An American Grad in London

Sharing student life across the pond.

A Sunny Sunday in Londontown.

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George the Greek and I took an early Sunday trip into Central which was was intended to be for the Karl Marx walking tour, but – thanks to slow trains and broken signals on the tracks – we were 20 minutes later than expected. (Note to future Londoners: always check tfl.gov.uk!) So, instead of heading home we made the best of our trip into Central and walked through some side streets in Piccadilly we hadn’t yet seen.

Just around the corner we found “Summer Streets” – a month-long festival taking place on Regent Street all through July 2014. Here we found blocked streets full of pedestrians enjoying a string quartet nailing the James Bond theme, an old-time folk band decked out in striped suits and straw hats, and some unbelievably tempting Godiva ice cream.

So if you find yourself in Central on a lazy Sunday and looking for some free entertainment, “Summer Streets” is a great option with loads to do, free and safe curbside to soak in the sun on,  and all kinds of amusing people-watching to be had! Plus, if you find this ain’t your thing, you’ve got St. James Park, Big Ben, Buckingham, Piccadilly, Leicester Square and tons more within walking distance to retreat to.

Happy summer!

Experiencing the Shard and “The View”

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The Shard is one of London’s newest, tallest, and most admired architectural structures. Towering over London’s iconic landscape at 306 metres, this modern marvel stands at three times the height of the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) and twice the height of the London Eye. And from the top, tourists and locals alike can experience the up-and-coming “View”.

After shooting up 72 floors in 60 seconds flat (a very smooth ride but a bit of a terrifying and claustrophobic experience for those of us less keen on elevators) you will witness beautiful, full panoramic views and windows. While there are no tour guide, there are electronic interactive telescopes throughout the building and staff ready and available to answer your many burning questions. And fear not! – For the faint of heart with a fear of heights but an unusual desire to hang several hundred metres above the cosmopolitan capital, there is a bar!!!

As classy as the atmosphere above the world’s most international city may be, the price is not worth it. Nearing a staggering £30 per person (with no student concession), the fee is not worth standing on a freshly varnished hardwood floor, drinking a £10 cocktail and looking down on one of the worlds most diverse, expansive, and expensive cities. Not when that £40 can be used to  experience it.

Save or Spend: A Week’s Worth of Living in London

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Friends, as the city that kicked off the New Year as the most expensive in the world, London is not a cheap place to live in. Or more accurately, survive in.  With the pound growing stronger and the dollar collapsing before our NASDAQ-negligent eyes, it would be naive of you to move here without first doing your research in terms of spending and saving. So as I was walking home from the local grocer a few days ago, I decided it would be worth it for you prospective ex-patriate students to go through my daily diary whilst including each intricate pence I spent filling the pages.

Like a randomly selected rat for a double-blind, I chose to start with this week to give you a seven-day snapshot of my spendings. (See how well my studying/revisions have paid off this week?) Without further ado, My Week In Excessive, Unnecessary Detail:

05/05/2014- Manic Monday

Today was beyond boring. With loads of exam preparation to complete and zero motivation to do so, I opted for staying in my flat (£130 p/w), minimally glancing at my impending articles, nearly completing Season 1 of House of Cards Netflix (£5.99 p/m) and then realizing I had little to no food left to scarf on. At some point, went for a 45 minute run. Went to Lidl (£17) to stock up on groceries. Came home, made lunch, at in bed, watch 2 (…or 3) more episodes of HOC and finally got around to the work I’d been avoiding. Around 2am, fell alseep in my bed.

06/05/2014-Typical Tuesday

A tad bit more productivity today. Ate breakfast (from Lidl) before heading off to meet with my Supervisor (£12,000 annual tuition). Went to the university’s farmer’s market (£9) to get some extra groceries. Head home, pulled out my brand new colorful highlighters (£5) and got to studying. Texted my British buddy Emma begging for some social life. Met up at Costa for some “gentle studying” and a coffee (£2.20). Realized I needed some lady goods, stopped at the pharmacy (£10) to stock up, and walked up. More studying. Way too much more HOC. Slept around 2am again.

07/05/2014 – Wallowing Wednesday

Woke up motivated to not sit in my bed and watch HOC for the ridiculous amounts of time I had the days before. Had a 30 minute run. Went to go get some productive and slightly social studying at Costa (£2.20). Met up with my flatmate to go to an informational meeting about Visas (see above for [astronomical] tuition fees). Got excited about some potential prospects. Came home, ate lunch, studied some more. Got bored, still trying to avoid too much HOC, made cookies (using ingredients contributed by my lovely flatmates!)

08/05/2014 – Thirsty Thursday

Got a wild hair up my butt and decided to dye my hair (£5) and paint my nails. Walked into Uxbridge to meet my Bulgarian bestie and her visiting sis for dinner at Bella Italia (£8.95) and ordered a fish bowl full of wine (£4.95) to calm my studying nerves. Walked home, cooked myself some spaghetti before diving back into my studies. Called it a night. …Okay, a few episodes of HOC, and then called it a night. Dangit.

