The last day of this semester seems to be hovering around my consciousness. Everything I do is directly related to how much time I have left: studying for finals, planning my winter break trip, trying to see more of London. It’s all happening way too fast.
I’m so excited to travel over the break, but I oscillate between looking forward to it and kicking myself for voluntarily spending another month away from home. Am I crazy to be doing this? Can I survive another month away? I have no idea, but my tickets are booked, so I guess I’ll find out.
I’ve always had a problem with things ending. My mom used to joke about how I’d cry when she dropped me off at sleep away camp, and then cry even harder when she came to pick me up. I think the same thing is going to happen here, except study abroad is longer than summer camp, and I’ve already started crying over the end of it.
I’m trying not to waste time and energy during this last week and a half (oh my god is it really just a week and a half someone please get me some tissues) being miserable that this is ending. I’m trying to enjoy the last few days in London (seriously, just a few days, I need a bag to breathe into), but it’s hard with this date looming ahead of me. December 20.
December 20. Next Saturday. I’m leaving London. Not only that, but I’m embarking on a one month solo trip. One of the best experiences of my life is ending, and instead of heading back to the comfort of home I’m stepping into the great unknown. And I am freaking out.
I’m still going to try to take it one day at a time, though. There’s more I need to see and do in London before this is over, and I’m going to make it happen. I’m going to distract myself from the terrifying future by visiting all the museums I haven’t been to, and the National Gallery for the fifth time because it is perfect, and by spending too much money going to the top of the Shard, and by going out every single night with the amazing friends I’ve made here even though I have finals to study for.
I hope you all had as amazing an experience as I did. I think the barometer of how great something has been is how much you cry when you listen to this song at the end of it.
Tips for NYU students in London:
1. Call it the left side of the road, not the wrong side. British people will be very offended if you call it the wrong side. They refer to it as the correct side. Left is neutral.
2. On escalators, stand on the right and walk on the left. We have this rule in the States too, but Londoners get much more angry if you don’t follow it.
3. Don’t get loud on the Tube. You’ll notice that most people are silent or having very quiet conversations. You will get a lot of angry looks and muttering behind hands if you shout or play your music too loud.
4. Take buses rather than the Tube whenever you can. They’re cheaper, get you closer to your destination, and allow you to see more of the city.
5. When you take your picture with a red telephone booth, stand outside the booth rather than inside. The booths are more frequently used as toilets than calling points these days.
6. Go to pubs. All the time. Even when you don’t want to drink (it’s perfectly acceptable to order soda or juice). Pubs are where you will have the most interesting conversations with Londoners, plus they’re cozy and often have delicious food.
7. Museums are FREE. Go to every museum.
8. Do not ask people what newspaper they read or where they buy groceries. The newspaper question is akin to asking what political party they support, and will lead to an argument. The grocery stores are very divided on class lines, and someone may be embarrassed to answer.
9. Join all the ULU clubs. Taking classes and living exclusively with NYU students makes it really hard to meet British people (pub conversations, while very interesting, tend not to lead to lasting friendships). Join clubs in order to become part of London student culture. The Harry Potter Society is especially awesome.
10. Carry your umbrella always. No matter how sunny it is, no matter what your weather app says, no matter how short your trip outside is going to be. If you do not have your umbrella, it will rain.
11. Do not go to Primark on a weekend. Primark is a wonderful store full of extremely cheap and cute clothing. Everyone in London knows this. Go on a weekday morning, when you are much more likely to get near the items you want and not spend an hour on the queue.
12. Plan your night out. Pubs close at 11, and a bar that’s open may not be within your immediate sightline when you leave. DesignMyNight is a very useful tool.
13. The Fleet River Bakery is a wonderful place to study. It’s a short walk from two of the NYU dorms, serves great food, has free WiFi, and will let you sit all day even if you only order tea.
14. Sign up for all they day trips. The guide who leads them is amazing. He knows everything about London and the UK and manages to be very funny while teaching history. My favorites were the King Arthur Weekend, Bath and Brighton.
15. When you complain about missing bagels (which I do every day), people will tell you to go to Brick Lane Bagels. Those are…ok, I guess, but they are NOT New York bagels by a long shot. Londoners will tell you they are. Lower your expectations.
My biggest epiphany about London occurred in Rome. I was there to meet my mom, but she was arriving a day after me, so I went out for some independent exploring on my first evening.
I stepped out of my Airbnb, walked to the corner, and did what I’ve been doing since preschool: I looked both ways down the street. Safety first, right? But I was in for a surprise. I’d looked right, then left, then right again, which in London would mean I was looking at the cars nearest me, then the ones across the road, then the ones nearest me again. I was a great student in preschool.
