Making the decision to go on an Erasmus semester in the middle of a pandemic is not just a hard, but also a brave choice, especially when the location is one of the most strictly-quarantined places in the world - the United Kingdom. What kind of lifestyle would await someone in the capital, when circumstances barely allow people to go out for anything other than groceries? Find out from Arystan Bilisbekov, a 21-years-old Communication and Media Science BA student from Kazakhstan, who chose to complete a semester away from Corvinus at University College London.
The beginning: arriving in London, quarantine and isolation
When I first arrived in the UK, the country was still in a harsh lockdown, only essential shops like pharmacies and groceries were open, so I thought that it would be hard for me to survive without anywhere else to go to. At that time, I had to self-isolate for around 10 days, so UCL offered me to stay at another accommodation that was specifically designated to students arriving from abroad. As it was initially a catered accommodation (where food is included), it wasn’t used that much due to COVID-19 precautions. So basically, this residence was empty, I was the only person on the whole floor, and I could actually sit and enjoy English winter outside.
UCL Accommodation were quite helpful and provided me with a food box for the first few days and gave me 200 pounds worth of Uber Eats food. Therefore, I didn’t starve and sometimes ordered delicious food from a Georgian restaurant nearby. Spring semester at Corvinus has not started yet so I could focus on my UCL classes, but as it turns out, it is impossible to study when you sit in a 7 sq. meters room with no one to talk to. I would say that tasty food is the best coping mechanism while in quarantine.
New university, new people, new environment
Almost two weeks later, I have moved to another Hall, which is located on the UCL campus, in Bloomsbury, Central London. I am really lucky to live here, as I have a lot of transportation options, right between King’s Cross station and Russel Square. The area I live in is actually what I had imagined before I came to London – old brick stone buildings and beautiful parks. The coolest thing is that Bloomsbury is a place where many notorious people lived so I can walk to the houses where Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Lenin or George Orwell lived in less than 10 minutes.
In terms of the socialization, I am very happy to have very communicative flat mates. Every Friday we can have some drinks and on Sundays we cook something together. Most of them are English so it is an excellent opportunity for me to improve my English skills. I also have my classmates who do Erasmus as well, so I always have someone to explore London with. London is an incredible city, sometimes reminds me of Budapest with each district having its own distinctive style and people. However, I always need to pay attention to my finances, as it is one of the most expensive cities in the world. I would say that transportation costs hit my budget the hardest at the moment. I try to economize but at the same time, I realize that I am in one of the most exciting places on Earth so I should just take things easy and enjoy my time here.
Culture shock moments
I guess even Europeans can have culture shocks in England, as they love being different in every possible way starting from electric outlets to the left-driving cars. I was also aware that London can be dangerous sometimes, as stabbings happen quite often. One of the moments I remember is when I went to the cookware store and when trying to buy a cooking knife, I was asked to show my ID.
The English language can be a problem as well, I didn’t really have an experience in talking to native speakers, especially English people. Things like ‘aubergine’ instead of ‘eggplant’ matter here so you might try to pick up new words just to make sure people will understand you.
All in all, I really recommend anyone who wants to do their Erasmus in the UK, especially London, they should definitely try applying there. It does not really matter if the country is in lockdown or not, London still keeps moving and life continues.