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Traveling While At LSE: French Riviera – Nice, Antibes and Cannes

Time September 17th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

At last I’m where I’ve already dreamt of going, the French Riviera. Based in Nice, I spent 5 days here and visited a dozen places including Cannes to the south and Ventimiglia of Italy to the north. This post documents my journey around Nice and to the south, including Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint Paul de Vence, Antibes, and Cannes.

I was very lucky to have a good friend who’s native to this area to show me around. Having someone who knows the areas and more importantly, someone who has a car, truly makes a difference. It saves you the time and energy to plan transportation, and allows you to go to charming but relatively unknown places so you can enjoy beautiful scenery in serenity (taking great pictures without other tourists getting in the shot).

On the first day, we drove up to a Villefranche-sur-Mer, which is immediate to the north of Nice. It was the first place I truly visited since landed in Nice. Little did I know it would turn out to be my favorite among all the places I visited in French Riviera. It is such a charming town with a beautiful harbor, and there are not that many tourists. In addition to walking around the town, I would recommend driving to top of the hill to get a view of the harbor.

Then we drove down to Saint Paul de Vence, which has a more medieval feeling to it, compared to Villefranche. It’s pretty touristy, and the place has many art galleries.

After Saint Paul, we drove further down. Driving pass Antibes was a really fun experience because the old city of Antibes has really narrow roads that can only accommodate one small car.

We ended up in Cannes to end the first day. Cannes is more modern and polished, compared to the residential nature of most of other parts of the French Riviera. The cities has many nice shops and restaurants, as well as sandy beach to relax on – perfect way to wrap up the day. One thing to note here is that, if you long for soft sand, then you have to drive west to Antibes and beyond, because beaches around Nice are composed of pebbles and rocks.

 

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Free haircuts and Silent Disco

Time September 3rd, 2015 in College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars, Year Term | No Comments by

London is where everything happens. Different people have different ways of living it up here, some people spent their days in the oh so many museums London offers, some attend different musicals, others go to Soho and eat alfresco style on the street while people watching. It’s easy to have a good time in London, here I’d like to share two things that made me happy the most in London.

 

  1. Saving money on haircuts

 

I’m fussy about my hair. Since my hair is thick and pencil straight, I can’t get by with the messy look the way people with curly hair can. It needs to be trimmed every two weeks to look neat. In a place like London where everything involving service costs a ton, the cheapest one can get for a men’s haircut won’t be less than 15 pounds, that is if you are willing to risk wearing bad hair for a week. An average salon would cost around 40 pounds whereas upscale barber shops can charge up to 200 pounds. Let’s say I take the average salon, and I cut my hair about 2 times per month, that would be 80 pounds per month on haircut alone!

 

But I’d still like to eat, so what to do?

 

Head off to LSB!

 

The students of London School of Barbering offer free haircut for men in two locations in Central London. At first I was sceptical, considering how many times “senior stylists” messed up my hair, I was not about to take a chance with students. But my experience turned out to be amazing. The students are skilled and they pay great attention to detail, as they are being supervised and evaluated by their teachers. And did I mention it’s free? Reservations can be made on the school’s website.

 

  1. Silent disco at the Shard

 

This was one hilarious experience.

 

Many of you probably already know, silent disco parties are where everybody dances with headphones on. You enter a room with people dancing wildly but there’s no music – a fun experience from the start! There are several factors that make this a great experience:

 

– The view

The party I went to was held on the top floor and the rooftop. The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe, so needless to say it has a great view of London.

 

– Option to choose from 3 stations

No different than being in a club but you get to choose your DJ!

 

– No more pierced eardrums

Want to talk to your friends and fellow partygoers? No need to shout to their ears – just take off the headphones and talk in normal voice!

 

– Hilarious singing

Even the best singers don’t sing as well with headphones blasting music. You are guaranteed to hear “got a long list Starbucks lovers” on at least three different keys (if they still play Tay-tay when you go there).

