Study Abroad FAQs – Miriam Jaffe

When I found out I would be spending my junior year studying at Queen Mary University in London, I was ecstatic. I’d wanted to visit London for so long, and now I was going to get to live there for a full year. It was kind of a dream come true. After getting accepted though, I had a lot of questions (and I mean a lot, sorry to the people at Butler and QM who I inundated with probably way too many emails) so if you’re in a similar position to me, you might find some answers below! I’ve tried to ask the questions I was curious about, as well as some other potentially frequently asked questions about studying abroad in the UK and at Queen Mary. If you don’t see a question in this post that you would like answered, feel free to email the Global Opportunities Office at Queen Mary, or shoot me a note through the ambassador form!

How do I pick my classes?

You’ll pick your classes online before you begin at Queen Mary. I selected my courses the summer before I was meant to begin my classes. Each semester you are allowed to take four courses, and a maximum of 60 credits (each course is usually 15 credits). When you pre-register for classes, you’ll select up to eight classes per semester: four that you want (ranked, in the order of your preference), and four alternates, also ranked in order. Courses are divided into levels 4,5, and 6. As an associate student (this is what QM calls students who are studying abroad), you should lean towards levels 4 and 5, as level 6 courses are the equivalent of senior-year courses, and are difficult to get into usually. This is not to say that you cannot take a level 6 course, but make sure you’re ready for that level of work. Level 5 courses are second-year courses so as long as you have experience in the field (and have met the pre-reqs), you should be fine. Make sure that when you’re browsing the modules for the year, you only look at classes that are available to associate students, as some classes are not. From there, you will submit your selections and then you wait. A few weeks later, you’ll be able to log into your QM account and it will tell you for what classes you have been approved. As soon as you can, confirm which classes you want to take so that they don’t fill up. Sometimes, it will also tell you why you didn’t get approved for a class if that was the case. If you feel there was a problem for some reason, contact the head of the department for the class in question. I wasn’t approved for several of my science courses as they had prerequisites. Although I had taken them at my home institution, Queen Mary was unaware of that and therefore did not think I would be able to take the class. I simply had to send in all my syllabi via email to the head of the department and I was approved to take the classes. After approval, you’ll select the four courses for each semester that you want to take. Take note that you might not get approved for a class because it was full already, or because it had a scheduling conflict with another class that you ranked higher. Queen Mary students get priority when it comes to classes, so those decisions are really difficult to contest. A related note from my experience as well: courses in the school of drama are very popular and fill up quickly with students both from QM and from abroad. Additionally, when you select courses there are no times for the classes listed online, you’ll get that information closer to your first day of class.

What’s the accommodation like?

As a student studying abroad at Queen Mary, you will most likely live on campus. There are 17 residential halls on the Mile End campus, and although all are slightly different, there are many similarities between them. The halls are arranged in flat-style living, so you won’t have any roommates but you will have flatmates. There is a shared kitchen with a small dining space, but be aware that you will have to provide all your own cutlery, crockery, and cooking utensils. The kitchens have a sink, microwave, freezer unit, toaster, kettle, stovetop, and oven. You might have a small refrigerator in your room. Many of the residential halls have ensuite bathrooms, but some have communal toilets and showers.

Where is Queen Mary located?

Queen Mary is located in the East End of London. It is located in zone two, and the closest tube stations are Mile End and Stepney Green.

Is the East End safe?

Yes! I never felt unsafe walking home at night to QM (although I preferred getting off at Mile End rather than Stepney Green when it was dark as it is more well lit), and the campus feels pretty quiet most days. Queen Mary is located very near to Westfield in Stratford, and Olympic Park, and the East End didn’t (to me at least) feel any different safety wise than the rest of London. Like any area in a big city, it is important to always be aware of your surroundings, as well as your personal belongings.

What do I need to do before I leave for study abroad?

Ensure that you know what classes you’re taking/need to take, and triple check with your school that they’re all approved (if that applies to your situation). If you’ve needed to apply for a Visa, make sure you’ve done that and that you don’t enter the country too early (confirm how many days before your Visa starts you can arrive). Have your passport, everything you’ve packed, and be ready for a great time!

Is there a dining hall?

Yes, and no. There isn’t a dining hall as American universities tend to have but there is a restaurant/cafeteria called the Curve on campus. They do have dining plans, but pencil them out to see if they are worth it as you will also have a kitchen where you can cook your own meals. In addition to the Curve, there is Ground (the cafe on campus), as well as Draper’s (the bar where many parties are held, but also serves food). There is also the Village Shop where you can purchase snacks, sandwiches and other various items should you ever need anything and don’t have time to walk down to the Coop or Sainsbury’s.

Do I *really* have to go to every class?

