My First Year at King’s – A Reflection

Hello!

I hope you all have been enjoying the sunny weather in London for the past few days, although today got a bit cloudy and chilling. Finally, there is a sign of summer. Which means that my first year at King’s is coming to an end and it is a good time to look back and see how far these last nine months have brought me.

It feels like yesterday that I arrived at Heathrow Airport and carried with me a lot of expectations and ambitions. The first few weeks went like a blur as I tried to adjust to my new life. After all, it was not easy going grocery shopping, doing my own laundry, cleaning my tiny room, budgeting appropriately, and studying (among zillion other things) by myself. Honestly, the experience might sound intimidating, but it is actually a lot of fun and thrilling. For example, you will learn where to get good milk and bread with the cheapest price or know what kind of food is on sales in a certain store at a certain time.

Like other freshers (or freshmen if you will), I attended all events intended for me: a one-day workshop for international students where I was given my first English lunch ever; a department induction where the professors managed to drill into my head the importance of checking my uni email daily; a Freshers’ Fair where I got a huge colorful calendar and met so many friendly and enthusiastic society members at Barbican Center; and an evening for Asian students where I actually signed up to become an international student blogger.

Coming to an entirely foreign environment, I was very worried. I kept asking myself whether I would have any new friends. Would my course mates like me? Would I understand my lecturers? Would others understand me? Fortunately, as it turned out, I could not be more wrong. I have met many smart and wonderful people who I am proud to call ‘friends’. My course mates literally come from all over the world and bring with them so many accents and so much diversity, which create so great of a class.

Speaking of classes, I need to mention the academic aspect of my life. After all, I pay to receive a world-class level of education. King’s is famous for its incredibly talented faculties. My lecturers have written books, published journal articles, and taught at prestigious universities among many other things. I actually had to read books written by them and had heated debates with them about their and my ideas in tutorials. I would not say that I had learned all there was to know about management. I have not scratched the surface of it. But I would say that my first year has enriched my critical thinking ability and polished my analytical mind. On top of attending daily lecture and biweekly tutorial, I joined a German evening class to make sure my language skill does not fail. At King’s, you really could pursue anything, as long as you have passion and interests.

The day I came to King’s was the day I promised myself I would spend time doing what I loved. At the moment, I could proudly say that yes, I have managed to keep my promise. I love writing and have been doing so on a regular basis. I love volunteering and have been helping Year 6 students improve their writing skills as part of a community program. I love talking to people and have been a customer service worker for almost half a year. I love meeting new individuals and have been attending several Open Day events as King’s student ambassador.

Still, there are a lot of things that I have yet to do (like bungee jumping, backpacking across Europe, or attending an Open Day at a law firm). My First Year is coming close to an end (with me crossing my fingers hoping I will not have to come back in August for resit). Next year will be much more challenging with 7 different subjects. But I am sure it will be as fun and exciting as this year has been.

Have a wonderful summer! Brace yourself for the sun! And welcome to King’s (if you choose to go here this September)!

Cheers,

Julie

Being touristy on a rainy day

As some of you may know, King’s students are now having a month of Easter break, during which we are expected to revise and prepare for our May exams. That’s said, but it is not healthy just sitting in the library and going through books. So today, my flatmate and I decided to become all touristy and went to various landmarks in Central London. The catch? We walked. Under the rain and the wind. Because this ‘walking tour’ was such a fun and different experience, I really want to share with you a few highlights of my little journey.

1. Imperial War Museum (IWM)

The two of us started here simply because we live in the area. The museum, unfortunately, is closed till July 19 for ‘transformation’. Although the museum itself is not available, the park surrounding it is still open and has become a favorite place for casual strolling for local residents.

This year, the UK, along with the rest of Europe, celebrates the 100th anniversary of World War I. Having lived in Berlin and now London, I  always get excited about how significant both cities are in modern history. Berlin and its Berliner Wall have become symbols of freedom while London witnessed the devastation of Blitzkrieg and the bravery of Britons in World War II.

2. Westminster Bridge (St Thomas’ Hospital, the House of Parliament, Big Ben, London Eye)

After walking for about 15 minutes, we reached this iconic location. This has to be the most visited bridge in London, probably followed by Tower Bridge in East London. Do you know that Big Ben is actually the name of the clock, not of the tower? Although it remains as the most famous time-keeper of London, Big Ben is not the largest clock. The biggest one, which faces the Thames, belongs to Shell Mex House on the Strand.

Also, you could attend debates of the Parliament and have a tour around the House of Parliament. For more details, check this link: http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/

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I was actually on the bridge on New Year Eve and saw the first ‘multi-sensory’ fireworks ever (granted, I did smell a faint scent of strawberry).

