Today marks the two year anniversary since I started my year-long adventure in London. While I had hoped to make this post last year on the one year anniversary of being abroad, alas, college and life had gotten in the way and foiled my plans. The timing didn’t really feel right until now, when I finally got a chance to just sit down and reflect on my everything.
So without further ado, here is my somewhat personal post reminiscing on things that I learned while in London.
1. Gaining a true appreciation for city living
When I found out I was accepted to study abroad for a whole year at the London School of Economics and Political Science, I was beyond ecstatic. A long time dream of mine was finally coming to fruition. To top it all off, I was immensely lucky to not only be going to school in the heart of London, but also literally living in it (I lived right across from Trafalgar Square). Time was marked by Big Ben’s chimes and the spirit of the city was alive and vibrant, despite the rain and amounts of black/gray that everyone loves to wear. There was always a plethora of things to do around town, new places to see, new people to meet, new foods to try. The energy of London lived up to and exceeded my greatest expectations, and likewise, invigorated my spirit. My eyes were opened to so many new things (people, politics, cultures), and I am beyond grateful to have had the experiences I had while there. To me, there is nothing quite like that quick city lifestyle.
2. How to make the most of your money
Being abroad for a year versus being there for a few days or weeks gets a little tricky on the monetary side of things. Not only did I have to open a bank account and deal with an unfavorable exchange rate, but I was now also responsible for handling my expenses completely on my own. There is a sense freedom and independence in that, but as everyone knows, things can get expensive quickly in London, or any city for that matter. Yet, I realized soon enough that London doesn’t really have to be all that expensive if you know how to spend your money wisely. I was definitely not like my other American counterparts who had the privilege of eating out at fancy restaurants everyday or shopping till I dropped, but I did not stop myself from a little splurge now and then (#treatyoself). Instead of eating out all the time, I bought groceries and cooked/prepared meals for myself when I could. Instead of shopping at Waitrose or Whole Foods, I stuck with Tesco and Sainsburys (make use of those meal deals!). I took advantage of the student discounts at stores/attractions when it was offered. And if I wasn’t in a particular rush to get somewhere, I’d skip the Tube and just walk (the bus is another good alternative). There are plenty of ways to keep your wallet happy and let your money go the extra mile. Simply put, using proper judgment can save you a lot, and when you finally do go to that fancy restaurant, it won’t pain you as much to see the check at the end of your meal.
3. Managing time, or at least trying to manage it better
Knowing that the British education system is an exam based system, I knew that I could not just brush anything aside. Everything is based on that last exam at the end of the summer term (at least at LSE it is) – so even if you handed in all your classwork, if you fail the exam, you fail the course. Having to adjust to this from a participation/second-chance type system in the US was at first liberating (I hate participating, so really the British system was amazing for me), but also terrifying when you finally understood the intensity and rigor the British system demands of you.
My first few weeks at LSE were frankly more confusing than it had to be. Boiled down, there were a lot of issues between my school back in the States and LSE in terms of course equivalencies/credits. Frankly, I was pissed off that things weren’t starting off on the right foot. Unfortunately, this led me to getting behind in a few classes because I had to switch into new ones a few weeks after our term started. However, the positive thing that came out of it was a firmer establishment of time management. Now that I was behind, I knew there was no room for slacking – and the catch up game was real – it was enough to drive anyone insane. But of course, uni is not the only thing in life, so making sure I didn’t go crazy, I knew blocking out time to actually explore and enjoy/relax was important to have as well. Though I’m still not the best at managing time, the experience definitely forced me to improve – and I can see a vast change even now because of my time abroad.
4. Learning to let loose
Going hand-in-hand with my previous thought, learning to let go and just have fun is equally as important in life. Being at uni does sometimes stress and tire you out, but there are a ton of ways to take a break in London. The city is literally always buzzing. There’s never a dearth of activities or events to check out. From late nights at the museums to movie premieres/red carpet events (one of my all time favorite things that I got to do) and partying/drinking to trying out new foods, there is definitely something that’ll strike your fancy. It is all within your fingertips, and you just have to go out and grab it!
Some of my favorite things I did to get away from the hoopla:
- Fangirling at movie premieres at Leicester Square
- Any sort of event in Trafalgar Square
- Hanging out with friends & floormates
- Going for a run around St. James’ Park & Buckingham Palace
- Simply just exploring and going around for a walk, or taking a longer route back to my dorm from lectures/classes
5. Travel, travel, travel
Looking back, London was the perfect place to be based for travel both within the UK and out in Europe. There are a number of airports, rail stations, and coach stations all over the city, so you are bound to find a way to go on your holiday somehow! There are also always a ton of great deals and promotions that pop up (shout outs to Ryanair & National Express). And even if you couldn’t be bothered to leave London, the city itself is filled with an amalgam of things to see. Just like letting loose, learning to explore and dive deeper into the cultures of each area of London provides great insights to the overall multicultural dynamic of the city.
Some memorable places I explored: (there are a lot more, but these are ones that you can read more about!)
My time in London has meant so much to me and has taught me so much more than just these 5 things. I can only look back with the utmost fondness and gratitude – I can’t wait to be back again someday soon!