroad, some things which seem straightforward can be complicated. Take finding an address: you need the postcode (the combination of letters and numbers, like WC1 3AE) alongside the street name, as there are more than thirty “Church Road” in London (and not including Church Street, Lane, and Way). Some street names don’t sound like names – “Cheapside”, “Houndsditch”, “Cockpit Steps”; others are deceptive -- Rotton Row is in one of the poshest parts of London. Queueing is another good example – there is a queue for everything, and if you don’t have to queue to pay, chances are you didn’t see the queue and just queue jumped (and people will be too polite to point this out). There are unwritten rules – never stand on the left on the escalator tube – but you will absorb and adapt to them without even realising.
It is up to you to find your place in London. There are hundreds of clubs and opportunities at each university, and that’s a good place to start. What better way to get to know a place than mixing with locals who share your interests? By the time you’ve found the café where you become a regular, the market you always go to, and your favourite park, you’ll practically be a local yourself.
Everyone says that London is expensive, but until you are living here it is hard to understand what that really means in practice. It is very, very expensive indeed. However, it is also full of student discounts, so make sure you take your ID everywhere, and always ask if there’s a student discount, because there often is.
It is really worth mapping out what you will spend when – the first weeks, for example, are more expensive when you are setting up. There are apps and tools to help you on our resources page, including a budget template help you keep track.
Exploring the UK
You are REQUIRED to notify the programme office when traveling away from your UK university base. This is easy to do - a quick text or email stating simply your dates and destination. The more detail you send, the more effectively we can respond in an emergency.
London welcomes millions of tourists every year, and using resources like Visit London and TimeOut can really help you make the most of your time here. Visit London, for example, has a list of tips for sightseers in the capital, and Secret London has a five mile walking self-guided walking route that can help you get your bearings and connect many of the major sites.
The London Underground (‘Tube’) is one of the things that defines the experience of living in London for many people: the rush of warm wind on your face as a train approaches; the robotic refrain of “Mind the Gap”; standing nose to nose with a stranger at rush hour – and all while never, ever making eye contact. It’s convention for Londoners to moan about the transport system but the Tube is extensive, efficient, and very well mapped and sign-posted for tourists. Be aware, though, and plan ahead -- certain lines do run 24h services at weekends, but most of them stop around midnight.
In Central London Buses are frequent and often quicker and easier than the tube once you factor in all the stairs and ticket barriers. They are certainly cheaper, and there’s nothing quite like sitting on the top of a double decker watching the sights of London go by through a steamy window. Your London University will help you apply for a Student Oyster Card which will allow you discounted travel in London.
Around the UK
The USA is nearly 40 times larger in area than the UK and making a long drive from London means something different than a long drive from Boston (try saying ‘it’s only a 4-hour drive’ to a Brit and watch their face fall). Accents, landscapes and even culture vary a lot in its smaller area, so it is well worth exploring the country while you’re here.
The UK is well served with trains and coaches (the National Express doing the job of US Greyhound buses). We recommend all students buy a 16-25 railcard which saves you 1/3 on rail fares and pays for itself pretty much the first time you use it. Although train prices seem expensive at first glance there are many off-peak travel tickets and special deals you can find.
Please remember that mapping a two thousand year old city using smartphones is not straightforward, and names/references can be deceiving (‘Camden Market’ on Google Maps pulls up a t-shirt store that’s not the actual market, which is just up the road towards the lock).
We have endless ideas about how to spend an afternoon "out and about" in London -- every Londoner you talk to will have their own ideas -- but as places to start we have the following suggestions by historian and Blue Badge guide Richard Tames:
London is within easy day trip distance of some of England's most historic and beautiful cities, including Oxford and Cambridge by train, and he has written the following brief guides for our students
For students on the Oxford programme and those getting to know the city, he's written two self-guided walks