My term at LSE was a very fascinating experience: an amazing city, one of the top universities and most importantly bright and interesting people. London can offer you the time of your life if you have enough energy to cope with the time pressure as the semester goes by extremely fast. Here you can have all in one: academic, social and cultural experiences of various kinds. I will definitely miss it for a while.
The fall term at LSE starts on October 4th and ends on December 10th. This means that you will only have 10 weeks of studying plus one week of the block seminar for CEMS students. Moreover, as London is a very interesting and lively city, there will be a lot to see and visit (outside the city as well). So be prepared for a very intensive semester in terms of studying, cultural and social events, traveling and going out.
I will further address some issues you will face before and during your semester in London. Most of the comments might be a little bit discouraging, but this is because I was trying to point out important facts that if not done properly can spoil a part of your valuable time at LSE.
Money and banking
In terms of payment most venues in London accept credit and debit cards (both Visa and MasterCard with the same coverage): you can pay with a card in your hall of residence, in the supermarket, in any other shop, café or restaurant, in subway, in museums and galleries, in the university’s canteen etc. Moreover, you can book almost everything online: airline and bus tickets, theatre tickets, even admission tickets to some museums.
On the other hand, you will need cash for shopping in open markets (there are quite many in London), for buying particular types of food in street venues, for laundry (coins mainly). Also bear in mind that students tend to dine out together quite often and then it is easier to pay in cash, so evaluate your needs in cash accordingly. This is important because Russian banks tend to charge a high percentage for cash withdrawals making it more beneficial to buy cash in Russia.
Before leaving check with your bank all the tariffs for cash withdrawals and transfers and arrange internet-baking if you don’t have it yet (makes it easier to track expenditures and money left on the account). The most important thing is your account’s currency should be either EUR or USD; otherwise you will not be able to use your bank card in the UK. If your parents live in Saint Petersburg it may be a good idea to give the power of attorney to them to use your account (in case you might lose your credit card).
In terms of cash, in order to buy GBP in Russia you will usually have to order them (first try Sberbank; they usually have a large stock). You can take up to GBP 10,000 with you into the UK without customs declaration.
There are a couple of circumstances when you will need a UK bank account, e.g. if you want to buy a fitness club membership (it is available for only three months as well). In this situation you need to apply for the bank account straight away as it takes about two-three weeks to arrange it. For setting up an account you will need the proof from your accommodation and from the university (both are special letters addressed to a particular branch of the bank). Basically if there are no services that require the UK bank account, I would recommend not bothering yourself with it.
The acceptance letter from LSE comes by DHL services quite fast after you first hear from your coordinator. However, if you are granted an accommodation in the halls of residence, you need to ask your coordinator for a supplementary letter confirming your housing arrangements.
For studying in the UK you can apply for one of two visas: either student visitor visa or Tier 4. The last one gives permission to work but costs three times more (about RUR 10,000).
In order to obtain a visa you need to collect all the required documents and submit an online application form. After that you will be able to choose a particular date and time when you go to the consulate to hand in your documents and biometric data. For the list of required documents, detailed application procedure and prices check the following two websites:
On average it takes about 5-10 days to get the student visitor visa. For Tier 4 it may take longer. I would advise to apply for the visa not later than one month before your departure.
If you are planning to travel outside the UK, don’t forget to arrange your Shengen visa.
International services / Orientation
Your main contact person and “helper” as a CEMS student is your CEMS coordinator. From this person you get all the information about housing, course registration, social events etc. My coordinator was an extremely helpful person: Catherine Fraser (C.M.Fraser@lse.ac.uk).
There is no international office as such as there are not many exchange students at LSE (though a big proportion of students are international). However, there is a Student’s office always ready to help with any inquiry you have (situated in the Old Building).
Formally LSE does not have an orientation program and there are no buddies available for you. The orientation activities in the beginning of the term mainly depend on your coordinator. (This year we had a dinner with LSE CEMS directors, watched a “Lion King” musicale, enjoyed an open-deck bus tour of London and a bowling party – all included in the price of the CEMS block-seminar).
Another issue is that you will have no opportunity to meet LSE CEMS people as they are all gone on exchange during the fall semester. This also means that there is no CEMS Club present at LSE at that time, thus you are free to organize your own one (with the help and permission from your coordinator). In terms of integration into the LSE life outside CEMS you can still join the Management Society organized by LSE MIM students.
As a CEMS student you will be given a very limited choice of CEMS-approved subjects (many of them are quite basic courses). Theoretically you can choose from other LSE courses as well, but then you need to approve it with your LSE and home coordinator. Another opportunity is to audit courses you are interested in, but then be careful with your workload as it increases very rapidly during the semester.
Online registration for the courses takes place one week before the term starts. At that point you can register for as many courses as you want, because you are then given two weeks to make a final decision (At LSE you need to take 4 courses, as they are worth 7.5 ECTS). It is advisable to have “spare” courses in your list especially if you want to take “capped” courses (number of slots limited), as you can eventually be not admitted to take the course you initially wanted (there are issues with limited slots for CEMS students). Moreover, after registering for courses there is an additional registration for seminars as there are several groups for each course. Try to be quick with this registration in order to build a proper schedule for yourself.
