When I decided that I wanted to undertake master’s studies in the UK, I had no idea what it would involve. I completed my undergraduate studies in my hometown, so this was my first time studying away from home. My advisor was great about answering any questions or concerns I had before I applied. As such, I had realistic expectations for the application process, and the cost of my degree from the beginning.
Of the universities that I applied to, the programme lead at Kingston was the only academic that reached out to me by phone for a one-on-one chat about the programme, my research interests, and my personal goals for my studies. It made a huge difference in my final university/programme decision because I felt that the university cared about me as a prospective student and valued the contributions that I would make to the programme itself.
It is more common for UK universities to issue offers based on their review of academic transcripts, personal statements, references etc., but having that personalized phone call really made me feel that my offer from the university was more than an automatic offer when I met the standard entry requirements.
Across the Pond was essential to my application success and understanding of the visa process. Handling everything on my own would have been extremely overwhelming, especially since I was working full-time while working on my university and visa applications. Having someone to answer my questions or communicate my concerns with kept the stress off my shoulders entirely and enabled me to take things step-by-step.
I found student life was very similar overall to that of Canadian studies. The university made sure to have different student mixer activities to help engage international students with the university community. This helped me meet other students (home and international) who were also experiencing the university campus/environment for the first time.
The primary difference I noticed was with learning expectations as the UK environment is more focussed on individual responsibility for learning. Missing a required reading in the UK would significantly hinder my ability to contribute to class discussions so it was extremely important to come to class prepared and keep track of deadlines. I loved studying in an environment that encouraged independent research, and valued student individuality/contributions to their own learning. Smaller class sizes meant each student had the chance to bring their own insights about assignments/readings into the class discussion and create more informal relationships between students and tutors (professors). This enhanced the overall understanding and applications of the texts. Class discussions were also more informal, and the tutors were just as engaged with student discussion as they were with providing their own insights.
The one thing I didn't expect was learning a new method of formatting my essays as I'd completed my entire Canadian degree using MLA formatting. My UK assignments were all required to be formatted using MHRA formatting which meant that I needed to learn the new formatting quickly, and triple check everything to ensure it was referenced properly.
As a student of English Literature, I wanted to focus on how Canada's contemporary written literature was developed through its English origins by analyzing similar themes in texts from both countries. Since my programme lead took us to the British Library to ensure we were able to obtain a membership, I spent a lot of my free time at the British Library, especially during the summer months when I was working on my dissertation. I could access books/archives for personal interests while also doing research for my dissertation. Books, a cafe, rotating exhibits - it had everything I needed to spend a full day if I wanted to! It was also fairly direct to get there from my flat (only requiring one train switch). I'd also frequently meet my dissertation supervisor there (instead of meeting at the university) to discuss my progress or ask any questions over a cup of tea.
One of the best parts about the English Literature master's programme at Kingston was our core module. Not only was this the only time I saw everyone from my programme in one place, but the module also involved selecting a few 'field trip' components to enhance the texts/readings of that week. They occurred every second or third week rather than being in the classroom and enabled me to explore areas of London along with my peers including Kew Gardens, the National Gallery, the British Library, and the Museum of the Home.
Kingston is a beautiful Anglo-Saxon market town rich with history. I loved walking along the Thames, and getting vegetables at the weekly market. Kingston mixes old architecture and charm with modern conveniences (such as a large shopping mall, cinema, chain restaurants etc.)
There's also a 24-hour bus route that runs from Kingston to central London which was amazing. I never had to worry about being in London and missing the last train or tube. There is also a direct bus to Heathrow Airport, easy rail links to Gatwick Airport, and access to other major rail lines such as Clapham Junction. Getting around London, the UK, and beyond was always extremely easy.
The biggest adjustment I had was realizing I didn't need a car to get around. Growing up in Canada, it is very common to use a car daily to get to work, school, or various other activities. In London, and even in the boroughs of London, I could easily get wherever I needed to go simply by taking public transport and walking. I love the public transport options in London and at any given time I had at least 3 different ways to get from Kingston to London and beyond. It also encouraged me to walk more!
I lived off-campus in a building entirely filled with international postgraduate students. This was a great way to meet people my own age. I was also able to arrange the accommodations while I was still living overseas. I had 3 flatmates in my flat, each with a private bedroom/bathroom and we had a shared kitchen space.
The building itself was within walking distance of a 24-hour supermarket (rare for London) which was great if I needed to do any shopping after late classes, or even just grabbing furniture/home items for my flat.
There was also a bus stop just outside the building which went to a main Kingston bus station. At the main station, there were university buses for students to the different campuses.
I was always keen to attend a play/musical (often getting last minute tickets if I had a free evening) and loved exploring London’s museums and restaurants. I also loved walking through the Royal Parks (especially Richmond Park, Regent’s Park, and Hyde Park), and visited many historical sites in/around London like Hampton Court (a short distance from Kingston), Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace.
Before studying in the UK, I had never been to the country, but had always loved the history, pop culture, and lifestyle of the Brits. After studying in the UK, I consider it a second home and try to visit whenever possible. It’s incredible how one year can change the entire trajectory of your life, but that is exactly what studying in the UK has done for me!