This post comes to us from API alumna Laina Terry. Laina studied in London, England from Johnson & Wales University in the Fall of 2016. Since returning back home Laina has started a lifestyle website and blog platform for millennials, covering topics from travel, to family, to health and wellness and more. Laina features contributing writers from the US and the UK. You can view the site here!
We had a chance to hear from Laina about her first experience in London. Read as she shares advice for future travelers and reflects on a semester well-spent!
“More than a year ago I stumbled upon my university’s study abroad programs and applied for API’s Direct Enrollment Program at the University of Westminster in London, England on a whim. I was so unsure of whether or not I’d be accepted, if I’d be able to afford it if I do end up going, and convincing my parents to get on board with this idea.
For those of you who don’t know me, one of my best friends moved to London after our freshman year of high school. I watched her walk through security and it hit me then that I needed to get out there to see her. Almost five years later and I still had never made it out there. I continued to constantly obsess over her fancy new life as I sat around waiting for the same to happen to me. I had never been or really had an interest prior to her moving there, but keeping up with her and all her crazy stories always made me feel like I was missing out. I promised myself I’d make it out there one day to see if all these fantasies I had created of London were real or not.
Well, fast forward two weeks after I handed in my application where I was just getting home from a long day to find this unopened email from my school waiting for me…“Congratulations! You have been accepted for direct enrollment at The University of Westminster.” My heart dropped into my stomach, and quite honestly I forgot how to breathe for a few seconds. I did it– I got accepted. I begged and begged (and begged) my parents to let me do this, and trust me, it wasn’t easy to get them to say yes. It was a lot of, “we’ll see” ‘s and “maybe if you get better grades”. But eventually, I got everyone on board, and then it was time to start planning everything out, making payments, setting up housing, picking classes, and obviously making a bucket list of things I wanted to do while there.
It honestly wasn’t until July that my parents help me purchase my ticket. We were still so unsure if I was going because my financial aid was taking forever to go through. Between January and July it was a rollercoaster of emotions, but thank God everything fell into place.
I left for London out of Newark Airport on September 16th arriving at Heathrow Airport around 7am. I took a red eye flight (AMEN), which was the best thing I could’ve done! I chatted with the guy next to me for four of the seven hours we were flying, slept the last three, landed, got dropped off at our flats to unpack a bit, then our way through London to get to the first day of ‘orientation’ (and I didn’t feel jet lag whatsoever!).
The first four days I was in and out of orientations all day. Orientations were focused around Uni, API itself, navigating London, establishing class schedules, and adjusting to English culture. Lucky for us, classes didn’t start until ten days after arriving in London, which gave my flatmates and I tons of opportunities to explore our neighborhood. Our flat was 72 steps up on the top floor of a beautiful brick building in Bloomsbury, which is central London.
If you aren’t a fan of walking, then London definitely isn’t the place for you. I walked everywhere- to the tube, to the grocery store, to shop, to uni, etc. I highly recommend walking through the city first before resorting to public transportation. But I also recommend taking the bus and tube as often as possible, because there really is nothing like it. Sitting up top on the bus and people watching on the tube were easily two of my favorite things.
As far as Uni goes, it’s so different than what we are used to in The States. The workload was organized differently and I found the assessments and papers challenging. Tutors (aka professors, but don’t call them professors because they get mad) are friendly, the students are quite shy unless they know you, but overall uni is beautiful! Westminster is split into four campuses, each focusing on specific majors. As a communications major, three out of my four classes were as the Harrow campus (an hour long commute from my flat), while the fourth class was at the Regent Street campus (a 25 minute walk from my flat). I loved the commute, and I loved the walk- it really helped me get to know London!
I could go on and on about things to do, places to visit, foods to eat, and sights to see, but that would take forever, so instead, I’m going to name a few of my top favorites!
The food options in London are ENDLESS! I for one wasn’t a big fan of the classic English breakfast or the typical Sunday Roast, but I recommend anyone living in London to try each at least once! The best English Breakfast I had was at La Bella Roma ( it was under £10) and I had a Sunday Roast at The Ship Tavern! If you’re an Italian like me and you neeed your pizza and pasta fix, head over to Homeslice in Neal’s Yard (a hidden gem I love so very much)/Seven Dials, or Giotto’s across from The Bloomsbury! If you’re in the mood for a burger and a milkshake, head over to Byron Hamburgers. (Fun fact: English food is semi-healthier than American food. Aka your burger that is £10/13 comes without fries, and you have to order that separately!) If you’re looking for American ‘comfort’ food with a twist, head to Nando’s! If you’re feeling a latte that’s not from Starbucks, visit a Caffe Nero. If you are 110% obsessed with Chicken and waffles like I am, go to Absurd Bird for the best c&w of your life. Want a poke bowl? Go to Ahi Poke on Percy street! Like I said, I can go on forever. Bottom line, one can never run out of options in London. Make the most of everything around you, because trust me, you’ll miss it when you leave.
*Pro tip: grocery shop at Sainsbury’s as it is inexpensive and super fresh! A whole weeks worth of groceries was typically £30! (And I cooked a lot).*
My hidden gems are recently becoming more well known, but I’ll share them with you anyways! Neal’s Yard is an Instagrammer’s dream. It’s a super colorful little nook where you can find Homeslice and a few other spots in the middle of Seven Dials! It’s extremely close to Covent Garden, which leads me into my next spot: Scarlett’s! Scarlett’s is a casual bar during the day/evening, but turns into a club after hours. Pop Brixton is my absolute favorite hangout spot in London! It’s a plot of land not far from the Brixton tube station that’s home to a bar, live outdoor music area (that can turn into a movie theater), and several stalls of amazing food (both savory & sweet)! Additionally, there’s the Backyard Cinema which puts a twist on the average movie theater. Lastly, I’ll mention my favorite brunch spot: The Attendant (Fitzrovia location). It’s literally hidden and sooo not what people expect. A little fun fact about this place is that it used to be an old (mens) Loo! It was converted years ago into the cutest little underground cafe that serves up awesome espressos and smashed avo toast!
I want to touch briefly on travelling while in the U.K. because my opinion is much different than most. While in London, I only left the country twice. I chose to go to Italy and Paris to meet up with my friends studying abroad, too, and it pained me to leave each time, because I knew eventually I’d be back on a plane heading home. I personally developed such an attachment for London, that I didn’t feel like it was necessary to leave. Sure, I could’ve gone somewhere new every weekend, but that would’ve completely limited the time I had to spend exploring London. If anything, take as many day trips as you can to cute English towns outside of London. There’s nothing cuter than the English countryside (and even the seaside). I travelled to Brighton and Cambridge, and it only made me fall more in love with England. So, to each their own, but I highly suggest immersing yourself in London 100% (or whatever city you decide on)
To wrap it all up, I’m going to let you in on one key thing: It’s going to break your heart to leave. The moment I boarded the plane at Heathrow to head back to Newark I knew these next few months were going to slowly kill me. No more Caffe Nero runs before Uni, or shopping at Carnaby street. No more ice cream bars at the cinema, or new pubs to discover in Soho. People don’t warn you about the overwhelming emotions one is going to experience when transitioning back home. It’s almost six months since I’ve been back in The States and it still stings.
I hope reading this helps anyone thinking about studying abroad in London, or helped confirm that he or she is doing the right thing by choosing London if there were any uneasy feelings. I personally will always be there for any API alum/ lover of London, so please feel free to reach out, and head over to my Instagram accounts to see photos from my time abroad!
@sincerelylaina + @girlsbigbite ! ”
To read more about posts about London over on Laina’s website, visit here and here!