Studying Abroad in London? The Nitty Gritty
My very first overseas assignment working in Study Abroad was a summer London program. Can I tell you, it was one of the best summers of my life? I loved the students, I love London. You can’t go wrong. Every year, there are many students studying in London, changing their lives through study abroad.
London is a huge city, full of possibilities – more than you can ever imagine! It can be overwhelming, especially if you’re coming from a smaller college or a small town. There is a plethora of benefits to studying in London - and to gaining international experience - so it's a great move for your future.
Here are the nitty gritty details of what you’ll need to do to thrive in London.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, adapted by Wandering Educators
You’re fine with your debit card and credit cards from home (well, as long as the funds are there!). There are ATMS and banks all over London, ready to spit out your money. Remember before you leave, to contact your bank AND any credit card companies you’ll be using, and notify them of your travel plans and dates. This includes excursions to other countries – Europe is easily accessible for weekend jaunts! This helps prevent fraud. If you don’t do this, you’ll find yourself money-less in London, until you can sort it out. Avoid at all costs – you’ll want to jump right into British culture (including pubs and theatre performances) as soon as you get there.
Speaking of Money, Look for the Free
There are tons of free things to do in London! You can hear the choir at evensong services at Westminster Abbey. Visit the free museums (including the British Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern and Tate Britain, and the Victoria and Albert Museum). Download London walking tours and explore. Watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Listen to free music every day at 5:45pm (1:45pm Sundays) at the National Theatre. Peruse the offerings at Sotheby’s. You can even see a BBC TV show, live!
Elgin Marbles at the British Museum. Photo: Becky Burns
The health care system (NHS) in the UK is free. Nice!
Transportation in London is quite good, and you can also walk many places, if you are able. If you’re going to be using public transportation (including the tube), it’s worth getting a Student Oyster photocard, which will give you 30% off travel cards and bus/tram passes, which means more money to spend on things YOU love – art supplies, tickets to concerts and plays, a pint at the pub, etc.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia commons: Kim Hansen
You might not hit the big attractions right away – you’ve got to get settled (and start studying). But when your family or friends come to visit, they’ll want the grand tour. If you buy the Go Card London Explorer Pass (click for prices and discounts on add-ons), you can save on admission to over 15 London attractions, including Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour, Coca-Cola London Eye, Madame Tussauds, St. Paul's Cathedral, London Zoo, SEA LIFE London Aquarium, London Dungeon, Walking Tours (including Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes!), Wembley Stadium Tour, Fat Tire Royal London Bike Tour, and more. If you’re planning ahead, ask for one for a gift from well-meaning relatives (or have your parents buy them for when they visit - here are recommendations for the best places for them to stay). They are good for up to 30 days after activation at first use.
London also boasts FOUR(!) UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Kew Gardens, Maritime Greenwich, Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey and Palace).
There’s so much to see in London that if you lived here a lifetime, you wouldn’t see it all. Take time to see what YOU want to see – not what you feel you must see!
Big Ben from the London Eye. Photo: Becky Burns
Discover the Unusual
There’s SO MUCH to see in London, from shopping to art to museums to – well, just about anything! Take time to discover the unusual, and be open to serendipity. One of my favorite memories in London was stumbling upon Wagamama, a Japanese noodle restaurant. We were bunched all together at a long table, ordered way too much food, and laughed and laughed. Did I mention how great the food was?
Be sure that all your friends and family are on skype before you leave. You’ll be able to talk to them for free, whenever you like! You can also check your cell phone plan for London, but it might be less expensive to grab an inexpensive (or free) phone there and buy SIM cards as you need them. Ascertain your connection needs once you get there – you might be too busy to need a full-fledged phone plan.
You’re SO close to everything, in London! You can jet off to Paris for a weekend, or take the train up to Scotland to enjoy the best of Edinburgh or the Highlands. Check for student discounts, look for sales, and pack light – you’ll have fun discovering new places, AND coming back home to London.
Missing London after studying abroad?
Get this, to eat like a Londoner (click to dig in):
More tips from our London Study Abroad Editor, Heather Robinette: