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The Difference Between Visiting London and Living in London

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With a short time frame of only three months, I thought I would never be able to call London “home”. Upon first arriving in London it felt as if I was on a quick vacation. With my IFSA orientation group, we hit all the major tourist attractions. We explored Borough Market, where I got to try the viral chocolate-covered strawberries. We then took a boat tour where we saw Big Ben, the London Eye, the Shakespeare Globe, and Tower Bridge. After exiting the boat we headed to Big Ben to take the iconic picture with a red telephone booth with Big Ben standing tall in the background.

Throughout the entirety of that day, I felt like a tourist as I visited those sites, took my pictures, and bought my poor quality “I ♡ London” sweatshirt from one of the many tourist trap stores. I was hoping that this tourist persona would disappear upon completing orientation and moving into my dorm on Queen Mary’s campus but that wasn’t the case especially because we Ubered to campus from orientation housing for fifty pounds instead of taking the tube for five. During the first two weeks on campus, my friend group went to some of the top tourist spots including the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, a QPR game, and Buckingham Palace.

To get to all these places and navigate the tube, Google Maps was always in use. When leaving these places, drained and exhausted, I would always say I was ready to go back to campus. With 11 weeks to go and these habits still intact, I still saw myself as a visitor and not a resident of London. But as the weeks went on these habits started to cease and new ones took their place. Instead of looking at Google Maps for directions, I found myself glancing at the tube maps at the station. Instead of focusing on the popularity of a location, I started focusing on the quality of a location. I stopped wanting to go to touristy locations and started wanting to avoid them. My favorite example of this is the most famous market in London, Borough Market(hence the reason it was one of my first stops once arriving in London), but by the end of my time in London, I can easily say the food is average and the crowds are absurd. For this reason, I found myself choosing Spitalfields Market (pictured below) when craving a market experience as the food is far superior and it’s not one frequented by tourists so you can get your food within two minutes of ordering instead of twenty.

I stumbled upon Spitalfields Market one day after leaving my “walking the city” class and that was one of the first moments I didn’t feel like a tourist to find this amazing spot no Google search, TikTok video, or Instagram post was involved. After this amazing find, I found myself wanting to see the real London not just the one I’d known all my life through social media and movies. I stopped constantly researching where to go next for an adventure and instead just started wandering the city so I could stumble upon more of the hidden gems in London. This method familiarized me more with the city than Google Maps ever could to the the point I finally felt like I lived in London. I knew this feeling to be true when I went to Richmond for the day with my friends and by the end of it I was exhausted so when heading to the tube I said “I’m so excited to go home and get in my bed” to which my friend Mackenzie said “We’ve only been here for less than two months and you already want to go back to the States?” and to her surprise, I said, “no not the States…Queen Mary”.

So when it comes to changing your mindset from that of a visitor to a resident the best advice I could give anyone is to try your best to find your favorite places in the city instead of going to the ones the internet tells you should be your favorite. When it comes to finding these places the how is simply by just walking the city every chance you get. Instead of using Google Maps and focusing on the end destination try to focus as well on the in-between. Most of the time the place you’re heading to isn’t as great as one of the places you pass by on the walk there that you could’ve stopped, looked in, and chosen if you focused on everything around you on the way instead of the one place you were headed.

Claire Hill (Franklin and Marshall) attended the Queen Mary, University of London in the Fall of 2023 through IFSA’s partnership London, England study abroad program.