My name is Conor Lynott, a Wexford man studying a history Erasmus course in University College London (UCL) as part of my History and Philosophy BA degree in UCD. If truth be told, my decision to compete for one of the three UCL Erasmus places on offer in UCD History was an impulsive one, one that was made twelve months ago.
The reason it was impulsive was because I didn’t rate my chances of meeting the demands of academic qualification for London, never mind the funding that would come my way if I managed to meet these academic requirements. Unlike in a foreign language, it’s not a foregone conclusion that you’re going to a foreign country in UCD history, it’s a bonus. So, in a sense, the act of me signing up for Erasmus was a dare to myself – if I wasn’t successful, then I knew where I stood in terms of academic ability. If I was, then the possibilities could be endless. I was successful, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this piece, but the point is, if you get the opportunity to compete for a place – just go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose, all that’s going to happen is that graduation is going to come a bit quicker and you’re out quicker than you expected.
Preparing for Erasmus is not easy. Even after I’d successfully applied to the UCD School of History, there was still the small matter of setting up a new life in London. With this in mind, I went to London for three days in March to check out accessible accommodation options that would not present punctuality issues. I was to figure out the procedure for securing an NHS GP by asking question after question about the paperwork and rules contained in the English health system. The final action during that three-day trip was a conversation with the UCL Erasmus Co-ordinator about module choices.
For those of you who are under any illusions, an Erasmus trip to London isn’t cheap, especially if, like me, you have a disability. That was offset, however, by generous grants from the HEA, the EU and UCD themselves that covered specific costs relating to my disability. Without these grants, such a trip wouldn’t be possible. I also worked for the EPA over the summer because the cost of living in London left me with little choice if I wanted to have any wiggle room financially.
I left for London the week ending the 17th August. There was a long trip over the Welsh border into central London. Such is the congestion in the city centre that parking is forbidden unless prior permission is granted. On first impression, you start to notice little things right away. In Ireland, all the double road lines near the kerb are yellow. In London, they’re nearly always red. The ‘roads’ look more like mazes due to the sheer number of concrete islands and pedestrian crossings. The foot pavements can vary from the simple and modern to the old and cobbled.
Setting up a bank account in London was as interesting as it was awkward. I mean, sure, bringing the account into existence was the easy bit. The hard bit was making the account more user friendly, as it were. The Natwest bankers have this weird rule that university students are not allowed a ‘contactless’ card. I was speechless when I heard this for two reasons: First, there’s an assumption in the rule that all students are not to be trusted with the contactless feature. This didn’t make sense to me because most college students are over 18 anyway and I already used one for my Irish account to make transactions easier to handle physically. I put my case to them and thankfully, they relented.
As far as accommodation is concerned, the best way to get UCL student accommodation is to work for University of London , who provide the student halls or to prove that you have a disability. Otherwise, it’s a lottery, regardless of whether or not you can claim to possess the necessary funds.
Picking modules in advance was fun, I must admit. Just seeing the range of time periods and topics available made my head spin. What is more, the UCL teaching staff are relatively well known, so I was able to read about the credentials of the people involved.
To finish off, there was a lot of work involved in getting here, but, and no cliché intended here, it was worth it. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I talk about experiences settling into and living in London.
Conor Lynott – Sports Editor