7:00 am My alarm goes off. I, of course, hit “snooze”.
7:10 am My alarm goes off again. I sluggishly sit up. When I open my eyes I realize that my roommates, Katie and LB, are already up and about. Good for them; they are more productive human beings than I am today. I stand up and start my daily routine – walk out to use the “good toilet”, come back into my room to get dressed, fix my hair, put on makeup, brush my teeth, pack my backpack. It’s actually a lot easier than one might think to start a routine in a new place.
7:40 am I walk down to the kitchen with my roommates, who I am now awake enough to talk to. I make toast and eggs. Food has become a practically religious experience. When everything here is so much more expensive than back at home, it seems wrong to spend money on food that is less than great. I drink a cup of earl grey tea with my breakfast and say “good morning” to each person as they walk through the door; Rachel, Ben, then Marina. After I finish eating I clean my dishes and walk back up to my room to grab my coat and backpack. (At the last minute I also reach for my umbrella because, well let’s be real, this is London. It rains here. A lot.)
7:55 am I decide, for about the fiftieth day in a row, that tea is just not going to cut it as my caffeine fix for the day. Katie and I start walking out of the house, telling the others we’ll meet them at the tube stop. We go down the street and round the corner for Starbucks. What can I say? Some things never change. I walk up to the register, say “Hi!” to Paulo, and order my usual – a grande flat white, which is really just coffee with steamed milk instead of cream. A cool £1,70 in Paulo’s hands, and Katie and I are off. (Never has my change felt so valuable before. I can actually buy things with coins without being that person.)
8:00 am After exiting Starbucks, Katie and I descend the stairs down into the tube station conveniently located right at the end of our street and meet up with the others – LB, Marina, Ben, and Rachel. While the double-decker bus may provide a more picturesque ride, it takes about twice as long as the tube to get anywhere. (It also requires a considerate amount of effort changing lines while sitting out in the cold.) We all have class at 9:00 am, and the tube on its own takes about 45 minutes to get all the way to Islington. I swipe my “Oyster card”, walk down three flights of escalator, and run with everyone else to jump right at the last second onto the Central line train. Katie barely makes it. We have to help pull her past the grumpy old man in a business suit and plump woman with her three kids in school uniforms to make sure she squeezes in. The tube is packed at this time in the mornings. It seems like all of London has woken up to go to work or school at the exact same time we have.
8:13 am I realize someone a few feet away is getting up to leave, which means there is a seat open. I’ve been standing here, squished in with twenty other passengers, so this is a very appealing opportunity. When the woman has moved far enough away from me so that I won’t brush against her as I practically lunge for the- dang it! Really dude? Really? You need to sit down more than me? You’re like thirty years old, in the prime of your life! Be a gentleman! Let a lady sit there! Ugh. So rude.
8:30 am We fight our way off the train and walk down to the Northern line. The sense of urgency from earlier is lost since this line of the tube is much less crowded and we have far fewer stops to go.
8:40 am Made it to Angel! Now only a ten minute walk to get to City University’s campus. We walk past bakeries and cafes, pubs and bars, restaurants both upscale and hole-in-the-wall, hotels and residential neighborhoods, my favorite little coffee shop with the nicest barista I have ever met, and the square at the center of campus that is home to both an adorable gazebo and fantastic sandwich stand. Main campus is made up of four buildings with interconnecting pathways between them. The business school is in a few blocks away, and the social sciences building (where I spent most of my time) is across the street from the main campus. I walk through the building towards my classroom. The most striking thing about this university (always uni, never college) is the ratio of foreign students to actual native-born Londoners. We outnumber them 10 to 1, it often seems.
8:55 am I walk through the social sciences building to my class and grab an empty seat with a friend.
9:00-9:50 am Lecture with the professor
10:00-10:50 am Seminar with a tutor (which is supposed to be a group discussion time but is really just another lecture, just from someone without actual credentials to be lecturing)
12:00-12:50 pm Seminar with a tutor for my second class (If my description of the classes seems pedantic, that’s because they often were. For me, which granted is not true of everyone, “studying abroad” was more about being abroad than about the actual studying. English uni backloads its semesters. My entire grade in all of my classes were each based on a paper I turned in on the last day. Maybe a better way to describe my semester would be “studying abroad”.)
