“I’m Going to Miss This Place”

I have approximately less than three weeks left in London, and I have to admit I’m sad. During the six months studying here, I didn’t always feel a connection with London. In the first month or so, it was all bliss. I eagerly dressed up and went out to either a club, museum, or restaurant every week, and it was fun. I would take lots of pictures, try to meet as much people as possible, and see as much sites as possible all within my budget of course.

 

After my reading week, which was my week long break in February, my sentiments about London were a bit different. I travelled to Paris and Barcelona, instead of studying, and though it was an amazing trip, I had three essays to write when I got back — one of which I did not even know I had to do until three days before the due date.

 

I cannot lie to you it was rough getting those essays done. I did not leave my house for that whole week because I needed to utilize every second, every minute, and every hour to work on my essays. Classes were no longer interesting because I did not feel the need to learn concepts that are not relevant to my essays or my degree back home and almost all lectures were not. I admit for this reason I stopped going to class by March.

At the end of March, I had completed eight different essays of differing lengths and had almost entirely stopped going out and class to finish them.

I was miserable. I was overwhelmed by the essays. I was no longer having an enjoyable abroad experience. I was lonely. I spent too many hours just by myself or with my parents via Skype. I wanted to be home. I wanted to be with my loving family, my friends from my home church and those from school. I wanted to go back to Cornell and stress over exams there instead of writing pointless essays. I was over studying abroad.

 

By the time April came around, a new worry surfaced. My birthday was approaching and I was worried about how I was going to celebrate it, seeing that I felt at the time that no one would want to celebrate it with me. I decided to just plan a trip and visit my friends that I was sure of. I flew to Rome the weekend before my birthday and I had an amazing time with my Cornell friends. You can watch my adventures in Rome and my birthday celebration here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH49bFc09MU).

 

Fortunately, my birthday was also a big success. I mustered up the courage to plan a dinner for myself on my birthday even though it was on a Tuesday. I also paid for a makeover and photoshoot the morning of with one of my friend who was also studying abroad in London. Read my previous blog or follow the link above to read/watch what happened on my birthday.

 

After my birthday, I did quite a lot of travelling throughout Europe. I went to Dublin, Ireland, then Amsterdam and Brussels, and then Athens in Greece, back to Rome, back to Barcelona, and then to Valencia also in Spain. It was on these trips that I began to appreciate studying abroad. I went to seven different cities, and six different countries in the span of three weeks. I have seen sights and eat food that most people have only seen on the internet or in their dreams. I am not bragging; I am thankful. I may write a separate post on how I was able to do all that during my time abroad.

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Anyways, I have been back in London since May 8th. My parents came to visit me two weeks ago and I was able to show them around with no problem. It was a proud moment for me to feel like a local just taking around tourists.

After all I’ve been through, all I did, and all I felt, studying abroad right now is worth all of it. It was worth the money spent, the short periods of loneliness, the pictures, the bellies full of food. It was worth the annoying essays and passport stamps. It was worth the new British and American friends, some of which I can consider family. It was worth the experience!

I finally feel like London is home, well a third home (after NYC and after Cornell you know). There are still places I want to go in London on my to-do list and hopefully, I can visit them before I leave. But if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that I will miss this place. London has truly grown on me, and I would not trade studying abroad here for the world. In March, I would have thought I made the wrong decision, but as I finish typing this post now on today, May 31st, 2015, in New Cross, London, UK, I have to say I KNOW I didn’t.

 

Thanks for reading.

Photoshoots & Buffets | My 21st Birthday in London!

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For my 21st birthday I wanted to do something different, so I surfed the internet for 21st birthday ideas. I stumbled upon several vouchers for a makeover and photoshoot in London and they were all pretty cheap. There were ones for £15 or £24 for 2 people. I did the £24 one at Hello Gorgeous Studios in West Croydon because the salons that had the cheaper deals had no availability on my birthday.

 

On my birthday I woke up early to make my appointment which was at 11am. One of my friends was doing the shoot with me and was coming to my dorm early so we could travel together. We got to West Croydon and found the shopping centre easily. Finding the studio was a bit harder. The staff though were very helpful once I called them and asked for help.

Upon entering, my friend and I were warmly greeted, told to sit, and offered drinks. We both had strawberry daiquiris, which were actually really delicious. While we drank we had to fill out these forms to indicate what type of photoshoot we wanted. We both opted for the photographer’s discretion choice.