 

Entry fee is not cheap, about 40 pounds, but well worth it.

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The Bump-Avoider

Time September 3rd, 2015 in College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars, Year Term | No Comments by

There’s no doubt London is a busy city. Sweaty people in the metro dangling their armpits right into your face, people rushing to cross streets bumping into you, and tourists blocking the entire road taking pictures, are just common happenings in the city. I will therefore, in my duty as a helping citizen, share with you a method I discovered that is great for quickly getting you from A to B in swarms of office workers and slow-walking tourists (technically we are tourists as well, but living like locals is what we shoot for while studying abroad).

 

My friends call this the “bump-avoider”:

When you happen to go to work, or in my case to university during rush hour, there is a high probability you will have to cross a street. Now if that happens, you will eventually be confronted with a huge wall of people literally running towards you leaving you no way to escape. That is, when the “bump-avoider” comes into action. Take out your phone, any phone works but a nice big smartphone is the best. Hold it firmly with one hand – we wouldn’t want it to fall and break. Position it in front of you in a way that you can slightly tilt your head forward but still keep an eye on your surroundings. Now if you pretend to be busy you will see that people will miraculously surround you. If you don’t have a phone on you, no worries, you can just fix a point in the distance and stare at it while walking. This method should work as good as with your phone.

 

And there you have it. At the end of the day, who wants to spend too much time on commuting? This method is useful when you have a clear idea of where you want to go, e.g. walking along Oxford Street for the 100th time to go to school. But sometimes it could be nice to slow down and pay attention to our surroundings as well.

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Accomodation at LSE: Bankside House

Time September 2nd, 2015 in England, First Generation Scholars, Year Term | No Comments by

LSE has a dozen of student halls across London. Choosing which location to apply to deserve careful consideration, as it definitely has an impact on your experience in London. After a year in Bankside House, I’ve come up with the following pros and cons.

 

The good

  • Location:
    • Bankside is in a quite area on the Southbank not far from LSE (25 mins walk). I wanted to be reasonably close to where everything happens (to me that’d be SOHO and Covent Garden). In addition, being a regular runner I also wanted to have easy access the Thames. That narrows my options down to High Holborn, Northumberland and Bankside. Bankside is furthest away from entertainment central (30 mins walk) among the three, but it also means you do get relatively quite surroundings. The walk from the Southbank is pretty scenic and peaceful, compared to always being among a swarm of office workers in Holborn or constantly fighting off slow-walking tourists enroute to school if you live at Northumberland.
  • Proximity to borough market
    • Borough market, where do I start. It’s a great place to get fresh organic food and veggies, cheese, olive oil and bakery, as well as delicious food stands that sell amazing Pad Thai, hog roast and many others at a cheap price.
  • Student bar with cheap drink
    • In London, a cocktail usually cost at least 7 pounds a serving at bars and restaurants, more at clubs or lounges. At the student bar situated in the basement of Bankside house, you can get a pitcher of cocktail for 13 pounds only.
  • Bankside is catered, so you get 6 dinners and 1 brunch every week. While quality is another topic, it is pretty convenient.

 

The bad

  • Distance to LSE
    • Bankside is 25-minute walk from LSE. It could be a little inconvenient if you have classes early in the morning and then at night. And in winter walking alone the Thames can be quite tough. That said, I know I was pretty spoiled, coming from a college where everybody lives within 5 minutes to the classrooms. A nearer option for LSE would be High Holborn (5 minutes from LSE) or Northumberland (15 minutes).
  • The food
    • Bankside is catered, and the food is occasional great, mostly terrible.
  • Walls are pretty thin
    • I don’t know about other halls, but if you are a light sleeper and live in Bankside, it might be necessary to get used to ear plugs.

Overall, Bankside House would be a pretty good choice among options given to first year and General Course students at LSE.

