Initial Impressions and Experiences in London

Written by Waseem Ahmad on. Posted in Blog, Studying Abroad

It’s only been two days and I am already so glad that I made the choice to study abroad in London.

It’s amazing how many assumptions we make in daily life which help us get through the day in autopilot. For example, in America I find it petty and annoying to carry around change with me so I dump it all in a container at home or throw it in a donation / tip box. It took me two days to realize that there are no single or two pound bills and in fact they are the coins in my pocket that I undervalued.

Speaking of money, London is very expensive and I believe I’m living in one of the most central and expensive areas: Bloomsbury. For the most part, prices here are pretty much the same as the prices in America, except there is a £ prepended instead of a $. I carelessly walked into a coffee shop today and had a small British sandwich and Americano for brunch. It cost me around £10. I certainly wouldn’t pay $17 on a typical day for a small sandwich and a cup of coffee. Did I mention Wi-Fi was only £3 for an hour? The place I went to wasn’t particularly fancy so it made realize that I have to be more prudent over here.

The registration system for courses over here is several times more complicated than anything I’ve seen in America. I don’t know if it is specific to UCL; the number of steps you have to go through and manually verify several rules and timetable conflicts about the courses you take and then get approval from both your major department and the teaching department before you even register is a nightmare compared to the system in American universities. It makes me appreciate what I had in America way more. I can also see how the technology education and infrastructure we have in America is on the cutting edge and why companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook all started in America.

Up until now, it seems like I’ve only been complaining about London and being outside of America in general. Yet I said I’m really happy with my choice of studying abroad. This is because of all the things I’m gaining in exchange.

I’ve learned quite a lot within the last two days and also corrected a lot of misconceptions I had. I’m beginning to learn more about myself and see my life in America from a perspective that was previously a blind spot.

It’s a very humbling experience to meet people from all over the world and instantly find a warm mutual connection. It brings me closer in touch with the very essence of what makes me human as I begin to see universal things that make people very intrigued, put a smile on their face, or make them burst out in laughter, to name a few. In just one day I met people from Canada, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Nigeria, Italy and China. I’m sure I could have met all of these people in America as well, but I found it easier in a place so foreign to me. It makes me realize that regardless of the location, culture, and context, it’s very easy to make friends with a little bit of conscious effort.

I’m really glad to be out of my comfort zone and suddenly become more observant of the people and environment around me. I was happy to figure out everything with moving, directions etc. without the use of internet and a phone. It was the first time I used a paper map to get around to places and I interacted with people more and felt more comfortable asking questions.

Despite being on the other side of the world where I knew very few people from before. I met people with whom I found astonishingly common things and saw countless examples of a small world. I think this attributes to the global nature of London. I heard some people met high school colleagues whom they hadn’t been in touch with. I met someone who lives a block away from my sister in Miami and I met the best friend of one of my Rice professor’s daughter.

I also realized that the same language doesn’t imply the same culture. England is very different from America and I see this in every little thing. Apart from big obvious such as British accent or people driving on the left side of the road, there are other terms and mannerisms I’ve become aware of. For example, pants mean underwear over here and you really mean to say trousers, if someone comes up to you and says ‘Alright?’ they’re not inquiring about your health, they’re simply saying Hi! Courses are referred to as modules, tipping is not as common, electricity runs on 220 volts instead of 110… I could go on and on.

The pub culture fundamental to British culture is amazing and I’ve yet to try fish and chips. I can’t wait to see what else there is in store for me!

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Waseem Ahmad

I love technology! I love how it improves our lives by allowing us to instantly communicate with people across the globe, access tremendous amounts of data in an instant, and produce and consume meaningful information. Computers give you the power to take tasks of enormous size and complexity and simplify them. I find computing very exciting and challenging which is why I'm working at Facebook as a Software Engineer. I recently completed my Bachelors in Computer Science from Rice University.

I've moved a lot as I grew up. So I've lived in 8 different cities across the world and hope to live in and travel to many more. Currently, I live in San Francisco, CA. When I'm not working or exercising at the gym, I'm always ready for an adventure! I love coffee, good conversations, movies, biking, reading, writing, flying remote control aircrafts, and most of all, the company of good friends.

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