Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My London

What better way can a prospective student obtain pertinent information about London Travel Study than to check out the discussions of those who have completed it?  Here, prospective students can find some really useful and enlightening information.  Utilize this information to enhance your experience in London by embracing the opportunities that proved to be worthwhile for these veterans, and also avoiding some of their pitfalls.


Year: Incoming Senior
Age: 21
Hometown: Northridge, CA

Q: Overall impressions?

A: While I was in London, I thought it was a lovely, very well thought of program. The immersion into London culture and history was just the right amount to where we were able to truly integrate what we learned into what we saw as we walked through the city streets whether on our own or with the professor.

Q: Is there something that you know now about London that you wish you would have known before you got here?

A: I wish I knew that it had the capability of being warm and humid. I was under the impression that it was cold throughout the year so I packed for the completely wrong weather.

Q: What are your thoughts on student housing?

A: I personally thought our student housing location was absolutely superb! The rooms may not have been as big as we wanted and the temperature got a little hot, but that made me want to go out and explore during free time! In the evenings, the temperature was just right and the bed was comfortable so at the end of the day, our dorms served their purpose.

Q: How was the academic experience?

A: This is hands down, the best English class I have taken with UCLA thus far. I learned so much from Professor Makdisi and it was material that I was eager to learn more about. It is so different experiencing the history come to life. I also enjoyed being able to ask questions and approach the professor in a way that I never would be able to in a lecture environment. It was truly eye-opening and riveting.

Q: Any trouble balancing school & leisure?

A: I personally did not have trouble balancing school and leisure because before I even went on the trip, I told myself to be organized as much as possible because I really wanted to experience learning about London in the class and on my own. In the setting, I was actually excited to do the readings because every reading came to life everywhere we went. The load is not bad at all, so if you plan accordingly and stay organized, it really should not be a problem.

Q: What do you think about London culture? 

A: I love, love, love the atmosphere and the people of London. I love how convenient everything is and how easily accessible everything is with the Underground. Everyone I met was so friendly and so welcoming and loved talking to me about my experience in the city. They were really helpful when I didn’t know how to get around or I didn’t know where to go. I loved being able to explore by myself without feeling scared or unsafe. I don’t recommend exploring alone at night too much, but the times I did do it were completely safe!

Q:  Did living in London cost more, less, or the same as what you had budgeted for?

      A: I personally expected London to be expensive, so I was not surprised. I wish I knew what credit cards did and did not work before I flew in because that would have been helpful as well, but everything worked out smoothly!

Q: What is it that students MUST do in London?  What was your favorite touristy thing to do?  What was your favorite non-tourist thing to do?

A: Students must take advantage of the location! Our program is in the heart of London, so we had more than enough time to hang out in the “touristy” parts of London without having to pay for a double-decker bus tour because we were in a rush. I was able to visit each tourist destination properly because I visited one per day! I definitely recommended night walks along the Thames by Big Ben and the London Eye! Listening to the Westminster chimes is absolutely breathtaking, especially without the busy bustle of afternoon tours! I also recommend Borough Market, Piccadilly Circus, and Oxford Circus for nightlife! Whether you’re going out to explore pubs or singing on the streets with London natives, these “Circuses” are so much fun! Students must also keep in mind that London sleeps earlier than Los Angeles does.

Q: Would you recommend UCLA Travel Study London?

A: 100% yes! This was the most amazing and enriching experience of my life and I would not have gone with any other program!


Year: Incoming Senior
Age: 20
Hometown: San Jose, CA

Q: Overall impressions?

A: I absolutely love my travel study experience in London! The city is lovely, the people are friendly, and my travel group is fantastic! I love how we learn both inside the classroom through discussion and lecture and outside the classroom through walking tours in the streets of London. Every day is a new adventure to explore, and your travel study group kind of becomes your family while you're here, and it's great. London is a gorgeous place with endless places to explore and things to do, and I'm so happy and thankful to be experiencing it with the best group of people. 

Q: Tell us about any excursions you've taken outside of London.  How would you rate the experience?  Would you recommend it?  Is there anything you would have done differently?  And if you don't mind, what did it cost you?

A: Outside of London, I've kept my travels within the UK for the sake of time and money. I traveled to Oxford, Bath, Brighton, and Cambridge, spending about a day or less in each location on the weekends. These trips were enjoyable and I would definitely recommend them. I wouldn't have done much differently, but I would recommend to always travel early enough in the morning so that you have enough time to explore because things tend to close around 5pm or so. Also, I would suggest visiting sites like Cambridge and Oxford on weekdays too (if class permits), because as universities, they close several parts of their campus on weekends. Train tickets to each place generally averaged around 20 pounds or less (round trip), but if you travel in groups of 3+, you can definitely get a discount.

Q: What are your thoughts on student housing?