 

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Travelling while at LSE 1 – Israel

Time July 1st, 2015 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

I spent a week in Israel during Easter break. It was the first time I actually traveled (other than a quick trip back to the US) since arriving in London last September – so far my study abroad experience has been much more about the study and less about abroad. But my trip to Israel, as well as visits to a few countries after exam, turned out to be amazing experiences and I wish I had made more travel plans earlier during the year.

 


Before departure

For most passports holders, a visa is not needed to visit Israel. If not, you need to go to the Israeli embassy in London to apply for a visa. Their opening hours are 9:30 to 11:30, just walk in, no appointment needed. Visa is generally issued within 2 days.

Things to do

Tel Aviv:

  • Being part of the city
    • The modern part of Tel Aviv is not the most attractive in terms of planning and architecture. However, I spent most of my time in Israel walking/biking around Tel Aviv, visiting different parts of the city without a specific purpose. I’m not a big fan of sightseeing. Instead, I usually try to live like a local when I travel. I visited a number of restaurants, jogged along the seaside, and surfed at Dolfinarium Beach. There are rental bike stations everywhere and it’s very easy to get around the city.
  • Visit Jaffa
    • Tel Aviv is sometimes referred to as Tel Aviv-Yafo, and the Yafo refers to the old city of Jaffa. It’s immediately to the south of Tel Aviv and can be reached by bike within 20 minutes from most parts of Tel Aviv.
  • Surfing in Tel Aviv
    • Israel has several good surfing spots, a few of them in Tel Aviv, such as Hilton beach and Dolfinarium beach. There are also surfing clubs in these locations in case you want to take a lesson or rent a surfboard.
Tel Aviv Jaffa

 

Jerusalem:

Jerusalem is a much more beautiful city. It’s a city that carries so much history and you can feel the heaviness in the old parts of the city. I only spent half a day here so don’t have much to say.

  • The Night Spectacular at the Tower of David
    • A sound and light show telling history of Jerusalem at the ancient citadel.

Masada/ Dead Sea

Masada is an ancient fortification on top of a rock plateau in the middle of a desert overlooking the Dead Sea. A mass suicide was said to have taken place here toward the end of the First Jewish-Roman War. We joined a tour which allowed us to better understand the history of this place as well as visit the dead sea. It costs less than 50 pounds per person if I remember correctly and having a local guide is definitely worth the money.

 

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Workload at LSE for General Course Students

Time December 1st, 2014 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Before leaving the U.S., I asked two people from my school who studied at LSE about the workload and I got two very different opinions. After a few weeks at LSE, I’m able to understand from experience that as a General Course student, you can make your studies very manageable or extremely intellectually challenging.

 

One way to have a relatively easy year is to choose only 1st and 2nd year courses. Personally, my 2nd year courses are very manageable compare to even intro-level courses at Davidson College (my school in the U.S.). The quantitative courses are not so quantitative, the qualitative ones though, are very reading intensive. The reading list is long, normally 6 -7 “essential” articles/chapters plus 5-7 “background” readings. The good point is the only graded work will be the final exam, and an entire summer term before the exam will be dedicated to revision. There might be a few formative assessments through the year, such as one essay and a presentation. In the case of General Course students, these assessments would be counted toward participation score, which make up 50% of the final grade, with final exam score taking up the other 50%. Even so, the workload is very manageable compare to at Davidson with weekly blogs, several essays, presentations, plus midterm and final exams all squished into a 3-month period.

 

If you prefer to stay busy with work, then take a 3rd year course. Most of these courses are comparable to what’s taught at post-graduate level in the U.S. While the workload is still not unreasonable, it’s difficult for General Course students because the first two colleges years are very interdisciplinary for a lot of us, whereas in the UK students specialize in one subject from the first day of university. For this reason, a lot of us will end up spending most time self-learning materials already mastered by local students.

 

For anyone thinking to study abroad at LSE, it’s important to know what you want your experience to look like and structure your courseload around that. I decided to take the difficult courses and while I’m learning a lot, I also had to spend a lot of time in the library instead of traveling around Europe. All in all, LSE offers many great resources one should take advantage of besides classes, and London has so many places worth exploring, so it all depends on what you want your study abroad experience to be like.