Before I could finish signing, the makeup artist commanded me to come with her. She immediately started putting makeup on my face without even asking me what I wanted. I ended up telling her it was my birthday and golden birthday to be exact, so I wanted my eyes to be golden. She instead did this smokey eye business that I did not want. It was way too dramatic and she rushed it. She didn’t even properly clean up my brows or add foundation to my neck. Best believe she did after I spoke to her though. I had my makeup done for prom as well and my opinion of all makeup artists are the same: they never do your makeup good and it always seems rushed.

Anyways, hairstyling was a part of my voucher package, however, I had to ask the studio staff if my hair would be done because they just overlooked it. It was the makeup artist who was also the hairstylist and she told me because my hair was natural she felt it would take too long to do it. Since it was my birthday and I waited until then to get my hair done, I was not going to take any pictures until it was fixed. Unfortunately, I should have just left my hair as it was because the stylist nearly ripped out the hair from my head. All she was instructed to do was straighten my hair, however, she did not take much time to properly detangle and comb my hair. She also rushed with my hair, even though the salon was practically empty.

The photoshoot itself was amazing! While doing it, I did not feel like the pictures would come out as good as they did, but they did. The photographer, who was a female, knew exactly what poses I should do and where and it worked! She took singles with each of us and then several together. Though I could not take any pictures in the studio, I sneaked some while in the dressing room. The photos I took are below as well as a close up of our makeup from the studio:

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After the shoot, my friend and I left to get lunch. We had to wait an hour before our photos would be ready to be viewed. We had Malaysian food and it was delicious. That was my first time eating Malaysian food. We followed lunch with gelato and I had my favorite flavor – strawberry cheesecake.

When we arrived back to the studio, we entered a private room and saw all 95 photos that were taken of us. They were all so beautiful! Retouched and everything! As a part of my voucher, I was only afforded 2 printed 5×7 photos. It was difficult to decide which two we were going to take but we did. The staff showing us the photos gave us a deal two photos on a CD for £25 pounds. Since I already put £25 as a booking deposit, my friend and I paid £25 each for a photo. The original price of one photo on a CD was £100 and for one print £50 but the print could not be scanned without a watermark.

I cannot insert the photos from my shoot because they are too large.

 

After my photoshoot, it was like 4:00pm. My friend had to buy a sleeping bag because she was sleeping in my dorm for a little bit. We had to go to the nearest shopping centre for that and the journey back and forth took longer than usual since it was rush hour.

I had made reservations for dinner at JRC Global Buffet in West Croydon for 7:30pm; however, my friend and I did not reach back to my dorm until like 6:55pm. We rushed to do over our makeup because we did not like what the stylist did. We also put on new clothes. Luckily for me, all my invited guests, who mainly consists of my friends that I met at church here in London, all came from work and would be late as well. I got a ride to the restaurant from one of my friends who was joining me for dinner. We reached at 8:30pm. Only about half of my party was there.

The buffet was nicely decorated and large. There was French food, American food, Italian, Indian, Chinese and Japanese food. The food itself was alright but I enjoyed the time with my friends. Leading up to my birthday I was really nervous that I would not enjoy myself on my birthday because I was away from my friends and family who I would usually celebrate my birthday with, and birthdays are big for me (and every other April baby it seems). My birthday dinner though was very enjoyable. I had laughs for days. I smiled the whole night and I have beautiful pictures and videos to show for it. Check out my Youtube channel for a vlog of my birthday. I went to Rome right before (read out my previous blog) and Dublin right after my birthday so those cities will be featured in the video.

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When in Rome…Don’t Do as the Tourists Do

 

I didn’t always want to go to Rome; however, two of my closest friends at Cornell decided to study abroad there so I knew I had to go visit them. I left to go to Rome Thursday, April 16th. My flight was at 4:00pm because I needed to arrive after my friends finished their classes so that one of them could meet me at the airport. Unlike my trip to Paris and Barcelona, I was traveling to Rome by myself and knew no Italian, so any assistance was more than appreciated.

 

One of my friends was at the airport when I arrived. We took a local bus to a train to the main bus terminal called Termini before heading to his apartment, because that was the cheapest route home. In Rome, the public transportation fare is €1.50 and the ticket is valid for 100 minutes.

The first night, I had McDonalds. My friend and I ordered something simple — a McChicken meal, though I did not notice a difference in the menu items. After dinner, I arrived at my friend’s apartment and settled in for the night. I was fortunate enough to utilize their extra bed and I brought sheets with me to cover the mattress. There were also two bathrooms, so I did not impede too much on their living.

The next day, I followed one of my friends to their Italian 1 class. As a part of their program, which is particularly for Cornell AAP students, they have to take Italian. He was in level 1 and though I did not know Italian, I sort of understood a few things they discussed, because I know some Spanish and I noticed the parallels.