London Eye on New Year Eve

London Eye on New Year Eve

3. Westminster Abbey

Initially built as St Peter’s Abbey by Edward the Confessor, Westminster Abbey is now one of the must-see landmark in London (although tickets cost €18 for adults and €15 for students). The abbey is certainly worth visiting. It is famous for incredibly stunning and impressive statues and home of tombs of notable Britons. In addition, coronations and royal weddings have taken place there for hundreds of years. I was lucky enough to be in London just a few days before Prince William and his now-wife Kate Middleton got married. The preparation for the union excited the whole city. Britain’s tourism industry, being effective and business-driven, did not miss the chance to sell books, postcards, cups, hats and flags featuring the young couple.

William and Kate were everywhere!

William and Kate were everywhere!

4. Parliament Square

‘Trapped’ between the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and beautiful white-stoned government houses, Parliament Square features important individuals in modern history. I cannot name them all from top of my head, but I know for sure Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela are all present :D

View of the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey from Parliament Square

View of the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey from Parliament Square

5. Horse Guards Parade

According to http://www.royal.gov.uk, changing the guard occurs at 11:00 every day at this place. I always admire the guards here, since they apparently have to wear heavy uniform (I saw a guard walking around today) and must resist attempts by tourists to make them smile. Not to mention they are constantly photographed.

Look at the sign!!

Look at the sign!!

6. St. James’ Park

I always love going to parks. Before going to London, I was a bit worried because I thought the city would be full of skyscrapers and have no ‘green areas’ like Berlin. I could not be more wrong. In addition to small gardens in front of almost every building, London has several huge parks. Hyde Park, Kensington Park, Regent’s Park, St. James’ Park, just to name a few. Spring is coming. Wherever you are, you definitely should go out and enjoy the fresh air before summer kicks it with its heat.

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Flower bed in St James’ Park

So yes, that was the summary of my little adventure. My point is this: you definitely should spend time discovering the city that you live in. You will be pleasantly surprised :D

Ready. Set. Spring.

I still have not been able to wrap my head around the fact that I only have 3 more weeks of lectures and 1 more week of tutorial to go before I pretty much finish the materials for Frist Year students at King’s. What follows is one month of anxiety, stress, and intensive revision for exams in May. Although almost 6 months have passed, I still remember how my mother told me uni would be ‘incredibly hard because you have to read a whole lot’. I thought she exaggerated it (after all, I took a total of 10 Advanced Placement subjects in 2 years. These classes were uni-level). What I did not think of, however, was how different and interesting life of a student would be. To illustrate my point, let me walk you through what a typical day for me is like.

1. Wake me up (when the garbage truck comes under my window):

Either that or the sound of my neighbors’ kids running to school is my alarm clock. My morning often starts with a warm cup of PG tea with lots of milk and sugar. It is certainly not the famous English tea, but close enough for my taste. I then check my King’s email (my professors managed to drill into my head the importance of checking that account everyday during the first few weeks of university. I actually now use it to write and receive most of my emails). Browsing Facebook, reading newspaper, and briefly talking to my parents complete my early morning. Interestingly, when I no longer live at home, my parents become increasingly interested in details of my life, such as what food I have for dinner or what my plan for the day is.

Packing my own lunch and having a huge bottle of water are very beneficial. I save a lot of money. A meal which includes vegetables, carbohydrate-based food and meat at King’s cafeteria typically costs around 4 pounds. Even when you choose to walk all the way to Sainsbury’s to purchase a three-pound-meal deal (a sandwich + a drink + a snack), that is still more expensive than bringing your own leftover spaghetti from dinner. When you have a long day like I often do, a proper lunch is a must if you do not want to pass out in public.

2. Uni, uni, uni

Because I live relatively close to King’s Waterloo Campus, I always walk. It is amazing what one can experience just by walking. For example, I noticed how jonquil flowers appeared last week and trees started to blossom (or there was a black cat near my flat that stared at me every time I walked past him). Not to mention walking is another way to cut cost. Public transportation in London is relatively reliable unless the workers decide to go on strike like they did a few weeks ago which threw London into chaos.

Anyways, back to the topic of uni. I have lectures 4 days a week in the same auditorium with, luckily, different professors. I prefer paper and pen when taking notes, but others use computers. Not all lecturers allow electronic devices in their session, however. Side notes: notes are often posted on KEATS (King’s online platform) a few days before the actual lecture for students to print out. Because printing is expensive and I do not learn from printed paper, I choose to copy the slides down the way I want them to be. Some say it is a waste of time, but that is the way I learn.