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Week 5

Time December 1st, 2014 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

5 weeks into my time at LSE, I’m already starting to notice the differences in course content between at LSE and my school in the U.S.

 

I’m taking all economics related classes, although spread across different departments. One thing I noticed is that my courses are very heavy on application case studies. Generally speaking, while the lectures mainly focus on theory, but 30% of the classes are dedicated to case studies. For instance, for my Industrial Economics course, which is very quantitative in nature, I’m expected to read articles about industrial cases, discuss key points using economic theories, and do mathematical computations to prove the intuition behind things. This is different from how economics is taught in my home school, where most courses are very theory based.

 

Even in a quantitative course like Industrial Economics, students are expected to take readings and case studies seriously. That’s because in each of the past exams, there was at least one essay question about a specific case study that’s taught during the year. The question requires you to recall what you read, then provide mathematical models and qualitative arguments to support the essay.

 

Economics courses here are also very mathematical, especially the third year courses. This is because an average econ student here is expected to take at least four math and statistics courses before the third year.

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Week 3

Time October 28th, 2014 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

I just finished my 3rd week at LSE, and I have to say, at LSE, things get real fast.

 

During my first week, new materials were covered in all of my lectures, serious reading was required and homework was assigned. The format of lectures needs some getting used to. I come from a small Liberal Arts College, where there are normally no more than 20 people enrolled in one course and you get a lot of interaction with the professor. My lectures at LSE range from 20 to 60 people (I’ve heard there are 500 students in one finance course), and there aren’t many opportunities to ask questions. Nevertheless, the quality of my lectures are really good.

 

In addition to lectures, there are classes for each course which consist of around 12 students. Classes are when you go over the problem sets and ask questions. While lectures are mostly delivered by professors, the class teachers are generally PhD students, whom I actually find to be easier to talk to sometimes.

 

Coming from Davidson, I’m used to intense workload. But LSE, being in the centre of London, has much more going on. Besides my courses (and the courses I want to audit), there are many career events, skills development workshops, and public lectures to keep me busy. A large number of companies, often big name company, come to campus and great speakers from different backgrounds, again often big name speakers, delivery speeches here. There isn’t one day when there aren’t at least two events of interest at LSE. So while I usually come home after a full day at campus to endless photos of my friends’ study abroad field trips, which seems to take place at least three times a week in different places, I’m really glad I made the decision to come to LSE. Although it’s intense, I feel very fortunate to have access to all the great resources LSE has to offer.

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Five Years, Part I

Time September 29th, 2014 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

September 21st. Bangkok. It’s 7:45 am, still twenty minutes till boarding. These days I rarely arrive at the airport so ahead of schedule. As I write my first blog post, I remembered it’s almost been five years since I fist left home.

Five years ago I made a difficult decision, a decision that came after a shock of reality and has since influenced my personal development in every aspect. I grew up in China, where there is a great disparity in education quality among different regions. Students in large cities have far greater resources compared to others. Myself, growing up in a smaller city, became aware of this when I was selected to participate in a nation-wide Model United Nations conference in Beijing. I admired the students from Beijing and Shanghai for their fluent English, impeccable arguments, and mature worldview. That was the first time I realized, in order to be competitive, I need to go out and find opportunities to advance myself. As a result, I made the decision to study in Australia. Although difficult to let go of their only child, my parents supported my decision. They understand the importance of education, as neither of them had the opportunity to go to college.

Five years later, I have studied for extended periods in three different continents and about to start in the fourth. Thanks to my decision to move away from the comfort of home, I continue to grow into the person that I wouldn’t have otherwise become. Today I’m more curious than ever, because the more I travel, the more I realize how much bigger the world is than my perception.

I’m so excited for everyone studying abroad or looking to study abroad. It’s not an easy decision, but the experience is definitely worth it. I’ve grown so much over the past five years being abroad and I’m looking forward share more on this in my next blog post.