 

After class, my friends took me to see the ancient ruins and then the Colosseum. Their apartment was in walking distance to both. I did not go to the Colosseum because my friends already went and I did not want to leave them to go in by myself. I am also going to Rome again for a few hours with another one of my friends so I decided to wait to go with her. At the Colosseum, my friends took some pictures of me but we were bombarded with people selling selfie sticks. For some reason, in Rome and in other Italian cities, people make a living selling selfie sticks to tourists. I have no idea how much money they actually make but I do know that people, including me, do buy them. I will talk about that a tad bit later.

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After the Colosseum, my friends took me back to Termini. They both knew how to navigate the metro system well, since they’ve been living in Rome for the same amount of time I have been in London — four months. At Termini, I tried to exchange British pounds into euros because that is a better conversion than US dollars into pounds; however, inside the train station itself the currency exchange place tried to charge 19% commission. No way! Word of advice: Do not exchange your money at a train station or airport, they will almost always charge you commission and/or a service fee. Change your money at a random local currency exchange spot along the street. They change money for free. Instead of getting 76 euros for 80 British pounds from the train station, I got 107 euros from the local place. You should NEVER get less euros than British pounds when converting your money.

After I got some euros, my friends took me to a famous plaza. The name has escaped me but it may be Piazza di Spagna, meaning Plaza of Spain. There are famous Spanish steps there and a fountain. I did not climb the steps but I gave in and bought a selfie stick from one of the guys selling one there. His initial price was 15 euros but I bargained down to 7. After that we went to another plaza where a Michael Jackson impersonator was performing. We climbed up a hill and saw an amazing view of the city. After coming down, we went to H&M because my friends wanted to go to the beach, and it did not cross my mind that that would be a possibility during my trip so I didn’t bring a bathing suit. I decided I did not want to buy one because the prices were high and I have three new bathing suits at home, so it wasn’t worth it.

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On Saturday we all slept in and then went to the beach after buying some pizza for brunch. In my opinion, the pizza did not taste any different from any other pizza I have ever tasted. The night before we all had a kebab for dinner because one of my friends wanted one and that was good, because it’s not Italian.

 

The beach was a good 40 to 45 minutes out. Just before we went there my friends took me to Vatican city. I saw only the outside of St. Peter’s Cathedral and only a glimpse of the Vatican museum because the lines to get in were ridiculous! The beach was cool. Not much people were there and no one was in the water. Since I did not buy or bring a bathing suit I had no intention to go in the water and that was fine because it was freezing. After about two hours chatting on the beach, my friends and I headed back home for dinner. We ate at one of their favorite restaurants very close to their house. I had a vegetable pizza, because 1. I like vegetable pizza and 2. a lot of options contained pork or seafood, both of which I do not eat. The pizza was big and tasty. It wasn’t too expensive either. The portions of my friends’ pastas though were significantly smaller than my plate. Also, I noticed in Rome, they do not offer water for free.

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After dinner, we went to a gelato place, which is pretty much Italian ice cream. On our way a waiter from another restaurant looked at me and proceeded to say, “Mmm, I love Nutella.” Never in my life have I heard such a thing. Is that how Italians catcall Black girls? I thought it was hilarious, especially since it is rumored that Italian men like Black girls.

The gelato I had was also not amazing. It wasn’t bad. It was just not amazing. Back at home we finished our ice cream and chilled. I caught up on Scandal, took a shower, and prepared to go out. I came to Rome to celebrate my birthday early with my friends and so we planned to go out to a club that Saturday night. After getting all dolled up and really drinking for the first time ever, we went out. The first club we went to required us to be on the guest list so we could not get in. After some deliberation, we got into a cab and rode to a district full of clubs. It was about 10 of us. My two friends and I and some of their friends they’ve met in the program.

 

We got into this club called Coyote or Koyote. It was a 10 euro cover but it included a drink, not that I needed anymore. The music there was not my cup of tea; however, my friend had the bright idea to get on the stage and dance. We were two of the only Black girls in the club but we were getting it on that stage. The crowd which was full of Italians loved us. We hyped up the club until about 3am and then walked home. I walked barefoot because I wore heels and my poor feet were tired after dancing all night. (Yes, my feet are alright now.)

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By the time we all reached home it was close to 4am. I had to get up at 6am to leave at 7:30am, and catcg a flight that left at 9am. I overslept but my friend who does not even live in the apartment I slept came in, knocked on the door and woke me up. It was God! I had to take a 30 euro cab from Termini to the airport which was the most I spent for the entire trip but I did arrive nice and early.

