An American in London: My Top 5 Most Pleasant Discoveries About Life in London

Amanda Wall Goldsmiths, University of London, England


November 12, 2019
Currently Studying at: Goldsmiths University Of London, England
Homeschool: Sarah Lawrence College

I’ve been doing so much here that it’s hard to decide what to write about! When I think I know what I want to write about I’ll start writing, but then I’ll decide a different thing might be more exciting to write about, and the cycle repeats. Instead of focusing on a specific event, I’m going to give a brief overview of some of the little things I’ve discovered since arriving in London that made my transition and continue to make my experience in London a lot better than anticipated.

Here are my top five most pleasant discoveries about life in London that no one really told me about beforehand!

5. Most museums are free admission!

I have to pay if I want to get into special exhibits, but to be able to see most of London’s museums for free is a HUGE sigh of relief from my wallet.

(Image description #1: a large white sign with blue letters that read “FOOD” with the subheading “BIGGER THAN THE PLATE”. Many small sculptures of food, cutlery, and plates are scattered throughout the sign)

From the exhibit “Food: Bigger Than the Plate” at the Victoria and Albert Museum that examined different cultural attitudes surrounding food and dining traditions and how they relate to global food sustainability.

Bonus: A Sarah Lawrence alum offered each student studying in the UK a complimentary membership to the Royal Oak Foundation, which gets me free, or discounted, admission to National Trust sites throughout the UK. I was in Edinburgh with Arcadia a few weeks ago, and between the free museums and free access to trust sites, I only had to pay for food and my ticket to a storytelling event-I only spent £29.99 during that trip, it was great.

(Image description #2: a room with pale green walls and a light navy blue patterned carpet. Four gold-framed paintings and two candle mounts are displayed above a wooden piano and chairs lined up against the wall)

The drawing room of a Georgian House in Edinburgh designed by architect Robert Adam. I’m absolutely in love with this shade of green.

4. Public transit is a lot more user-friendly than New York

On one hand, I find the Tube to be a little overwhelming in the audio-sensory department, but on the other hand, it’s much more user-friendly and easier to navigate than what I’m used to in New York.

The signs on the Tube only list the stops after the station you’re currently at, the trains clearly announce the next station, there’s no express and local to confuse, the platforms and trains are cleaner, the buses are cleaner, the signage on the buses are clear and visible, requesting a stop is a simple button click, and everything is on time most of the time instead of only half the time. It’s amazing what happens when a city actually invests in its public transit system.

(Image description #3: through a rain covered window are rows of cars with their backlights reflecting off wet pavement driving through London at night. Lights can be seen in the windows of the buildings ahead)

Rainy London at night is its own specific aesthetic. Taken from the upper deck of a bus on my way to my flat from central London

3. Wider (and tastier!) variety of gluten-free options

I can’t explain why, but the gluten-free alternatives to pasta, bread, breadcrumbs, cookies...etc. taste better here than in the US. There’s also a lot more available. There’s an entire fast-food chain called Leon that sells gluten-free chicken nuggets, and they taste amazing! I haven’t been able to eat chicken nuggets that someone other than myself has made for YEARS, and it’s really exciting to know that I have that option when I get a hankering for fast food. Restaurants are also a lot better at labeling allergens on their menus, so going out to eat and knowing my options without having to ask my server is really, really nice.

(Image description #4: salmon with a drizzle of brown miso sauce and slaw over a bed of rice)

Miso salmon donburi from Tombo Cafe in South Kensington. One of my favorite restaurants in London by far.

2. Invisible or hidden disabilities, in general, are better accommodated for without having to disclose said disability

I went to a volunteer opportunity fair at Goldsmiths, and the fair officially ran from 12-3, but there was a designated quiet hour from 11-12 for disabled students who would benefit from the fair in a smaller, less crowded environment. No one asked any questions about my disability, I was just let in, and got to talk to the different organizations without having to worry about having a sensory overload, and not getting anything out of it.

London Heathrow also has a lanyard system where you can request a sunflower lanyard to wear around the airport as a way of disclosing an invisible disability without having to say it, so staff members have a better idea of how to help you if you ask for assistance. You just send an email with your address and flight information, and they’ll mail you a lanyard for free ANYWHERE in the world. I requested one a little too late for my flight to London (it came literally the day after I left), but at least I already have it for when I depart at the end of the semester. It’s just really refreshing to have a lot of my needs taken into consideration without having to advocate for them upfront, which can take time and energy and can be hard to do if I’m having a bad day. I don’t mean to keep throwing shade at the US, but how does the US manage to have so many laws about disability, yet not have systems in place to help disabled folks without putting the onus on them to actively seek out assistance? I do not understand.

1. All of the student discounts

During Arcadia orientation, I was told about something called a Totum card that gets students discounts off restaurants, tourist attractions, grocery stores, travel and more. I got one right away, and I use it all the time, and I feel like I can make the most of London without having to worry about my finances nearly as much as I would without it. The British Film Institute’s London Film Festival had £5 tickets for university students, special exhibits at museums have discounted student rates, rewards cards have student discounts, and Goldsmiths gave every incoming student an entire booklet of coupons and discounts at local pubs and shops! I was most concerned about my spending while in London, and while I’m still keeping a very close eye on my finances, I feel a lot better knowing I have these discounts available when I need them.

(Image description #5: a capsule on the London Eye overlooking the river Thames on a rainy day. The sky is grey and the whole scene is seen through rain covered glass)

My older sister visited me a few weeks ago, and thanks to my Totum card, we got a 20% discount on London Eye tickets!