So when I snuck in a second study abroad last summer before graduating, I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I lived and studied in this magical city and immediately plotted my return for grad school. I spent all of the spring procrastinating and applying to only two schools in London. While I liked both schools, I wound up going to the second one I applied to because it was £2,000 cheaper AND i got a 10% scholarship that reduced it a further £1,200 making the grand total £10,800, which when compared to US programs, is a total bargain! Anyway, I’m here now and in my third week of classes. Last time I was here, things felt really different from my first semester abroad, and they’re even more different now. For instance, I haven’t made my way to the major tourist sights yet, which I usually do the first few days of being in London. This time, I feel like since I’m here for an entire school year, hopefully longer, I guess I just have more time to see and eat and do all of the things I want to do.
Like I mentioned, I’m here for school and have been pretty focused on settling into my flat and getting back into the rhythm of attending classes and working on assignments. I graduated December 2015 with a degree in English literature and two minors: one in communications studies and the other in the liberal arts honors program. With that, I was totally lost about what to study, wanting to do either something relating to art history or in the communications field somewhere. I did also strongly consider more literature, but I could never choose a concentration and I know I really want to focus on digital media in some way. So, I applied to two schools and the cool thing about applying to schools in the UK vs the US is that most don’t ask for any kind of GMAT or GRE test (literally not about to take any more standardized tests after high school), there were no application fees that I encountered, most programs are just one year, and you get an acceptance/rejection within a week of applying!
I chose to study abroad in London for all of those reasons and so many more. I really liked the two programs I applied to because one focused on social media, which I think is really cool and innovative, and the one I’m enrolled in is advertising and PR, two of my favorite parts of comm studies. I chose this program because I have previously studied abroad at this same school in this same location both times I’ve been abroad, it’s WAY cheaper, and while the social media degree is interesting, I just don’t know if I want to totally focus on social media.
My specific program is compromised of three courses/semester with all three this term being mandatory and chosen by the university. I have one class on Tuesdays and the other two are on Thursdays, each one for three hours. Next semester, I will take two of the madated courses and one elective, so I’m excited for that. I don’t currently have a job or an internship, but I’m working on it! Hopefully next semester I’ll have a paid internship or I will get a job literally anywhere because London’s expensive and my visa only allows me to work 20 hours/week, so that shouldn’t get in the way of school and it’ll give me an opportunity to meet some more people. Then, we are required to do an internship over the summer, or an extended research project/dissertation (don’t know much about that), so I should have some kind of job then. My program officially ends first week of September when I turn in my dissertation and then I’m allowed to stay here on my visa until beginning of January, funds and jobs permitting. The ultimate plan is obviously to get sponsored and extend my visa so that I can live here forever, but who knows?
London sights and attractions
Like I mentioned earlier, I haven’t done much in the way of seeking out the major sights of London in the three weeks that I’ve been here. My previous two study abroads were all about getting those pictures of the Houses or Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral, but I haven’t had any real urge to go do that yet. I suppose I just feel really good about the fact that they’re here, I’ve seen them before, and I have about a year to enjoy them. I was out with my friend Ashley this past Friday on her last night and we were bar hopping in the Monument/London Bridge area. That night, I just magically happened to see all my fave skyscrapers from the Walkie Talkie, Gherkin, Cheese Grater and Shard, to the older sights like St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge. On my bus ride home, we passed by the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament and honestly, each time I realized where I was and saw all these architectural pieces of art, I nearly cried. Idk how you could ever live in London and not have Tower Bridge take your breath away.
I mostly don’t venture out to central London because it is a bit pricey and I’m trying to budget wisely until my refund comes in, but I do live near Hyde Park, so there’s a lot to see within walking distance as well. I’ve been to Kensington Gardens a couple times, always stopping to stare at the Palace, and I went to an open house event at the Royal Albert Hall last weekend with my classmates. We were able to go inside the hall for free and even sat in the theatre. We were in the box right by the Queen’s and because I’m an animal, I stuck my hand in the Queen’s box and had a full freak out. We also went into her private room and saw the staircase only she and her party can climb. The whole thing was pretty beautiful and then we went to the V&A Museum to study after that, so we passed the Natural History Museum on our way there. I think I’ve seen all the sights now that I think about it, but it’s never really on purpose and more just me casually bumping into them, which is cool with me.
Friends and flat life
Half of the people in my program are Americans and the other half are from all over Europe. We’ve got some French, Italian, Danish, Greek, German and one British girl actually from London. Everyone I’ve met so far is pretty cool and yeah, there are a couple people that I’m not about to invite for pizza at the weekend, but I generally don’t have anything against anyone at the moment. My American friends are all super cool and it’s really nice to have people who understand that you can’t find where they keep the butter at Sainsbury’s and also why do British people think it’s okay not to have air conditioning in every building? But I’ve enjoyed getting to know what my international friends think of London and England in general. Most of us have also travelled a lot, so it’s cool to compare stories and ask each other about our travels. The best part of a program like this is that it does draw a really big international student base, and I love the idea of having friends all around the world because you just never know when you’ll need to borrow their couch for the night.