 

All in all, Rome was fun because I had my loving friends by my side. I am not sure if it is on my list of the most fun cities I’ve been or my favorites but I enjoyed my pre-birthday turn up! My next post will be about my birthday in London.

 

Sorry I have not been posting much, but I will hopefully do better. In the meantime, feel free to check out my Youtube channel where I post travel vlogs: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzjNAFefviD7xMtf9uNkd2g

Watch My Adventures on Youtube!

I haven’t had the time to publicly announce that I have a Youtube channel where I upload video blogs or vlogs of my time in London and elsewhere around Europe, until now. If you would like to not only read about my adventures but watch them, check out my channel following this link:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzjNAFefviD7xMtf9uNkd2g

I upload London vlogs every Tuesday. Here is the link to my latest vlog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scErOZOfadw. There are also other interesting videos on my channel so like, comment, and subscribe to see more.

From Paris, With Love

From Paris, With Love

 

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Paris and Barcelona. I had a week break from classes so it seemed like the perfect time to have a vacation, or as they call it here a “holiday”. This week, called reading week, is actually intended to be a time for students to read articles and begin writing essays that would be due in the upcoming weeks. I, however, didn’t do any of that. I left Sunday night, February 15th, and caught a bus from London to Paris for $59 one way. I travelled with one of my friends that I met during my time abroad. She is also a study abroad student.

If you look at a map of England, you will see that it is surrounded by water, so you are probably wondering how my friend and I made up from London to Paris by bus. Well, the truth is our bus traveled across the water on a train called Eurotunnel. It was a tube-like structure that the bus literally drove into it and was carried by. While inside the train, it felt like the bus was floating on water. The motions resembled that of a cruise ship.  The total trip from London to Paris took about nine hours.

We arrived in Paris early Monday morning and decided to walk to our hostel, since neither my friend nor I had euros. Plus, our hostel was supposed to be only 20 minutes away from the coach station, so why not walk. My friend used citymapper, which is a transportation app that gives walking, biking, and public transportation directions throughout a number of different cities, some of which include: London, Paris, and New York. I live by citymapper to get me places in London and my friend and I heavily relied on it to survive in Paris and Barcelona.

We found our hostel the Bastille Hostel —quickly and safely. Checking in though was a struggle. The front desk lady, whose name I never seemed to get, had a vendetta against my friend and I. Let me tell you: First, we tried to checked in to our room but she told us that because we did not book our stay together we were put in separate rooms. Now, this would have been alright (I guess) if my friend and I did not specifically write in the special requests box during booking to room with each other. Clearly, the hostel doesn’t read that section because if they did they would have noted our request, but since they don’t, I told the lady she should tell her boss to take that section off their booking page. She had me messed up.

Long story short, the lady sorted things out and put us in the same room, however, that was the least of our problems. We finished checking in at 10:45am but we could not place our stuff in our rooms because at this particular hostel, they cleaned all their rooms from 11am to 3pm. During this time, no one is allowed to go into their room. As a result, my friend and I had to leave our stuff in the basement of the hostel which was the “luggage room.” It was a good thing I did not have any valuables in my bag (i.e. no laptop) because although you had to have a key to get down into the room, once you got down there, you technically had access to everyone’s bags.

My friend and I left our bags down there (we each brought one little suitcase) and searched for a restaurant to eat breakfast. The struggle was real for us because we did not know any French and all the menus outside were in French. We also had a hard time figuring out if a restaurant served breakfast because we did not know the word for breakfast in French either. My dictionary app did not help for some odd reason. Luckily for us, the restaurant owners whom we asked all knew English so they understood us, and we, them.

We ended up eating a cheese omelette and green salad (my friend is a Vegetarian and I don’t eat red meat) and crepes. I got mine with Nutella and my friend got hers with powdered sugar. The food was delicious. Our meals came out to 15 euros each.  Bread and water were complimentary with the meal.

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After brunch, we went back to the hostel and since we could not see our rooms, we took a nap in the waiting area. Yep, we napped. My friend needed to charge her phone because citymapper takes up a lot of battery and I had no data so my phone was completely useless, and we needed directions to wherever we wanted to go. We also had no idea what we wanted to do so we needed my friend’s phone to google stuff. In the hostel, we found brochures of different activities and found a free tour of Paris so we did that after our nap. The tour was horrible. The tour guide was friendly and all that but she showed us random buildings, her house, and just irrelevant stuff that was not advertised as being a part of the tour. She also demanded payment of some kind, even though it is supposed to be based on our discretion. She also ended the tour far away from where it started and barely gave us directions back home.