The main registration platform is “LSE for you” system, whereas the main information platform is Moodle, where you can download materials and lecture slides/notes. You can have access to materials of different courses, not only the ones you are registered for.
During the first two weeks it is advisable to visit as many different courses you are interested in as possible, before making the final decision.
One important issue is the following: always ask the professor at the very first lecture about the evaluation procedure for exchange students, as it is different from other LSE students.
It is difficult to compare courses at LSE to GSOM as they differ a lot depending on the department and professors. On average the courses from the Management Department do not leave up to students’ expectations and are inferior to the GSOM courses (as the department is very young). However, in other departments (e.g. accounting and finance) you can find very professional and quite specialised and advanced courses.
I have taken the following courses (in case someone needs more insight on those): MN423 Business in the global economy (compulsory), IS472 Strategic management and information systems, AC471 Accounting in the global economy, and OR434 Principles of decision-making.
The teaching format at LSE is the following: each week you have one lecture and one seminar in a particular subject. For each lecture there is background reading which you are supposed to do before coming to the lecture. For many courses readings are usually available in the form of course pack (may be free of paid). If not they are available online or from the library. Moreover, most teachers tend to distribute lecture notes and handouts. Moreover, some lectures are video-recorded and can be watched online.
The format of seminars might vary from doing case studies, to discussing research papers, to preparing presentations on particular topics and questions stated beforehand.
Note that LSE does not give any weight for class participation in their grades. All the seminar assignments are formative, i.e. designed to give you feedback and encourage participation, not reflected in the final grade.
Most courses will evaluate you on the basis of written essays. Those essays are supposed to have a strong academic focus (not a management consulting focus) – you will be required to see things from an economist’s rather than a manager’s point of view. Thus LSE is mainly concerned with the students’ individual and academically oriented work. You would rarely be supposed to work in teams and usually only for rather short assignments.
There is a quite wide range of language courses available at LSE (at price of about GBP 200 per term). However, these courses start in the middle of the term and end in February, thus I would not recommend taking them.
As a CEMS student you will have an opportunity to use electronic resources available form the LSE Language Centre: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/language/Home.aspx (they don’t have any printed materials). You can also apply for the Tandem program.
Otherwise, it is better to look for another provider of language courses in the city if you decide you need those during your semester in London.
First of all you should familiarize yourself with a LSE campus map (http://www2.lse.ac.uk/mapsAndDirections/Home.aspx), as there are about ten or so different buildings: most of them are not exceptionally new besides for the New Academic Building (the main venue of the Management Department). Note that heating is not very good on the campus, so it is going to be rather cold inside during the whole term.
In terms of computer facilities, there are two small computer rooms in the NAB and quite many computers in the library (on about six floors), though those are usually always busy except if you come very early in the morning. Thus if you want to work in the library, it is better to take your laptop with you: there are specific areas for laptop electric connections (most everywhere around the campus), so that should not be a problem. Wi-Fi is also available around the campus (the connection is quite good and rather fast).
In terms of printing, printers are available in computer rooms and in the library. Note that you cannot print from your laptop, thus you will need to log in on the LSE computer first. Thus allow yourself at least 20-30 minutes time to do your printing: you will need that time to find a free computer (which is almost always a problem). Printing costs 4 pence per page. You will need to use your LSE electronic wallet to pay for the printing (do not forget to transfer money from the LSE wallet to your printing account). By LSE wallet you can as well pay in the cafeteria and Student Union shop. Scanning is available in the library.
Also note that library can provide you with books for only a limited period ranging from one to seven days, and they fine you quite strictly on missing the deadlines.
In terns of food providing facilities, there are two canteens on the campus (better use the one in the Old Building), a few cafes and a few university pubs (like George IV and Three Tunes). You can as well eat in the nearby cafes or restaurants (the area is very lively).
If you need to buy stationery etc. you can do so in the Students Union shop (NAB ground floor): they have stationery, clothes, snacks and even electric adapters and hangers.
For the description of all LSE facilities (including sports) check the following webpage: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/intranet/LSEServices/services/facilitiesGuide/home.aspx.
A separate line of LSE services available are the services provided by the Career Center. This is the most active Career Centre I have ever seen, so you definitely have to take advantage of that: they are organizing a few company presentations, dinners, seminars, workshops, career forums and fairs, as well as different case studies and competitions every day. So stay informed about their activities. Note that you always have to register for those and do it promptly as the most popular events are gone in 5 minutes after the registration begins.
One of the most interesting events during the fall term is the ENI Petro Cahllenge.
Another important thing for CEMS students is to attend skill seminars: there are many provided by the LSE that give you credits, so don’t miss it. Also make sure you sign the attendance list, otherwise the staff will not be able to enter your data into the system.