A: The student housing is great. I love having a single room and bathroom all to myself, and it's nice to share a floor and kitchen with others.

Q: How was the academic experience?

A: The academic experience is solid. I had no trouble balancing school & leisure. Most of our work during the program consists of just reading and absorbing all the knowledge from class and walking tours, so there is plenty of time to explore and have fun in the city while balancing academics. Even when we go exploring together for fun, we end up learning cool things too, so school & leisure actually end up going together very well.

Q: What do you think about London culture? 

A: London culture is very similar to American culture, except people keep to themselves more, are not as rowdy or loud, and the public transportation is phenomenal. The people are very friendly and have a good sense of humor from what I've noted, haha.

Q:  Did living in London cost more, less, or the same as what you had budgeted for?

      A: London-living costs less than what I had budgeted for. Most of your money is spent on transportation, but even then, if you're smart with your money through packing your own lunches or traveling during off-peak hours, you can definitely save some money.

Q: What is it that students MUST do in London?  What was your favorite touristy thing to do?  What was your favorite non-tourist thing to do?

A: The MUST do thing in London is taking a stroll through one of the beautiful parks and then having a picnic there with friends. My favorite touristy thing to do was going inside St. Paul's Cathedral and climbing all the steps to get to the very top, where you get a breath-taking, panoramic view of the city of London. My favorite non-tourist thing to do was just having picnics with friends at various parks, visiting bookstores, and just wandering around the city.

Q: Would you recommend UCLA Travel Study London?

A: I would 100% recommend UCLA Travel Study London to fellow Bruins!


Year: Incoming Senior
Age: 20
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Q: Overall impressions?

A: The Professor did an excellent job of incorporating the physical cityscape with the curriculum, making an unforgettable and tangible connection as well as unqiue way to experience this amazing city.

Q:  Did living in London cost more, less, or the same as what you had budgeted for?

     A: I got lucky and packed a lot of cereal, it is quite expensive here and the expenses rack up quickly. Come prepared and pre plan things that you can like cereal. My box of cheerios I brought saved me so many breakfasts.

Q: What is it that students MUST do in London?  What was your favorite touristy thing to do?  What was your favorite non-tourist thing to do?

A: When in London you MUST explore the nooks and crannies. A lot of times students want music and parties but the city is rich with nature and history you just can't get in the States. So yes touristy things are worth it but also non-tourist things like Hampstead Heath and or a music festival, both a must!

Q: Would you recommend UCLA Travel Study London?

A: I would most definitely recommend Study Abroad. You knock out requirements and get to explore a new place, experiencing it in a thought provoking as well as intelligent way.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Don't Worry, it's on the Queen's Tab

It comes as a very pleasant surprise that London's world-class museums are free.  I recently paid my fourth visit to the British Museum, and third to the National Gallery.  The museums are far too large and overwhelming to see in any single visit.  I've still seen only a fraction of what they offer.  The magnitude, gravity, and volume of what these museums house, contribute in yet another way to London's grandeur and Britain's power.  Behold, the eminence of Great Britain.  We house the world's most prized possessions and won't even charge you to see them!  I think the message is there.  Exploring London day-to-day is a privilege, but the great expense of this pursuit can become a source of anxiety for struggling English majors.  The museums are an escape from this financial circumstance.  You can spend days exploring these marvels and it's on the Queen.  Below, are a few photos that provide a glimpse of a glimpse.  Mummies?  Socrates?  The ROSETTA STONE?! Ya, they've got it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weekend Getaway to Belgium

Some of the students in the program have made really great use of their time in Europe with weekends off.  I’ve spoken with classmates who have already gone to Bath, Oxford, Dublin and Paris, and Rome (among other cities).  I recently found out that it was both affordable and relatively easy to get to Belgium.  It’s a bit ambitious, given its distance from London and the time constraints of a weekend.  All that said, I’ve now done it and it was well worth it.  Take a bus.  Perhaps you’re wondering how one takes a bus across the English Channel–let me tell you.  I booked a ticket through National Express for £54 round trip (as compared to the £250 Eurostar train ticket).  The bus leaves central London, drives you to Dover (hi, Shakespeare nerds) where your bus actually drives onto a train.  YES.  The train goes under the sea in the English Channel Tunnel and emerges in France, where your bus drives off of the train and straight for Belgium.  The whole trip takes 9 hours (to Brussels), but you also lose an hour by crossing into a new time zone.  If you are going to make a weekend trip out of it, leave as early as you can Friday and return as late as you can Sunday.  Remember that you gain an hour back on the return.  The bus will take you to the spectacular city Gent, or Brussels (and beyond).  I chose Brussels, which was... not quite what I had expected.  However, I had heard so many great things about Brugge.  I must admit that out all the cities I have ever been, this might be my new favorite.  I ended up spending the entire weekend there.  English is spoken very widely in Belgium, so getting around is not too complicated.  Also, they’re on the Euro, so your money goes much further here than in London.  I almost booked a hostel in Brussels for 30 Euros, but found that a hotel was only $87.  As a quick note, take euros out of an ATM in London without fees, as many ATMs offer both pounds & euros.

