Review: First Term

A Break Well Deserved

What a wild first term.

The beginning feels like an eternity ago. It’s amazing how quickly you can get acclimated to life abroad. It all feels so natural now, but I still remember those first three weeks and all the adjustments necessary. By the end though, it felt like home.

Luckily, I get to go back! This is a full year commitment, and I only finished 10 out of my 26ish weeks here. This blog post will be a retrospective on my first term, and things I’ve noticed about both LSE and London life.

LSE

LSE is crazy different from CMU. There are many basic differences; LSE is a city campus, it focuses on Economics and Political Science, and it’s a yearly schedule as opposed to two-semesters. But it’s also a completely different teaching style. At LSE, the professors are only there to cover the basic concepts. The onus is on you to teach yourself. Whereas contact time at most classes at CMU is ~4-6 hours a week, here the average is 2 (one lecture hour, one recitation hour). Furthermore, there are no tests or quizzes. My classes require one or two essays a term that aren’t even counted towards my final grade, which is solely determined by an essay and/or exam in the Summer Term. Academically, I think it may be slightly easier than CMU. But it’s taken some time to adjust to their system, and it causes some stress. I’m generally used to getting constant feedback based on weekly quizzes and monthly tests, but here I had no idea if I was learning anything until Week 9 when I finally got comments on my first essays back. None of this is to say this is bad. It’s just different. I think it is actually good for me to mix it up like this; I rarely write essays at CMU, and they’ve always been a weak point for me. I think coming here nicely diversifies my skill set going forward.

In terms of school social life, there is a vibrant ‘society’ system (similar to clubs or orgs in the states) that are easy to join and hold fun events. I’m particularly fond of the travelling society, as they go fun places and can help you get good deals. I’m also part of the UN Society, and will be a Crisis Director for LSE’s upcoming conference in February.

London

London is by far the biggest city I’ve ever lived in. Living near cities like Dallas, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh, I thought I wouldn’t really be fazed by living here. But it’s night and day. Besides (I imagine) mega-cities like Paris, Berlin, or New York, I can’t really imagine anything coming close. Everything is incredibly diverse, and it’s mindboggling that people can actually get bored here. In any given weekend I could walk to a museum, go to a club, see a show, and eat food from a half-dozen cultures, all right next to my dorm. I love it.

However, this comes at a cost. Literally. It costs money. So much money. I’ve never burned through money this fast before in my life. One of the problems is that everything is listed in pounds, and I don’t always add 60% to the listed price. But it’s also down to a lack of available substitutes. So, I pay 5 pounds for a pint of beer, and try not to cry. I also try and walk everywhere as much as possible, as the tube and bus system (which I love) is terribly expensive, especially compared to other foreign countries.

Miscellaneous

LSE is considered a ‘second-tier’ school here, after Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge).

Any night is fair game for going out to a club.

Jaywalking gets you there in half the time.

Bikers have to share the bus lane with double-decker busses. Relatedly, bikers here are crazy.

You can always make time to go to a foreign country for the weekend.

Chipotle will run you upwards of $10 here. Guacamole costs a whopping $3.20.

You may think British lingo is crazy, but you don’t know the half of it.

Having a month off for winter break, and another five weeks off for spring, is both a blessing and a curse. 9 weeks is a lot of time, but travelling for all of it is expensive and tiring. A balance must be found.

Conclusion

Studying abroad is a major decision. I’ve given up a lot by studying abroad; it’s taken a lot of adjustments to get used to LSE, and I’ll have a tough senior year next year. But between the academics, living in London, and the travelling, it’s been worth it for me. I cannot wait to see what the next term holds.

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