Fresh off the heels from studying abroad, Makenna reflects and details 10 lessons that have molded her experience. Let these tips be a stepping stone for you to have a fantastic semester in London!
My semester in London has come to an end. I’m more upset to leave the city and the people I met than I thought I would be. While it has been a great deal of fun to explore a global city, it also provided immense growth and reflection. I’ve learned a number of lessons while studying abroad like make sure to ask for tap water and what the word 'cheers' means. To sum it all up, I’ll tell you about the 10 big ones.
1. Travel is Hard
Before London I considered myself a fairly seasoned traveler. I’d been to Ireland by myself and around the US quite a bit. However, I’ve never experienced so much culture shock in such a short amount of time. London’s proximity to the rest of Europe is one of the city’s largest assets, and I had to take advantage of it. While traveling, I was forced to accept that I’d gotten a bit arrogant about travel. Just a few examples of hiccups that humbled me included my friend getting her bag stolen at an Italian train station, the realization that we should’ve booked a hotel instead of an Airbnb because it would have been cheaper and cleaner, and when I booked a train ticket out of Brussels way too early on a Sunday morning (like walking through a dark, foreign city at 6 o’clock in the morning early). But here’s the thing about all that travel, it all turned out okay. It provided me with the confidence necessary to become a better traveler and memories that will get me through later difficult situations. Even though travel is hard, it’s much more rewarding than the convenience of staying home. Next time you’re in Europe, make sure to take advantage of the countries that are so well connected by train, you won’t regret it.
My friends and I explored Amsterdam for a weekend.
We spent fall break in France and Italy. This is us exploring the beach in Nice.
2. Coffee Isn’t As Cheap As It Seems
Every time I thought I was spending two dollars on a coffee, I was actually spending three because of conversion rates. Here’s the thing about London, people said it was expensive so I was ready for outrageous. Then when the numbers didn’t look outrageous, my spending decided to pay the difference between that and reasonable. I wish I would have spent smarter in the beginning of the semester so I’d have more room for fun at the end. While I loved exploring coffee shops, I could have used the three and four pounds here and there to buy a nice dinner without worrying about it. While the city seems cheap, it all adds up really fast.
I enjoyed coffee in different locations, but wish I would’ve spent a bit smarter.
3. Always Ask for Recommendations
The professors here know their stuff. They can give you insight into exhibitions to watch out for and galleries that you might miss if you’re just looking for museums by yourself. I found that most of my exciting hidden gem London moments were sparked by recommendations from the people teaching me about the city.
Other CAPA students lived in Camden. My professors told me to check this place out, and I’m so glad I did.
Brick Lane was my favorite spot in the city. I went on three different field studies here and was always told what to look for next time I explored it by myself.
4. Travel Light
I’m going to guarantee you’ve already heard that you should pack your suitcase, then unpack it and repack it with half of that first round gone. I’m here to tell you that advice is correct. I took too many dresses in hopes of being cute, then realized I have an obsession with vintage Levi’s and would wear my new Camden pair just about everyday until I left. Then I had to bring it all home. Everything you need and more is in London, and chances are you’re going to pick a few things up along the way. I wish I would have left my third dress at home and made room for one more sweater.
5. Tell Your Friends You Love Them
I know I’m not the only one who made forever friends in London. We watched people hug and say goodbye on Friday and post instagrams about friendship on Saturday. The cool thing about social media is that I can stay in touch with the people I’ve met here. I can Snapchat my roommate until we meet in person again, and we can keep up with each other through group chats and Instagram. But, while I was standing outside Goldhawk saying goodbye, I wished I’d told them a few extra times how much I appreciate them. I think studying abroad brought me to London to meet them, not just the city.
I’m going to miss making trips to the Columbia Road Flower Market with my roommate on Sundays.
6. Always Try New Food
I’m a really picky eater. However, London is a food mecca for the adventurous. Thank goodness my roommate was a foodie because she dragged me around the city to try all the different flavors. Experiencing the food gave me a taste of the real London.
7. Drop What You Think About London Right Now
Another thing you’ve already heard… but I’m here to say it again. London is what you make it. If someone wants to only hang out at Buckingham Palace, Chelsea and The City that’s fine. But, that London is only part of it, and it’s not the real London (at least in my opinion). London is in The East End in front of a piece of STIK street art. It’s saying good morning to John at Shepherd's Bush market every morning. It’s a city that will take you to neighborhoods you’ve never heard of before and paint a new picture of the world and life as you know it. I think I learned this about my second week after I stopped being afraid to venture outside my little square. London isn’t about royalty and all that, it’s about the people who inhabit it—there’s nowhere else quite like it.
STIK is a popular street artist whose work decorates London.
8. Ease Up On the Water
Unhealthy trick, but a good one. As a Colorado girl, water was number one when I got to London. Unfortunately, public bathrooms are not a thing in Europe. I repeat, public bathrooms are not a thing. So, before you chug your entire hydroflask like I did, make sure you have a plan. Either be at a museum or a mall because an hour-long Tube ride with a full bladder is the worst experience.
9. Always Bring a Snack
There is food all around London. I like to bring snacks anyway because it cuts down on unnecessary spending. Classes are long at CAPA, so having an apple or some almonds for the break kept me full until I had time for lunch. It’s also really helpful for museum-filled days. However, on those days make sure to try a scone too.
10. Stay a Few Extra Days If You Can
I stayed in London until the Monday after we moved out. It gave me a whole weekend of worry-free exploring. With the extra time, I had a chance to go see my favorite boroughs one last time and squeeze in a few last stops that I’d missed over the course of the semester. I needed some time to reflect on the experience by myself, and this was that time. Spending a day at Tate and the V&A without worrying about homework, but after having done it all helped show how much I’ve learned about this city and how much knowledge I’ll be taking home. The few extra days were something I’m thanking my past self for now.
I chose to be a tourist for the day and explore the East End street art one last time.
London is a special city and will have a place in my heart forever. I plan to go back in the very near future, and now I’ll know how to do it with more skill than I had the first time. I’m grateful for all the lessons I learned while studying abroad, and can’t wait to use them in my future travel and work.
Makenna Sturgeon is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2019, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Journalism major at University of Colorado Boulder, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
Makenna's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.