Rachel: 10 Things I Wish I Knew before Studying Abroad in London

When I first left for London, all the changes I considered were big picture: flight, suitcases, shoes. I failed to realize that there are a lot of small things you figure out when you get here that you aren’t expecting. I figured I would let you in on what I’ve learned so far.

1. The shows on Netflix are different here!

When you go abroad, you hook up to the internet abroad, and if you’re in London, that means no Hulu, no CBS (I missed the last three weeks of Big Brother and was devastated) and no binge watching the Netflix shows you started at home. It also means when you google, you’re automatically brought to UK sites, which can be pretty helpful when you search “sandwiches near me.”

2. Fall, or rather Autumn, is different

I didn’t realize how much I would miss fall back in Boston. People don’t understand what apple picking is here. I literally had to explain the concept of  it to one of my professors. Also, the leaves don’t change colors as vibrantly in London and people don’t really seem that into pumpkins, either. They still have PSLs, for all the fanatics out there, so you won’t miss out on fall flavors.

3. You can’t redeem your Starbucks Rewards, but you can still use your app to pay

I was pumped when I found out I could use my Starbucks app hooked up to my home card without being charged international fees. I figured that meant more stars for me because one pound is $1.30, which would mean more rewards for me. Turns out, it just meant more stars for me. You can still redeem stars when you use your US Starbucks account to buy drinks, but you can’t redeem your free drinks because the rewards are technically US rewards. Bummer, but I still need my GTL, and the wifi is still free. Also, big plus, there is no extra charge for soy milk here, woot!

4. BU’s Abroad Program is open to more than just BU students

For some reason, I thought I would recognize everyone when I got to London. Yeah, BU is a big school, but you tend to see a lot of familiar faces around campus. When I got here, though, I realized that the majority of people I was meeting and befriending went to other Universities. I’ve met people from Villanova, American University, Yale, the University of San Fransisco, and so many more all here with the BU program and living in my building!

5. Food expires super fast in London (They also don’t refrigerate their eggs???)

There are four grocery stores near the BU buildings that people will usually shop at: Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and Whole Foods. Sainsbury’s is the most reasonably priced for the most options, but Waitrose sometimes has good deals and is on the way home from class. All of them except Whole Foods charge for plastic bags, so I would recommend reusable. Most importantly though, all of them are fairly confusing to navigate. They organize the stores strangely here, and even more odd, they don’t refrigerate their eggs! I was so confused when I found the eggs next to the spices the first time I went grocery shopping. The food also expires within a week, so you have to make time to shop every single week. The vegetables get these weird bubbles on them, so be wary.

6. It gets real cold real fast

I’m dumb and only brought a raincoat to London. I figured a winter coat would be too bulky, and I could just layer. I also brought as many pairs of shorts as I did sweaters. I am telling you now, don’t do what I did. Bring long sleeved shirts, cardigans, scarves and other clothes you can layer because you’ll have days where it is nice and sunny and all you need is a long sleeve and other days where it is pouring and freezing. Also, please, bring a winter coat. I have been trying to survive in my rain coat, but I know I’m going to cave sooner or later because it is frigid.

7. Use 3 for your phone plan (Yes, that is the name of the company)

So many people have been having issues with their phone while in London, myself included. We all compared phone plans and discovered that the company “3” is the best deal. It’s £20 a month and you can use your data internationally. That means if you travel at all you will be able to use google maps without having to pay extra. Trust me, it is a life saver. The last thing you want is to be lost in Paris with no way of using your phone. The shop is located on High Street Kensington, so you can walk to it if you have any issues.

8. The Tube isn’t your only option for transportation

The tube is magical and easy to navigate and so clean you won’t want to travel any other way, BUT it doesn’t offer much for late night services. It’s also not the cheapest or always the most direct option. The buses run 24 hours, are cheaper than the tube and can bring you closer to some locations. If you opt for Uber, remember that you get charged international fees if you have your homeward hooked up to the app. Also, if you want to venture outside of London, the regular public transport can’t take you there, so you have to use the national rail services. When you can, buy those train tickets online at trainline.com. It will actually save you £15+ in comparison to buying the tickets at the station.

9. The water out of the faucet gets real hot real fast

Okay, so there is this tiny little caution sign by some of the sinks about hot water, and I am telling you TAKE THAT SIGN SERIOUSLY. The water is actually scalding if you turn on just the hot water. The first time I showered, I couldn’t figure out how the water worked and practically burned my skin off (You turn the circle piece in the middle to change the temp). On the bright side, you don’t necessarily have to boil water for tea. You can just get it right out of the faucet! Also, while we are on the subject of water, the toilets don’t flush super well, so you either half to hold down the button (yes, button) or press the bigger button of the two (yes, two buttons) to get it to flush.

10. People are super into dogs in London

People seem to value their pups more than their kids here. Dogs are allowed in pretty much every establishment and are always out and about. They’re also super well trained and proper, and you’ll see them walking without leashes. Vets even make more money than human doctors! The one downside is, because most people are super into their dogs, they’re also super protective of them, which means fewer pets for the dogless (aka me). Now, I have to really analyze owners to see whether they seem like the type to let a strange American pet their dog.

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