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We made it, though we were 5 euros poorer, and underwhelmed with our day. We finally got to put our stuff in our room and then went out to find some dinner. We ended up eating at a pub right next to our hostel. The food again was really good and cheap and the waiters knew English.  We wanted to go to the movies after dinner just so that we didn’t feel like we wasted our first day in Paris, however, the movie theaters that played movies in English were too far away and we were a bit too tired to walk there and walk back (we were determined not to use public transportation).

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The next day we woke up early, ate a small breakfast in the hostel (it was free) and headed up to find Notre Dame. We bought tickets for a hop on-hop-off bus tour called Big Bus Paris. I highly recommend it. Our day pass cost about 27 euros and we had to print out a ticket from a random internet café, since the same front desk lady could not get our papers to print on her machine for some reason. We found Notre Dame; it was about a half hour walk from our hostel, and stumbled on the infamous love lock bridge. Both breathtaking sites.  We hopped on the bus and began sightseeing around Paris.

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The bus offered wifi, an audio tour guide in nine different languages, map of the sites, earphones, and a poncho. It had two floors, the top one was open, but we stayed inside because it was too cold for that. Paris was colder than London. We saw and got off at quite a few of the stops, some of which including the Eiffel tower, Arc de triomphe, Petit Palais, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, etc.

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We had lunch not too far from the Eiffel tower and then bought souvenirs at a local shop and headed to one of the shopping centres. We watched Fifty Shades of Grey, which played in English with French subtitles. The movie was alright and I read the book. The theater was huge though, the biggest I have ever seen, and it was packed with people of all ages and skin tones. Paris is a very diverse city in terms of people. We ate dinner at the same pub as the one the other night and went to sleep at like 10pm, because we had a 10am flight to Barcelona the following morning.

Paris was nice, but Barcelona was better. A post about Barcelona will be coming soon…

The GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY: My First Impressions of London

The GOOD

  1. The transportation systems in London are impeccable! I had to take the Underground, aka the subway, to my school, and my first thoughts were that the tubes, or the trains, were so small and cute. The tubes themselves are not that wide. Depending on which line you’re on, there is not much room to stand in front of seats. On the Piccadilly line from the airport, I could hardly fit my large suitcase through the doors. Besides that, the Underground stations and inside the tubes and trains are unbelievably clean. Coming from NY, where the subway is disgusting, it is refreshing to see how clean the stations are in London. The bus and train services in London are also very easy to understand and navigate. Every station and bus stop has a written list displayed of the stops the train or bus, respectively, will go to. All you have to know is the stop you need to get to and you are good. I am someone who often needs an app to feel comfortable traveling but in London, you can actually arrive at your destination safely and quickly without one, if you at least know the name of your destination. Citymapper is a great app that you can use to get around in London. It is like hopstop but better, since the transportation system in London is better. Citymapper offers you multiple options to get to your destination and how much it will cost to get there. It will also travel with you as you make it through your journey i.e. if you are traveling on the bus, the toggle will move with you from stop to stop to show you where you are, in relation to the other parts of your journey.
  2. London has cheap clothing and food. There is a wonderful clothing store called Primark in London. Primark was originally opened in Ireland under another name, but has expanded to include various other European cities — London being one of them. Primark sells clothes, shoes, accessories, and home and beauty items for unbelievable prices. I literally got a shirt for £3, a cross-body bag for £8, jeans for £11, a bathroom rug for £2.90, and an infinity scarf for £3. If you convert these prices to US dollars they would still be cheap and if you consider them as they are, in pounds, they are still cheap. The low prices do not take away from the quality either. Both are amazing. I will definitely be shopping there again soon. If you want to see the items I just named that I got from Primark, check it out this haul video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUIOx-BiLPs. For food, London has plenty of chicken shops and kebab places that have cheap food. My favorite place is Gateway Chicken and they sell 6 chicken wings and fries for £2. This food may not be the healthiest but it tastes good. These places are also open late so you can satisfy your hunger after hours for cheap as well.
  3. London makes it so easy to cook a good tasting meal. In the grocery stores, there is a plethora of instant meals and pre-seasoned food, like meatballs or chicken breasts. There are also do it yourself kits, that contain all the ingredients to make a specific meal, like pad thai. I am unashamed to say that I am just now attempting to cook (I was blessed to always have my mom cook for me…until now when I don’t have a meal plan) so I am forever grateful for how London has made my life that much easier.
  4. London also has quite a few free cash withdrawal cashpoints, or as we call them, ATMs. You could take out money from your account with no extra bank charge; however, if your account contains American dollars or euros, or anything other than pounds, you will be charged a conversion fee. My fee is about $5 for a £100 withdrawal.
  5. London is very international. I am someone who loves different cultures and languages and you will find that diversity in London. There are restaurants that sell food from different regions of the world. There are people who speak different languages and who practice different cultures. There is a great deal of opportunities to meet people from all over the world in this one city.
  6. London has lots to do. Similar to NYC, there is a vibrant nightlife in London. Clubs, pubs, and other venues have events every night of the week. Yep, clubs are going up on Tuesdays. If partying or drinking is not your style, there are museums and galleries you can go to that are free in London. London has a million and one museums (not literally but it feels like it). They are open everyday and again, are free, so why not go.
  7. There are safe crossings in London. A safe crossing is a designated area where you can cross the street. You press a button and it tells you to wait and then to walk when it is safe. London roads are very busy and people do J-walk but it is not the safest option. The safe crossings are also nice because they remind you where to look when crossing the street, which is to your right since they drive on the left.

