Two and a half months ago, I arrived in London with nothing more than a vague idea of what to expect during this experience. Studying, exploring the city and travelling Europe were really the only plans that I had.
My classes at the University of Westminster have been very impressive. They’re structured slightly differently to those at UTS, with more focus on independent study, and I have thoroughly enjoyed taking part in them and having the opportunity to experience education in another culture.
Living so close to the excitement of London has been nothing short of amazing. There are countless things to see and do here, and I know that I have only just begun to scratch the surface of all that this place has to offer. Having visited London on a holiday last year, I had been to many of the standard tourist locations, such as the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Covent Garden, St Paul’s Cathedral and, of course, Platform 9 ¾. I wanted to see what the next layer of London had to offer.
This time, I’ve explored a little deeper. I’ve visited the Camden Markets, the Churchill War Rooms and countless museums. I’ve wandered through the Royal Gardens and had the time and freedom to casually stroll along the Thames. I’ve ventured further afield to places like Cambridge and have spent far too much money on seeing West End shows, though, to be fair, I did do that last time as well…
London is undeniably full of spectacular landmarks and ever-present reminders of England’s fascinating history. Despite this, I’ve been reminded that, often, it’s the unexpected things that are the most memorable and that truly define an experience. Before I came to London, I could have named many of the famous buildings I would see; I could have rattled off the list of other cities that I planned to visit; and I could have told you all about the tourist-filled sites that I wanted to tick off my bucket list.
I couldn’t have told you about how travelling the Tube becomes second nature. About how quickly you learn your way around the various lines and become surprisingly affectionate towards the line that is “yours” – and how quickly that changes as you travel on rail replacement buses during routine maintenance on weekends. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you about the interesting people you encounter on the Tube, such as the man who sat opposite me and casually held a dead fox on his lap for the duration of his trip. Seriously, I could not have predicted that.
I couldn’t have told you about how peaceful it is to spend a lazy day in Kensington Gardens, reading a book and watching the world go by. I couldn’t have told you about the surprisingly beautiful way the sun sets over the University campus or about how the students flow out of the Halls of Residence and onto the field to take in the sun’s rays the instant it overcomes the clouds.
I couldn’t have told you about my lovely flatmates, Katie, Jade, Lewy, Hannah and Marta, who started the semester by making a Sunday dinner for all of us to share. Being somewhat inept in the kitchen, my sole task was ensuring that the chicken wasn’t overcooked. In the last two months we have shared many meals, had a lovely day in Hyde Park, attended an Oscars event, celebrated Pancake Day, gone to the movies and watched TV shows in our pyjamas. All good things, in my book!
I couldn’t have known about the friends who would welcome me into their lives without hesitation. In our first class together, Ellie, Niki and Rosy happily (and somewhat forcefully) insisted that I join their group for an assignment… And they haven’t left me alone since. Not that I would want them to! Through them, I also met their housemate, Nicole, who initially greeted me with what was undoubtedly the most horrendous “Australian” accent ever to escape someone’s mouth. These four girls have become more a part of my time here than I ever could have imagined. They have become my home away from home and exchange would have been a poorer experience without them. Together we have had countless laughs and even a few tears… And more burgers than I care to mention.
Making the most of exchange doesn’t always mean spending as much time as possible doing all of the touristy things – though, of course, that’s certainly a priority! For me, making the most of exchange has meant truly living here and having the real experience of what it is to simply live life in London. It isn’t always clubs, pubs and landmarks although, yes, there are a lot of them! Life carries on while you’re on exchange. You’ll have amazing days, good days, not so good days and maybe even some days you would rather forget. But this experience is like no other time in your life and, if you have the opportunity to take part in an exchange programme, I absolutely recommend that you dive straight in and make the most of it – whatever that may mean for you.
After almost three months here, my time in classes at the University of Westminster is coming to an end. With just a few weeks to go, the focus now turns to the assignments I have to complete. However, the exchange experience is not quite over yet! One of the many wonderful things about London is its proximity to other amazing European locations and I have every intention of visiting as many of them as possible. I already have plans to travel to Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Paris and several cities around the UK and Ireland. I hope to visit a few other places along the way, before making my way back to London in order to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made here and to this city that I have come to love.