When I looked to the right in Rome, I saw the backs of the cars nearest me, and the ones approaching in the far lane. And that’s when I realized that I had subconsciously adjusted to London. I was expecting the drivers to be using the left side of the road.
It took the entire week of fall break in Italy to readjust to looking left, right, left, as I’d been doing since I stopped holding my mom’s hand. Then I got back to London, and had to readjust again. I’m actually very impressed with myself for not having been hit by a car yet.
There are some things about London that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to: people saying “that’s ok” instead of “you’re welcome”, serious lack of bagels, and constant rain top the list. But it’s shocking to me that I can get used to something so fundamentally different that affects me every day: the opposite side of the road rule.
Although I suppose if I’m embracing my acclimation to London, I should say the correct side of the road rule. Brits get VERY offended if you refer to their driving system as the wrong side of the road. To them, everyone else drives on the right side, and they drive on the correct side. This was an opinion that I scorned at first, but it seems I’m part of it now.
While the Global Network University provides amazing resources to those of us abroad, the extensive NYU infrastructure here in London makes it rather difficult to meet non-NYU students. We go to class together, live together, take trips around the countryside together, and rarely interact with real live Londoners.
I’ve made one good friend among the 12 million residents of this city, whom I met in a pub, but my friends and I have found another resource for talking to Londoners: Tinder (for those of you who have actual social lives I will explain: Tinder is a smartphone app for dating, used in the U.S. to support hookup culture but more frequently used abroad to actually talk to people on a PG level).
Meeting people in real life whom you’ve spoken to on Tinder is a hit or miss. Having only done it twice, my sophisticated statistical analysis is that it’s a hit 50% of the time and a miss the other 50%.
There are a lot of common assumptions about Tinder and those of us who use it, so I want to be clear here that this app is not my main form of interaction with Londoners or people in general. It is, however, a nice way to talk to people from this city who I otherwise meet only at pubs. Meeting people at pubs is great too, but the anonymity of a first-name-only app allows people to be a little more honest. (Of course, the anonymity allows for a bit of weirdness too – see photos).
From Tinder I’ve learned such diverse things as what type of wine to drink on a vacation to Italy (Chianti), what many Brits think of Americans (we all love guns and talk very loudly), what bar has the best views of London without enormously expensive drinks (The Attic Bar, Canary Wharf), and what kind of music nobody likes (in the states when you ask what type of music someone likes, the most common answer is “everything except country”. Here it’s “everything except metal”.).
I appreciate everything I gain from the global network university, even if it’s a bit insular. And I love randomly meeting people in real life. But Tinder gives me a fascinating cross-section of the (male) population of London that I haven’t found in any other medium.
“From the top of the bus she could see the vast bowl of London spreading out to the horizon.” – Julia Gregson
When you picture London, you might see red. It’s the main color of the Union Jack, and the color of two of the most important symbols of this city: the phone booths and the buses.
The phone booths, as you might expect, are fading from existence. You still find them around the city, but I’ve never seen someone making a phone call there. Opening a door of one, you’ll find that it smells like what it now is: a makeshift toilet for late night drunks. The walls are papered with graphic ads for call girls. I have no idea if the phones even work; I couldn’t stand the smell long enough to even snap the classic tourist photo inside one.
The buses, on the other hand, are still an essential part of London life. I’m never comfortable taking the bus in New York – I get nervous about getting off at the right stop, and for some unidentifiable reason they seem unsafe to me. Here, however, I take the bus nearly every day. It’s cheaper than the tube, has far more routes, and offers the advantage of windows onto the city.
My mom is visiting me here this week, so we’ve taken a lot of buses in order to get to landmarks all over the city. Yesterday we had the unprecedented luck of getting the front seats of the top deck on three buses in a row. From this vantage point it feels like you’re floating above the streets, easing through cabs and Christmas shoppers (they’re already out in force) as only an enormous yet graceful London bus can.
Most bus lines don’t run 24 hours – after midnight, the night buses take over. Night buses are a whole different experience. The British are generally reserved (that stereotype holds true), and a bus in the day will normally be very quiet. But at night, leaving a busy neighborhood, the buses are raucous and hilarious places. Bars and clubs tend to close around the same time, so the party simply moves over to the night bus as people head home (as far as I can tell there are no open container laws in London – if there are, everyone disregards them).
The public transit system often proves to be the genius loci of a city – were I studying in New York, I’d probably have chosen the subway as a topic for this post. All the real people of the city – everyone but the very rich – come together on public transit, making for a different experience every time you step onto a bus or a train.