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Dispatches from London: My First Week in London as An Expat Student at the University of Westminster

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I finally made it! After a 7-hour flight to Iceland, a 10-hour layover in Reykjavik, a 3-hour flight to London, and 16-hours waiting in Heathrow airport for the meet & greet taxi to take me to my temporary dorm near Baker Street, I have made it to my new home. The road to get here has been nothing but stressful, but entirely worth it. The waiting, while annoying, was nothing compared to the joy I felt as I arrived into the city and realized that all my hard work had actually paid off, and I made it to London. It’s truly been a whirlwind of events since arriving, and I’m still trying to adjust to the fact that I am here.

I was lucky that my jet-lag was minimal in the way that my sleep schedule wasn’t too badly messed up. I’ve still been very loopy since leaving Seattle, but I think by next week, my mind will readjust to the new timezone and will hopefully let me accept the fact that this entire thing is real and not some dream I’ve made up as a delusion. I am in London. It’s real. This city is my home. I just need some more time to let my brain realize that. So what have I been doing since arrival? Orientations. I am now an official student of the University of Westminster. Apparently I wasn’t already. I guess to be a “real” student, you must actually enroll with the school; something you can’t do at this university until arriving and confirming your identity and paperwork. But now that I have shown them that I am here legally and didn’t lie about getting my undergraduate degree, they’ve given me a student ID card and allowed me to apply for my bank account and discounted oyster card.

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But other than orientations (where I’ve met a lot of lovely international students and learned a lot of useful information for my studies), I have gotten to revisit my tourist-y roots and walk around London again for the first time in two years. Being able to go back to places like Big Ben and Westminster Abbey after so long was emotional to me. It made me realize that I actually get to live in this historical city and be around this stuff all the time. I’ve never really lived somewhere where I am constantly around famous landmarks and buildings. I can literally be at any London tourist attraction within 20 minutes if I should so choose. Of course, I know I will get tired of these things quite quickly, but for now, it’s great to know that I have this ability to be in the vicinity of places I was so far away from until now.

From taking the Tube again, to jumping on random red, double-decker buses, to roaming street markets and learning stories and histories of this city, I am feeling so much at home even in a short time. I’m trying to space out how much I go see over a longer period of time, because I know if I try to knock it all out in one go, I wont have anything left to see by the end of the year. But truthfully, there is an impossible amount of things to see and do in London. I’m quickly learning that the tourist’s view of London is very different than that of a resident. When you’re only there on a visit or a short time, you use Google searches and top ten lists as a form of information of what to do to stay entertained. When you’re someone who lives in London, you have time to discover areas of town that you like, and places that are more secret to the general public. By being a resident, you can explore more and learn from other locals on what’s the best places to haunt.

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As I spend more days in London, I know that my knowledge will become expanded and I’ll understand more about the city, as well as the country and the nation. I’m coming into the United Kingdom with only my media-based information I’ve learned and three previous experiences. I am truly unknowing of the full truth of this place. But that’s what I am so looking forward to educating myself about. My program is writing specifically about London. Through my coursework and my intended independent study, I want to really dig deep into what it is about this city that makes it so great. People seem to either hate or love London, and I want to know why. At the moment, I love London, but in a years time, I may come to hate it. I have no idea. I can’t wait to see how much this place can transform me and my thinking.

What I’ve really gotten out of this first week though, is that my choice to leave everything behind to some to a new place, really was a strong and brave one, but also one that will allow me to learn so much about, not only London, but about the world. With this being such an international city, my horizons will be opened in ways they weren’t in the past. I am slowly become a resident of London through the days I spend here, and I want to immerse myself into this new culture so I can know that this life path was the right one to take. I cannot wait to explore and understand this city better, so I can properly report back on how instructional my adventures as an expatriate in London are.

Samantha O'Brochta
Author: Samantha O'Brochta

Samantha was formerly an expat in London in 2014/15 before moving to New York City, where she can be found blogging and taking photographs for her site Some Call Me Adventurous. Samantha has an affinity for traveling the world, watching BBC shows, making people laugh, dancing alone in her room, dressing fashionably, and attempting to make Pinterest crafts with disastrous end results.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Yay! How exciting! Sounds like a great first week. Question though – 16 hours waiting at Heathrow? Was it a school required thing? Why didn’t you just hop on the Tube to Baker Street?

