Hi! My name is Neah and I am currently studying abroad in London, UK on the IES Abroad Study London program.
I live in New York and go to American University in Washington, D.C.. I study Film and Media Arts with a minor in Entrepreneurship. I enjoy photographing, making art, being around art and those who are equally creative and inspiring. I founded and manage a magazine called PHAZE Magazine, that focuses on highlighting emerging artists in music and art. Besides school and work, I spend most of my time working on PHAZE. Our goal is to bend and expand how we value and discover art by creating an inclusive community for all artists to shine, so if you’re an artist or musician, my magazine is definitely something worth checking out.
So. Down to the tough part. How does one prepare to pack up their life to move across the country?
This question stayed in the back of my mind all throughout the summer. Although I’m usually a strategic planner and organizer, much of my preparations for London did not happen until August. This summer, I interned at BuzzFeed in their New York office as a photography intern for the News department. My summer was full of fun, food from Tasty, spontaneous events and an experience of a lifetime. But working 10am to 6pm everyday left little time for me to focus on packing and studying abroad. For me, I have to focus on one thing at a time, and during the summer, my priority was my internship until it ended.
However, I did prepare in little ways that helped me significantly in the end. For example, I called my doctor, pharmacy and insurance in June to get a 6-month supply of my prescription. I’m lucky I did because I did not receive it until two weeks before I left. I called my bank to ask what international costs I should be aware of, and was relieved to find that Bank of America partnered with Barclays UK, and I could use their ATMs for free withdrawals. I called T-Mobile maybe a dozen times to figure out what plan would be best in London. Luckily, I have T-Mobile One-Plus, which includes free and unlimited data, free and unlimited texts, free WiFi calling to the U.S., and calls that are 29 cents per minute within the U.K. For me, my best option was to keep my U.S. number and current plan. I made several calls to the IES Abroad office; What should I pack? Do Londoners wear rain boots? How cold does it get? What storage space is available? This is all to say, even if you may be a procrastinator like myself when it comes to packing, it is best to prepare the little things early like prescriptions, phone plans, bank information and living arrangements.
When it finally came to packing, the packing section of the IES Abroad London website was helpful… but only to a certain extent. Tips from past students included notes about the weather, storage and London fashion that were good to keep in mind. But when it came to packing the non-practical stuff like purses or accessories, surprisingly, these things slipped my mind. So from one current Londoner to a future one, here are some things you should keep in mind while packing:
- Shirts, sweaters, jeans, pants, skirts, sleepwear, sweatpants, bras, socks and underwear
- Club dresses and comfortable heels. Unfortunately, my first week here, I was denied access to a club because I didn’t have on heels. It was my flatmate’s birthday, and I felt pretty bad. Apparently, it’s a thing at most London clubs that women “must” wear heels. Despite this very sexist rule, pack at least one pair of heels, and avoid The Toy Room — (sorry not sorry)
- Purses, jewelry and accessories (and a fanny pack came in handy my first two weeks!)
- Washcloths (they’re hard to find out here although I managed to get some at T.K. Maxx)
- Ziploc Space Vacuum Seal Bags. This helped me to organize my clothes (ex. one bag for pants and jeans, one bag for coats, etc.) In the end, it saves a little bit of space and it's much easier to know what you're packing, and to unpack later on.
- Photos of family and friends and one pair of Christmas lights. This has made my room much more comfortable and it’s nice to have a physical memory of your loved ones with you
- A professional camera if you already have one (Canon, Nikon, etc.)
- An umbrella
- All of your face care routine products, as it may be hard to find them out here
Before I arrived in London, I travelled to Paris with my mother and brother on August 28th, a week before my program started. We stayed in Paris for four days, exploring the city, eating out, visiting the Eiffel Tower, and failing terribly at French. It was nice to be in Europe with my family a week before moving in. I believe this significantly contributed to my smooth transition into London. It was also nice to spend quality time with them before leaving to say goodbye until December. I know many people don’t have the luxury to do this, especially since buying flights for 3 or more people, in addition to hotel costs, travel money and food can be very expensive. But whether you’re in Europe or in your home state, find some time to be around your family and have one last laugh and hoorah with them. It will make your heart warm and the inevitable process of saying goodbye slightly easier.
After Paris, we took the Eurostar train to London. It was a 2-hour long ride and ended up being a cheaper, more accessible option for us. However, please book your tickets in advance. They will come out significantly cheaper, and this applies to both flights and trains. Explore your options. A flight might be easier for you, but for us, the train dropped us right at Kings Cross - St. Pancras station and only required a short Uber ride to our hotel. But don't be fooled! Eurostar is essentially a mini-airport with customs and all. Arrive at least 2 hours before your departure to avoid the gates closing on you, or you might have to pay 50 euros or more per ticket to exchange for the next train departure. If you miss your train, you will have to purchase full priced tickets again.
In London, I stayed at a hotel (no exaggeration) that was a one minute walk away from my apartments in Ability Towers. I didn’t realize how close it was until I arrived at the hotel, but I saved money on Uber costs to my apartments, and was able to be the first student to move in (and pick my room) because I literally walked over. Being in London a few days before move in was helpful because it allowed me to get acclimated and familiar with the surroundings around my apartment and the city in general. I learned that the 24-hour supermarket underneath my apartment was a not a good place to buy meat, or groceries in general, thanks to mom. She helped me discern what meats look good and what meats look bad, which has been helpful during my time here so far. We spent some time in Co-op, which is a good, clean and affordable grocery store. We walked down the aisles as she pointed out things I should buy, quick meals to make, groceries I should always have, etc..
In conclusion, my pre departure experience was smooth and insightful, despite a slow start. I will leave you all with a few more tips and warnings about London:
- Be aware of currency exchange rates. One pound is equal to $1.30 USD, so don’t be fooled by prices; always add a few extra dollars to the price you see
- Transportation is expensive. As soon as you arrive, apply for a student Oyster card, which will save you 30% on travel. Although the card itself is about 20 pounds, you save a lot more money in the end. As soon as I got my student Oyster card, I purchased a 3-month Travelcard (equivalent to an unlimited metrocard or pass). It cost me around $350 USD, but it was easier to get that expense out of the way now rather than worrying about it later
- Make a grocery list before and after you leave for London! Take note of your favorite foods around your house so you can try to find them while you’re here. Grocery lists also help you to budget, meal prep, and eat more at home rather than dining out
I will be writing regular blog posts about my time here in London, so be sure to check in every now and then and follow me on Instagram to see my day to day adventures and posts! Upcoming posts will explore budgeting and expenses, diversity, why I haven’t experienced culture shock yet, art and culture.
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<p>I am Neah Gray from New York City, and I have been photographing for over seven years. I've traveled to Spain, Uruguay and Nicaragua where I fell in love with traveling and journaling. I love to visit art galleries, find new places to eat and talk about horoscopes! (Fun fact: I'm a Virgo)</p>