An amazing year
People ask me why I chose the UK for studying, and I always give the same answer. Many reasons! My ancestry is British, I study British history, I’ve always admired British culture, and the list goes on and on. There were a bunch of little reasons that all added up to the simple realization that I wanted to live to the UK, and studying for my Master’s degree there was the perfect way to accomplish this.
Applying to postgraduate degrees in the UK (usually) does not cost anything, so I applied to five schools in England and two in Scotland. I had visited London before and became interested in King’s College London due to its fantastic reputation and many well-known alumni, and so King’s was my number one choice. I also applied to Birkbeck, York, Sheffield, Leicester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I was interested in a specialized history degree in Victorian studies, and using Across the Pond’s services helped me narrow down which universities offered a degree in this programme as the names for these courses varied from school to school. The service is fantastic for simplifying the whole process and getting specific answers to specific questions. I then sent out my applications with all the required documents: transcripts, reference letters, personal statements, and a CV. For me, the applications took quite a while because I was doing so many (I did two in Canada, as well!) and I personalized each one. In the end, however, it was worth it, because I started getting offers.
King’s College was the last university to send me a letter. As I opened it, I hoped for good news, and was ecstatic to see an offer! My offer was conditional upon the requirement that I finish my semester at Laurier (where I was studying History and Medieval Studies) with a 10.0 GPA. I worked hard in my last term, and ended up finishing with 9.9. However, I had completed a phone interview with the course convenor at King’s College London, and he decided to send me the unconditional offer despite being just shy of 10.0. He liked what he saw on my CV and my reference letters and felt that I would be a good candidate for the programme. This holistic way of assessing students in the UK is a bonus of applying for university there.
After some deliberation, I accepted my offer from King’s College London. I was hesitant at first, as it was the costliest tuition and London is such an expensive city, but with the encouragement and support of my parents I went ahead with it. ‘You only get one chance at this sort of thing’, they said, ‘so you might as well do it right and go to your dream school!’ I used my savings, opened a line of student credit, got Ontario Student Assistant Program (OSAP) funding to go abroad, and was fortunate enough to be helped by my parents. After some delay in getting my Visa (I recommend to apply as early as possible!), I was on my way to London in October 2014!
I had visited London once before and it was for just two days, but settling in was fairly easy. I had been looking at maps of London for months before I even knew I was going, so I knew the general layout of the city fairly well. King’s campus is located on the Strand, so I memorized which way led to Buckingham Palace and which way led to St. Paul’s Cathedral! Knowing the major landmarks was helpful in navigating around the city. When I flew over, my mom and grandma came with me to help settle me in to accommodation. Upon arriving in London, we stayed with some family while I looked for a flat to live in. Since my Visa was late I had not planned any living space ahead of time, and looking for one in only a week proved fruitless. I was having a hard time looking in the private sector so I went in person to the King’s Accommodation office, and they had a few vacant spaces left in residence. I went with the most affordable option- a space in a five person undergraduate apartment.
I lived in Ewen Henderson Court, which was located in New Cross Gate in southeast London. There were five bedrooms along a hall, each with their own en suite bathroom, and a shared kitchen. It was nice to live in residence as I was settling in to living on my own, as there was staff available 24-7 if I needed anything. The total cost for 8 months was £5800, which is more than double a month what I was paying for a student apartment in Waterloo, ON where I attended Laurier. London is one of the most expensive cities in the UK, but in my opinion the experience is worth it. I moved in a week after arriving in London, just after my mom and grandma left. It was very hard to say goodbye, not knowing how long it might be until I saw them again (I didn’t know whether I would be going home for Christmas or any other visits yet), and I admit that the first night I felt a little alone and scared. Did I make the right decision, moving away to a different country for a whole year? Having family in London who I could always count on in an emergency eased my experience. Luckily there were no emergencies, but I did stay with them over the Christmas holidays, which was lovely!
I was nervous and excited on my first day of classes, but everyone was very welcoming. My programme had only about nine people so classes were small and intimate. I loved the teaching style of a Master’s degree in the UK. It was fairly casual, and very much a dialogue between the professor and the students. It was not like the lecture style classes I was used to, but I loved it. To be learning about things that happened 200 years ago just a few miles down the road from where I was sitting was the most amazing feeling. I had made a great choice in choosing King’s College! The campus at King’s is pretty big and spread out across different parts of the city, but I was going to the same two buildings for my classes and so I figured out my routes pretty quickly. There’s even an app for KCL that you can get on your smartphone with maps, class schedules, and other helpful tips and tricks.
Living in London
London is absolutely amazing! Though the living costs are high, I highly recommend it to anyone. There is a brilliant mix of the historical and the modern. For a student, there are countless youth passes and student schemes that you can get to save money on just about everything, from food to shopping to attractions. Most of the major museums and galleries are free admission, to that is a bonus! I would spend many an afternoon wandering around the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London, and the National Portrait Gallery without spending a penny. The two main things that cost the most were my rent and my travel. I was on a student Oyster Card scheme, which saved me 1/3 off the price of regular adult travel. Still, it was around £80 a month for unlimited travel in zones 1 and 2. This pass was good for the Underground (tube), trains, and buses.
Once I began to make friends, my social life consisted mainly of visiting historical/cultural sites, and grabbing a drink at pubs or bars. There are so many to try! London has some of the most unique nightlife spots I’ve ever seen, including a 1940s themed secret underground bar. It can be pricey to go out, but most places usually have a happy hour, which can save you a lot of change!
While I was studying for my programme, which I absolutely loved, I also was able to work part-time jobs during the term and full-time during the summer, as well as travel. For jobs, I signed up for King’s student temp agency called King’s Talent Bank. It’s for student jobs at King’s, around all different campuses doing different types of work. I was a project assistant for the CRN Mental Health team at King’s Institute of Psychiatry, as well as a student liaison and marketing assistant for King’s Postgraduate Admissions Office. During this time I also traveled quite extensively around southern England, including Bristol, Bath, Brighton, and Canterbury, as well as Manchester further up north. In May I took a trip to Dublin and Paris, which was my first time to both Ireland and France. I also went to Wales for a camping trip with my sister, who was living in Bath for six months as an Au Pair, and then visited Scotland in June.
I found that I had ample time for balancing school, work, travel, and seeing my friends. My programme was laid back in its structure, as I had three classes per term and only six hours a week spent in class. I still felt challenged, but was able to stay on top of my work. Over the summer term, I did not have classes and spent these months researching and writing my dissertation that was due in September 2015. Since I did not have a class schedule, I looked for a job where I could get more hours. I applied online for a job with the Royal Household at Buckingham Palace, and was thrilled to get an interview. I was then beyond thrilled when they offered me a job! I worked at the Palace from June to September as a Warden during the summer opening of the State Rooms. This was the most amazing experience to finish off my year spent studying in England, and by the time I handed in my dissertation and finished my job, I was moving back home.
Overall, the year I spent in London has been the most enriching, educational, challenging and amazing year of my life so far! I would not trade the experience I had for anything in the world. I made so many new friends, got to travel to places I had never seen before, and finished it all by earning a Master’s Degree. The UK is a beautiful place and I hope to be back one day either working… or doing another degree!