Getting Ready to Go
Health and safety
During your time at the London Center, you will be living in a London borough and traveling in London, the United Kingdom and Europe. While these places are among the safest in the world in terms of health and security, it is important to be aware of some of the inherent risks of being a foreigner in a country, as well as the risks of international travel. There are issues to be aware of in terms of your general health, in case of illness as well as general risks to your person or belongings. These issues will be discussed in greater detail at the mandatory pre-departure orientation session and information will be provided in your orientation packet to make sure you are the most alert and prepared person you can be while abroad. The Ithaca College London Center is wholly dedicated to the health, safety and security of its students and London Center staff will always be available to assist students in times of need.
While London is a modern city and there is no great risk of acquiring any major disease, it is, of course, possible that a student might become ill while they are abroad. The London Center staff can help to get in touch with recommended clinics and doctors when needed. Students are automatically enrolled in the mandatory Ithaca College Study Abroad Health Insurance Program. You can find more information at www.ithaca.edu/oip/london/details/insurance/. Be sure to check it out as you'll need to register with them before leaving for the UK.
For students who have ongoing medical needs, it is highly advised that they bring necessary prescriptions with them from the United States. Consult with your doctor to let them know of your travel plans and to get the necessary supplies. If bringing large quantities, medications should be kept in their original packaging with the prescription and a note from your doctor. Check with the UK Embassy to ensure that the medications you'll be travelling with are not considered illegal narcotics.
Like in any large city in the world, you will need to be aware of your surroundings and your company at all times during your travels in London and Europe. If you learn to blend into the crowd, to carry a minimum of belongings and to make sure they are in your possession at all times, if you are smart about engaging in conversation with suspicious individuals, etc. then you will likely avoid the possibility of any unfortunate events happening. In all likelihood, you will be living and traveling with other people which is one of the best ways to decrease the risk of such events. The London Center highly recommends that students alert the staff of any travel plans by providing their itinerary and any contact information.
The London Center building is equipped with a safe and it is highly recommended that students use this safe for all of their non-negotiable valuables, important documents and traveller's checks. Cash, jewelry, laptops, etc. cannot be stored in the safe so remember the saying if you can't live without it, leave it at home.
Before you leave, read the U.S. State Department's Country Background Notes and Travel Advisories for the United Kingdom and any other countries you plan to visit. These are available on the State Department's Web site at www.state.gov. While you are abroad, read local newspapers or watch the TV news so that you are aware of local and national, political and social issues that may impact your safety. You should also check out the BBC's website for the latest news and information from the UK. It'll help you to adjust to your time in the UK if you already have a feel for what's going on in the headlines.
It is highly recommended when travelling that you have more than one way to access money:
- Go to your local bank before you leave in order to get a small amount of cash in British pounds. This way, when you arrive in London you won't be scrambling to find an ATM or bank to get money for small initial costs such as lunch, a tube ride or a newspaper. An initial starting amout of 25-75 pounds is recommended.
- Have your local bank also issue you traveller's cheques in US dollars (You can no longer purchase traveller's cheques in the US). $2,500 - $4,500 is recommended to last you through the semester (this sum includes rent). There is a large variance in the spending habits of people - students who choose more expensive housing and/or who choose to eat out often and to travel extensively, will naturally spend more.
- ATMs are widely available throughout London and Europe. Students tend to use ATMs frequently to withdraw money because the exchange rates given are usually the best available. The primary cards which will be useful for ATM withdrawals in London are those connected to the Cirrus/Plus network. Check with your card provider to make sure your card is connected to this network. If you card is not connected, or if you are unsure, we advise you to get yourself a new card which is. In addition, be sure to check with your ATM provider to make sure that your card will function overseas/internationally and find out if you will need an international pin number and if so, what it is. It is also always a good idea to let your provider know that you will be travelling so that they won't be surprised when they start to see international withdrawals. Be sure, also, that withdrawals made with your ATM card will automatically be withdrawn from your checking account. Many ATM machines will not give you the option to select a checking or savings account and will default to checking. One more thing: Bring an extra ATM card with you, just in case!