  2. Just FYI your student ID will also get you free items at McD’s. And before you say or think that you’ll eschew all American food while there trust me you won’t, all students wind up there at some point because it’s cheep and because of the freebies (and because students are the same the world over 🙂 I went several times because that’s where my English friends wanted to go. Enjoy your time there I’ve just returned from my own Masters degree.

  3. How exciting! Good luck and have lots of fun! I recommend a series of books called Quiet London by Siobhan Wall, for finding those quiet spots to get away from the city noise at times. I love London, but sometimes it was just nice to find a quiet spot.

  4. I wasn’t a student but lived in London 4 years as an expat. As much as I loved London, my main regret was not traveling more outside of London. (I only made one trip to Scotland and one trip to Wales.) Fortunately, your student ID should get you a discount on rail tickets to wonderful cities like Brighton, Oxford, Cambridge, and Bath. These are easily done in a day. For longer trips, try Liverpool, Cardiff, and Edinburgh, to name a few.

    • Go to SCOTLAND!!!!!!! I lived in Glasgow for a year while in college (I’m American) and I wish I could go back and relive that year over and over and over. Ireland is a little easier to navigate by just hiring a car and driving from one B&B to the next, but Scotland is beautiful, the people are nice, and the big cities are like no other cities in Europe. Glasgow itself has won awards for being the most architecturally beautiful city in Europe, and has birthed some of the most famous architects in history. I wouldn’t waste too much time on St. Andrews (just a beach) or Edinburgh (the castle is cool, but it’s just a castle, and there are plenty of hills in the rest of Scotland). The meat of the culture is elsewhere!!!!!!!

  5. This was me, 5 years ago! 21A was my room number in Marylebone Halls of Residence. I wish I could turn back time and live it all again!

  6. So happy for you. Try to do things like go to Ascot, Wimbledon Tennis, go to the Proms etc while you are in London, but do get out of London too. If trains are too pricey, try National Express coaches. Within 2 hours yo can visit Bath or Bristol. Oxford is closer and so is Kent. Enjoy your time there. I lived in London for 5 years and never hated it.

  7. I lived there for 11 years before returning to NZ. The only thing I ‘hated’ was that once you had kids you had to move further out to be able to afford a house to put them in (we lived in a studio in Ealing until just before my first baby was born). Way out in the suburbs, if you don’t work in London then you end up just visiting it for the odd theatre trip or husband’s work function. It’s such a huge place, and it’s great you can live so centrally, but that’s not ‘real life’ for long-term residents.

  8. I look forward to reading about your experience. My daughter leaves in 2 weeks for Birkbeck to study for her Masters in Law. Can’t wait to see how she steps into her new world.

  9. Wow, you really did the trip over the long way! I guess you flew with Icelandic ? You shoulda stopped there for a week, Iceland is 2x as beautiful as the UK. What did you do on your 16 hour stop at Heathrow ?

  10. 16 hours at Heathrow. Good Lord! Could you have taken a taxi , just once? I would have lost my mind. Sometimes you can bargain with the driver. I’ve done it twice but on the trip back to Heathrow so I don’ t know if that would have worked for you. He/she might have taken pity on a young student.

  11. I would have taken a taxi cab rather than wait 16 hours. Once with a big duffle bag during my leave from the Navy I took the Heathrow Express train to London and from the station grabbed a cab which was just outside the station. Besides the Heathrow Express Ticket which was $15 the Cab cost $6 and that is US money. In all that was not that much. I wonder how many students did that opposed to waiting for 16 hours.

  12. ‘When a [wo]man is tired of London, [s]he is tired of life’ (Samuel Johnson). It doesn’t sound like this is going to happen to you… Enjoy!

  13. I worked in London for a while as an expat. My first few weeks I just walked, turning down interesting side streets- or streets with interesting names- there is so much to see, and a great way to just get to feel that much more familiar. That was almost 50 years ago, and I still am not tired of London- go back every chance I can- and still seeing and experiencing new things

    Enjoy your explorations

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