So you were accepted! You are doing it! Studying abroad in London. So what is next? Here at StudentUniverse we have put together your survival guide to studying abroad in London as an American. If you want to look like a local just follow these quick ten tips!
1. Don’t be weird about history
Almost every American student I have met in London at some point or another brings up the Revolutionary War or a World War as a personal point of pride. This is a bizarre but common occurrence. Maybe it is a point of national pride for you but British people don’t really care that you threw our tea in a river. Aside, of course, from the fact that it is a tragic waste of perfectly good tea, you will only serve to reveal either your lack in knowledge of history or your awkwardly aggressive patriotism.
Pro tip: try not to call a British accent ‘quaint’ or ‘adorable’ or make people say things so you can listen to it.
2. Learn to Walk
London is a city. Everything is close together. Unlike America, cars are neither required nor practical in the city. Buy some shoes with some support and be ready to walk your way to most places. It is also a great way to get to know the area better and keep in shape.
Pro tip: converse are called plimsolls in England.
3. Get Used to Coins
Yes. The pound is a coin. So is the two pound coin and every smaller denomination. The coins which are usually relegated to couch cushions and forgotten pockets in America are actually rather important here. However, there is good news. It is easier to spend coins in the UK than America. When you get to the till in America you have to pay more than the display price for sales tax. This is not the case in London and you can easily count out the exact coins you’ll need before buying it.
Pro tip: most credit/debit cards in the UK are chip and pin meaning you have to input a pin and not swipe and sign.
4. You Don’t Have to Hide Your Drink
There are different open container laws in the UK. You no longer need to feel sketchy drinking out of a brown paper bag. You can drink in public, you can drink on your way home from the pub and you can drink in the park. We are not saying that you should, but we are saying that if you want to, you can. However, you cannot have open containers on most public transportation.
Pro tip: most British police don’t carry guns and are pretty chill in comparison to American ones. Be not afraid (unless you’ve committed a crime …. so don’t).
5. Figure Out Pubs
Drinking culture especially for students is quite different in London. Firstly, the drinking age is 18 for all alcohol and 16 if you have food and a person over 18 with you. Thus people are less tense about drinking and it is more of a casual occurrence. Of course you have, as every university does, those who go out binge drinking every night but get used to pub culture. Pub stands for public house and is usually like a low key bar where you can sit and drink with patrons of all ages and be able to hear each other and enjoy each other’s company. There is practically one on every corner in London so choose your favourite neighbourhood spot and chill or participate in a London pub crawl.
Pro tip: most pubs close around 11 or 12 so don’t expect to rage all night.
6. The Best British Food Isn’t British
London is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. Some of the best food in London is Indian, Thai or Japanese. Almost every cuisine you can think of is represented but also often fused with another. Go ahead and try the Mexican Polish fusion restaurant or the Korean Ghanaian food. This is a perfect opportunity to experiment with different dishes and delicacies. Regardless of your food background there is something new whether it is a crocodile burger or eel sushi. Be adventurous.
Pro tip: the best London street markets have global cuisine stands where you can try a lot at once (ex. Camden market)
7. Start Apologising for Things
This may be a personal observation but British people apologise excessively. I’ve seen more than one occasion in which a Brit bumps into an inanimate object and immediately mutters apologies to it. You must learn to queue properly as well (that means line up and is pronounced like the letter Q). Do not cut the queue and remember to be polite. Except of course on public transportation where you normally say nothing at all.
Pro Tip: If someone begins a conversation with the word ‘alright?’ as a question and you have no idea to what they are referring, it’s a general greeting along the lines of ‘what’s up’ or ‘how’s it going?’ to which you may reply whether or not you are alright.
8. Public Transportation Won’t Kill You
In America, public transportation can often seem dirty and frightening. Dark, dirty tunnels under cities where only those brave enough will go. In London, however, public transportation is used by all and is (at least relatively) remarkably clean and efficient. Whether its the tube, train, or bus they are well run and easy to use. Using public transportation is absolutely crucial in London and you can easily figure out your routes ahead of time on the TFL website or Google Maps. Each station or stop has all the information you need. One practically mandatory element of public transportation of London is an Oyster card. You can get these from machines or booths at any tube stop. Oyster cards store money you can use to swipe in out of the tube and saves you a lot of money. Recently, it has become the only way you can travel on London buses.
Pro tip: If you are in London for a long period of time it might be worth the money to buy a season Oyster card.
9. Learn the Slang (or at least the difference)
A full debriefing on American and British slang will be its own blog but here is a quick rundown of the basics. One of the most common ones to get you in trouble is ‘pants’ vs ‘trousers’ in the UK ‘pants’ means ‘underwear’ so please avoid complimenting someone on their pants (at least when you’re referring to their trousers). Do not be alarmed when asked for a rubber. In the UK a ‘rubber’ is an ‘eraser’ and not a condom. If you are asked to bring a ‘torch’ do not show up with any open flames as they in fact mean ‘flashlight’. An ‘apartment’ is a ‘flat’ and ‘studying’ is ‘revising’ and in the UK ‘college’ is essentially equivalent to ‘high school’ so instead refer to your college as ‘university’ or ‘uni’. ‘Year’ means ‘grade’ in regards to what grades you are in school.
Pro tip: immerse yourself in British terminology by watching loads of brilliant British television (or telly).
10. London is the Most Amazing City
Lastly, London is a spectacular place you are lucky to study in! Make sure your experience of the city isn’t limited to class and dorms. Go out and have adventures. Staying in your room and living off EasyMac and ramen might fly on your campus but here the city demands your involvement. London is always changing and there are always exciting things to do. Take advantage of your time and experience some periodic sunshine. Start asking around and looking things up and be part of what’s going on in the coolest city in the world.
Pro tip: Websites like London Timeout are a great way to keep up with what’s on in the capital.
You are now fully prepared to go forth into London and study abroad with confidence! Please do share this survival guide with any and all classmates and remember to book with StudentUniverse for the best student discounts on flights!