Jonathan - University College London

B. Science
Semester 2, 2018
It isn’t about what you get to experience but rather with whom you get to share those experiences with.

Academic experience

I took four courses at UCL: PHOL0003 (Integrative Physiology), PHOL0005 (Structure and Function of Nervous Systems), BIOL0022 (Biology of Ageing) and HART0023 (Architecture in London). Each of these courses was extremely well-taught and interesting. It was a privilege to be taught by UCL academics such as Dr Brian King and Professor David Gems, who were clearly at the cutting edge of their fields in the biomedical sciences. It was also really interesting to take HART0023 as an elective outside my field of study, as it was a great opportunity to broaden my horizons and explore parts of London I would have never known to visit. 

Enrolment at UCL is reasonably straightforward but different to UQ. It is only once you arrive in London that you are able to select the courses you want to do, however acceptance into those courses depends on availability. This means that there is always the possibility of not being able to do some of the courses you want at UCL. Thus, I recommend that you have a few back-up options approved before arriving. I also highly recommend that when you arrive at UCL, email the coordinator of each course to secure a spot in their class (especially for small classes like HART0023)! Nevertheless, the process isn’t too stressful and every exchange student has a UCL Personal Tutor to guide them.

Classes are taught in a similar fashion to UQ, however with a much lighter timetable since there are fewer contact hours. This gave me a lot of free time to explore London after class or pursue extra-curricular activities. However, most of my lectures weren’t recorded and were taught at an accelerated pace, meaning that it is wise to use your spare time outside of class to revise lectures and do readings to ensure that you stay on top of things. 

One of the great things about going on exchange in UQ’s semester 2 (UCL’s first teaching term) is that there are no exams (!) since UCL holds all of its examinations in their third term. This means that either some assessments will have a much higher weighting or you’ll get extra assignments (usually in the form of essays) instead. Whilst the stress of studying for exams is off, the multiple assignments you’ll have can definitely build up towards the end of term, so being well organised is key.

Personal experience

A night to remember.

There is not a superlative that exists in the English language that can begin to describe how wonderful my exchange to UCL has been! Not only was I able to study at a world-class university, but also live in a city with something new to explore around every corner. London is a cultural hub like no other, and much of my free time between classes was spent visiting the many free museums, food markets, beautiful parks and watching shows at West End. 

UCL is an amazing place to study and definitely lives up to its reputation as “London’s Global University”. In my hall of residence and classes, I made many life-long friends with people from every corner of the globe. Making close friends with other students from different backgrounds has helped open my eyes to new perspectives and cultures. They also give me a fantastic reason to visit Europe again!

Throughout the term, I was also fortunate enough to do some travelling around England and Europe. Planning overseas trips with friends helped me learn how to budget well and improve my organisational skills. By the time my exchange was over, I had partied at Oktoberfest in Munich, witnessed the spectacular northern lights in Tromsø and ate truffle pasta with one of my closest friends in Florence.

Accommodation

I was lucky enough to stay at Ramsay Hall, a catered hall of residence at UCL. With a central location and the campus just a 5-minute walk down the road, Ramsay is one of the most convenient options available. Having breakfast and dinner provided during weekdays made life a lot easier, and the food was surprisingly very good! Of course, the best thing about staying in a hall with over 400 residents is that it was extremely easy to meet heaps of people and make many great friends. I highly recommend putting a UCL Hall as your first preference for accommodation, as it is arguably the cheapest and most convenient option for exchange students.

Budget

Living in London is not cheap, but staying in Ramsay Hall at about £215 a week was quite economical, given that it is catered and in a very central location. This meant that I could limit the amount of money spent on eating out and also save on public transport expenses, since places like Oxford Street and Soho were only a short walk away. Luckily, many restaurants and shops in London offer very generous student discounts, which can make a large difference to your overall spending. If you plan on travelling to different parts of England by train, it is definitely worth getting the 16-25 Railcard, as this will reduce tube and rail fares by a third. 

My best advice is to get into the mindset of not spending money like a tourist but like a local. I had to learn how to budget my money properly so that I had enough to spend on my travels and entertainment, which I managed to do by eating out less frequently and cooking at college with friends.

Challenge

My biggest fear before going on exchange was the challenge of living independently in a foreign city and making completely new friends in London. To overcome this, I made sure that during the first few weeks I kept out of my room and introduced myself to as many people as possible! By staying open-minded and keeping up social interactions during mealtimes, I ultimately made some of the closest friends I’ve ever had. Having a close family of friends that supported me during my time in London made my experience unforgettable and helped to form a home away from home.

Professional development

Hogwart's Great Hall.

Through my time abroad, I have certainly developed both personally and professionally. I have learnt to become more self-confident and outgoing when meeting new people. My street smarts have also improved, as I had to learn how to adapt and improvise when things didn’t go as planned. More than anything, my experience has taught me how to appreciate the boundless potential that life and the world have to offer. 

Whilst attending UCL, I was also encouraged to go out and try new things. For example, during the term I spent a few days volunteering for an event at the Ragged School Museum in East London. This experience helped me discover my enjoyment of working with kids, which has reinforced my desire to have a career in medicine.

Highlight

As with all things, it isn’t so much about what you get to experience but rather with whom you get to share those experiences with. Despite having ticked off more items from my bucket list than I can count, without a doubt the highlight of my exchange to UCL was the time spent with my friends who made every day away from home truly magical. Whether it was staying up with friends until 1am every day (to watch the entire series of Game of Thrones!) or randomly going on an excursion around the empty streets of London at 3am to see the Christmas lights, it is these memories that made my time at UCL an experience like no other.

Top tips

  • Go on exchange and savour every moment of it – time flies quickly and it’ll come to an end before you know it.
  • Try to get accommodation at one of the UCL Halls. Whilst many might be turned off by having to share a bathroom, staying at one of the catered halls gives you a brilliant opportunity to make many new friends (plus you’ll only be a short walk away between classes and your cosy bed – how brilliant is that?!). 
  • Many don’t realise this before arriving, but UCL actually has two O-Weeks in Term 1, one for international students and another for locals. Try to get to UCL a week early before the official term start date so you can attend both, as this is when you’ll meet many other students away from home and in a similar situation to yourself.
Jonathan - University College London