I’m sure many of us have heard the phrases ‘life’s too short’ or ‘you only live once’ and these are phrases I believe to be very true. With so many great things to do, see, taste and accomplish, surely we can’t do everything on the planet, but we may as well try. Luckily, being a biology student, studying at QMUL and having the great chance to be in this fantastic capital, there is at least a place to start.
Aside from lectures and labs, my course has provided adventures across the globe. A field trip to Somerset in first year meant I could discover the ecology of a beautiful part of Britain. Second year ventured further afield, reaching Eastern Europe with 7 days in Croatia. Finally in third year, a trip to South Africa meant I could experience safari adventures like no other. I have seen parts of the globe that I perhaps would not have seen if it weren’t for these opportunities. Not only with my course, but other great chances have allowed me to travel to Asia. In the summer between first and second year, I went to China with QMUL on the study abroad programme. Two weeks at Sichuan University provided insight in to Chinese culture (and cuisine!).
The Kruger National Park, South Africa
The Great Wall of China
Returning to my base in London, there is so much to offer when not gallivanting the world. Numerous parks to wonder, cuisines to taste and things to see, there is always something to do, and it doesn’t have to be costly. For something different, I danced a ceilidh with the Ceilidh club, went swing dancing in Victoria Park, or have cycled the city by night on a Borris bike. Nowhere else is there such variety, in amongst a vibrant atmosphere of culture and fun.
Reflecting on some of the memorable experiences I’ve had so far, I can’t think of anywhere else I would have chosen to do my undergraduate degree. These times maks me realise I must live my life more than ever, as this is only the start. Life is for living. So live it.
Preface. Hello everyone! Thanks to QMUL (Queen Mary University of London), I have the opportunity to share my experiences as an Exchange Student on their student blog site. Over the next ~6 months, I will be updating this blog fairly regularly, sometimes with my travels, sometimes with my observations of the differences in American and British culture, and other times with general tips from experiences. I have been here since the 5th of January, but between orientations, exploration, and school, I have been fairly busy. Because this blog will serve as a personal journal of sorts, I will start by retroactively blogging about days that have passed and work my way up to present day (26 Jan 15), but I will only be posting about days that have been eventful. On a language-related note, I will be using British English (to the best of my ability) and will provide the American English translation in italics to help any friends and family from the U.S. understand the interesting differences between our languages. I’m going to integrate as many pictures as I can into my journal, but I’ll often provide links too, so be on the look-out for those. To any prospective Exchange students: please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions about life abroad. My email address is enriqueDFTL@yahoo.com. If that’s too old-school for you, you can add and message me on Facebook.
The Packing Struggle. The days leading up to the 4th of January (the day of my flight) were stressful for many reasons. For starters, I tend to exercise extreme forms of procrastination. Maybe it was the dreaded “Senioritis” finally kicking in, but I hadn’t packed my suitcase yet, and it was less than 24 hours before departure. It also didn’t help that I had an extremely busy winter break. At the end of term 1 (fall quarter), I had to pack and move all of my belongings from California to Oregon where my parents live (since I was graduating once I returned from England), then return to California on January 2nd to make it to my flight out of LAX on January 4th. The end-result was a state of chronic sleep-deprivation beginning the week before examination (finals), which was the week of the 8th in December. There are many other silly and avoidable reasons for the stress and procrastination before the flight, but the take-home message is: if you are leaving the country for half a year, don’t wait until the last day to pack your life into a suitcase. I owe packing my suitcase successfully to Carolina (my lovely girlfriend). She was also studying in England at the University of Leeds for 6 months, so were going to fly out together.
Packing for London. I packed my clothes bearing in mind that the average January temperature was 7°C (44°F), the average amount of sunlight was 3 hrs per day, and average number of rainfall days was 19. I found that many of my fellow exchange students didn’t pack anything but clothes, so I want to share all the contents that I packed. Keep in mind that I purposefully packed light. This was because suitcase space was precious, and I could just buy anything that I needed in London, like a coat and cleaning supplies and cookware. The suitcase weight limit was 22.68 kg (50 lbs). Note: any-size liquid bottles can go in your “checked” bag.
