Journalism student Maisy Rae decided to swap Bond for Britain in 2019, and undertook a semester exchange at Kingston University in London. She reflects on her four months away in The Big Smoke and details the three things students should consider when on exchange.
Having spent the better part of four months in London late last year, it’s safe to say there really is no place like it. I can confidently say that those few months formed the best experience of my life and I’d give anything to go back and do it all again. It was rewarding, both academically through the I contacts made, but also on a personal level – I feel much more confident and independent, travelled and culturally aware, and feel more positive about the prospect of graduating and getting my foot onto the career ladder.
1. Find your group and travel
Starting out at Kingston University, walking into my flat on-campus, and even during Freshers (O Week), I was definitely nervous about the possibility of making friends, and ones that I would actually connect and want to travel with. I was fortunate to be assigned to a set of flats that housed the majority of the international students and so many of us found ourselves in the same boat. I stayed with the same group of friends that I met from about week two, many of them my flatmates, and can undoubtedly say that those people made my trip. As we began exploring central London together, we found ourselves creating our own little weekly traditions and meet ups such as karaoke and pizza in our local pub every Thursday night. Those habits were so important in bringing us closer, but also establishing a sense of homeliness and familiarity in a London borough thousands of miles away from home.
As we branched out to Brighton and other parts of the UK, plans soon turned to travelling to Europe together and we made the trips out to Paris, Amsterdam and Bruges. The fantastic thing about London is its distance to mainland Europe: an hour on a flight, couple of hours on the Eurostar, a short ferry ride across the Channel. The only major regret I have is that I didn’t travel more – both through the UK and across Europe. The months just passed so quickly, and with more than thirty boroughs, there’s plenty of things to see in London.
2. Appreciate the small things
When I first applied to Kingston University, I was unsure about its proximity to central London and also about if there was anything to do in the borough itself. Based beside the River Thames, Kingston upon Thames is a leafy suburb in south-west London. When I arrived in Kingston, I was surprised at the variety of things to do in the local area; from shops, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and markets, there was always something to do. There were also about ten pubs in a five-minute radius from my accommodation – a good pub is a staple of British culture.
The transport networks in Kingston were fantastic: a 24/7 bus service to and from central London, a short twenty-minute train ride into Waterloo Station, frequent boat rides up the Thames to Greenwich. Living in Kingston undoubtedly added to my exchange experience. It was nice sometimes to get out of the hustle and bustle of central London, and escape to a national park, or go for a few drinks at the local pub which is much more reasonably priced.
So, whilst you’re on exchange, make sure to take the time to notice the small stuff around where you’re staying. It might not be the bright lights of the city, or the glare from the camera lenses at the major tourist attractions, but make a note to see and document the little things ... the smell of the local fish and chips shop as you walk back home from university, the laugh of the bartender at your local, the crunch of leaves underfoot as the seasons shift.
3. Do your assessments!
Upon reflection of my exchange experience, the only other thing I would have changed was my dedication to my studies. I did attend all of my required classes, but I would often find myself repeating the mantra: ‘You’re only on exchange once, you can study any other time’. Whilst it’s true, it’s also quite dangerous. I was lucky in the sense that the majority of my assessments were due in January of this year (back when I was in Australia) so I could put off those studies. But as 201 started and work started to pile up, it was tough to force myself back into that mindset and remember the information from those classes, even from September. So as much as it hurts whilst you’re on exchange, actually take a few days out of exploring to catch up on some university work. You could even dedicate just one or two nights a week to them and you should be good.
Two weeks before I left Australia to go on exchange, I was ready to cancel my trip. I was nervous: unsure about living in a big city alone, doubtful that I could find great friends to socialise and travel with, and worried that I’d set my expectations too high and would be terribly disappointed. I had set those expectations so high and yet London smashed every single one of them.
So, if you’re thinking about going on exchange, or you have already been accepted into the program and doubts are starting to form, don’t worry. Start planning now the places you want to visit, or the tourist traps you need to take photos at, or the pubs you’ve been told to check out. Those few months away will pass so quickly that you will undoubtedly find yourself regretting any opportunities that you might have missed. And if you have decided on London, or anywhere in the United Kingdom, do yourself a favour and find the nearest Wetherspoons to your university ... you won’t regret it.
Exchange at Bond
Current Bond students have the opportunity to study at one of 80+ leading universities in our network of exclusive international partnerships, for one or two semesters. Embark on a new adventure while gaining credit towards your Bond degree.