Nina M., UK-England: King’s College London (English/Religious Studies)

A view of the Eye on a eerily quiet London day, just before I would return home due to COVID-19

 ACADEMICS 

1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? 

All of the classes I took abroad went toward my two majors, English and Religious Studies. I had less physical class time than I would typically have at UCSB, as each class met for two hours a week at maximum. My grades were composed entirely of one or two assignments. For several of my classes, for example, the breakdown was that one final assignment or exam compromised my whole grade. There is more flexibility in the UK. Rather than a syllabus, most of my classes had reading lists. There were a few required texts, but otherwise the secondary literature I required to write my papers was mine to choose. There is a huge emphasis on secondary sources across disciplines in the UK, a good rule of thumb being one reference per 100 words. In my UCSB English classes, there is a greater focus on literary analysis and almost no use of secondary sources.

2. What was your favorite class abroad? 

My favorite class abroad was a religious studies class called Salvation and the City: Christian Faith and the Arts. It was an interdisciplinary look at the way Christianity and its history with respect to London were intertwined with different forms of media. We discussed architecture, paintings, music, drama, and film – to name a few! Every other lecture was a field trip to relevant sites in London where we could talk in a hands-on setting. For example, one week we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral to talk about Christianity in London as it pertained to architecture. Another week we talked about Christian paintings housed in London at the National Gallery!

3. Did you intern, volunteer, or conduct fieldwork or research abroad? If so, tell us about your experience. 

I didn’t choose to intern while abroad.

HOST INSTITUTION 

4. How would you describe your host institution? 

My host institution was amazing! There was no official King’s College London campus, rather, there are several KCL buildings in different parts of London. Each cluster of buildings in the same vicinity is known as a campus. The campus I had my classes on was called Strand, with a few buildings in a part of central London called Holborn. All the buildings were very secure, with security guards at every entrance and no way to enter without a student ID. Classes for me were very small, between 5 and 30 students. Unlike at UCSB, where TAs are PhD students and late stage PhD students may even teach a course, there are also absolutely no instructors at KCL who don’t have PhDs already. Even seminar ‘tutors’ as they are called have PhDs. Students in the process of obtaining a PhD would never teach.

The Round Reading Room at KCL’s Maughan Library, one of my favorite places to study

5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join? 

KCL has a huge repository of clubs and student organizations that are accessible to UC students while they are studying abroad, including some that I don’t believe currently exist at UCSB – like a club for conspiracy theories. I was able to attend their club fair at the start of the term and sign up for information about any organizations that interested me, very similar to UCSB.

HOUSING 

6. Describe your housing situation. 

With my program, I was responsible for finding my own housing. Most of the UCEAP students and I elected to apply for KCL’s student housing. A few others that I knew elected to stay in long-term hostels or locate home-stays instead. I enjoyed student housing because although it was expensive, it was all inclusive of internet and utilities and very secure – all the KCL student accommodations have 24 hour security. It is extremely rare for students outside of the USA to share a room, so be aware that is not a cost-saving option. KCL student accommodations do not offer double rooms.

FOOD 

7. Where did you eat most of your meals? 

I ate most of my meals within my apartment, grocery shopping and cooking for myself!

8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students? 

London is expensive, there are no two ways about it. Expect to pay a bare minimum of 15 pounds ($20) when eating out. It is much easier to budget while grocery shopping! There are different grocery store chains in the UK at different price points. Tesco and Aldi are great for savings, Sainsbury’s is middle of the road, and M&S is very pricey.

9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals? 

London is a sprawling city with almost every kind of food. You will have no problems locating vegetarian/vegan food while eating out or grocery shopping. I would say the same is true for those with dietary restrictions like gluten intolerance.

10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad. 

This may be a little unorthodox, but my most memorable dining experience was less “dining” and more “snacking.” My next door neighbor, who I grew up alongside, is Hungarian. When we were kids and her grandmother would visit, she would bring a case of a snack I loved. I hadn’t thought about that snack, banana foam covered in chocolate, in years. At a grocery store in Hungary, I saw multiple variations of that snack and my mind was blown. My mind was so blown that I visited every grocery store within walking distance of my hostel to buy out their supply. I took my stash back to the UK and then brought what was left home to the USA.

