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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine March/April 2001
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Study and Living in up in London

Living in London as a Student

I moved to London for a graduate program in art history, an experience I was promised would be full of academic challenge and intercultural stimulation. When I discovered that the other nine students were also American, rather than abandon what had been described as an integrated program I spent my free time to involving myself in anything and everything British.

Play sports. I hadn’t played soccer since high school gym class, but I had a great time on one of the women’s teams. The best place to catch some action is in Hyde Park on Saturdays and Sundays where many teams practice (Hyde Park tube stop). In most cases team membership is free.

The Tuesday night runs at Nike Town are well-organized (Oxford Circus tube stop, 6:15 p.m.). A trainer is there to warm you up and a physical therapist to stretch out your sore muscles after. The runs usually draw in a large crowd, so there are many chances to mingle and meet locals. Free.

For something less corporate, check out neighborhood running clubs. Clubs usually ask for a few pounds to cover the cost of the changing room if they have one.

Watch real athletes. While it is nearly impossible to get tickets to a professional football match, getting into Wimbledon in June is easy if you know the tricks. On the morning of each day of the tournament, you can wait in line and get open seating for £12 (plan to arrive at 8:30 a.m.). Once you are inside and having a great time, get in line at 5 p.m. for “returned tickets”—those not used by people who have paid to see center court and court one matches. These are resold for £3 and the proceeds go to charity. We waited in this line for 45 minutes and got to see Agassi on center court for £3! If you are flexible, you will have a great time. Cost: £12-£15.

Join a theatre or art group. If you sing at all, it is possible to be a chorus member just for the learning experience and for the pub nights after rehearsals. One such group is the Grosvener Light Opera Company. The best way to find them is to read Stage for audition calls, or to search online. Cost: Yearly dues to cover production expenses, usually around £120 (I told my group that I was a starving student and they let me pay half that).

When my flatmate and I were feeling inspired but very poor, we would use our tube passes to visit gallery exhibitions. It’s a cheap and fun way to get to know the city while avoiding all the tourists who are content with the wax renderings at Madame Toussaud’s.

There is so much great theater in London it is silly to blow your wad on Cats when you can see an original stage play for a quarter of the price. The Royal Theatre at Sloan Square has £5 student tickets every Monday. Read Time Out for other theaters with special discounts.

The Prince Albert Theatre shows movies a few weeks after they have hit the main cinemas in the rest of the city. It is well worth the wait because again the cost is a quarter of the price of a regular movie ticket and the crowd is always a happy and rowdy mix of locals. The weekly “Sing-along to the Sound of Music” is an especially hilarious event that is akin to going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Leicester Square tube stop. Cost: £2.50 for members; others £3.50 (membership for a year costs £5).

Throw a pub night or a party. When the weather was warm enough to sit on the long benches that most pubs have outside I called everyone I knew and had them meet at a convenient pub. If it involves a pub, the Brits will come. Cost: It all depends upon how many pints you consume.

Most Londoners have very small flats, so if you are lucky enough to live in a larger-than-normal place, have everyone over. We had practically 100 percent RSVP rate, since everyone was glad to avoid the expense of going clubbing. Cost: Free (we asked people to bring their own drinks and we got CDs from the local library).

Volunteer. It doesn’t pay, but it’s a great way to meet locals and do something fun at the same time. Some organizations will pay for your travel expenses and lunch.

Get a paying job. Work as a part-time nanny not only allows you to get paid (the going rate is £10 an hour) but to enter the tightly-woven web of wealthy families who want to pay you to hang out with their kids. [Editor’s Note: Paid work requires a work permit.]

I haven’t recommended working in a pub because most pubs in England pay legitimate wages to their staff, so it’s difficult to find under-the-table work. Also, there is no tipping in pubs and bars so your dreams of making it big a la Tom Cruise will not be fulfilled.

Buy Time Out. It comes out every Wednesday afternoon and covers everything going on in London. A small coupon inside the magazine can be clipped out and used for discounts at various galleries, clubs, and other events during that week. Hint: Read the listings carefully for special prices.

Buy an Underground pass, even if it’s only for one week and an A to Z guide (not a map). Even the locals carry them around, and it is 100 percent complete as opposed to most fold-out tourist maps.

Shop at the markets. If you want to save money on clothes and shoes, avoid the high streets and head to Camden Town on Sundays or Notting Hill on Saturdays and Sundays for cheap and good stuff such as music, gifts, housewares, and lots of clothes!

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