As part of the academic agreement that goes along with your right to study in the UK, you are required to attend every class. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t miss because you’re sick every once in a while (or, let’s be honest, because you wanted to stay in Paris an extra day). Ideally, yes, you’d attend every class but some lectures are so large that there’s no way for the professors to know who is actually in attendance. I did, however, have a professor who sprung pop quizzes on us as attendance at random intervals throughout the semester so check if your professor is going to do that as you might miss one if you aren’t in class that day, and that could affect your grade. If your class is seminar based and you think you’re going to miss, or aren’t feeling well in the morning, send your professor an email like you would at home! That clause is really there to encourage you to attend classes and to not use studying abroad as an excuse to only travel abroad, since that’s what you’ve been granted the right to do! QM does this nice thing where most lectures are recorded and posted on QM Plus so if you have to miss for any reason, you can go back and watch the lecture afterwards.

What about academic accommodations?

If you have any accommodations, these should be addressed immediately. Email the Global Opportunities Office and they’ll point you in the right direction. Unlike in the US, if you’ve not filed your accommodations by a certain date, it can be very difficult to get them, especially if you need them for exams. They absolutely can be accommodated, but don’t procrastinate on mentioning them, or it may be too late to do anything about it. Exams are very regimented in the UK and unfortunately that means they’re very strict with timelines and deadlines.

What are exams like?

Regardless of which semester you study abroad at Queen Mary, you will have to take exams in some capacity (obviously this also depends on the courses you take as some do essays or projects rather than formal exams). If you study in the fall, you will take your exams with other study abroad students in December, whereas if you study in the spring, or the full year, you will take them in May/June with the rest of the student body. Towards the beginning of April, you’ll receive an exam schedule where you can find out on what date, at what time, and where your exam(s) will be taking place. Read this carefully as the location and time will not necessarily correlate with the time at which your class was held. Queen Mary has specific exam locations so it’s unlikely you’ll take your exam in your classroom. If you’re not sure where your location is, check it out before the day of the exam! I had one exam out in Stratford (one stop out on the tube, not a couple hours by train), and since exams are already stressful enough, there’s no need to add another stressor to your day. Exams are typically held in large rooms, and you will be assigned a table number. There will be a large sheet on the wall somewhere when you walk in which will tell you (using your student number) which seat is yours, and that is where you will sit for the exam. Bring multiple pens and number 2 (not mechanical) pencils if there are multiple choice questions on your exam. Any questions other than the multiple choice ones have to be answered in pen. If your exam requires a calculator, double check the restrictions for calculator type before the exam date. I had a graphing calculator and had to plead my case as an associate student for them to let me use it. Exams are timed and sometimes other classes will also be taking exams with you, and they might have less or more time than you. Along with potential multiple choice questions, the exams at Queen Mary may also have short answer and essay based questions, so be prepared to be writing for the entire duration of your exam.

Can I get a job while I’m abroad?

In the UK, you need to ensure your visa type allows you to work/volunteer/intern. There are other options available however such as helping out at your university, blog for the Global Opportunities Office (wink wink nudge nudge), or help out with societies, but you can’t seek out formal employment, or get paid if you aren’t on the correct visa type.

How many hours am I in class/how much free time will I get?

I found my class schedule at QM to be one of the biggest differences to my academic life in the States. Each of my four classes met only once a week, and for only two hours. This meant that not only were my contact hours particularly low, but that I also had a very large amount of free time during the week. I also had every Wednesday off. I do know, however, that some classes meet more than once a week, or for more than two hours. I also had a class that met for an hour, then we had an hour break, and then we convened again for another hour (that was bizarre). Ultimately, you’ll probably have more free time than you would in the US as Queen Mary tends to have fewer contact hours, and less homework throughout the semester.

How do Societies work at Queen Mary?

Societies are essentially clubs with a (usually) small entrance fee! There are so many to choose from and there’s a fair of them all at the start of the year (there’s a smaller one at the start of spring semester as well). Essentially anything you can imagine, there’s a society for it. I know i’ve mentioned it before, but I was a part of the Queen Mary Theatre Company. However, there are baking societies, language societies, religious ones, science ones, and such a grand number that I can’t even begin to cover them all. The entrance fee (which is a one-time fee) is usually about £5, but they can range up to £15 depending on the intensity of the society.

How do grades work?

The grading system in the UK is slightly different to the system in the US, but fear not, your grades will get converted at the end of your time abroad. Assignments are given grades in percentages, but those percentages tend to be much lower in the UK than many Americans are used to. To put this in perspective, a 70% is a first, or the equivalent of an A. I know many students (me included), who freaked out when they received a 65% on a paper, but that’s considered a 2:1, and a grade to actually be quite proud of if you receive it. When you arrive at Queen Mary, there will be an orientation where they will explain the conversion system a bit more, but try not to focus on the percentages too much, as they’ll get converted back to a familiar scale when you return home, and your grades might be better than you expected them to be!