I did also meet up with my former coworkers from my internship last summer. My friend Ashley, who I met during my first semester abroad THREE WHOLE YEARS AGO, was here getting her masters and sadly had to leave me to go back to the US last weekend. Anyway, she worked at the same internship and we thought it would be fun to have a fun little hang with all the people we worked with. I was super nervous because I only interned there for five weeks and it was over a year ago, so I just didn’t know what to expect. Obviously I, as an American desperate for British friends, remember everyone and everything about them (in a non-creepy way), but would they remember me? Or would they be like, why is she so obsessed with us? But it was all okay! At least, it seemed okay to me! We met at a a bar and while there were new people invited that I didn’t know, none of them showed up and it wound up being five people I really liked and did spend a lot of time getting to know last summer. We talked loads and I tried to catch up with all of them as much as possible, but having that many people to catch up with in a noisy bar isn’t the easiest. It was fun, it felt familiar and I will hunt them all down to hang out with me again at some point.
My housing is really different this time around because it is technically a dorm from the university, but it’s set up like an apartment. It’s also the furthest I’ve been from my campus at a 15-minute walk that isn’t too bad yet, but I also haven’t been running massively late, so hopefully it stays that way. I was meant to have a roommate, but I don’t think I’ll get one until the spring and the way my room is set up, I basically have a suite for any guests that come visit me (which is why I’m bugging everyone I know to visit). My room has a bed, desk, wardrobe, kitchen (minus oven) and bathroom downstairs and then the other bed, desk and wardrobe are upstairs in what’s basically a cave. It’s a cool set up, and I prefer downstairs because it’s just more convenient and open, but I have been sleeping upstairs because that mattress isn’t a brick like mine is. It’s weird not having a meal plan and not having someone make food for me a lot of the times because I’ve only lived in dorms during my two study abroads and had meal plans both times. Then I lived with a cousin one semester and she did most of the cooking or I would go visit aunts and uncles at the weekend that would cook for me. The rest of the time I’ve lived at home and while I started cooking a little bit more this past year, it’s still totally different adjusting to British groceries, a tiny kitchen and an electric stove with a super sensitive smoke alarm hanging out right above me. Can’t wait for that refund to kick in so that I can eat out a bit more lol.
Anxieties and adjusting
Getting here was a total mess. Every time I study abroad, I freak out from the moment I make the decision to leave until I land and know that all my funds, housing and courses are in order because it’s just really hard to believe I’m going to be in my favorite city in the world, even when I’m already here, staring at the Houses of Parliament. I went out of town about 10 days before I left, going to a family reunion in Austin for five days, then I went back home and immediately got back into working long shifts the next five days before hopping on a plane to Dallas for a day. I had no breaks between all the working and traveling I was doing, and hadn’t really had many days off from work the whole summer. Thankfully my fam in Dallas was awesome and helped me run errands, took me to In-N-Out and dropped me off at the airport the following day. I was stuck on the runway for two hours before our flight left and I missed my connecting flight in Chicago as a result. I basically knew I was going to miss that flight from the instant we were told there was a delay, so I texted my friend Amanda and asked if I could stay with her should the occassion present itself. After waiting forever to rebook myself to London, I convinced the amazing American Airlines employee to give me a whole day in Chicago and I made my way to my friend’s. 48 hours later, I was back on the plane and then I made it to London.
Top tip: don’t bring two massive (and brightly colored suitcases) and one carry-on with you from the tube at Heathrow because you will struggle to move everything and people will stare. I can’t even tell you how many times my suitcases fell over while I tried shuffling around the tube stations. Then I arrived at my station and had my friend Ashley meet me there to help me take my bags to my campus and then to my flat. Luckily, the ladies at the office booked me a car to transport my luggage the mile it would have taken to wheel them ourselves, so that was great, but the jet lag was insane. I arrived early on a Thursday and spent the majority of the day with Ashley, but once she left and I started to settle in, the anxiety reared its ugly head and I started to doubt everything. This is the first time I’ve ever lived on my own, with my own kitchen that I have to cook all my meals in because I don’t have enough funds to eat out all the time, and it was scary. Yes, I had Ashley, but she was working and would be leaving within a couple weeks, then I had my former coworkers from my internship last summer, but they’re busy and spread out all over the town and I’ve been gone over a year. It’s just not easy to reach out to people I really like, but didn’t spend too much time with or really keep in touch with while I was gone.
All of this anxiety and fear has mostly vanished at this point because the day after I arrived, I had orientation and made loads of friends who were in similar situations. It’s hard being a student abroad no matter how old you are, or how many times you’ve done it, even if it’s at the same school, in the same city. I didn’t think last summer, or a few weeks ago, that I would have all this anxiety because I just felt like I’d been there, done that, but each experience is completely different, so the familiarites, while comforting, aren’t necessarily enough to help. I feel really good about being here, but I also really miss home in a way that I never did before. Both of my semesters abroad, I started being ready to go home towards the end of the terms, mostly because I knew I was leaving, but also because I was just ready to leave. This is the first time I was less than 24 hours in and excited for my return flight in December. I’m not saying I want to leave London or that I don’t want to live here after my program is done, but I think I’m in a different part of my life where things are a lot more permament now, so the thought of getting a job in London is now more of a reality and idk how to feel about that. Idk how to feel about a job in the US. It’s all weird, but I’m so happy to be back and looking forward to everything on this crazy journey.