International student studying Biology/Russian in London, United Kingdom

Host country: United Kingdom
Host city: London
Home country: United States
Department/faculty: Biology/Russian
Program type: Exchange semester
Level of degree: Bachelor
Program length: 6 months
Program finished: 2016-06-01

Personal challenges

It was a little hard to make non-American friends since we came in as a group and everyone wanted to hang out with each other. The Brits seemed to be more shy and reserved than the Americans which was something I had to keep in mind when initiating conversations. Once making friends everything went well and led to actually doing things and going to places. On the other hand if you didn’t know anyone you’d spend the day in the flat. The rooms were smaller than the typical American dorm room that I am used to and was not as comfortable. I disliked how everything closed so early during the week and weekends (groceries especially). Overall, I felt welcomed, I did not feel worried about misunderstanding anyone or being misunderstood, I felt safe, at some point I felt as if I already lived in the UK for a while.

Personal takeaways

Keeping in mind the social differences between where you come from and where you are is key. I noticed that the Brits warm up after a few interactions and are more outgoing then, therefore I learned how to aproach and make friends. When flying in with a group, it is nice to hang out with people the first week or so but then start to graduately move away and explore and meet new people. This is something I wish I would have done earlier in my abroad period. In case you do not have people to go out with, definitely going out by yourself is a good way to see things and meet others. I enjoyed speaking to the locals and getting to know different parts of the city. I also learned this much later and regret it. As for the grocery situation, definitely shop earlier during the day (before 5/6 pm.).

Academic challenges

There was so much free time! It was very strange having a 1 hour class once a week, it was very easy to fall behind and procrastinate. I personally did not feel very productive. Along with that, hearing students who go there say how they study a day before a big exam was interesting for me, I tried that and it did not work, perhaps because I am used to my study ways from back home. Professors in biology were not as avaliable as I am used to. Most had once a week office hours and some of their offices were not on campus and required to travel for even 30 minutes. Being in bigger lecture halls was also interesting and not knowing anyone including the professor very well. Not having homework was offputting. I disliked having on the syllabus „recommended/further/suggested reading” rather than „required reading” because this is more direct, I do not need to guess what to actually read. Labs (biology) were either online or just required a computer, I disliked this because I am a hands on type of person and just constantly watching videos of how to dissect an animal was not as appealing as actually doing the dissecting. I realized while being there that Americans were usually the ones answering questions and seemed more vocal during lectures than the Brits. Professors called on us more and the flow of the class sometimes was just between Americans and professors. I found this aspect very interesting.

Academic takeaways

When needing help on a particular material I should have commuted to see that professor. Looking back I wished I did research on British education/class/lecture structure so I could have had an idea and perhaps plan ahead than just thinking I could do less work and still be fine. I should have pushed myself in actually using my time wisely and not cram because of the different teaching structure. Perhaps making friends in each class could have also been a good idea since they may have resources as to how to operate and work the system, along having a study buddy!

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