What should I do about my cell phone?

In order to be able to use your smartphone abroad, it will most likely have to be unlocked. Some US providers have good international plans, and if this is the case, you can stick with your provider for the time you’re abroad. Check out how much it will cost and how much data you’re given. I found that since I used maps and Citymapper a lot, I wanted more data to be sure that I wouldn’t find myself lost without it. (I highly recommend downloading Citymapper to help navigate London. It will tell you how to get somewhere via any form of public transportation, how long it will take, if there are delays on the tube, and which lines to take, which is especially helpful when you’re just starting to get used to it all). If your US provider’s international plan isn’t appealing to you, you have two options for once you arrive abroad. You can either leave your phone in airplane mode (while turning off all the cellular settings) and rely solely on wifi, or you can buy a SIM card from a UK phone company. The former is perfectly doable if you’re looking to save on money, or don’t want to hassle with finding a phone provider. You’ll have wifi on campus and many stores/cafes have wifi as well. If you want to buy a British SIM card, I recommend doing your research in terms of rates, and payment methods. I used Three and for £20 a month I got 3000 minutes, texts, and 12GB of data. There are several other companies though that offer other deals which may be better suited for you (examples include O2, EE, or Vodafone). I did pay as you go, and you can top this up at the end of your month either online (for Three, you could only do this with a British bank card), or in a grocery store, such as Tesco or Sainsbury’s. Make sure you check out the provider’s international coverage if you want to travel a lot. Three had coverage in most European cities, and in the US, for no additional cost (it just took out data/minutes/texts from my monthly quota).

What should I budget for my time abroad?

Everyone’s experience is different, but for me, I paid £20 a month for my phone, around £20 a week on groceries (give or take a little each week depending on how much I was going to make/eat out), £5 a week on laundry, and £20 every week and a half to every other week for transport. There was additionally any expenditure on travelling abroad and going out to eat or the theatre. Obviously my numbers won’t be exactly the same as anyone else but with some research you can find out how much it will cost approximately for a phone plan. Prepare to be buying groceries every week. The food in the UK expires much quicker than it does in the US so if you’re someone like me who likes milk in their tea, that’s something you’ll have to buy every week. Queen Mary is very close to Sainsbury’s and the Coop, the former usually being slightly cheaper than the latter. If you’re willing to walk a little bit (about 20 minutes) there’s an ASDA nearby, which is even cheaper, and a larger Sainsbury’s if you want more selection. Transportation is also going to be something that could eat up a lot of your money, unfortunately. You’ll have to purchase an Oyster card upon arrival in London (for £5) and then you top that up with however much money you would like. A one-way trip on the tube wihtin zones 1-2 averages about £2.40, and on the bus about £1.50. After a certain amount of daily travel, you’ll reach the daily cap and no longer be charged for any subsequent journeys that day. You can do pay-as-you go where you top up x amount of pounds and then it subtracts as you go along, or you can look into a travelcard. The travelcard can be very useful if you’re going to be traveling a lot, but I wouldn’t suggest starting out with one unless you know for sure that it’ll be worth it. The weekly travel pass (valid for seven days) costs £34.10 for travel between zones 1-2. I would recommend pay-as-you go, but you can always feel out what’s right for you. Side note: I opened a British bank account for while I was abroad, but that isn’t convenient for everyone, especially if you’re only there for a semester. Before you leave for the UK, check your credit cards to see if they have foreign transaction fees, and if they do, how much they are. Additionally, if you withdraw money from an ATM with a debit card that isn’t associated with a UK bank, be prepared for fees along with the exchange rate. If you plan on withdrawing cash, try to withdraw higher amounts at a time to minimize how often you’re charged those fees. If your home currency isn’t the pound, try and check the exchange rate every so often so you aren’t massively surprised when you return home with how much you spent.

How do classes in the UK compare to classes in the US?

I’ve already mentioned the grading system, but there are some other differences in terms of the classroom between the UK and the US. The UK emphasizes a more independent style of learning. I found that for the vast majority of my lecture courses, I was having to review and teach myself a lot of the material, as opposed to having to do minimal work outside of class (especially when it came time to prepping for exams). Assignment feedback tends to be handed back online so if you want more specifics about your grade or why you got that grade, you might have to actively seek that out. There are no midterms, and for some lecture courses, you’ll only turn in one or two assignments during the course of the semester. If you’re an associate student, sometimes graded assignments are different from those for the QM students. For instance, I took an English course that was a full year, but I only took it for one semester. I didn’t have to take the exam at the end of the semester, but I did have to write three essays (although mine had slightly different deadlines at times). I found seminar courses to be very similar to those in the US in terms of set-up and how they were run. There is also a reading week once per term (around halfway through the semester) where you’ll have no classes for the entire week. Double check that you will in fact have nothing that week before booking any trips. I had a field trip during my first reading week so couldn’t do any travelling until after that was done. Additionally, if you feel you need help in a class for whatever reason, email the professors. Chances are, they won’t reach out to you if you’re not doing well.