09/05/2014 – I’m-Getting-Freakin-Old Friday

Sigh. Supposed to do a 3 hour run, settled for 1. Got excited today chopping my own carrot sticks, eating frozen grapes and sipping tea while I worked on my exam revisions. Studying on a Friday night is become routine. Sadly enough, one I’ve begun to thoroughly enjoy. After my last class, I had ordered myself an earring holder (£9.99) as a congratulations-you-made-it-to-the-end-of-the-term-now-please-clean-up-your-room surprise; picked this up at the post, and set it up. Vacuumed. Did laundry. Jammed out to some music (free thanks to Youtube!) and crammed in some studying. Fell asleep. After reaching Season 2.

10/05/2014 – Unsatisfactory Saturday

Studying. House of Cards. Studying. Study breakin’ with my flatmates. House of Cards. House of Cards. Lunch, I think? Studying. Library, checked out books, back home and studying. Sleep. ..Okay, House of Cards, then Sleep.

11/05/2014- Super Lazy Sunday

Decided I couldn’t take it anymore. Made plans to hit Central and go get drinks. 20 minute run. Broke plans. Fixed plans. Decided to do some hardxcore studying (3 hour super cram) to justify plans. Plans broke again. Half-assed another couple hours of studying. House of Cards until the end of time. Somewhere halfway into Season 2, fell asleep.

All in all, the week cost me something around £79. (Doesn’t include tuition/accom.) Bear in mind, this is above average in that my coffee stops, Bella Italia outing and earring holder were all completely unnecessary and frankly were a-typical spending (While I am a severe caffeine addict, I prefer not to eat out, and I usually to impulse-purchase on Amazon.) However, this also does NOT include a Friday-Saturday-Sunday night social life, which I’ve heard some people have. So there you have it! One week’s worth of surviving on a grad school budget.

FoodieTip for the Future: Early bird gets the Korean burger

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Every Saturday night through June 21st, Shoreditch High Street will host the Urban Food Festival jam-packed with East End atmosphere and international grub. But beware, foodie friends, this event is also jam-packed with hammered, hungry hipsters.

We made the slight mistake of taking the “fashionably late” approach and showing up at 7pm. Not only had the crowd fully ransacked every square inch of the 20 by 20 square metres of space (with the exception of future-Katy-Perry’s 5 square metres), but the line for the Korean Burger cart wrapped over halfway around the area. In summary: a fun&rowdy space for a younger crowd looking to drink cervezas and make friends with each awkward accidental grind of the hip, but for those of you with a distaste for large crowds or an impatience for waiting in line, show up early.

Since I fall into the latter category, we headed up the street for some Burritos, BBQ Pulled Pork and Beirut Street Food. Much less crowded, AND they sold margaritas! Still on Shoreditch, still an outdoor eating experience, but half the anxiety.

Whether or not you chose to visit the Urban Food Fest (or more to the point, whether or not you decide its for you), London’s East End is full of kick-ass graffiti are and the more radical atmosphere (thus the hipsters) of London. Rivaling Hackney in its progressive attitude, Shoreditch High Street is full of trending bars, markets, and similar jam-packed food fests.

But remember: beware of the hipsters.

London Must-Do: Friday Late at the V&A

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Last Friday evening was a pre-exams, post-assignments opportunity to take a break and head into Central for some Renaissance and refreshment.

Every last Friday of the month, public museums and art galleries all over London open their doors (and their bars) for extended hours to the public. Evenings include live music, workshops, additional exhibitions, ans innovative perform art. We spent the majority of the evening on the patio enjoying a mini-lecture about upcoming DNA technology and a performance art piece where “musical” DNA was released into the audience via bubbles. Yup, you read that right – shiny, soapy, floating BUBBLES. I think I can still hear Beethoven’s 5th in my hair follicles.

Suffice it to say, these Friday Late events are a great escape from the academic pressure that inspires!

Short Post: Finding calm in the turmoil of exams

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It’s a funny and unfortunate conundrum we all face when the term ends; as our stress levels rise and cortisol courses through our veins like a vicious and relentless venom, it slows us down just as we need to speed up, it fogs us when we strive for clarity the most.

Today as I was leaving Brunel, I found a small, quiet field tucked behind some bushes at the end petal-covered path that led the observant passerby to it. Standing in the open space I imagined myself the character of a Jane Austen novel, and the moment gave me the smallest bit of inspiration to carry on through my studies.

And for a split second I remembered why I came. It wasn’t to get a grade. It wasn’t to please my professors. It wasn’t to impress future employers, even. It was to feed the piece of my soul that thirsted for adventure and was starved for intellectual challenge. This is what our studies abroad do; they enrich our intellect, our character and our perspective.

My dear friends who are cortisol-ridden and mentally exhausted with me, during our exams let’s keep some peace of mind by remembering why we came. Maybe this is what will keep us tethered to the bigger picture when that tunnel vision takes over.

Unanswered questions: Why study in the UK?

