Before I came to London, I asked a lot of questions.
However, I didn’t ask a lot of the right questions. So, I compiled the list below of mistakes I’ve made that will hopefully keep any of you future study abroad students from making the same ones!
1. Mapper apps: These are SO important for London and travel in general. The two best are CityMapper and City Maps 2Go; CityMapper is great when you have wifi/data. If you leave your wifi zone and don’t have data you can always save your route and use it offline, however, when you want something totally offline…City Maps 2Go is what you need. CM2G is great because you can download the map of the city you’re in (traveler friendly!) and use it totally offline to get aroung.
2. Coffee shops: The DEFINITIVE RANKING. Just kidding. Honestly, some are good, some are bad, and my opinions are probably different than yours. I do NOT like Costa. Pret is alright but they nuke theirs to a ridiculous heat, so watch out for burnt-tasting espresso. (apparently they give away some coffees for free but I have yet to have this happen to me) Cafe Nero is my favorite chain shop, but they are fairly rare around me, so I stick to Saint Espresso which is just up the road (no wifi, but if you have as many essays as I do you don’t want Internet around distracting you). If you are around an independent shop, go. London has such incredible independent cafes that are so worth it (I’m looking at you, TAP and Monmouth).
3. Notebooks/school supplies: Buy them when you arrive. Do NOT buy a notebook for every course. Honestly, I did and seriously regret it. But one or two notebooks with multiple subjects in them and tote them around because you don’t need more than that. Where to find them? Ryman stationary or your school’s bookstore. Pukka pads are very popular but regular notebooks will do just fine. If you have your own pens, fantastic, but if you don’t I recommend the Edding 88 pens. They are felt tip and super smooth!
4. Traveling with liquids: If you’ve ever been through an airport then you know if you want to carry on liquids they must be under 100ml in a plastic Ziploc baggie. PRO TIPS (aka what I wish I had known) for this in Europe is to grab one of the baggies from the airport you’re in (Stansted, Gatwick, etc) because they are bigger than the US baggies we generally take on the plane. Grab a few because they do get pretty gross and they are super handy to have around. Another great tip is to use either a two in one shampoo/conditioner or a solid shampoo. While my scalp is too sensitive and messed up for this, a lot of my friends did it and it helped with space SO much.
5. Traveling back into the UK from another country: Make sure you have the letter from your UK institution with you! You need to show it to border control on your way back in. I have no idea what happens if you don’t have it, but I can’t imagine it’s the most fun.
6. Medication: If you get a cold and are unsure of which medicine(s) you need, go to a Boots pharmacy and ask the pharamacists there. They are all licensed professionals and will help you with everything from a cold to the flu!
7. DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. I am typing this as I have my four final essays due in three days and I still have two more to write. This will be published far after that, but let me tell you, the feeling I have right now is not fun at all. Why I do this to myself I don’t know but take it from me and get your work done EARLY.
The above seven I wrote while still in London (see number seven…I got them all done, don’t worry!) and anything below is written a few months after!
8. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Your flatmates, hall mates, etc. are there to be your friends. I was SO lucky to have such cool flatmates. They made my time in London enjoyable and easy, and if I hadn’t had them I would not have had as good of an experience. However, you can’t be afraid to talk to the people around you. One of the first nights I was there I heard one of my flatmates in the kitchen. I can get really uncomfortable and anxious before I meet someone, but I decided to head into the kitchen and fill my water bottle as a sort of excuse, and it was the best decision. He made me a cup of tea and told me where I could find good food down the road (at a little place called Sen Viet, definitely give it a try!) which quickly became one of my favorite places for take away. As my other flatmates trickled in, I found that they were just as fantastic, so don’t let your fears get in your way of making new friends!
9. Remember: you WILL be going back home, so prepare yourself. I’m not even talking about post-abroad depression (which is so real), but about the other scary part of getting home: internships/jobs. I started applying for internships at the beginning of my semester, and had to do a Skype interview while abroad. Don’t forget to follow up and etc., and don’t get too caught up in your experience to get ready for coming home! You’ll want to put home as far back in your memory as you can, but remember that you will go back eventually, and you have to get ready for when that time comes.
10. ASK QUESTIONS. I found a blog about a girl that studied at UCL and lived in James Lighthill Hall before I went (that’s where I ended up living!) and she was a fountain of information. We were in different programs, but she could answer a lot of questions I had about living in London and traveling. So, if you are planning on studying abroad and have any questions, please ask! Or go look at Selene’s blog if you want to research a little more. She also has a packing list and posts about traveling, so I would definitely suggest checking it out.
Good luck, and again, if you have any questions at all, just leave a comment below!