3. E.A.T. (Eat, Appreciate, Talk)

Yes! After 2 hours of lecture (which are actually very short but cover a lot of materials), I always have lunch with my group of friends. Like I wrote earlier, a good lunch is a must and a good conversation is compulsory. If you have not been able to tell, I am a people person (i.e. I talk a lot and I enjoy having others talking to me). My friends and I talk about really random things. The Oscars. The Ukraine. My friend’s pets. Dead rats. Vietnam War. Food in the cafeteria. The tube. Backpacking in Europe. Whatever comes to our mind could be a starting point.

4. Procrastination: the art of keeping up with yesterday.

My afternoon is usually one of the following: 1. attend tutorial; 2. do tutorial work; 3. work; 4. do something that is not uni-related. I wish I could tell you that I was one hard working person and never let my yesterday’s plan interfered with today’s. But of course, I could not. Truth to be told, I am not bad with keeping up with assignments but terrible with reading books (every lecture requires certain chapters to be read). Why? I have no excuse. So yes, if you are going to uni this fall, remember to include in your bucket list ‘read all chapters required right after lecture’ and stick to it. Otherwise you will someday wind up working in the library till 11 PM to prep for a mid-term test.

5. Dinner ready to be served!

I do not eat out all that often to control my budget. I cook 2-3 times a week max  (admittedly, I am not the best cook out there). You might not think food costs that much, but if you eat out every evening, they will eventually add up. Besides, you can choose what you put in your food and how you cook it. Cooking also provides a good break from your table. Struggle to get to know your flatmates? Cook together!

So yes, that is basically how my days run. I will not bore you with more details about my life. But my point is this: studying abroad is not simply about going to an uni to study. It is about adjusting yourself to a new life in which you are completely in charge and your parents are now your safety net and advisors. In addition to studying, you have to control your budget, cook your food, do your laundry, clean your room, and most importantly, balance your time. But do not worry about them now because you have plenty of chance to freak out, make mistakes and learn from them later.

Cheers.

P.S.: On a totally unrelated note, I have been taking a lot of pictures of London lately and really want to share a few of them with you. Please excuse the quality of the pictures!

Embankment at night

Embankment at night

Canary Wharf, view from Waterloo Bridge

Canary Wharf, view from Waterloo Bridge

Canary Wharf during the day

Canary Wharf during the day

 

 

How to be active: Don’t just sit in your room. Go out there and do something you love.

First off, I apologize for not having written anything for a while. I have been catching up with uni work for the last few weeks. 1 large presentation, 1 essay, 1 assignment, and 1 test might not sound like a lot of work. But trust me, when you have to make sure a group of 7 people finish a project on time, read 10 empirical studies to come up with a theme for your essay, research different business industries and firms to write a speculative application for an internship, and go through all the materials since the beginning of 2nd semester to prepare for a test, they will add up to a mountain of work.

However, being a student at King’s with tons of assignments should not put a limit on what you could do (or have time to do). After all, spending time doing things other than reading, typing on your computer, and browsing Facebook is healthy; it shows your future employer you can manage your time well and that living in London is more than studying, working, and taking photos of famous places. My advice: leave your room and your shyness behind. Go out there and commit yourself to something that you are truly passionate about. It will pay off, I promise.

So what is it that I do in my free time? Voluntary work! Long story short. Upon moving to London, I was determined to continue doing what I had done since 10th grade: volunteering. The first few months were rather difficult, as I tried to adjust myself to the new academic environment while applying for a volunteering position at King’s College Hospital (unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. But I will probably try again this coming September). After attending a few sessions organized by the Marketing Department, I learned of an opportunity to become a part of King’s Student Ambassador Scheme. Well, I loved talking to people, I was proud of being a student here, and I was a student ambassador in high school. I applied, got two interviews and received two job offers. If you plan to visit King’s, chances are you will see me in the crowd of enthusiastic and always-smiling red shirt wearers.

About 3 weeks ago, I received an email from King’s Widening Participation about a literacy project in South London. Having been a tutor for 2 years and loved working with young adults, I wrote Imogen from London Citizens, the organization responsible for the project. She responded promptly to my email and offered to meet me at King’s the week after. Never spent more than half an hour talking to someone I just met about things I was genuinely interested in, I was surprised to find myself actively engaging in conversation with Imogen – an energetic and articulate young woman. She explained to me what the project was about, what London Citizens did and what motivated her to choose what she did. I then told her about my life in Vietnam and my experience in Germany. The conversation then turned to the assembly London Citizens would be holding in a few days in Borough of Southwark, to which I was also invited. Having been to a few community meetings myself, I had rather low expectations of what would be covered. To my surprise, the topics (living wage, housing, dealing with police, safety on the street, and child destitution) were very relevant and up-to-date. I felt particularly passionate about living wage (i.e. the minimum amount of money one needs to live in London), since I had that problem myself. I shared my story with Imogen and eventually decided to share it at the assembly upon her suggestion.