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As a Californian, I am often asked why I chose to leave the heartiest economy and sunniest state in the U.S. to migrate to London for a Masters degree. Well my friends, here are your answers in cold and bold type:

1. Travelling, duh! Travelling is one of the most eye opening and mind expanding experiences one can have in a life time. Immersing myself in a new cultural context while studying at one of the top Cross-Cultural Psychology programs in Europe seemed like a great way to give depth to the concepts I would learn.

2. One year programs. Grad school ain’t cheap, y’all. A quicker paced program means not only a quicker return to your field of work, but also reduces the holes you’re burning in your pockets.

3. More options. My particular field of study is a bit harder to come by in the states, so looking beyond the boundaries of the motherland was the best choice for me because it opened up my options.

4. The experience. You could call this a combo package of all the above, but the experience of being in a new environment and adjusting rapidly, all in an attempt to be successful in unfamiliar systems equips you with a set of skills you’re going to be hard pressed to gain through any other kind of experience.

5 Quick tips for making the most of Paris

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Paris, with all its dazzling scenery, delicious food, and daunting history, also maintains the ability to burn holes in your pocket with its temptations. After a weekend getaway to the city of love, here are 5 tips to prepare for navigating through Paris:

1. Plan around the many free attractions Paris has to offer. You could dish extra dough to hit trending sites, but there is so much to pack in for free that it isn’t worth it. Sacre Coeur’s view exceeds that of the top of the Eiffel Tower,  and a picnic with market goods provides infinitely more romantic ambience than a lunch on the river (weather permitting!)

2. Markets and bakeries are your best dining options. Even the cheapest goods can be the best French food you’ll taste – our best lunch by far through the weekend was a €3 Quiche Lorraine!

3. Check out Groupon deals. We stayed at a 4-5 star hotel for 2 nights and it was  a steal. We were in a central location with easy access to trains, had rooftop views that included the Eiffel tower, and the deal included train tickets round trip!

4. Americans who don’t speak French- pack that thick skin. This is my second trip to Paris, and its no exaggeration to say that the majority of French really do hold a disdainful view of Americans. Even my best attempts to communicate in French had a police officer scoffing at me in his language. Though in my opinion police will be similarly abusive in any culture, this was a common theme in my interactions.

5. Download a map and loosely plan ahead. There’s no worse feeling then scrambling in a foreign culture. I made my desktop the map of Paris’s metro and perused TimeOut Paris for events and hot spots during my study breaks in the weeks leading up to our trip. This allowed us to feel lots of flexibility and freedom upon arriving as we had our fingers vaguely on the pulse of the local workings.

Bonus: Get outta that comfort zone! Don’t let the rude French stereotype or lack of foreign experience keep you from travelling. The experience is what equips you with these skills, and the experience of navigating a foreign culture equips you with skills to navigate the sometimes foreign happenings of life. In sum: minor discomfort leads to major gain!

Term 2 = Complete, but still a month of work!?

 

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So you’ve done it! You’ve successfully completed the last class of the last term of your Master’s degree. Now what?! DISNEYLAND IN PARIS?!

Hold your horses, because once again we come face to face with one of the many confusing differences between U.S. university systems and that of the U.K. Upon commencing the second term, much like with the end of the first term, you’re given another month-long “holiday” to rest, relax, rejoice, and- oh, wait, I mean work on papers and cram for exams.

With just one month to go, it’s time to write essays and “revise” for exams (as far as I’ve deduced this is the equivalent of studying, because most are written essays.) As a Master’s student, this is confounded with studying for your dissertation, working out scales and questionnaires, compiling ethics reviews. On top of these, if your bank account (like mine) is starting to resemble California’s Folsom Lake reservoir, then you’ll also be brushin’ up your CV and dustin’ off your grade-A interview skills. Insert panic attack here.

But as I’ve said before, these one-year Master’s programs are truly more of a marathon than a sprint. The key is to pace yourself, keep your short-term goals in mind and eventually, you’ll be dazzlin’ the corporate duds in your super expensive suit and tie.

Milestones of March

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With marathon training for the race in June in full swing, I’ve knocked down some milestones with my running buddies this month. Amongst these was this mornings first big race: the Hillingdon Half Marathon, the first half marathon that Uxbridge has seen in ten years- and both the start line and finish line were on my home turf at Brunel University!

I managed to knock just under 15 minutes off my time from my last half marathon, as well as push through running it from start to end, with these basic running and planning tips:

1. Get a good nights sleep two nights before the race. If you’re anything like me, its not unlikely that you’ll get some pre-race jitters and lose a bit of sleep the night before, so let yourself sleep in as much as you can a couple days leading up to the race.

2. Carbo load intelligently. Do your research, but know that rice, chicken, fish, nuts, pastas and legumes are great sources of glycogen to pack your legs. Beware of wheats, whole grains, and ironically salads- too much fiber can cause issues you don’t wanna face during your race, so pack your veggies n’ vitamins in the week leading up to it.

3. Wake up 2-3 hours early. Get in a coffee or sports drink, lots of water and a small breakfast so you’re awake and energized at the start line.

Good job fellow Hillingdon halfers!

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