Hello, my name is Summer Kailani, and I’m a college student from sunny Southern California. During the school year I study at the University of California Berkeley. But this summer I made the exciting decision to step outside of my comfort zone (and country), to study abroad at Birkbeck University in the heart of London.

After countless memories and many new experiences, I’ve accumulated a few tips and tricks about studying abroad. And for those of you who are heading on a European adventure or thinking of taking a semester abroad I wanted to share my advice. Tip number one…take a chance and just go! I can’t recommend it enough.

Be Spontaneous!

There is peace of mind that comes with planning out a weekend or travel itinerary, but I must say the most fun experiences I’ve had in this vibrant city have been completely and utterly spontaneous.

After having a hard day at Uni, my flatmates and I decided to run to the store, grab some cheese and crackers, and watch the sunset from Parliament Hill. We got on the wrong bus twice, the crackers got crushed in my bag, and by the time we finished running to the top of the hill, the sun was already down.  We all burst into laughter about the ridiculousness of everything and just sat there listening to our anthem, One Kiss by Dua Lipa, and watching what was left of the beautiful light sky.

That was the moment I fell in love with the city of London and stopped planning out every given moment. It led to late nights running around Soho trying to find Heaven, to finding rose infused lattes and flat cap style hats at Portobello market. My favorite has got to be wandering around London Bridge at midnight to miss the crowds and seeing the stunning waterside views in sweatpants. Spontaneity can bring out the fun and laid back side of people, which has worked out great for our adventures.

Don’t be afraid of the locals.

As silly as this may sound, at first we were afraid to mix in with the locals thinking they would not want to talk to us or we were being a bother, it didn’t help that majority of our interactions with London natives, outside of uni,  included tube rides which are known for being anti-social.

We finally mustered up the courage to go to our local pub, and it was a blast.  We were given recommendations by locals of the best places to eat, sites to see, and must do things in the city.  We would’ve never bargained for Indian food and vintage sweaters at Brick Lane, Headed over to Shoreditch to watch the world cup games, or get insanely good donuts in Notting Hill without their advice.  

It’s fun hanging out with your mates at uni and can be easy to stick in a bubble, but branching out and meeting new people can be a blast and give you a real inside look on what it is to be a Londoner.

Get something meaningful to commemorate your experience.

We all know that it can be tempting to buy loads of souvenirs, I am guilty of having a mind the gap keychain myself, but some of the best souvenirs are unconventional.

One of my flatmates found a little journal at a local bookstore and is not only jotting down her own memories but is having all of us write her a little note or memory we have with her.  A friend and I got matching, surprisingly cheap, necklaces at Topshop that they engraved for free! It has a dainty gold chain with a small four-sided bar that I ended up engraving with the London coordinates, and Flat C (in honor of our apartment). If you don’t like clutter or are on an extreme budget, you can download a fun app like Huiji and take loads of vintage-looking photos of fun things you do on your journey, like your favorite brunch meal or even tube stop. If the digital age isn’t for you, grab a postcard from every country you visit, write a memory, and mail it home where it’ll be waiting for you to arrive.

It may seem silly at the time, and I am also a very sentimental person, but when you return home, it’s exciting and fun to remember all the crazy memories and experiences of your time abroad.  Having a little reminder around just makes it all the more special.

Sometimes You Just Have To Be a Tourist…

Coming from a big city myself, Los Angeles, California, I didn’t want to succumb to the crowds, ques, and the hefty price tag that comes with visiting tourist hot spots. However, as fun as the places were that locals recommended, sometimes it’s worth fighting the crowds and experiencing the historic spots a city has to offer.

One of my most memorable days in London was packed with back to back tourist attractions!  We started off by seeing the fascinating Buckingham Palace hoping to catch a glimpse of the queen,  followed by laying in the grass area under the London eye with yummy ice cream cones, and finished the day off with a tour of the fantastic and massive building of Parliament.  Not only did we have a blast, but I gained a more in-depth knowledge of the History and Inspiration behind the Amazing city.

The highlight for me was how stunning it is inside the historic parliament as well as learning about the deeply rooted history behind the United Kingdom’s government; I’m not even a fan of history typically. We had so much fun doing touristy things that we ended up spending the next morning at the massive, and free, British Museum. Although it’s fun to live like a local and hit the secret hot spots a city has to offer, It’s important to take a day or two to be a tourist.  After all, most of the attractions are crowded with people for a reason.

Travel, Travel, Travel!!!

Study abroad can be overwhelming with trying to meet new people, learn about the unique culture and lifestyle you’ve been pushed into, and not to mention having to go to class and do homework.  It can be hard to find the time and money it takes for weekend travel but believe me, it is so worth it.

Getting from country to country, especially in Europe, can be more accessible and more affordable than you might think.  Maybe my American background made me more surprised since our travel options are few, but I was amazed by how efficiently you can country/city hop.

If you’re not worried about the price tag, or book far enough in advance, you can hop on the Eurostar train from London and make it to Paris in 2 hours!  If flying is more your style, there are flights to countries like Poland and Ireland from London for prices as cheap as forty pounds round trip. If your really last minute, like my flatmates and I, or are just trying to save as much money as possible, there are even tons of options for buses around Europe.  We actually ended up taking one to Scotland for the weekend and had a fantastic time.

It can be stressful trying to plan a trip with all the standard work and pressure that comes with uni, but taking that extra minute to book a flight and see a new part of the world is indeed an invaluable and priceless experience.  Besides who knows when you’ll have the capability or time to travel that you do in this moment of your life, So make the most of it!

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    About Summer Kailani