As I write this, it is my 187th day spent abroad, outside the United States. I am currently studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science and am spending my entire junior year here. I remember debating whether or not I wanted to spend an entire year abroad because it is quite a commitment. In addition to being away from SMU for a whole year, there would be a whole new way of life awaiting me, one that did not include Texas sunshine. But in the end, after speaking with several professors as well as doing some of my own research, I decided that this was too great of an opportunity to pass up. So I filled out several applications, to St. Andrews University in Scotland, University College London, and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and decided to come to LSE in the end.
Packing for a whole year in London is quite an ordeal. You simply have no clue what to bring, what to send later, and what to buy here. I remember a friend telling me that to pack, you put everything that you think you need into a pile, and then take only half of that. After this experience, I am quite sure that it is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. Arriving in London way back in September, I really had no idea what was awaiting me here in this city that was the center of the world for such a long time. Classes began within 10 days of my arrival and I still had so many things to do.
New Places, New People
One of the best things about coming to London is the chance to meet new people. LSE has numerous international students, many of whom are the smartest and brightest from their countries. I have met people from almost everywhere in the world, from Mauritius and Turkey to Sri Lanka and Kenya. I go to class with students from Pakistan, India, South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Brazil, Japan, China, Bulgaria, Russia, and Finland. The list could be extended for quite a few more lines. It is so interesting to talk to these people, to listen to their life experiences, and to hear about their views on world issues and events.
Of course, another great thing about London is the incredible history that this city has. Walking to school, I pass the famed St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is just across the River Thames from the Tate Modern and the Globe Theater. Further up the road is the pub where Dickens did some of his writing and the Royal Courts of Justice. I live just 10 minutes north of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye are a mere 10 minutes by Tube and the famous Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, and Covent Garden are only a few minutes walk away from that. But, London is also famous for so much more. The numerous old markets, from Spitalfields and Borough to Camden and Portobello are all lined with great vendors and food stalls that are a great way to spend a weekend morning.
Also, there is a lot of jargon and British slang that really got me confused the first couple of weeks. It is very interesting because while you don’t really pick up the accent; you do pick up the slang very quickly. For example:
British Slang American Word
The lift = The elevator
A jumper = A sweater
Tube = Subway
Loo = Bathroom
A mate = A friend
A quid = one British pound (their currency)
Uni = University
I can’t be bothered = I don’t feel like it
Half-nine, half-ten, etc. = 9:30, 10:30, etc.
There are probably more; but these are the ones that really stand out to me.
So far, I have done quite a bit of travelling. Being in London has its advantages because so many destinations are available through a direct flight with one of the discount airlines in Europe (Ryanair, Easyjet, etc.). London has 5 airports operating these flights so you can imagine the number of places one can go with all these options (London’s 5 airports consist of Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and City). Over Christmas holidays, I chose to stay in London and do a bit of travelling. I went to Lisbon, Portugal and Madrid/Barcelona, Spain. I was also able to go to Amsterdam/The Hague, Netherlands and Brussels, Belgium. There is so much to see that every holiday seems like a race to the finish. Everyone is always so tired coming back to London, but in a good way.
LSE gives us 5 weeks off between Lent Term and Summer Term, when exams take place. Most students take a few weeks off before hitting the books again in the library. I have heard stories of students studying that would be almost unimaginable at SMU. Scotland and Switzerland are in the works for Easter break.
Overall, it has been a truly life-changing experience so far. My views have been challenged and reinforced. I have met so many great people that will become life-long friends. And living in London has been quite the journey. This city has so much to offer and I don’t think that even I will be able to experience this city fully this year. It is incredible how this city has become home for me. The remaining few months will be both hard because of exams but exciting because of the experiences that still lay ahead. Until next time, Cheers!