The BAD

  1. If you are American, one of the worst things about London is that our dollars are barely worth anything in the UK. Today, one US dollar is 0.66 British pounds or one British pound is 1.52 US dollars. This exchange rate fluctuates almost every day, but never in the favor of the US dollar. I just round up and think of my money like this: One pound is 2 US dollars. Everything you buy, including items that cost £1 are really like $2, and that conversion adds up.
  2. The weather in London is not the worst I have experienced, but if you like sun and dryness, London may not be the place for you. It rains a little everyday, and the sun sometimes comes out but not always. It has not been too cold though which is good. The weather right now (in January/February) is between about 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. For trains in London, you do not pay a standard rate for every trip (e.g. in NY you pay $2.50 if you take the bus or train no matter where you’re going); rather you pay based on the distance you travel. From my school in New Cross to London Bridge, it cost me £2.30, but from the Heathrow airport to my school, it cost me £3.10 (I think). London bridge is about 15-20mins away and the airport is 40-50 minutes away. The prices aren’t bad though, I guess, if you don’t convert it to US dollars. Also, you have to tap your card on the reader before entering the train station and to exit in order for it to properly calculate your trip, so if you accidently lose your card while in the train station, you will have a difficult time getting out. There are also no transfers in London. If you have to take two buses to reach your destination, you will have to pay twice. The fare is £1.50 for the bus.

The UGLY

  1. If you are a smoker or don’t mind cigarette smoke, this point is not an “ugly”. However, if you are like me, and hate it, then read on. There is an overwhelming amount of people who smoke in London. It seems to me that majority of them are young adults, like college age people. They smoke frequently, in herds, and right outside public places (I mean right by the entrance), with no shame. It is weird seeing this because in NY, people smoke but not nearly as much as here. Also, only a certain type of young person smokes cigarettes. It is not the norm but I guess in London or Europe, it is not socially frowned upon. Either way, smoking cigarettes or anything for that matter, is unattractive to me, and very unhealthy. I am curious about the lung cancer rates in London.
  2. Some people here can be very rude. I have witnessed a young girl no older than 13, yell at a fast food worker to “hurry up” with her order. I assure you she was not waiting for long. I also witnessed a young man throw a ketchup bottle and punch a fast food worker because he would not let him credit his food i.e. pay for it later. I have also seen a young man pick a fight with a security guard in a grocery store. I missed why that incident happened though. Some schoolboys, so cute in their uniforms, have no problem teasing the girls, or being obnoxious in public spaces.

 

These are just my first impressions of London in the month I’ve been living here. Your experience when you come to London may be different from mine, or it may be very similar. There is really no way of knowing though, unless you come visit. The good clearly outweighs the bad so come on down!

My First Week of Classes in London!

 

Before I talk about my actual first week of classes here in London, let me first explain how the educational system works here. Disclaimer: I am speaking from what I heard and experienced studying here thus far. If you end up studying in London or know someone who does and your/their experience is different, sorry. I am speaking from my experience.

In London (and I believe throughout the UK), college is referred to as “Uni.” Uni is not 4 years like in America but 3. Yes, so that means students here can graduate in the UK with their bachelors of science as young as 20, and that would be normal. Although uni is only three years, there are three semesters so every year is a long year, if that makes sense. The semesters are: Fall/Autumn (September-December), Spring (January to March), and Summer (late April to June). Usually, there is teaching (i.e. lecturing) in the spring and summer semesters, while the summer semester consist of only examinations. Examinations in the other terms are infrequent. During the fall and spring semesters, students only have one essay due per class and it is usually due the last or second to last week of classes.