• 10 T-shirts
• 10 button-up shirts
• 4 jumpers (pull-over sweater)
• 4 trousers (pants)
• 10 pants (underpants)
• 1 pair of shorts (in case it got warm?)
• 10 pairs of socks
• 2 pairs of trainers (sneakers)
• 1 pair of slippers
• 8 sleeping shirts
• 2 sweatpants
• 2 bath towels
• 10 clothes hangers
• 1 pair of gloves
• 1 scarf
• 1 brolly (umbrella)
• bed linen set
• 1 pillow (took on plane for sleeping)
• 1 blanket (took on plane for sleeping)
• 1 bottle of shampoo
• 1 bottle of shower gel
• 2 sticks of deodorant
• 1 bottle of face moisturizer
• 1 luffa
• 1 bottle of face wash
• 1 bottle of face scrub
• 1 electric toothbrush and replacement heads
• 1 toothpaste
• 1 razor with replacement heads
• 1 can of shaving cream
• 2 bottles of liquid hand soap
• 1 box of Q-tips
• 2 tide bleach pens
• 2 dish sponges
• 1 bottle of dish soap
• 1 nail clipper
• 1 pack of baby wipes
• 1 pack of all-purpose cleaning wipes
• 1 roll of toilet paper
• 1 bottle of ibuprofen
• school supplies
• 1 plug socket (outlet) adapter/converter
(Make sure that you get a converter AND an adapter. You need the adapter to fit into the British plug socket and you need the converter because British plug sockets provide 230 Volts and American plug sockets provide 120 Volts.)
• 1 refillable water bottle (highly recommended)
The Money Struggle. Another issue that many exchange students didn’t resolve before departure was their finances. This was complicated by the fact that we could not open a British bank account from the United States. What I did a month before departure was go to my bank (Bank of America) and order British money, which is the British Pound Sterling (simply called the pound). I ordered £400, which cost me over $600. The exchange rate was about 1.60 dollars per 1 pound!
The coins less than 1 pound depict a shield – the shield seen on the 1 pound coin. There is also a commonly used £2 coin. (Note: there are 100 pence in 1 pound.)
These are the 5 and 10 Pound bills. There are larger denominations. It is also interesting that the size of the bill increases with the value of the bill. (Note: There are no £1 or £2 bills.)
The cash, however, was going to be emergency cash. For everyday purchases and expenses, I rang up (called up) my credit card company and asked for a credit card with a chip, which they’ll gladly send you for free. It is not very common to swipe your cards here, so you’ll need one with a chip, which is inserted into the machine when paying. The reason I recommend using a credit card is because most credit card companies will not charge you an international transaction fee, while debit cards will often charge a fee for use overseas. Overall, this was a very simply solution to paying for expenses when you can’t use an American Debit card and when transferring cash into a UK bank account is not possible. Just don’t forget to pay the balance on your credit card at the end of each month! Bonus tip: Get a credit card with rewards and you’ll quickly be swimming in points, which can be redeemed for cash-back or gift cards. I use my points to pay for hotel stays during travel! A related note: It is also a good idea to not carry cash for safety reasons. Tourists are the targets of muggings because tourists like to carry cash abroad and during travels. Its much easier to cancel a credit card if your wallet is taken.
The first weeks will be a mess, don’t get crazy, it’s totally normal. When I arrived I had a week to buy things that I will need – food, bedding, dishes, etc. I tried to do everything, including go to all places that I wanted to visit, then I realised I had done all these things but nothing in the right way!
So, it’s my fifth week here and now I’m feeling that things are going right. In Brazil I don’t have to worry about my food, clean my house or wash my clothes, I still live with my parents (if you already left home to study, it will be easy for you!!!) but now I have to take care of all these things and study too! So, I needed time to organize myself. Now I think that it is possible to do all; I have classes three time a week, I made a schedule and I’m trying to follow, because I will spend a year here, I will have time to enjoy the city, visit places and travel around the country, but first it is better to organize yourself. So, my advice is take your time, of course you will want to do everything in just a week because the feeling is that you are travelling, but no, you will live here, so calm down and do first the things that are really necessary for you like go to the supermarket and a department store, bring your mother’s supermarket list and if you could (baggage without excess weight) a towel and a blanket!