London Citizens

The assembly was held at a local school. Despite coming from different backgrounds (ranging from religious to educational institutions), all 10 groups created an atmosphere more or less like that of a close knit community gathering. It started with casual greetings and proceeded to testimonies on the 5 topics. As the first one to testify about living wage, I was nervous. But I felt sympathy coming from the audience as I stood on the podium and told my story. Each group then discussed their own plan of action. The meeting concluded with agenda for their next meeting with candidates for Leader of Southwark Council. I thought the meeting ended with me simply knowing more about the area I live in. As it turned out, I gained more than just that. The Head teacher of the school offered me a part-time job after listening to my story; I could use my math and semi-professional teaching skills to help students at her school a few hours a week. If I had not gone to that meeting and let my idleness take hold of me, I would not have met and talked with so many active and committed people. They inspired me and taught me how small actions of many individuals could lead to major changes.

So I guess the point of this very, very long blog entry is to encourage you to find your own passion and not hesitate to pursue it. Sure, it might be difficult at the beginning to figure out what your passion is and balance it with uni work. But once you realize how meaningful your work is not only to you but also to others, you will come to enjoy, love, and seek opportunities to continue it.

Written in London on a strangely beautiful day in February.

View from Upper Deck of a bus on Westminster Bridge

View from Upper Deck of a bus on Westminster Bridge

P.S. The day after the assembly, on my way home, a girl from that school stopped and said ‘hi’ to me. I did not recognize who she was until very later on: she was at the meeting and heard my story. So yes, another good thing about meeting people: you will meet people who know you, despite the fact that you do not remember meeting them.

 

 

10 facts about London you might not know

After spending a lot of time walking in London (as a means to save money and do sports), watching several Youtube videos about the royal family (simply because I am interested in history), and googling cultural events, I have compiled a list of ‘facts’ that I think are interesting/ fascinating/ weird… about this great city!! Enjoy!

1. Westminster Abbey is the chapel of Westminster School, an independent co-educational boarding institution. It is located next to the Houses of Parliament and the Abbey itself. All students there are required to attend services at the Abbey twice a week.

2. Have you heard of the name Tyburn? (I would be very impressed if you have) Tyburn is the name of a stream running underneath Buckingham Palace!

3. Every year, St Paul’s Cathedral holds Christmas concerts presented by professional musicians. This year, I spent 2.5 hours enjoying Handel’s Messiah performed by Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral and City of London Sinfonia. The music was brilliant and definitely got me into the mood of celebrating Christmas. The tickets were free but sold out very quickly. Other churches in London also host various performances annually. Just make sure you look for them as soon as November! I guarantee you will have a memorable experience!

4. London’s annual fireworks display on this year’s New Year’s Eve was the first multi-sensory fireworks ever. It was expected that the audience would be able to ‘taste and smell’ seven fruit-flavored sweets. I was on Westminster Bridge and granted, I did smell a faint scent of strawberry (side notes on New Year’s Eve: the first few hours of the new year are the only time you could use the public transportation for free. But do not try to take the train home at any cost because chances are you will be stuck in a station full of hundreds of other human beings).

5. The Prime Meridian of the World (which is defined as ‘a north-south line selected as the zero reference line for astronomical observations’ and has longitude of 0°) is in Greenwich, London. It is actually not very far away from King’s Waterloo campus (32 minutes by bus).

An absolutely breathtaking view near the Royal Observatory Greenwich

An absolutely breathtaking view near the Royal Observatory Greenwich

6. London has Noses, believe it or not! The Seven Noses of Soho are scattered in marvelous Chinatown in Central London. Myth has it that if you find them all, you will be granted infinite wealth. You can locate them using google map or join one of the walking tours.

7. Greater London consists of City of London and 32 Boroughs. It is the area most people refer to as ‘London’.

8. When you go to London, you will probably visit  Marble Arch near Oxford Street and Hyde Park. It was originally constructed as Buckingham Palace’s gate and then relocated under Queen Victoria’s reign.

9. St Martin’s Theater (a 17-minute-walk from Waterloo Campus) is home of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, the play with the longest initial run of any play in history.

Home of The Mousetrap

Home of The Mousetrap

10. University of London has 18 self-governing Colleges and 10 research Institutes. Founding Colleges? Surprise surprise! University College of London (1826) and King’s College London (1829).

11. Bonus fact no.1: London has so many statues and sculptures. Here is one of the coolest.

Bizarre sculpture. Unfortunately, I cannot recall where I took this picture in London

Unfortunately, I cannot recall where I took this picture in London :(

12. Bonus fact no.2: London has one of the best system of buses in the world! Underground trains do not run overnight, but buses do (unlike in Berlin where it was the other way around. I was a tiny bit confused when I was told that the first time). And they do lock the stations when there is no train running :D

The iconic double decker bus

The iconic double decker bus