Besides, you can arrange a meeting with a career counselor to discuss your CV or an upcoming interview (with a training provided as well).
Clubs and societies at LSE
There is an extensive number of clubs and societies around LSE: both sports and academic/social etc. For a comprehensive list you can check out the Student Union webpage: http://www.lsesu.com/. If you find something interesting there, make sure you are on the Freshers’ Fair where you can talk to people from those clubs and societies.
This is also one of the ways to extend your social network as exchange students usually tend to stay in their own group rather then engage in the ordinary LSE life. This is partly so because most LSE students are “stuck” with only one particular department whereas CEMS students usually tend to take courses from different departments thus not falling directly into any established social group.
Student health services
There is a health care unit on the LSE campus which you will be able to use once you register with the NHS. After you apply online (once you arrive, because you need to state your address), you will get a mail with your NHS number and the name of your doctor. Check the following webpage for more information not only on medical care, but also on other issues concerning international students at LSE (e.g. banking, insurance etc.): http://www2.lse.ac.uk/intranet/students/studentServicesCentre/infoOverseasStudents/Home.aspx.
LSE provides housing only for a limited number of exchange students on a lottery basis. I have been granted the accommodation in the High Holborn residence which is ten minutes walk from the LSE and is situated in a very central lively area five minutes away from Covent Garden and Leicester Square and within a walking distance from all major London attractions.
In High Holborn single rooms are organized into flats (4-5 rooms in a flat) with a common kitchen, bathroom and shower. The accommodation is rather adequate and comfortable, though you have to be prepared for a rather limited heating system (it is not on till mid October, thus it gets very cold in the room, so take warm home clothes with you). Also the price of accommodation in London is much higher that in other European countries: on average at least GBP 160 per week (and it is much higher for private accommodation).
For accommodation opportunities at LSE you can visit http://www2.lse.ac.uk/lifeAtLSE/accommodation/accommodationforStudents.aspx.
If you are not granted an accommodation, you can try to apply for one in the Bedford residence once you are in London (it has worked for a few students).
There is no airport pick-up organized but you don’t have to worry about that: most receptions at residence halls work 24 hours a day.
For information about transportation routes and fares you can visit http://www.tfl.gov.uk/. It is advisable to buy an Oyster card once you are in London (sort of Russian BSK). If you don’t plan to use the transport very often you can buy a pay-as-you-go one. But if you live far away from the university it might be better to buy a student monthly card.
Note that tube strikes and maintenance works are extremely popular in this country: so if you are using tube regularly, check for the disruptions before planning your journey. Also bear in mind that in the mornings and evenings there are extensive traffic jams al around the city.
Arriving at the airport
The most comfortable way to arrive in London is arriving at Heathrow airport (http://www.heathrowairport.com/) as it is directly connected to the city by the underground. Note that the taxi service from the airport to the city centre will cost you about GBP 80.
If you arrive at Gatwick (http://www.gatwickairport.com/) or Luton (http://www.gatwickairport.com/), you can use the coach services of EayBus or Greenline to get to the city centre (tickets can be booked online). Otherwise you can use rail services.
A few things about London
First of all, as the semester at LSE is extremely short and there is so much to see in London and outside the city as well, I would recommend to plan your visit beforehand. You can use the following resources: http://www.visitlondon.com/ or http://www.visitbritain.com/. For going out venues you can check out the Time Out webpage. Note that many major museums have free entrance (except for some temporary exhibitions). Also be free to ask for student tickets and discounts, as they are usually available (even in some clothes shops). Thus you need to have your students ID with you all the time.
Another important issue is that you need a proper ID with a photo stating your age in order to get into a pub or night club: driving licenses and passports are only accepted (you can take a photocopy of your passport).
Moreover, don’t forget that UK has the left hand side auto movement, so be careful while crossing the road and watch signs saying which side you are supposed to look on.
Finally, if you have arranged a meeting or interview, it is better to check beforehand the exact position of the house you are looking for, as the UK house numbering system is different from ours. There are no odd/even sides; the numbers usually go in circle, so you never know where exactly a particular number is. That might get frustrating if you are running late.
And the last thing, London is a rather expensive city. Thus be prepared to spend at least 12 pounds on a moderate lunch/dinner (up to 20 pounds for a proper 2 course dinner). Prices at supermarkets are higher than in Saint Petersburg as well at least by 20%.
Things not to forget:
There is the list of things you should definitely take with you:
1. Medicines (most medication in the UK is sold by prescription);
2. Passport copies for both Russian and international passport (in case you lose it);
3. A driving license (if you have it);
4. Documents for laptop (there are new customs rules in Russia);
5. Electricity adaptor (in case you forget it, you can then buy it at the post office or in the Student Union shop);
6. CV and recommendations (as there are going to be many career events);
7. Business smart and casual clothes;
8. Warm home clothes;
9. Flip-flops for shower;
10. Bed sheets and towel (or buy them on the spot).
If you happen to have any further questions about LSE and London, feel free to contact me by e-mail: Polina.firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also available on vkontakte and facebook.