Home England Expectations vs. Reality: Studying Abroad in London

Expectations vs. Reality: Studying Abroad in London

by Alexis Voisard
College student in London phonebooth | AIFS Study Abroad

Wow! I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since I’ve started studying abroad in London! It’s been an incredible experience so far, and I’m so glad that I’m here! Since I’ve lived here for a couple weeks, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with my area and feel like a true Londoner. Of course, there are certainly aspects of living in the city that I was prepared for from doing a tremendous amount of research, but there are also some unexpected adjustments I had to make to thrive in my new environment.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far about studying abroad in London:

Expectation: My first language is English, so I won’t have problems with a language barrier in London.

Reality: London is a huge city, so there are many languages spoken on a daily basis.

Friends and family back home joked about there being a few English terms different on this side of the pond in comparison to American English (like fries/chips, chips/crisps, for example). I knew this going into my study abroad experience, but I was quite surprised to hear so many different languages spoken here! No matter where I go — whether it’s to the tube station to top up my Oyster card, Pizza Express for some delicious food, or Boots for some cold medicine — I have to interact with people of all languages everywhere, so I still have to strive to communicate as best as I can since London is so well-connected to the rest of Europe. I can easily walk down the street and hear 10 different languages spoken. I can’t hear that phenomenon back at home in the Ohio!

South Kensington tube station in London | AIFS Study Abroad

Expectation: Public transport is complicated to navigate, hard to rely on, etc.

Reality: Public transport is easy to learn.

Before coming to London, I have never used public transport in my life. I always had to rely on my parents to drive me places, or drive my own car to school and work because of where I live. I was initially worried about having to rely on public transportation to get around, but I learned very quickly!

I mostly use the London Underground and occasionally those double-decker buses (yep, they’re not just tourist attractions!) to venture around the city and to commute to campus. All I have to do is tap my Oyster Card in at the gate, look at the maps to see what line, direction, and station I need to get to, follow the signs, and read the time boards displaying the train arrivals. It was way easier than I imagined, and I’m so glad I got the hang of it! Signal failures and delays happen occasionally, but overall I’ve had a positive experience using public transport in London!

International food | AIFS Study Abroad

Expectation: Food in the United Kingdom is bland.

Reality: London has cuisine from all over the world.

Here’s the truth: there are many restaurants in London that offer authentic British cuisine, and yes, I’ve come to realize that not all of it is quite my cup of tea. For example, a full English breakfast has items like beans and mushrooms, food that I don’t typically eat at breakfast time which seemed unusual to me. Porridge is also another unique British food that I’ve come to enjoy as long as I have fruit mixed in to give it some flavor!

But beyond British food, London has so many restaurants that offer some of the best cuisines from around the world! I’ve had amazing Italian pizza from Pizza Express, delicious stir fry from the heart of Borough Market, classic fish and chips from Ye Olde Cock Tavern, and authentic ramen noodles from Wasabi! There’s something to love for everyone here; no one can go unsatisfied in a city this big!

Primark haul | AIFS Study Abroad

Expectation: Everything is expensive.

Reality: There are great deals on a lot of everyday products.

From doing lots of research, I quickly realized that living in London would be pricey because everything is more expensive there. Sure, I can’t buy a week’s worth of food for £20 here because I don’t have a fridge or a car to conveniently trek home all my groceries, but there are smart ways I’ve been able to save money on all kinds of things.

For health and beauty products, Boots is the answer. It’s like CVS or Walgreens back at home, and they have a lot of the same products I use for great prices! The next best place I love to save a few pounds is Sainsbury’s. It’s a grocery store like Kroger that has literally everything I need. They have lots of products for £1, and I go there for basics and food on the weekends! The photo above showcases one of many Primark hauls. Primark is a clothing and accessory store that has lots of cute pieces for great prices! One could certainly, and very easily, live an expensive lifestyle here, but I’ve found it quite easy to live accordingly to my weekly budget without hassle!

College students on the River Thames in London | AIFS Study Abroad

Expectation: It will be difficult making friends.

Reality: Everyone has found their niche of people.

I knew coming in that finding friends would be fairly easy because we’re all so vulnerable the day we arrive and since we’re in a new place with college students from all over the world, but I figured it would take time to really find the right group to mesh with. Honestly, it only took me a few days to find a great group of girls that I vibe really well with!

Everyone is friendly with each other, which is amazing considering that we come from different walks of life and have different aspirations in life. The best way to make solid friendships is to start early in the study abroad experience, and to go to as many places and events together, even the activities AIFS already has planned! Because I forced myself to get out there and do stuff, I easily found myself surrounded by an incredible group of friends!

College student in a phonebooth in London | AIFS Study Abroad
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