Tales from Abroad: Imperial College London

Junior chemical engineering and engineering and public policy major Sam Ho poses in front of the Edinburgh Castle during a trip to the historic Scottish city. (credit: Courtesy of Sam Ho) Junior chemical engineering and engineering and public policy major Sam Ho poses in front of the Edinburgh Castle during a trip to the historic Scottish city. (credit: Courtesy of Sam Ho)

I chose to study abroad at the Carnegie Mellon equivalent school in London: an all science, technical university called Imperial College London, where at a 70:30 male to female gender ratio, the odds are still good and the goods are still odd. Unlike most study abroad programs, I will be in London for the entire school year and taking classes for my primary major for the duration of my stay.

Upon first arriving in London, I quickly became aware of the “vacation changes.” These are what I like to consider to be the differences between the UK and US that anybody going to London on vacation will notice. For example, almost getting hit by a black cab because you looked the wrong way before crossing the street or the fact that British people don’t say vacation, they say “holiday.” At first, these differences really stressed me out (I have an irrational fear of being hit by a car), but now, three months later, all of this has become a part of my daily life. People no longer need to translate for me when there’s a British word I don’t understand. In fact, I now use some of these foreign sayings myself.

At Carnegie Mellon, I was in a sorority and Mock Trial, was working a part time job, and had to keep up with classes for a double major in chemical engineering and engineering & public policy. Here in London, I only have chemical engineering courses. I have an average of three hours of class per weekday. We do not have any graded problem sets or midterms. There is only one final exam for each of our courses in June. I cannot remember the last time in my life that I have been so stress-free.

I spend my time doing the things I wish I could have done last year, but never had time for. I walk down to Pret-A-Manger, London’s Starbucks equivalent, for a coffee. I run through Hyde Park on the daily, which actually is an incredible experience in itself. My usual route takes me around the famous Serpentine River and then past Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge reside. I am lucky, because I am located just south of Hyde Park, and right next door to the Royal Albert Hall, where events such as the world premiere of the new James Bond movie occur. All I have to do is peek out my window and watch the movie stars walk down the red carpet right below me.

London is probably the most expensive place I have ever been. One pound is equivalent to approximately one-and-a-half dollars and I spend about three times more per week than I did in Pittsburgh (to be fair, I am overspending). I’m constantly tempted by the styles and clothes that people wear here and have Harrod’s and great shopping right down the road from me. I have to cook for myself here (after being on Red-9 for two years) and have found myself copying the first-year students on my floor for dinner ideas. I am the only third year on my floor, but it seems as though the first years that I live with are just as mature as I am. I believe that it partially has something to do with the drinking age being 18 in this country. Drinking is much more casual and accepted here. The dorm I live in has its own bar downstairs that our university sponsors. Our hall sponsored events typically involve drinking. It’s very strange for me that we are encouraged to be drinking in our first-year dorms together.

Something I will always be grateful to Carnegie Mellon for is its diversity. Last year, I made friends with a study abroad student at Carnegie Mellon from Switzerland. This semester, during a long weekend, I was able to visit him and get to explore the Swiss Alps and eat endless Swiss cheese and chocolate. Traveling is one of the best parts of getting to study abroad, and knowing someone from the place you are going makes the experience so much better. So far, I have visited Geneva and Edinburgh and will be going to Berlin soon. Traveling around Europe, even by plane, is extremely cheap, and has made this experience so memorable.

It’s now the end of the first semester, and I am so glad that I will be here until the end of June. I have been here for three months already ­­— the time has flown by. I have grown to love this city and all it has to offer. The crowded tube stations during rush hour, the women dressed in Topshop from head to toe, and for now, the Christmas lights on every street market across the city. This school year, so far, has been so different on so many levels and I can’t wait to see what next semester has in store for me.