- It is also always a good idea to carry a major credit card when you are travelling, primarily in case of emergencies when large amounts of cash may be needed (or, of course, if you are a big spender!). Visa or Mastercard are the main credit cards which will work all over Europe (AmEx in widely accepted in the United Kingdom, but much less in other European countries), so leave any other credit cards at home. Be sure that your limit is set high enough to accomodate for emergency situations (at least $1000.00 is recommended). As is the case with ATM cards, it is always a good idea to let your provider know that you will be travelling so that they won't be surprised when they start to see international charges.
In order to estimate your monthly expenses and, ultimately to save money, the following is recommended:
- Make a budget before you leave, including entertainment and travel
- Find a flat with a group that has a similar budget
- Try to eat most of your meals at your flat, and pack your lunches
- Look for free things to do and student discounts in London's Time Out magazine, and other resources
- Get a part time job or a work study position at the London Center - remember you will need to apply for a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa to do either of these things
- Plan your travels early and make sure they fit into your budget
- Remember that pubbing, clubbing, drinking and smoking are expensive in London
- Take time to figure out what is most important to you (travel, shopping, theater, clubbing, etc.) and plan accordingly
- As a guideline, the UKBA estimates that £800 per month will cover a student for rent, food, entertainment, travel and personal expenses
The unit of currency in Britain is the pound sterling (£). For up-to-date exchange rates, go to www.oanda.com.
For those students who are interested, the Ithaca College London Center can suggest locations where you may purchase a mobile (i.e. cellular) phone while you are a student in London. It is highly recommended that each student has a mobile phone for ease of contact.
Calling the United States is incredibly expensive using a UK mobile whether it is calling another mobile phone or a landline. Most students use special international calling cards as the cheapest option to make international calls to the US or abroad or get their parents to call them on their phones. Text messages are a really good cheap alternative to making a call. Also, don't forget the time difference between London and the US-EST is 5 hours forward, i.e. if it is noon in Boston, it will be 5 pm in London.
Computers and the Internet
The London Center is equipped with 2 computer labs which house 12 PCs (running Windows XP). The entire building is hooked into a wireless network, and students who wish to bring laptops will be able to use this wireless service, with a bit of advance preparation. In addition to the Center's own facilities, London is one of the world's most on-line cities, and cybercafes can be found throughout for very reasonable prices. The London Center will be able to help students find the cafe nearest to their flat.
The Center also owns an LCD projector which students may use in class to aid in their presentations and assignments.
Post is delivered to the office each day and distributed to student mailboxes. For those packages that are too large to fit in the mailbox, a notice will be left that there is a package to collect in the front office. For people sending mail from the United States, be sure to fill out a customs form in the U.S. that states that the contents of the package are either a gift or used goods, so that students at the London Center won't have to pay customs fees as long as the value is under $50. Packages and letters should be addressed as follows: Student's Name, Ithaca College London Center, 35 Harrington Gardens, London, SW7 4JU, UK.
- Don't worry about trying to order a phone while you're still in the States or getting an international plan on your American phone - getting a phone here takes literally ten minutes (or less) and is super cheap. Carphone Warehouse all the way.
- Before your flat hunt begins, it will help immensely to have a good price range in mind for yourself. Discuss it with your group honestly to make sure that everyone's price ranges overlap, or else you might end up being uncomfortable about the cost of your flat.
- Don't overpack! You will seriously need much less than you think, and probably buy more than you expect to. London weather in the spring is particularly fairer than the Ithaca weather, but it will be pretty cold in the beginning and some of those first trips.
- Make sure to go on all of the ICLC subsidized trips, because they're worth it! You may never get a chance to see the world like this again, so don't waste all your money at the pubs...that's really lame.
- Know your budget. IC has a variety of students from different economic backgrounds and sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in spending. If you have the means to do that, then go right ahead. But if you're like me and you don't, resist the urge to "keep up" with your peers. Scour out bargain deals, use Time Out London like your Holy Word and be real to yourself about your finances. The last thing you want is to find yourself in an uncompromising financial fox hole. The pound is strong, but you've got to be stronger.