 

Speaking of classes, classes in London only meet once a week. Yep, once a week! In the U.S. you usually have the same class, for example intro to psychology, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for about 50 minutes each day. In London, you would have that class only one day, let’s say Monday, for an hour if it is a first or second year class, or for two hours if it is a third year class. ? Classes in the UK are also not called classes, but “modules,” and discussion sections or essay reviews are called “tutorials.” Also, students do not refer to themselves as Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, or Senior, but rather first year, second year, or third year. First year students are also called “Freshers.” Sounds cute, right

 

Now, about my first week of classes: My first class was social-moral development, a third year psychology course. I got to the room where I was supposed to have class about ten minutes before the class started, just to be early. Big mistake! The other students and I were waiting outside for about twenty minutes because (1) there was another class in the room that had not left yet and (2) our professor was late. Once the other class exited the room and our Professor came, class somewhat began; however, the professor did not introduce himself nor did he have his name shown anywhere. He did not ask us, students, for our names either. Instead, he explained the online grading system, which in the UK is called the “v.l.e.” or “Virtual Learning Environment.” It is equivalent to Blackboard here in the U.S. but way more confusing. He explained the structure of the class which would be an hour of lecturing, a ten-minute break, and then discussion section on the assigned reading in small groups. Another amazing aspect of studying in the UK is that course readings are almost non-existent. I do not have to buy a textbook for any of my classes and the articles I have to read are short empirical papers that I can find online. There are some suggested and recommended textbooks suggested to read, however, because you have one paper due at the end of the semester, you can just go to the library and look up what you need when the time comes.

 

I am only taking four courses here and the first one I mentioned was on Monday. The next two classes were second year classes so they were in a larger room and had more students than my previous class. I again showed up early and had to wait for the other class to leave the room before I could enter. I am not sure why this waiting game exists. It could be because I am studying abroad at a small school. I am not sure because Cornell is huge so we never have this problem. The professor again did not introduce herself, but went straight into her lecture. She was also a guest lecturer. Apparently, even on the first day of class in the UK, you can have a guest lecturer. Co-lecturers are also common. The second class on Wednesday went the similarly. I had to wait to get in, but the professor speaking was my actual professor this time.

 

My last day of class for the week is Friday, even though I mistakenly went to school on Thursday thinking my class was on Thursday. I have another third year class for two hours. Unlike my other third year course, this third year class consists entirely of lecturing. It was interesting though.

 

The following are some random observations I had during my first week of school in the UK :  1. There is an unusually high number of students smoke cigarettes 2. There are quite a few students who are older than typical college age (it is common to take time off) 3. Professors and students are not all from the UK. Quite a few are from other European countries 4. Students have no shame rolling up in class late. They even walk across the front while the professor is lecturing to get a seat on the other side of the auditorium 5. Professors do not frequently look at the audience for raised hands i.e. questions 6. Classes are year-long but broken down by semester so the classes that I am taking now were taught in the fall semester; however, new topics are being taught in this semester.

 

I hope this post helps you better understand academic life in the UK.

My First Day in London!

The night of my flight started off fine. My parents made sure to hustle me out the house to reach the airport on time, and check-in was unusually fast. After only showing my passport and boarding pass which I printed out from home, within a minute, my one suitcase was on the scale and then lifted on the conveyer belt.

After check-in, I went to a currency exchange station and changed about $100 US into Great Britain pounds. I was really excited to go through security with my new money, which wasn’t a lot since the US Dollar exchanged to Pounds, is almost nothing. I was not the only looking excited to travel. There were British families in line ahead of me, and college-aged students behind me, probably studying abroad as well, with smiles on their faces.

After security, I went to the waiting area of my gate. Almost all the seats were taken and it wasn’t even that close to the departure time, the plane was just that big. I did not have to wait long to board the plane though.

DSC00094My flight was approximately 6 hours long.  I was served a three-course meal dinner, which was actually pretty good, and then small breakfast which was just a croissant. I also had time to watch “A Million Ways to Die in the West” as well as countless episodes of Family Guy and American Dad. I only slept for about an hour and a half.

