In less than a week, I’ll be boarding an international flight for London, England! I couldn’t be more excited to return to the city I call my second home. I studied abroad in London two years ago (Spring 2016) with my university, and it was a life-changing experience. I experienced many “firsts” – first time living away from home (seriously! I attended my hometown university so I could save $$ for study abroad by commuting from home), first time sharing a space with roommates, first time traveling independently in a big city.
(I’ve found that I’m not a toe-in-the-water kind of girl. I just sort of dive into the deep end. This is true in almost all areas of my life – for example, health – it’s never a pesky cold, it’s the full-blown flu in May over my 21st birthday. Going away to college, maybe a 4-5 hour drive from home? Nah. I’ll just move across the ocean. You get the idea.)
I learned so much about myself while studying abroad (a post for another day!), but particularly my love for living in a big city. Which is, quite honestly, something I’d never expected to learn about myself! I’ve always been such a homebody. But at the end of my 4 months in London, all I could think is that it wasn’t “goodbye,” because I’d be returning. I’d do anything to have an opportunity to go back.
Fast forward a year and a half, and I applied for the Program Assistant position with my university’s study abroad program. This is a full-time job for a temporary period (6 months), due to the UK Visa process. For 6 months, I’ll assist the faculty in facilitating the program. There is no such thing as a “typical day,” because program assistants fill a variety of roles. I’ll complete administrative tasks in the office, I’ll book travel/accommodations for program trips, and, most importantly, I’m a liaison for the students. Program assistants live at the study center and are available to students 24-7 in case they have questions/concerns. They can come to one of us if they’re homesick, struggling to adjust, having conflicts with roommates, etc.
I’ve wanted to be a Program Assistant ever since study abroad in Spring 2016. I saw this as an incredible opportunity to give back to the program which afforded me such a positive and impactful experience as a student. Things will be different this time around, as I’ll be working a full-time job, but I welcome the changes. Though I may not have as much free time to explore the city on my own, I’m looking forward to seeing London through the students’ eyes and to giving them my best tips/tricks for making their experience unforgettable!
That said, here is my list (in no particular order) of “top 10” things to LOVE about LONDON:
1. Tea and scones
Londoners love their “afternoon tea,” but if you’ve spent significant time there, you’d realize tea is appropriate any time of day. “Afternoon tea,” which includes a pot or two of tea, as well as tea sandwiches and scones, is often expensive (but it’s worth it! I promise!), but if you’d simply like to order tea and a scone it’s much more affordable. I find that sitting down for tea is really relaxing. Hot tea is so soothing. I’d go out for tea with friends, or sometimes alone. Scones in London are incredible. A scone is like a cross between a biscuit and a pastry, and it’s paired with delicious clotted cream or Devonshire cream and jam. I made it my mission in London to find the best scone in the city. I consider myself somewhat of a tea and scones connoisseur.
2. Public transportation (the tube!)
Having also spent a summer in New York, I can definitively say that London has excellent public transportation. The tube is clean (gasp!), efficient, and easy to navigate. Locals aren’t in the habit of speaking while on the tube, so it’s also quiet. Buses are also reliable, and sometimes more fun because you have an opportunity to see more of the city. If my destination wasn’t within walking distance, I took the tube or a bus, and I felt very confident taking public transportation.
^ museum food. #amiright?
3. Free museums (and awesome snacks)
I think it’s fantastic that so many of the museums in London are free for the public. Museum entry in the US can be quite costly, but in London, you’re encouraged to visit museums as frequently as you’d like. Of course, special exhibits may sometimes charge a fee, but you don’t have to visit these exhibits if you’re not interested. When I studied abroad, I visited the British Museum and the National Gallery often, because our study center was nearby. I also visited the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Be sure to check out the museum cafes, because they serve delicious fresh pastries (including scones!).
4. British accents
5. West End theatre
London’s Broadway! I’m a huge fan of the theatre, so I saw as many shows as I could: The Play That Goes Wrong, The Mousetrap (twice!), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (also twice!), Hangmen, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Les Mis. I took a theatre class, and I saw many shows off the West End, as well. West End theatre, similar to Broadway shows, can be pricey, but there are so many ways to find affordable tickets. As a student, you should check for discounted student tickets. Many theatres offer “day seats,” tickets (super cheap!) sold first-come-first-served when the theatre opens that morning (and are often great seats!).
6. Ease of traveling within Europe
Looking back now, I wish my roommates and I traveled more outside London. We certainly had the time, but in the first month of our stay, we were a little nervous and unsure how to go about it. Our first solo weekend trip (just us, independent of our program), we flew to Copenhagen, Denmark. Over Spring Break, we traveled to Annecy, France, and Verona, Italy. This is when we realized how easy it is to travel within Europe, especially from London, which is a popular hub. Over the course of my 4 months studying abroad, I traveled through each of London’s 5 airports. My roommates and I booked National Express buses to/from the airport. We booked cheap flights with Ryanair. I also took trains from London to Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh, Scotland.
7. All things Harry Potter
There are so many fun things to see/do in London as a Harry Potter fan! About an hour outside of the city is the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, where you can peruse the costumes/sets/props from all 8 of the Harry Potter films. It’s fantastic. Also, you can order butterbeer or butterbeer ice-cream (I’d recommend the ice cream), which is a delightful bonus. In the city, you can visit Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross, explore the inspiration for Diagon Alley (Leadenhall Market), shop at graphic design studio House of MinaLima (created by designers who worked on the Harry Potter films), take a Harry Potter walking tour to visit film sites, or see the enormously popular “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
8. History (everywhere)
London has such a deep history. And you can *see* it all around you, if you’re willing to look. For example, London’s blue plaques adorn many buildings as a way to indicate historical significance (I was riding the bus once and happened to spot Alfred Hitchcock’s old home, thanks to one of these blue plaques). I think it’s fascinating to pass by seemingly ordinary buildings and discover that they’re not ordinary at all… that they have a rich history connected to men and women who are honored today for achieving incredible things.
9. Fish n’ chips
The classic fried battered cod and thick cut fries (often served with peas). Fish n’ chips is served a million and one different ways in London, and you should absolutely try them all. You simply can’t visit London without ordering fish n’ chips for at least one meal – you can wash it down with a pint of cider and feel very British. I consider fish n’ chips to be comfort food now, and I’m looking forward to this hot meal when I return.
10. Local street markets
There’s something for everyone in London – street markets selling trinkets and antiques, fashion, food, etc. If you’d like to experience the local flavor of London, visit one of the city’s many street markets. I’m a fan of Borough Market (fresh fruits and veggies, food stalls), Camden Market (food stalls), and Portobello Road (all of the above). And there are many lesser-known markets which have much to offer. I’d visit these markets time and time again because there was always something new to see and learn.