In this week's post, Sarah gives a rundown on what to expect at your student accommodation in London and what to bring and buy when you arrive. She also dives deeper into the nitty-gritty and shares her firsthand living experience, what you can do within the proximity of your apartment, kitchen etiquette, and specific suggestions on how to make this your home away from home. Don't miss out on Sarah's tips and tricks in this post!
(Original illustrations by Sarah Mai)
In many ways, going abroad made me feel like a high-schooler applying for college all over again. From the process of picking a program and school to sending in all the materials, waiting for the admission decision, and preparing to leave my home, I was left with a sense of déjà vu to those days. And even though I knew what to anticipate for some things, most of it was a mystery, and continued to be up until the final days of preparation.
One thing I was the most curious about was where I was going to be living and who I would be living with, which I think was the main point of fear for many of the other students going abroad. I knew I would likely have lots of roommates and be sharing tight quarters with strangers, but I wasn’t sure what else to be preparing myself for. On the website, I also saw that there were lots of things that would be there for us to use, like bedding, towels, and kitchen supplies, but there were few specifics and I was feeling slightly apprehensive of my new arrangement.
Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised! For what I think might have been a significant bit of good luck, I was placed in the closest housing to the CAPA center, which is only about a 10-minute walk and close to lots of amazing sights. The building where we live was built in the 1860s and is what you imagine when you think of classic London houses. The street is a scenic row of white and cream buildings with little balconies, and is lined with a few trees and a bit of greenery hanging from some windows. About a mile from our flat is Hyde Park, which is a great place to walk, jog, and go to watch dogs run around (my favorite thing to do there currently.) A 20-minute walk will get you to the Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum, both of which are great places to spend several rainy afternoons. Shopping is also an easy way to spend an afternoon, since we are a 10-minute walk from High Street Kensington, where lots of popular shops for the Brits and Yanks alike are located.
To put it briefly, I live in a very nice place right now. I’ve had the opportunity to check out some other CAPA housing locations in different boroughs, which all have distinctly different looks and cultural feelings from each other, but the flats are of comparable quality and have similar accommodations. Probably the most important bit is how you interact with your roommates since that can make or break your living experience. Keeping peace inside the flat comes down to establishing clear guidelines about how everyone thinks the living space should be used and following them! Sitting with them in the first week and talking it all out is the easiest way to get that done.
Now, on to the nitty gritties of the place I live in now! I’ll break it up by living areas as students seem to have the same general spaces. First, the bedrooms are for three people, two share a bunk bed and one in a single. Each of us have a wardrobe, which holds our belongings, and there is one bedside table to the single bed for various trinkets. Again, there isn’t much space for loads of things, so packing light is always good. Suitcases and hefty bags can be stored above the wardrobes or under the beds for extra space. Our beds have fitted sheets and a comforter and one pillow with a pillowcase. If you get extremely cold, picking up an extra blanket at a shop might suit you, but most people seem comfortable with the linens provided. I added a little color to the walls by hanging up some maps I received for free from tours and some little paintings I pulled from my sketchbook. For hanging other belongings like backpacks or umbrellas, I found some removable wall hooks at a hardware store or supermarket for about £2 to £3. They come in handy to get things off the floor and put away tidily!
The bathroom is located in our room, and it quite small but functional. We have a sink, toilet, shower, small rubbish bin, and mirrored cabinet where we keep our toothbrushes and other small toiletries. There was a hook for a hand towel, but no towel, so we picked one up from a department store for £3. We were also provided a bathmat and our own bathing towels. It might be a good idea to establish what times and how long you generally take to shower with your roommates early on if there seems to be difficulty arranging yourselves into a natural schedule. I haven’t had any issues with this in my flat, but I hear it happens elsewhere so keep it in mind!
As for the kitchen, there is a fridge with a freezer, comfortable pantry space, a sink, a dishwasher (which is unusual for most student flats), a washing machine, an oven, a toaster, an electric kettle, a microwave, and all the basic dishes and utensils we need to properly eat. Some students buy extra things to leave behind for later students, so the trinkets vary from place to place. It’s been pretty easy to have six people cook and eat in the same place as long as there’s no more than two or three of us trying to make food in the same place at the same time (example three people making pasta on the burners). Keeping fewer amounts of items in the fridge allows everyone to be able to have room since the fridge is small by American standards (especially for six people) so significant meal prep or bulk shopping might not be as easy here. I started with the basic foods I needed when I got here, then added small things as I went along. Veggies can be stored in the pantry with dried goods, and I buy small amounts of perishables at a time to save space in the fridge.
In the shared living room attached to the kitchen, we have two couches, a television, a few mirrors, and a coffee table. This is usually where we hang out to eat meals, do casual homework assignments, or relax. Since there are no desks in the flat, I usually end up doing work on the kitchen table since it’s the biggest space I can sit at and spread my notebooks out aside from a coffee shop or at the CAPA center. If you absolutely need a space to study, there is likely a quiet spot in the neighborhood you can use or the CAPA study rooms which are tidy and perfect for getting some work done in.
Mainly, you probably won’t be spending much time at home anyway! There is a lot to do in London, so I’m trying to spend more time out of doors than indoors while I can. Even if your living space is small or there are lots of people living with you, there is always the option of getting out for a walk or hopping on the tube for an adventure. I’m trying to be less of a homebody or Netflix addict here than I am in Minneapolis winters since the weather is much milder here, and I feel that I’m doing a good job!
To wrap it all up, I thought I’d give a few more specific suggestions on what to bring with and what to buy for studying abroad.
Things to Bring:
1. A converter—you can easily get them on Amazon for much cheaper than in the UK. You will likely need it right away to charge your phone or computer anyways!
2. Small hot styling tools for your hair—if they are packable, you’ll save money by not purchasing one here since it will be unusable in the US.
3. A toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste—for airport use and space saving!
4. A small washcloth—since it's easy to pack and most of us forgot it.
5. Your favorite hairbrush.
6. Enough hair ties to last—they’re easy to pack and I always lose them or break them, so bring more than one or two.
7. Your medications or any drugstore brands you prefer—do not forget to bring these!
8. Basic makeup—it’s easy to get makeup here but if you have sensitive skin, you might want to bring your own special brands since it may not be sold here.
Things to Buy:
1. A normal-sized toothpaste—your travel size can last longer than you think!
2. A shared UK blow dryer—we all pitched in to get this for the apartment since there wasn’t one already here. It cost us all about £2 to get it, and we will leave it behind for the next people! Blow dryers are heavy and take up a lot of packing space as well.
3. Large shampoos and bath products—you won’t be able to pack it and get it through security anyway.
4. Aerosols—leave the dry shampoos and hairsprays for here. Maybe buy one with a roommate since it likely won’t get finished by yourself in four months time!
5. Detergents and soaps—buying kitchen soaps and laundry detergents can be done in rotation with your roommates or split up cost-wise!
6. Books—this one is painful for me, but books are heavy and there’s plenty of them overseas.
7. Random school supplies—if you find you’re out of sticky notes or pens before you come, just grab some over here. I’ve had a few incidents with exploded pens on airplanes and have learned my lesson!
Sarah Mai is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2019, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English and Art major at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
Sarah's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.