Class, Coffee, and Cheers: Studying Abroad in London according to Jordan Lichtenheld from the University of Colorado, Boulder

For the Spring Semester of 2020, I made the decision to study abroad. I had never been to Europe and my dream was to spend a semester in London, leading me to study with Queen Mary. Although struck with nerves from the anticipation of my time abroad, there was something in my heart that assured me that this was a good choice. I remember on my January flight to Heathrow, the light of day waking me, I looked out the window and there it was: the Thames, the Shard, the Eye. By the time we touched ground, I knew I had made the right choice.

I was meant to be abroad for almost six months, but because of the pandemic my school made the safe decision to end the program early. Yet, the reality of departing in mid-March did not leave me without the feeling of what it was like to study abroad. The time I had in London and with Queen Mary, though brief, was packed with incredible experiences that I will remember for a long time.

My typical day during the week as a study abroad student started with waking up in the morning, eating breakfast and getting dressed, and then—depending on my schedule that day—either going to class, or if I didn’t have class until the afternoon, I would study before class. It was normal for me to visit the on-campus Starbucks, the café on campus called ‘Ground’, or hop on the bus to my favorite east London café, ’21 Sid’, for a coffee (and sometimes a baked good). I was lucky with the flatmates I ended up living with, and would usually spend the evenings with them—eating dinner and studying together in the kitchen, or watching a movie and maybe drinking some wine in one of our rooms.

The weekend was much less predictable, but I can say that this was always the time to hop on the tube and go exploring around London! The city, additionally, has a wonderfully vibrant night life, and my friends and I loved to experience a fun night out.

I was in the U.K. long enough to get a sense of how the higher education system compares to what I have experienced at my college in the U.S. In terms of classes (or modules, as they are called in the U.K.), while it is typical in the U.S. to have between two and four classes a day four or five days a week, I found that in the U.K. it was normal to only have between one and three classes a day three or four days a week (I had one class each day of the week, with no class on Wednesdays). In the U.S., a single class usually meets two or three times a week, whereas in the U.K., each module lecture and/or seminar meets once a week.

Grades (or marks) in the U.K. are made up of two or three big assignments (eg. tests, essays, projects), and these assignments are turned in anonymously; additionally, the marks on an assignment usually takes several weeks to be returned back to the student. In the U.S., there are lots of factors that contribute to your grade—tests, homework, essays, attendance, participation, and so on; you must be sure your name is on your work, and on average, grades are returned within a week. I could go on about the differences I saw between the two school systems: each have their advantages and disadvantages, but I personally I really enjoyed the U.K. school system.

I can say with confidence that studying abroad was the highlight of my time in college. Although it had to be cut short, I am endlessly grateful for the time that I did get in London. For anyone who is planning on studying abroad, here is some advice I have:

  1. Travel: there will never be another time in your life as perfect to travel than as a study abroad student.
  2. Be spontaneous: although it is nice to plan things out for the day or for a weekend, don’t be afraid to just go out and see where the day takes you.
  3. Join a society: societies are a great way to meet friends outside of your flatmates. I joined a Yoga Society, and got to do an hour yoga class each week!
  4. Just say yes: much of what I did in London were things I didn’t imagine I would ever do (eg. going to a concert for an experimental EDM group from Belarus I had never heard of), but allowing yourself to be open to new experiences will truly enrich your time abroad.
  5. Accept the time you have: even if I had been able to stay the full length of my time abroad, I knew that I still wouldn’t have been able to do everything and go everywhere I wanted to go. Accept what you are able to now, and as for the things you ran out of time to do, that just means you’ll have to come back someday!

I am extremely grateful to my school in Boulder, as well as Queen Mary, for such an incredible experience in London. Until next time!

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