Alex Wilking: Navigating the city of fog



alexwIn media and textbooks, the world shows us London through pictures of large buildings and driving schemes that confuse us. These images aren’t incorrect, but they don’t tell the entire story. The reality is that London can only be experienced firsthand.

I feel like it was just last week that I left to study at Webster University’s London campus, Regents American College London (RACL). But I’ve been here almost three weeks. I’m sure other study abroad students can attest that it feels like a dream. Despite everything around me remaining in English, I feel like I’m on a moon of Mars.

It may seem lazy of me to choose an abroad location that speaks my language, but that’s entirely false. London offers so much in the way of music, art and nightlife that I have never experienced. The fact that the U.K. still speaks English makes this culture more accessible for me. And that’s exactly why I’m here.

Newcomers were greeted by an overcast sky and rain. Many arrived on campus 20 minutes before orientation, but not before a cab driver cleaned out their wallets. On that note, cabs are pricey. Take the public subway, the Tube, everywhere — unless going broke is on your study abroad checklist.

It’s hard to digest anything when you’ve been awake for 36 hours, let alone vital information for the upcoming semester. RACL wasted no time throwing students into the semester with events on arrival day. Most students were too jet-lagged to even understand the information they were given. Orientation became a few hundred half-asleep students trying to comprehend that they were actually in Britain.

Although there’s no language barrier, the London lifestyle still takes getting used to. The British accents make it difficult to understand what’s said, but that doesn’t stop Americans longing to develop an accent themselves. Luckily there are remnants of the U.S. everywhere, including an on-campus Starbucks.

The biggest culture shock so far is remembering the subtle differences in word meanings. Trousers mean pants, pants mean underwear, French fries are chips, chips are crisps, and “cheerio” doesn’t actually refer to part of a balanced breakfast. London life is basically alphabet soup for the American tourist.

The cost of living is expensive here. It’s eye-opening to go out and spend the equivalent of $20 on a personal pizza. Budgeting is key, and RACL offers cheap alternatives to almost all necessary purchases. Some tips to students considering studying in London: get the essentials on campus and eat on campus when possible — even get alcohol at the student bar (Yes, that’s a thing). The reality is things often double in price once you set foot in the city.

Perhaps the most exciting day so far was a school-organized scavenger hunt around the city. Groups split up to answer various questions and take pictures to earn points. This allowed everyone to venture through London with new people and to explore the city. The game forced us to confront pub owners, policemen and souvenir shop owners in the name of competition. The entire challenge is optional, but offers a great way to first explore the city.

The most recent big event the school planned was a boat party. A ticket for a dance party on a boat on the English Channel cost £15. It was crowded, but a good time nonetheless. However, students were upset the school didn’t provide buses for returning to campus. Many wandered home, getting lost along the way.

My first impressions really boil down to two thoughts. I’ve realized that I didn’t bring nearly enough money, and that this city is beautiful. I can’t wait to continue experiencing as much as possible during my time here. This adventure has just begun.

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