Me and my banana snack haul at our hostel in Hungary

11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back? 

Lucky for me, a lot of British cuisine is easy to replicate at home! One thing I eat regularly still are bacon sandwiches: white bread, bacon (although in the UK, bacon means Canadian bacon and streaky bacon means the kind we’re used to), and ketchup! I also adore Marmite and brought a ton of it home with me. What I miss most that can’t be replicated are the chains in the UK! Pret is a Panera-like chain that’s quite literally at every London street corner, and my heart cries out for their soups and baguette sandwiches regularly. Bakery chain Gregg’s and chicken chain Nando’s are a close second.

HOST CITY 

12. Describe your host city. 

London is an extremely cosmopolitan city, and I think that really separates it from other parts of the country. You will come across people from all over the world, and in some ways it’s not as representative of “British” culture as the rest of the UK. The city itself is always bustling, and full of amazing opportunities to eat, shop, and learn.

13. Was it easy to get around? 

YES. The public transport system in the UK is absolutely incredible. The TFL system (Transport for London) compromises the tube and London buses, but even outside of London their bus and national rail system were impeccable. It was always a faster option to take public transport than it was to take a car, even several hours out of London. I miss having amazing public transport so much.

My tube station! Vauxhall on the Victoria line

14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students? 

I generally felt very safe in the UK. I lived in SW London, which was an affluent enough pocket of the city that I felt comfortable out on my own at all hours. There are definitely parts of East and outer London, however, that have higher rates of crime. In some of those areas I felt safer venturing out with a buddy late at night. There is a lot of petty theft in London, especially on the tube. I would be extremely aware of your person when taking public transport. London is also known for motorcyclists who will grab your phone or bag out of your hand if you are holding them out close to the street in a busy locale. Be aware that pepper spray is illegal to carry in the UK.

15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city? 

I love history, art, and musical theater, so London was my dream city! I saw a host of West End shows: The Lion King, Come From Away, Mamma Mia!, Waitress, and Wicked. I also really enjoyed Shakespeare’s Globe performances, particularly of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. London has what I think is the best museum scene in the world, but my favorite London museum is the Natural History Museum. Plus, all public museums in London are absolutely free. At the Tower of London, you can see where three former queens of England are buried, plus the Crown Jewels, which are spectacular. I also personally find Kensington Palace Gardens to be one of the most beautiful spots in the city, full of swans and perfect for a walk.

Saying hello to the swans at Kensington Palace Gardens

HOST CULTURE 

16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad. 

The British are more reserved in the sense that they don’t appreciate small talk between strangers the way that Americans do, and they’re also more rigid about rules than I find Americans to be. I had British friends stereotype Americans as more “loud” than they prefer. That being said, they have a more open sense of humor! Jokes that I thought toed the line of what was appropriate were definitely more acceptable, said alongside something like “I was just taking the piss” which means “I was just kidding.”

17. How did you handle culture shock? 

I tried to assimilate myself as much as possible! I ate like the British, took public transport like the British, kept my head down at the grocery store like the British, and talked like the British (the slang, not the accent). When differences between the UK and the USA would frustrate me, I would remind myself that compared to my lifespan, a year was really short. This helped me stay grateful about the amazing opportunity I was given to experience another culture for a short time.

18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture? 

I really enjoyed the sense of collectivism in the UK. It’s an attitude that isn’t unique to the UK, and in fact is likely more prominent in other European countries. That said, it’s an attitude I found very different from the USA. There is much less focus on individualism and the need to achieve a certain level of success. By and large, British students I met abroad were less concerned about their immediate futures than American students within the UC system. I found this change of pace extremely refreshing, and it allowed me to enjoy studying for the sake of bettering myself rather than to obtain a certain grade or later credential.

