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The Erasmus exchange and London living

In this student experience blog Declan writes about his experience going abroad to Stockholm University on the Erasmus Programme, and gives some handy tips for London living.

Academic experience: Making the most of international opportunities

As I write this I’m at Stockholm Arlanda Airport, waiting for my (stupidly early) plane home to London. I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you about some of the international opportunities at Queen Mary University of London while it’s all fresh in my mind.

A bit about me quickly, I’m going into the second year of my Law degree here at the School of Law at Queen Mary. Before this year I’d never travelled outside the country - I actually didn’t get my first passport until March this year! But Queen Mary has so many fantastic international opportunities it’s hard not to end up travelling abroad one way or another at some point in your degree.

I’ve just completed a month long Erasmus exchange with Stockholm University, studying a mix of human rights law and corporate/competition law over the month. Erasmus is a network of universities across Europe that partner with each other to encourage mobility in academia and foster better understanding. Many of you on the English Law with European Law programme will be undertaking your exchange through Erasmus. It’s a fantastic network to be a part of and through it Queen Mary offers loads of opportunities like summer exchanges, terms and years abroad and much more.

The School of Law was really great about advertising the exchange. We get regular email blasts updating us about things as they open up, and that’s how I found out about it. One big tip for incoming freshers: pair your university email to your phone! You’ll stay updated about what’s going on, and won’t miss out on any opportunities that are first-come-first-serve - since pretty much everything like that goes out over email.

Despite the tuition being free, I was still a little hesitant to apply because I knew I’d still have to pay for flights, housing, etc. I don’t come from a wealthy background (partially why I hadn’t travelled before) and so funding this was something I wasn’t absolutely sure I would be able to do. I talked it over with one of my lecturers, who pointed me to the Queen Mary Expeditions Fund, and the International Office’s scholarships. Both were pots of money specifically set aside to support students on global mobility initiatives just like this one. I ended up getting my flights paid for through the Expeditions Fund, and the majority of my living expenses were funded through a Santander Mobility Scholarship from the International Office. Without these I don’t think I could have funded the trip!

All in all, this month has been an experience of a lifetime. I’ve met some great people, learnt a lot and finally had the chance to immerse myself in another culture, but it’s only been possible because of the support the School of Law, and the wider University have in place to facilitate it. If you want to go international with your degree, Queen Mary has the opportunities and support to ensure you can.

Student life: Practical tips for London living

I’ve lived in London for around two years now. Before that I lived in a small rural village. There were 12 houses, and then farmland for 5 miles in every direction. The capital was a huge change for me, which was in part why I was so set on coming here. I was sick of being so isolated, and really excited by the prospect of being in a busy city where there was always (and I really mean always) something going on. Even though I was so set on studying here, I experienced  a big culture shock when I first arrived. There’s a lot I look back on and wish someone had told me about before I had arrived, so here’s a few practical tips for living in London.

The Tube has a few unwritten rules that we hold to. When you’re on the escalators stand on the left, and walk on the right. Failure to do this will result in disgruntled tutting from the person stuck behind you. When you’re actually on the tube people don’t talk to each other - this was particularly strange for me, coming from the north where I could strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone. To help you get around on the tube network, make sure to download the app “Citymapper”. It tells you exactly how to get from point A to B in stages so you can keep checking when you need to change as you go along, etc.

Plan nights out before you go! London may have a roaring nightlife scene but it’s also really busy and varies a lot. Many places require tickets for entry, some places have age limits above 18, and most importantly, the night tube only runs on Fridays and Saturdays, while most of the student nights are during the week. So make sure you’ve figured out where you’re going and how you’re getting back. Spontaneous plans may sound great, but in reality you’ll just be hopping from place to place trying to find somewhere to get in.

You’ve probably already heard that London is expensive, and it’s true - but there are ways to make it a bit cheaper. One of the biggest ones that took me a bit to realise is don’t do your grocery shopping at the small supermarkets near the university - they’re more expensive than their larger counterparts. There’s a Lidl about 20 mins walk from campus (or an even shorter bus ride) and it is worth the walk. Alternatively there’s a big Asda in Stepney and a Sainsburys Superstore across the road from the Royal London in Whitechapel. I saved so much money each week when I realised this.

London is also really hectic and busy. Coming from a small village this was really hard to get used to, and sometimes it could be a bit stressful and overwhelming. The best advice I was given was find a place to just decompress and relax. There are plenty of spots that help you to take time out from the city without actually leaving it. Some good places around Queen Mary are Victoria Park and the Olympic Park in Stratford. Some days when I don’t have much on at university I just take my tablet and work through my reading and coursework there - it really helps to relax and unwind.

Finally, there’s a saying that goes “If you’re bored of London you’re bored of life”. There is always something going on and it only takes a quick google search to find it. You are going to be studying in the Capital of the World, make the most of it! Download apps like Eventbrite and Timeout London, and you’ll see there’s 50 different things going on every day.

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