12:55 pm I go down to the common area and meet up with Nigel, Marina, Ben, and LB for lunch. Our favorite place is the Freebird Burrito stand in Exmouth Market. Everyday around lunchtime, several restaurants send food trucks and stands to Exmouth Market, just a few blocks from City’s campus. There is everything from Indian to German, Spanish to Ghanaian, and burritos to meat pies.
1:30 pm After we finish eating, it is back on the tube headed home.
2:15 pm We exit the Notting Hill tube station and walk back to the house, keeping a vigilant watch out for Stella McCartney (who lives two doors down – I know, we’re so fancy).
2:30 pm We’ve only just gotten back to the house when someone decides it’s time to go to a museum. Or maybe shopping. Or maybe it’s finally getting nice outside so we should head to the park. (By “park” I mean Kensington Gardens, one of the most beautiful places in London. Even covered in snow, even when there are no leaves on the trees. There’s a gorgeous lake, always filled with ducks and swans; little kids running around, even when it’s below freezing outside; dogs everywhere! It is my favorite spot that is within walking distance of our house.)
3:42 pm Someone gets a call from Katie saying to meet her and Ali at Boroughs. (Much more than a walking distance from the house, Boroughs is my other favorite place in the city.) Shopping for food is practically a daily occurrence in London, where food comes in individually-wrapped packages and day-at-a-time portions. There is no Costco in London, no buying in bulk. Some of us decide a trip to Boroughs is just what we need. So LB, Marina, and I hop on the nearest tube and make our way to London Bridge, conveniently located right over Borough Market.
4:00 pm We get off the tube, make our way down the dark walkway to Borough Market, through a tunnel used as Diagon Alley during the filming of the Harry Potter movies, meet up with Katie and Ali, and come out the other side to the sight of about two hundred food stands. Borough Market. It’s foodie heaven.
4:30 pm After taking a free sample from nearly every stand that offers one, we decide what we want to buy for dinners throughout the week. We go from stand to stand buying fresh fruits and vegetables, artisan olive oil, freshly baked bread, handmade pasta, anything that catches our eye. I am telling you, there is nothing like Boroughs to turn even the laziest person into a wannabe Iron Chef.
5:00 pm I have now spent all of my money and eaten a meal’s worth of free samples and purchased desserts. I make a mental note to stop by an ATM on the way home. Paper (cash) is the real “girl’s best friend” in a foreign country. The conversion charge on a card costs so much more than a one-time ATM charge to get out a few hundred dollars. The only downside? If you get hundreds of dollars out of an ATM in a sketchy part of town, make sure you beware of pickpockets.
5:50 pm Arriving back to the house, we trek down to the kitchen to put all of our purchases away, then rush upstairs to catch up with the rest of our flatmates. If there is anything that stands out in my mind about my semester abroad, it is the people. Not a moment went by that I did not want to hang out with them, find out how their days went, rush off exploring with them, or travel to new cities with them. They were my family that semester. All ten of them.
7:40 pm “What do you guys feel like for dinner?” “Wanna just go down to one of the pubs?” (If there I anything that stands out in my mind about my semester abroad, it is the pubs. Wait, I already- nevermind. But seriously, PUBS. I can trace over half of the days I spent in London back to what pub I ended the night in.) So a group of us decide that we want beer with our dinner.
8:00 pm London is a truly beautiful city. Why? Well, let me tell you. Back home in Kansas City, if I wanted to go out to a bar, it would be an ordeal requiring a 5-10 minute drive. Living in Notting Hill, with just a five minute walk we could have our choice of roughly six different pubs. No fuss, no gas money, no designated driver. Just a casual dinner with beer (or a Magner’s pear cider, for the more delicate palates among us) only a short walk away.
10:00 pm We head back to the house to talk with the rest of our flatmates about what to do that night. Maybe we decide to get dressed up and go out to a club. Or maybe we just want to hang out in the house, playing drinking games or having jam sessions with Nigel and his guitar. Or maybe we just want to wonder around our neighborhood, taking in all the sights we have yet to discover. The city is ours tonight.
Meredith Ashley is a student at the University of Tulsa and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at City University in 2013.