Meet Maddy at University College London!
Name: Madalen Bayley
University: University College London (UCL)
Degree: BSc Global Humanitarian Studies
Year of Study: 2nd year
How did you choose your university destination and course of study?
I never imagined I would get into a uni such as UCL but it was my mum who pushed me to apply for my course! I looked at many courses at various universities related to international development and disaster management but none of them met my niche interests like UCL’s BSc Global Humanitarian Studies.
It was the first ever year UCL was running this course and it felt like a special opportunity to be a part of the inaugural cohort. On top of meeting my exact interests, I felt there was no better time in my life to experience living in central London than in my early twenties at an amazing university!
Growing up in the Turks & Caicos Islands and studying under the British education system (IGCSEs and A Levels), moving to the UK for my undergraduate degree seemed like a natural progression.
What have been the highlights of your academic programme so far?
My course is an interdisciplinary programme and as a result allows me to explore a wide range of topics and skills while still remaining relevant to my overarching interests.
Throughout this degree I’ve had the opportunity to test my skills in geospatial data analysis and qualitative research methods while also nurturing interests in social anthropology and the history of humanitarianism.
One stand-out highlight of my programme so far was a field trip day for a Humanitarian Policy module. Our cohort started the day out in Trafalgar Square and got to explore other central landmarks of London while engaging hands-on with aspects of our module. The day ended watching a debate on parental alienation policy in the Houses of Parliament! This is an experience I’m not sure I would have been afforded had I not come to UCL.
What do you enjoy most about living in London?
I am never bored! There truly is something for everyone in London. Although it can be expensive, London is a very student-friendly city and you can find hidden-gems for fun on a student budget.
One of my favourite things to do is visit the many museums London has to offer, almost all of which are free to access! Aside from museums, London has many beautiful parks and green spaces that are great places to spend sunny days and get some fresh air away from the usual hustle and bustle of the city. The theatre scene is also incredible in London! You are never lost for something to do while you’re in London, there is always something interesting going on.
How supportive is your university to international students?
By virtue of growing up in a British Overseas Protectorate country and having a British passport through my mum, I am in a unique position where I don’t qualify as an international student even though I have never lived in the UK prior to coming to uni!
That being said, UCL is recognised as London’s “global university” and has a very multicultural student body. Moving to another country can be very overwhelming but there are so many cultural student societies at UCL that it is easy to find a little piece of home in London.
What have been 3 of the main challenges you have faced during your time at university?
Adjusting to living on my own and being away from family was a major challenge for me! The prospect of going to uni in a big city and having my independence was really exciting but the thought of being thousands of miles away from home also caused me a lot of anxiety. The first month or so of first year was really difficult but as soon as I found a good group of friends and established a routine I was really happy.
Learning to cook actual meals that weren’t just sandwiches and cereal was also a learning curve! I quickly learned that nourishing yourself can make a big difference to your attitude at uni. Thankfully there a lot of great recipes out there for delicious and affordable student meals that have been really helpful. I’ve become vegan since being at uni and there are loads of amazing cookbooks out there that have really helped me develop my skills in the kitchen.
Lastly, learning to budget and manage your money properly. London is an expensive city so it can be very hard to make the most of your time here and have fun while also making sure you have funds for groceries and rent. After the first couple of months, it’s easier to estimate your budget for each aspect of your life and save accordingly.
What activities are you involved in outside of your academic programme?
Outside of my academic programme, I work for a student’s union cafe on campus as a barista. The job is super flexible with hours so I am easily able to balance my academic, social and work lives. Another perk of the job is free coffee from any SU cafe on campus!
Alongside work and uni, I also volunteer as a Brownie leader with Girlguiding UK. We meet once a week for an hour and a half and do lots of fun activities. I help look after 30 girls between the ages of 7-10 y/o and they are all lovely. We make crafts, play games and when the weather is nice we get to spend afternoons outside at Hampstead Heath. I really enjoy volunteering with Girlguiding. It’s really fun and fulfilling to feel like you’re making even just a small, positive difference in these young girls’ lives.
I’m also part of the GenFem (Gender & Feminism) Society and Swimming Club!
How easy is it to find accommodation? Can you describe your living arrangements?
Finding UCL accommodation in first year was very straightforward (as long as you meet all the deadlines)! When emails were sent out about first-year accommodation I logged onto the UCL platform with my mum and we selected my budget, facilities, catering preferences etc. Within a few weeks I was assigned my designated student hall – it was a 25 min walk from main campus, I had my en-suite bathroom and fully equipped kitchen that I shared with 4 others. I felt safe where I was and was just a 10 min walk from Kings Cross station which made getting around London super easy!
Moving out of student accommodation after the first year can be really daunting! Rent is not cheap in London and the market is competitive with a lot of students house hunting at the same time. I lived in a 4 bedroom house near Caledonian Rd with 3 of my course-mates this year and it was great! It was close to plenty of shops and had really convenient transport routes to uni. It can be easy to stress about feeling like you’re leaving house hunting until the last minute but London is a big student city and new places pop up everyday.
Do you think your university experience is preparing you well for the working world and do they offer support with finding jobs and internships?
UCL Careers service is excellent for equipping you with the right skills to enter the working world. You can book meetings with the team to go over anything from interview skills to creating a perfect CV.
Within my department, we have a careers advisor who helps source internship opportunities specifically within fields that are relevant to our degree. People on my course have had opportunities to work with international lawyers on issues revolving around the conflict in UKraine as well as spending time in Japan for work experience!
What opportunities have you had to travel and explore during weekends and vacations?
London is an excellent hub for finding cheap flights around Europe. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Italy, Austria and Portugal since I’ve been living here, all at prices suitable for a student budget! If you find them at the right time, flights and hostels are cheap in most big European hubs. Aside from international travel, there are so many beautiful places within the UK that are easily accessible by train. I’ve been to Brighton, Bournemouth, Cambridge, York, Birmingham and Liverpool for weekends away with friends and they’ve all been really fun!
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would offer an international student thinking of coming to London to study?
- Get involved! Meeting new people and making friends is the key to finding your footing in London. Joining student societies, finding a job and/or getting involved in volunteering are all great ways to meet people.
- Make the most of London while you’re here. Not everyone gets the opportunity to live in one of the greatest cities in the world in their 20s so make the most of it. Go to as many museums as you can, plan days outside of central London, go sightseeing and go to as many of the amazing spots for food as you can!
- Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Starting university in a big city is very overwhelming. Joining an academically rigorous institution can sometimes feel like everything is a bit too much. There are plenty of people to turn to for help, so don’t feel ashamed to ask for it! Take a deep breath and use the resources available to you – your mental health is the most important before anything else.