Student to Student
Living it up in London as a Student
It’s home to some of the world’s most expensive restaurants, lavish hotels, and extravagant nightlife. The Tube is a sea of power suits, Prada shoes, and Pashminas. Hyde Park is filled with the children
of Knightsbridge’s elite, accompanied by their fashionable nannies. London is one of Europe’s most expensive cities. There’s always something to do, if you can afford it. But what if your funds are limited, your time
restricted, and you are a culturally shocked student on your own in London for the first time? Getting lost, running out of money, and competing with angry tourists are only some of the problems that can arise.
Do Your Math
As a student in London, it’s certain that your money will be tight. The thrill of the find is bound to make you spend more than anticipated, and with the current exchange rate the dollar’s buying power
is hurt tremendously.
Michigan State Univ. student Carolyn Welch visited London with a study abroad program focusing on arts and the humanities. Her recommendation: “Take one and a half of whatever money you thought you were going
to bring. And pack only 50 percent of what you thought because you’ll end up buying a lot.”
Proud to be an American?
Perhaps one of the most common stereotypes of American tourists is that we’re loud, crass, and rude. You won’t be the first to challenge that label, and you won’t change the minds of an entire city.
Adapting to the British way of life may feel like abandoning your culture, but it indicates that you’re respecting another’s instead. You don’t have to sip tea at an outdoor café with a fake accent, but wearing
a cowboy hat and your American flag T-shirt to the pub isn’t a grand idea. Learn to adjust.
“Make friends with the locals,” Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champagne student Meg Ambrose says. “You’re obviously a tourist but you can still hang out with them and be outgoing.” If you’re
going to comment on world affairs, make sure to be informed about the subject. A common place for discussions is at a pub over a pint. You’ll earn more respect from residents if you aren’t looking to start fights, Welch found.
Learn the Ropes
Being aware of your surroundings sounds like advice from a women’s self-defense class, but it is important when traveling abroad. It’s all too common to hear horror stories about students lost in the vastness
of London, and Ambrose was no exception. “I went out with some friends to a club and when we left we saw something sparkly and headed out to see what it was. When we tried to get home on the bus, we ended up so far away from our
flat that we had to call our resident advisor to get us. It wasn’t good.”
An adventurous day on the town can end in chaos and confusion if you get lost. Always carry a map, make mental notes of streets, buildings, and other landmarks, and never forget to look in the opposite direction when
crossing the street.
For many college students, one of the most enjoyable aspects of London is its innumerable pubs. A pint with a plate of fish and chips can become a staple of your nightlife, but keep in mind that both the pubs and public
transportation aren’t the same as in the U.S. Bars close at midnight or earlier, the same time that the Tube, London’s underground system, stops running.
Locating the U.S. embassy in London is another way of being prepared and getting to know your surroundings. It can re-issue a lost passport or give travel tips. With spring and summer the most popular time to travel,
college newspapers in the U.S. are alerted every February to the current conditions that may affect visiting students’ safety and welfare.
Put Buckingham at the Bottom
London is famous for tourist attractions like Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, but that doesn’t mean you have to visit every one of them. London has some of the best museums
in the world—and they’re free.
London is said to be the Manhattan of England. From the all-night clubbers to the regulars at the local pub, London is a city with an energy all its own. And who better to thrive on such a vibrant, exciting energy
than students. But it’s imperative that you manage your money, familiarize yourself with the culture, and, most importantly, strive to experience more than the highlights of a tourist’s guidebook.
MAUREEN O’HARA is a freelance writer from East Lansing, MI. She studied journalism in the U.K. for six weeks during the summer of 2003.