TRAVEL 

19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad. 

I met my best friend Libby when she studied abroad at UCSB my freshman year here. She was a UCEAP reciprocal exchange student from the UK, and we maintained a long distance friendship for over a year. When it was clear I would be going to the UK for my study abroad, we knew it was our opportunity to reunite. The two of us only cemented our friendship, taking trips together to places like Hungary and Sweden. My favorite experience in my whole time abroad, however, was the short 2 hour “trip” to Libby’s UK hometown to celebrate Christmas with her family. The week I spent with my dear friend and her loved ones celebrating the holidays in the British style was unforgettable. The experience truly made the UK feel like home.

Christmas in Southend-On-Sea!

REFLECTION 

20. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal? 

I was nervous that while I was abroad, I would feel isolated from my friends at home in Isla Vista and the experiences they were having without me. My friends did have experiences without me while I was abroad, but it was not difficult to witness that the way I thought it would be. It didn’t bother me at all because I was having all these new experiences of my own! Coming back turned out to be no big deal either – it was truly like I had never left! That’s something all the UCEAP friends I made abroad and I agree on.

21. What was your biggest challenge abroad? 

My biggest challenge abroad was the suspension of my program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was really scary and confusing when the pandemic was first unfolding and we didn’t know what would happen to the program. Luckily, the UCEAP London Study Center staff were amazing about going over my options with me. I ultimately chose to return home to the USA rather than sign a waiver with UCEAP to stay, but none of my disappointment about the situation centers around my time in the UK or UCEAP: it was just an unfortunate global happenstance.

22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad? 

The course of my future has been drastically altered by my time abroad. Before I left, I had no idea that I would enjoy assimilating myself to a different culture so much, or that I would appreciate the slower way of life typical to European countries. I thought I would enter graduate school in the US right after my time at UCSB, but I’m now exploring graduate school and work options abroad.

With friends at Tivoli in Copenhagen

23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students? 

Be open to new experiences, cultures, and perspectives. My positive experience abroad was rooted in opening myself up to change. I have heard very few negative study abroad stories, but the ones I have heard usually center around disappointment that things abroad were more different from the USA than expected. I think being open-minded and reflective will help you find the beauty in differences between countries.

If you were abroad during the COVID outbreak, tell us about your experience.

24. Where were you when you received news of your program suspension?

I was having lunch in London with my sister and my best friend when I received news of my program suspension. My program was suspended after many other programs in Europe, so I had been expecting bad news for days.

25. If you chose to stay abroad after programs were suspended, what led you to that decision?

I did not choose to stay abroad after my program was suspended.

26. What have you learned from this experience?

I’ve made peace with the fact that we’re not as in control as we might like to think we are. This realization has made it much more important to me to practice gratitude whenever possible. You never know when your situation will change!

Paris, just before COVID-19 erupted

27. What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

It was difficult overcoming the feeling that I had been “cheated” out of my study abroad experience. Practicing gratitude was useful in overcoming that and other negative feelings being sent home left me with. I reminded myself both of all the wonderful experiences I did have abroad and that all of the places I didn’t have a chance to visit weren’t going anywhere. I also fell into a COVID-19 slump when I got home. Packing my day with school, work, and other activities helped me out of that slump.

28. Do you have a homecoming story to tell?

My program was cancelled while my sister was visiting me in London. We were able to pack me up and both fly home and quarantine away from our parents together, which was super comforting in a difficult time.

29. Would you like to return to your host country in the future?

There is nothing I would like more than to relocate to the UK in the future.

30. What advice would you give to students who are interested in studying abroad but have COVID- or other health/safety-related concerns?

Be honest with yourself about what you expect your study abroad experience to look like, and adjust those expectations if possible. Hopefully, students will be able to go abroad through UCEAP again as early as Summer 2021, but studying abroad during a pandemic will likely look quite different. Be realistic about the realities of things like masks, more limited travel and gatherings, and reduced bar and nightlife. If you can do that, apply!


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