Aarthi - University College London

Bachelor of Science
Semester 1, 2018

Academic experience

I studied two third-year biomed courses and two electives. These were Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine (CELL3001); Clocks, Sleep and Biological Time (CELL3105); Introduction to Psychology (PSYC6002) and Architecture in London (HART1704). 

The third year courses I took were more research-based than courses at UQ, but this meant I was being taught by leading researchers in the field. Architecture in London is one of the best courses for exchange students as it only has a 2-hour session each week, where the tutor takes you to sites around London that you may not normally visit. This course, in particular, allows you to experience not only museums in London but also allows you to experience the real and not just the tourist areas of London. 

One of the biggest challenges was getting used to UCL's different academic system. 
•    CELL3001, CELL3105 and PSYC6002 all had 100% exams, while HART1704 had two essays worth 50% each. 
•    CELL3105 only ran for the first 5 weeks of term, which meant that it was a great course for exchange students as you had extra free time at the end of term. 
•     As a science student, I found that the time I spent at classes at UCL was much less than at UQ, as I only had 12 hours per week, and this reduced to 8 hours once CELL3105 finished.  

As I went on exchange in Semester 1 (Spring Term at UCL), there was a 10-week term (with a 1 week midsem break), 4-week Easter/Study break then a 6-week Exam block. A big difference is that UCL has end-of-year exams. However, since I was only there for a semester, it wasn't too different to UQ as I only had 3 exams. Their long exam period meant that I had enough time to study for exams, but was also able to travel both before and after exams. 

The enrolment system is quite different from UQ. While UCL asks you to choose courses before coming, in most cases, they ask you to re-enrol once you are over there and have your student ID. I recommend to still choose your courses before you go, but also have plenty of backups. Since I went in Semester 1 (which is the second term at UCL), most of the local students had already chosen their courses and as a result, a lot of classes were full by the time I enrolled. If you’re lucky your coordinator may have reserved a few spots for exchange students but this isn’t always guaranteed.

Personal experience

Living in central London meant that I was in a prime location to travel within Europe. Since Australia is so far from Europe, I took advantage of this opportunity to travel and by the end of exchange had visited 12 countries. The best part about visiting so many diverse countries was that I was able to experience each of their different cultures. As I didn't drive while over there, I took advantage of London's great transport system to visit other cities in the UK. I highly recommend travelling within the UK to small cities like Oxford and Brighton, as these are places that people don't often visit when holidaying in the UK but are very accessible when you are living there.

Accommodation

I applied for accommodation through UCL and lived at Ramsay Hall, which is one of UCL's halls. Since all of UCL's halls are off-campus, I chose Ramsay because it was only a 5-minute walk to campus and it was catered. I got breakfast and dinner on weekdays and brunch on the weekends. I stayed in a single room and shared a bathroom with 11 other people. Sharing a bathroom with so many people wasn’t too bad since everyone showered at different times. 

The best thing about being at a catered hall was that you had a lot of contact with other students, both other exchange students and local students. In the first few weeks, meal times were a great way to introduce yourself to people and was an easy way to make friends. It was also a great way to keep in contact with friends studying different courses. I enjoyed living in a catered hall, because it was more convenient, gave me more free time to explore London and I had no cooking skills.  The thing I enjoyed the most was the student hall environment. However, the food wasn’t always the best and the set meal times were annoying when I was trying to plan my day. So if you are able to cook or are willing to learn, I believe a non-catered hall would have been just as good.

Costs

Accommodation: Since Ramsay Hall is both catered and close to campus, it is one of the more expensive places to live. I stayed in a single room and shared a bathroom with 11 other people, which cost 222 pounds/wk. 

Food: During the week I only needed to pay for 5 lunches and 2 dinners, which ended up costing 30-40 pounds if I was eating out. While London is an expensive city to live in I found that most of the food places gave a 10-15% student discount every day or had some kind of student deal during the week. Some restaurants even had 40-50% Unidays discount, which made the food just as cheap as some fast food places.  