Where do I buy bedding/crockery?

I bought my supplies online before I arrived through the QM shop ( I found this option really easy and stressless as I could order everything online before I arrived, and I didn’t have to worry about finding it all once I’d gotten to campus. Basically, you can buy whatever package, or item, looks best to you and then pick it up as soon as you arrive. All you’ll need to have is the room number/building you were assigned. I would highly recommend doing that for bedding at least, unless you know that you’ll have time the day you arrive to go out and buy stuff. If that’s the case, you can go out to Westfield and buy some cheap bedding at Primark, or check out any of the other shops there. The bedding package isn’t of the highest quality, but if you’re only looking to buy for the term and then leave it in the UK, it does what it’s needed to do. In terms of kitchen utensils, you can also buy packages online, but you could also figure out what you need when you get there and either still buy it online, or go out to the shops. I was there for a whole year so I felt like I needed everything (I definitely didn’t use everything, though), but depending on how much cooking you do, you might not want a ton. If need be, you can always buy paper plates and cutlery at Sainsbury’s until you figure out what you want to do. Keep in mind that when you leave, you might have to give away, donate, or throw away anything you’ve bought that can’t come home with you (such as crockery).

What do I need to pack?

Weather in England can be varied so there’s no exact packing list. Some days the sun will come out, other times it will rain, and perhaps, you might even be inundated with snow! Depending on the semester you study abroad, your suitcase might be filled with slightly different clothing. I know that I brought clothing that I rarely wore and ultimately wished I hadn’t packed. I’ve heard a rule of thumb is to lay everything out that you think you might want to pack, and then halve it, but I know that’s not always a realistic expectation! I think the biggest thing to limit is shoes because of the weight that adds to bags (and the room they take up). I would plan on bringing most of your clothes to suit the UK’s weather, and then a couple of items for warmer climates if you’re planning on travelling to areas where the sun shines more frequently. A good rain coat and a warm, heavy coat (even better if they can be combined into one coat) are musts for the winter months. Scarves are good for bundling up, and I can never say no to a warm jumper. Bring any toiletries that you’ll need for your first few days (especially if you’re planning on doing some travelling before you settle down at QM), but anything that you can buy in the UK (such as shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant etc…), I would recommend getting there to save space and weight. If you need appliances such as hair dryers, curlers etc., plan on buying them in the UK. The voltages are different and therefore you might not be able to use your appliances in the same way as you would at home, or they might not work at all. If you want to bring those appliances over, look into purchasing a converter or purchase an appliance with a dial to change the voltages. Also be aware that there are no outlets in the bathroom in the UK (other than one for an electric razor). Make sure to pack any medication that you’ll need while abroad in your carry-on. I would also recommend buying an adaptor, or two, before you leave (although this can be purchased when you arrive if need be). Make sure that if you’re planning on travelling, that you buy an adaptor for those countries as the plugs in the UK differ from those in many European countries.

Any other useful things to know?

Have fun! Study abroad goes by so quickly (I know, everyone tells you that, but in this case, they do know a thing or two), so enjoy your time thoroughly! Don’t be afraid to be a tourist, especially in London. Check out the museums, the sights, the markets, and everything in between. Look at Time Out online for ideas of fun things to do around town, and things that might be around for a shorter amount of time, along with free events happening throughout the year. If you’re into British television and want to attend a taping of a show (Graham Norton, Mock the Week, The Last Leg etc…) sign up for SRO audiences, and Applause Store online for a unique experience. Try to find the real life locations around the city where your favorite film takes place or was filmed (examples include, but are not limited to: The Harry Potter series, Sherlock, Paddington, and Love Actually). Explore your local pubs, and be sure to check out Spoons for affordable food and drink (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic). If you’re wanting to travel outside of the UK during your time abroad, don’t wait too long to plan those excursions. You don’t have to do them before you settle in, but do some research about prices and how long it takes to get places with enough time to save some money. I hope your study abroad experience is all you want it to be, and more. I can’t tell you how much I wish I was in your shoes!


**This post was published on 10/08/2018 and information from Miriam was accurate at this time. Please note that Miriam’s answers are her own opinion and based on her experience of study abroad at Queen Mary and living in London.

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