By Allison McCausland
First things first: always pack an umbrella. That is one of the first things I learned in traveling around the UK, as several places can experience all four seasons in one day. If you ever choose to travel or study abroad in England, this is one of the most helpful tips I can share with you. And an oyster card. I suppose now that’s two tips.
I arrived in England this past January to start my four months and four-day adventure in the London suburb of Twickenham, also known as “The Home of England’s Rugby” for the sport fans out there. I choose this location because of its rich history and the fact that it is a great jumping off point for weekend excursions throughout the rest of Europe.
Nevertheless, since my experience abroad is during the academic semester, studying has had to find a way to fit into my schedule as well. Though content wise, the classes here don’t differ too much from the kind of material that university students learn in the U.S., but instead of being divided up throughout the week, they are held one day a week in three-hour blocks. Don’t worry though, they give short breaks in between the long hours so students can recharge before they go crazy sitting for so long.
Twickenham, like so many other suburbs of England, has everything you need within walking distance, which probably explains why so many British people are in great shape. Just make sure you bring your own bag to the store unless you want to be charged five pence per plastic bag. I guess that’s tip number three.
The shops and houses that line the streets each have their own character as unique as the people living in them. The people keep to themselves mostly, but if you walk into the nearest pub you will see how lively and vibrant they can be, especially on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons when pubs are packed to the gills to watch the football or rugby game.
When you’ve had your fill of typical English life and want to do some affordable exploring, taking the local transportation into central London opens the door to all the famous landmarks, eateries and museums that the country is famous for showcasing. This is where the whole of London becomes your oyster (card). The card comes in handy as there are a plethora of buses, trains and underground stops to take you where you want to go with a simple swipe in and out. Just make sure you always “mind the gap.”
As soon as you exit one of the stations stops, they will most likely let you out near a bridge in which a beachy mist rolls off the river Thames. That’s what I experience each time I exit Waterloo station and gaze up at the gigantic London Eye overlooking the rest of city skyline. From there is the jumping off point for the London’s other famous attractions such as the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and so much more. You can see Big Ben too, but unfortunately it will be surrounded by scaffolding for the next four years as it undergoes preservation and restoration.
But don’t let that get you down! There is so much to see in the form of museums and attractions that appeal to everyone, like the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Charles Dickens House, Churchill War Rooms and, of course, pretty much anything Harry Potter that you could dream of. If you feel you’ve seen everything you need to see in central, then other famous locations like Kensington, home of the Kensington Gardens, and Wimbledon, where tennis fanatics enjoy their fill, are just short train rides away.
If you plan on seeing more of Europe while over in England, do it sooner rather than later because you will never find cheaper flights again. This brings me to tip four: Ryanair and Easyjet are your friends. Although little rough around the edges, both airlines are cost efficient and the longest you would have to fly on them is around two and half hours. Flying through them to arrive at your hostel for two or three nights will have your wallet thanking you later when you want to purchase souvenirs and see other attractions during your visit.
I’m only two months in and I already have no qualms about deciding to study abroad at this time in my life. Although I’m a college student drowning in accumulated debt, I don’t think there is a better time in a person’s life to experience something like this than now. Between additional schooling, job hunting and paying bills after graduation, its going to be a long while before I’m able to travel this much again.
So here is my final tip: don’t shortchange yourself. Until this trip I have never been farther than the east coast of the U.S., and already I have eight countries under my belt from a little over two months. If your dream is travel, there is no better time than during your university years to involve yourself in a new culture. Let your current worries be future post-abroad you’s worries.
If you’re interested in doing the DeSales University Study Abroad Program, you can get more information from the university’s website and the office in McShea. The experience, whether you decide to study in England or another location, will be one you will never regret.