I have always known that at some point during my academic career, I would study abroad. In my sophomore year of college, I decided to come to Queen Mary University in London for my junior year, and I’ve never looked back. Staying for the year has (so far) proved to be the best decision I could have made and going into second semester, I feel so much more prepared to take on life in London than I did back in September. Here are some (hopefully) helpful tips to help you begin your study abroad adventure.
- Figure out the tube. It’s pretty straightforward, but it never hurts to be super familiar with all the lines and the stops. The more prepared you are, the less stressful the journey is! Queen Mary is really nicely located in that we’re sandwiched between two tube stops (Mile End and Stepney Green) so you’re always within walking distance of the Central, District, and Hammersmith and City Lines. You’ve also got the Overground from Whitechapel, and the DLR from Bow Church. Not to mention all the buses you can get!
- Along with figuring out the tube, download Citymapper. It works on any smartphone and is legitimately a lifesaver. You can also plan journeys in advance so you can see if the tubes will be running when you have to leave or come back to your flat. Night tube is wonderful, but only runs Friday and Saturday night, and only on select lines. Depending on where you are in London, there are 24-hour buses that run so check those out too! (Citymapper also has the tube/rail maps available offline so you can always sneakily check if you’re going the wrong direction when you’re underground.)
- Join a society (or two). After fresher’s week, this is basically the easiest way to make new friends. There are societies for everything at QM, so you can take part in something you’ve always loved doing, or maybe even try something new and adventurous! Within a couple of weeks of joining the theatre society, I was doing their 24 hour festival and two months later, I was taking part in their panto. I met some wonderful people doing both of these, and I’m so glad I decided to join.
- Explore London (and don’t be afraid to do it alone). Being in the UK gives you amazing travel opportunities across the continent, but don’t forget to explore all that England, and London have to offer as well. I’d never really traveled on my own prior to this year, but there’s something peaceful about walking up and down the streets of London, just taking it all in. Don’t get me wrong, I love exploring with friends, but don’t let the idea of doing things alone stop you from discovering all the cool things in London. Side Note: most of the museums in London are free, which means you can go as many times as you like!
- For things near QM: check out Olympic Park, Shoreditch, and Canary Wharf
- If you are going to travel outside of London, make sure to show your student card! You’ll have to use your QM one (or BRP if you’ve got one), but showing it at museums and tourist sites can get you massive discounts, if not free entrance.
- Use your free time wisely. Unlike my schedule in the US, I have substantially fewer contact hours and even less homework per week. It’s easy to forget about schoolwork and to procrastinate with this kind of schedule, and even easier to fall behind. Extensions are very hard to get at QM, but if you feel you need help, email the professor (chances are, they won’t reach out to you if you’re not doing well), or try going to a QM PASS session.
- Make tangible memories. Whether you like to scrapbook or journal, find a way to document your experience. Take all the touristy photos (you won’t be the only ones doing them) because you’ll regret it if you don’t. Jot down your adventures so you remember as much as you possibly can. Fall semester went by in a blur, and I’m sure spring semester will be the same.
- Go to a pub. I don’t think I need to say much more about this, but what is more British than going down to the pub on a Friday night? There’s a Spoons within walking distance of QM (between campus and Stepney Green station), and I for one, am always up for Spoons (especially their sticky toffee pudding)!
- Learn the lingo. Fries are known as chips, while chips are known as crisps. It’s okay if you don’t use them all, but why not? If anything, it’s important to know what people are talking about so you don’t get confused! (I once went into a Boots to ask for band-aids and was promptly told they were “called plasters in this country”… of course, it depends on the clerk but it’s never a nice feeling to be in the wrong)
- Put your walking shoes on. Even though London’s public transportation is wonderful, you miss so much by traveling underground. Take a walk along the bank of the Thames to see some of the big tourist destinations (London Eye, Big Ben, Parliament, and for Harry Potter fans: the Millennium Bridge).
- Keep your kitchen clean. If you’re lucky enough to live in a QM dorm, remember that you share the communal spaces with others. It’s never fun to walk into your kitchen to make dinner and find you’ve no space on which to cook!
- Do everything and have fun (cue eye-roll). Cheesy, I know but hey, you’re only here for a set amount of time, so why not make the most of it? There’s a lot I regret not doing first semester, so say yes often and try new things.
I’m sure you’ve heard some of these (if not most) before, but hopefully there’s something new in here. If not, rest assured that you’re fully prepared for the next few months. I realize that this is in no way an exhaustive list, but here’s to an exciting and fun semester in London!