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University of Westminster, London

By Tanya Mackey, Bachelor of Arts in Communications (Journalism)

After going to so many exchange meetings, filling out form after form and spending long chunks of time waiting in the UTS international office I began to build up the idea of moving to London for uni as a far-off dream that may or may not come true.

Even after holding the hard copy of my acceptance letter from the University of Westminster it still didn’t fully sink in.

Fast forward to New Years Eve 2013: I hopped off the plane at Heathrow after a draining 30 hours in transition. It was mid afternoon, outside was grey and rainy, and the robotic voice from the airport speakers had a british accent. By this time I’d realised – yes this was actually happening. Later that night I watched the fireworks over the London Eye, Big Ben and the River Thames. It sounds super corny but at that point in time everything I’d dreamt about began to come true.

Since those first few moments in London there have been times where I still pinch myself or do a double take because life here can be absolutely unrealistic in the best way.

Let me explain:

Being a Sydney girl in London

Londoners in general are strangely envious of Sydneysiders. They are totally jealous of our beaches, the sun, the stereotypical ‘surfy’ lifestyle (the amount of times I’ve been asked if I surf…) and they find our accent endearing. Just being a girl ‘all the way’ from Australia has made me feel like a bit of a spectacle. This, combined with talk of drop-bears and the vast amount of spiders and sharks was a surefire way to make some new british mates and snag some fun dates. Also, if you’ve been overseas before you’ll know that Aussies stick together, so I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lovely group of fellow Australian girls to hang out and go exploring with.

Personal interests/opportunities

I guarantee that no matter what your interests are you will find a way to pursue them in London. This city is so huge and diverse in a way that Sydney could never be. It’s literally a melting pot of ideas and creativity entwined with cultures from all around the world put in motion by people from all walks of life. If you’re into art there is a never-ending amount of galleries, studios and classes to keep you busy. If you like music there is always a gig to go to no matter which night of the week, aspiring musicians seem to congregate here, there are clubs with rooms and even floors playing different genres, and all the big names in the industry will stop in London whilst touring. If you’re keen on fashion and shopping I’ve found London is a zillion times better than Sydney (or any other city in Australia, really). High street shopping is incredible and I still can’t get over how massive the flagship Topshop store is on Oxford Street – FYI it even has a restaurant inside. No matter what your budget there are plenty of options to sift through…I could go on and on so get in touch if you’d like a guide.

Travel time to other countries

Last month I visited Milan for a few days. The trip blew my mind because I sat on the plane for about two hours and I’d made it to a totally new country; the brits and europeans don’t think twice about this luxury but I found it quite surreal to be in an absolutely new culture without having to do the usual trek halfway around the world. It really puts into perspective how isolated Australia is in comparison to Europe. Another perk is that London is in the vicinity of all the great European cities and plane tickets are usually quite cheap (as long as you don’t leave it to the last minute), I’ve found return tickets to visit a friend in Switzerland next month for fifty pounds return (thats $100!).

Going to uni/on campus life – Harrow Halls

One thing I am most thankful for is to have the opportunity to live on the campus where I study, in Harrow Halls. When I was first assigned this accomodation I’m not going to lie I was a little disappointed, as I had envisioned myself smack bang in central London at the Marylebone Halls. Rather, Harrow is about twenty minutes from the city by the tube (which, by the way, becomes part of everyday life) and the vibe is completely different to the mad rush of the city. There’s big grassy open spaces, an oval where everyone hangs out to have picnics, play music and have a game of football or frisbee on sunny days. All the classes here are the ‘creative’ subjects like film, music, fashion, journalism and photography. I’ve discovered that music courses here are super popular and it seems as though everyone is in a band and regularly plays at the student bar or actual venues around London! This also indicates that the best parties happen here at Harrow thanks to all those rowdy musos (and lack of harsh security). Now that I’ve lived here for a few months I really couldn’t imagine myself being anywhere else and I’m sure if I didn’t stay in these halls my exchange experience would have been completely different. Whether or not you are interested in Harrow Halls, I’d encourage you to look into on-campus accommodation because each set of flats have their own fun and each have their own special perks too; be it convenience, location, price or decor.

So, now that you’re seriously considering making your dreams come true, remember:

“Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

All those hours spent organising and saving for exchange will be totally worth it!

I’ll leave you with some photos of my life as a University of Westminster student so far:

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Central London
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Northwick Park – the open spaces next to Harrow Halls
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Found the lollies inside Hamleys! (a huge british toy store on Regent Street)
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Sunset outside Buckingham Palace
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“The Tube” at Northwick Park station (two minutes away from Harrow Halls)
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My Arts & Entertainment Journalism course went to the National Gallery instead of a lecture to find inspiration for an assignment – it was one of my favourite assessments to date
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Daytrip to Oxford – this the bodleian library
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Another daytrip to see the white cliffs of Dover – I’m loving the fresh ocean air!

 If you would like to ask any questions feel free to contact me via email: tanyajmackey@gmail.com

You can also follow my travels on instagram: tanyajmackey

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