At approximately, 9:45am London time I hopped off the plane and attempted to cross the UK Border. However, I could not find my passport. When you enter a foreign country, you have to show proof of why you are going there. My passport and landing card was what I needed to pass the UK Border; however, I could not find my passport. Since I am a study abroad student and had proper documentation (i.e. a letter from my study abroad school), I was good to enter the UK, if I could find my passport. After searching for about 5 minutes and praying to find it, I had found my passport in my folder inside my bookbag. It was smooth sailing from there but only for a little bit. Baggage claim was next. I found my bag quickly, made a few calls home to my parents and brothers and then headed out.

nationalexpressHere’s where the struggle got real: my original plan when I arrived in London was to take the National Express bus, which is a coach bus service that takes you around England, to New Cross, which is where my school for the next 6 months is located. However, after waiting on the customer service line for 40 minutes (yes, that long), the teller told me none of their busses stop there. Furthermore, the guy did not even know where New Cross was. I was highly upset because I had researched this bus company many times, heard such good reviews about them from past study abroad students, and saw that it went to where I needed to go online. I could have even purchased a ticket online, but didn’t for some reason. I was even more upset that I wasted 40 minutes waiting for the teller to instruct me to take the Underground, when I could have been home already.

undergroundThe Underground is the equivalent to the subway system in NYC, however, it is much cleaner, smaller, and prettier.  I got directions from an airport help desk employee, only after phoning my mom and practically crying because I did not know where I was going and I had too much luggage to carry on the subway. A cab was not an option though because I would have been too expensive. The airport employee was nice enough to tell me where I had to go and how, but he only knew up to London bridge, which was 15 minutes away from New Cross gate. He instructed me to ask an Underground employee at London bridge for directions on how to get to New Cross when I reach there.

oystercardI did as I was told. I bought an Oyster card, which is the same as a Metro card in NYC, however, it is hard like a debit card and more expensive. I paid £5 for the card alone and then £10 for the trip, so £15 total. I only paid £3.10 for my actual trip though. A train which in England is called a ‘tube,” left directly from the airport, so I did not have to go outside. The Underground system was surprisingly easy to navigate. I hopped the only one I saw (Picadilly line) and got off at Green Park. I follow the signs to the Jubilee line, like I was instructed, and then looked for the tube that was going to the stop I needed, which was London Bridge. The names of the upcoming stops on the trains are displayed above the windows in perfect sight. They are also listed on the Underground walls near the platforms. All you have to know is the name of your stop, and I promise, you will be good in London.

I got to London Bridge with no problem, besides having to pull my heavy suitcase and little one, on and off the tubes and throughout the station. Good thing there are clean and working elevators, which in London, they call “lifts.” When I got to London Bridge, I could not find any staff to ask how to get to New Cross, but I did find a help point. A help point is like a machine where you press a button and a staff member answers any questions you have. I asked the respondent how to get to New Cross Gate and she told me two ways to get there. I decided to take her first option which just sounded easier. At this point, my back was hurting from wearing my heavy bookbag. My hamstrings were hurting me from walking and dragging my suitcase behind me, and my body, in general was tired from lack of sleep on the plane. I was so ready to reach my dorm.

The tube I needed, according to the lady, was actually not at London Bridge, but at Canada Water, so I had to get back on the Jubilee line which I was on and get off at Canada Water. At Canada Water, I still did not know my way home. I went upstairs to a ticketing booth and saw a worker who asked me if I needed help. She probably sensed my confusion. I asked her how to get to Goldsmiths college, and she called someone else, and then reported to me that New Cross Gate was closest, and pointed me to the rail that would get me there. Stupid me, however, did not realize New Cross and New Cross Gate ran on the same line but different tubes, so I hopped on the first tube that said New Cross, and it was the wrong one.

At this point, I was too tired and weak to be lost, so I asked a passenger how I can get from New Cross station to New Cross Gate. Lucky for me, the man said he was headed there so he would be able to show me. He grabbed my large suitcase and walked me up a hill and around a corner until I saw a building that said ‘Goldsmiths.’ I was so close to home I could taste it. The man had to go to work and did not know how to get to my specific dorm, so I looked for someone who did — a college-aged local. Just as I suspected, he knew exactly where Loring Hall was and it was not too far from where I was standing. I rolled my suitcase in the Management center, got my keys, had a staff member take my large suitcase up the stairs (I live on the top floor and there is no lift), opened my suite door, and then room door, and celebrated my arrival. By celebrated, I mean, I met my hall mates, looked for food, looked for an adaptor, set up my wifi, and eventually went to sleep.

Hello world!

Welcome to my blog!

My name is Trenel Francis, and I am so excited to share my experience studying abroad in London with all of you. At Cornell, I am junior, Human Development major,  Education minor from NYC. In London, I will be studying Psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, during their Spring and Summer terms. Because my family is from the West Indies, I have only been to the Caribbean; however, I am ready to go all the way across the water and see all what Europe has to offer. Won’t you come along with me on this adventure?