William Blake and the British Museum

 We were given the rare opportunity to see a collection of William Blake's copperplate engravings and prints at the British Museum.  What an amazing privilege to see his craftsmanship before our very eyes.  These relics are housed behind locked doors at the British Museum, but can be viewed by the public by appointment.  Here are a few photos:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Few Recent Photos

St. Giles - located at the heart of 18th and 19th century London slums

Dr. Makdisi at St. George's Parish Church

St. George's Parish Church

Photos from the nearly 1000 year old Borough Market

London Royal Courts of Justice
A few photos from one of my daily jogs: Hyde Park

 Hyde Park & Royal Albert Hall

Hyde Park & Kensington Palace

Cailey Hall's Tour in front of the home of John Keats in Hampstead, north London.

Home of John Keats

Hampstead, north London.  The inspiration of Romanticists

Walk to Kensington Palace

Homes near Regent's Park

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Note on the Banknote

Here's a few helpful tips on money.
First off, each pound costs us Americans $1.71 as of July, 2014.  The figures that you see in the stores and restaurants are roughly the same as they are in the US ( £1.50 for a bottle of water, £7 for a sandwich with chips, £3 for large Americano, etc).  Therefore, most everything costs anywhere from one and a half, to twice as much as it does at home.  Prepare for this.  Your £10 lunch is $17.  
Don't use Bureau de Change or other currency converters once in London.  Just pull money from the ATM which converts dollars to pounds automatically.  The ATMs in London don't charge you, but your bank at home does.  I bank with Chase, who charges $5 for each international ATM withdrawal, and an additional 3% of the amount your withdrawing on top of that.  This is pretty standard.  To avoid paying the $5 over and over, take out fewer, but larger sums.  With these fees, you will still pay substantially less than you will at a walk-up currency converter.  According to Chase, Wells Fargo is the primary international bank in the US.  So if you bank with them, you might find that your fees are lower.  If you already bank with Wells Fargo at home, it might be a good idea to order a couple hundred £s from home.  This takes a couple days, but is free to you as a Wells Fargo customer.  In the long run, you're only saving $10-$20, perhaps, BUT you've got some money in your pocket when you get into the city and it's one less thing you have to worry about.  I don't recommend pulling out thousands of pounds in the US and carrying them over, because losing that money will ruin your whole trip.

Notify your bank that you're leaving the country by calling the number on the back of the card or going in.  You run the risk of getting your checking account locked up by not letting them know.  An overseas withdrawal for a large some of money is very much a "red flag" with regard to fraudulent activity.  The call will ensure that they don't freeze your account.  

Lastly, does your debit/credit card have a chip in it?  They're usually visible on the front of the card.  I didn't let my bank know that I was leaving until the day before, making it too late to order a free replacement card with a chip.  I didn't really think that this would be a big deal, but it's been troublesome not having it.  The London Underground ticket machines have difficulty processing cards without chips.  It usually takes me... like 10 swipes to get it to read & accept the transaction.  Also, the city rental bikes are by credit card only.  Because I don't have that chip, the machines do not accept my payment at all.  Thus, I can't rent a bike in all of London.  Bummer.  But, now YOU know.

Sunday in London: 74°F

 I had the pleasure of speaking with a lifetime Londoner who generously gave me an entire list of things to see and do – none of which included the iconic, touristy locations of the city.  As an American visitor, I think that many of the spots where the tourists flock are essential to experiencing London, but it's really nice that we have the luxury of time, allowing us to branch out and get a feel for what many Londoners enjoy doing in their own spare time.  One such place that was recommended to me was the Columbia Road Flower Market.  Each Sunday, Columbia Road comes alive.  It's just like a massive farmer's market at home that spans several city blocks–but sells only flowers and potted plants.  While it's off the beaten path of touristy British landmarks, it's still tremendously popular.  There were thousands there.  The Londoner I spoke with advised me to go there just after 12pm (if I intended to buy flowers), as all their inventory drops to half price or even lower, before they close up at about 3pm.

The adjacent streets are full of shops, selling everything from antiques, to art, to books.  There are a wealth of great spots to eat and drink, from small cafes to outdoor food and drink vendors.  Lastly, there's live music.  It makes for a really great Sunday afternoon, and won't cost you too many £s!

A street vendor's merchandise near Columbia Road.  

Directions:  Exit Old St. Underground Station (which is within Zones 1 & 2).  You can walk or hop on a bus to Columbia Rd from there.  We took the bus because we didn't know where we were going, then walked back to the Underground at Old Street.  The walk takes only 10-15 minutes.