Phone plan: I got a free Giffgaff SIM which cost me around 10-15 pounds/month, which included unlimited texts and calls and gave me 3-8GB of data. I was also able to use this in Europe and having data is useful when travelling (but I’m not sure how this will change when Brexit comes into full effect). There was no long-term commitment, so I would change plans each month depending on whether I was planning to travel or not. 


Transport: I didn't need weekly/monthly travel passes since I wasn't catching public transport to uni but it’s definitely worth looking into if you can't walk to uni. I invested in a 16-25 railcard, which took 1/3 off tube fares and national rail tickets. It cost 30 pounds and was definitely worthwhile when travelling by tube in London and catching the train around the UK. Since I lived close to campus, I only spent money on transport when exploring London and even then, places like Oxford Street and Carnaby Street were only a short walk away. I tended to travel mostly in Zone 1 of London. Buses cost 1.50 pounds and since I had a railcard tube fares cost 1.60 (instead of 2.40) pounds. So I tended to spend 10-15 pounds/wk on public transport.


Entertainment: One thing I didn't consider before I went was the cost of entertainment, particularly London's nightlife. Most places in London have a cover charge, so definitely budget 5-10 pounds per event. Some events could be as pricey as 20-30 pounds, especially if you buy tickets last minute. Also, a lot of UCL's student events have cheap tickets (~3 pounds) if you book early.

Overall Costs: A return flight to London cost me around $2000 and I spent around $9000 in total on my London accommodation (which covered most meals and covered accommodation from January until the end of June). My phone bill cost me around $160 in total. For travel, I spent roughly $800-900 per week of travel (this includes everything like flights, accommodation, food, transport and tickets to tourist attractions). I tended to stay at AirBnBs or cheap hotels, so if you stay at hostels and try to find cheap places to eat, you could probably budget a little less (less than $100/day). Some cities tend to be more expensive (like Copenhagen) while other cities like Budapest were much cheaper. So definitely do some research before you plan trips.

Professional Development

One of the biggest things I learnt was independence. During the first couple weeks when you don't know anyone, I had to put myself out there and talk to all kinds of people. This gave me the chance to develop my interpersonal skills and I believe will help me in the future. As this was the first time I was travelling without my family, I also had to learn to plan trips, which is an important skill to have. I learnt that planning ahead saved me a lot of money and stress while travelling. In particular, I saved a lot of money by planning early for my travel after my exchange. Since it was summer and the most expensive time to travel in Europe, I saved hundreds of dollars by not leaving it to last minute.

Highlight

The chance to live in a big city like London is something I'll never forget. Living in central London provides you with a perfect opportunity to take advantage of London's culture and nightlife. A 15-minute walk from my hall could get me to iconic London places like Oxford Street, Carnaby Street and Leicester Square, while other places like Buckingham Palace and the London Eye were a short tube ride away. Living in the heart of London, as a student, was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Top tips

  • Say yes and go on exchange! You will never regret it and it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
  • Put yourself out there and get to know people – both locals and other exchange people. The exchange people tend to be the ones who are willing to travel with you but the locals know the things to do and places to see.
  • London lived up to its reputation and is quite rainy. So it’s handy to invest in a waterproof coat with a hood. Since the rain is never heavy, most Londoners just put their hood on when walking outside and usually don’t bother with an umbrella.
  • Budget carefully and take advantage of student discounts when buying food or even clothes. Tip: Check Unidays for massive discounts on food!
  • Look out for free events such as the Chelsea Flower Show. And follow London’s social media pages to find out what events are happening that week!
  • When travelling, take advantage of being a student from Europe! Some places give free entry to students from Europe while only giving discounted ticket prices to students from Australia. So definitely use your UCL ID when travelling instead of your UQ ID! 
  • Research before you travel! Places like the Louvre have free entry to students on certain nights so don't spend on tickets unnecessarily!
  • Take advantage of every day! It's okay to have days where you do nothing but lounge around with your friends. But time flies so take advantage of your opportunity to live in an amazing city like London!