I am so glad I chose CAPA London; it was my first time in Europe, and it was a great time for me to learn and discover myself independently. With the exception of the nighttime bus routes, (those maps are very confusing) I had no trouble navigating around the city. (Safe community, and no language difficulties). Flexibility in scheduling allows for external travel and discoveries, in a culture rich city. However, one must keep in mind that a study abroad experience is what you personally make of it. I've had friends who have done the same exact thing, and said that it was nothing special.
In the beginning, you are introduced to the city via tourist route; that is, we took a bussed tour around the city, where a tour guide gleefully introduced us to the major land marks, and well known historic areas. We also visited Stone Henge, which, for me was the highlight of the tour- I'm not one for tours, because I find them, well, rather bland, but I'm not sure how I'd have gone to Stone Henge otherwise.
I would say this program is more about personal learning and exploring rather than pure academics. It all depends on your university, but mine did not take our final grades, only the credits as long as we reached a certain grade. This is not to say that I didn't try- as long as you complete the assignments, and listen during lectures, doing well in your courses is not an insurmountable task. Classes simply consist of lectures, assigned reading, a few presentations, and a final exam at the end. If you have any questions, the professors are always more than willing to help, and are very chatty and friendly as well. I will say it is a more American style of learning, as we have assignments throughout the course, and our final mark is not contingent on just one exam.
However, I do wish the program as a whole was a bit more organised- sometimes I felt like all the components of our responsibilities- housing, assignments, travelling, etc. lacked in proper cohesion. Often times, we were confused as to what we needed to do, where we needed to go (such as finding our flat, assignment due dates, etc.) This was more of a problem for my classmates, though I just found that a bit more communication would have solved the issues. Sometimes, for example, a professor would be expected to adhere to the CAPA curriculum instead of their own, and they weren't aware that they were to present certain presentations- and embarrassingly found themselves fumbling with the content. However, the content is what matters- all the other issues are easily solvable by asking questions if you need additional instructions.
Travelling is so easy in London that it would be a crime to take a taxi. CAPA gives each student a prepaid Oyster card that can be utilised on all public transportation for the duration of the program. Take advantage of the free museums and cultural attractions- London is one of the world's most diverse cities, and places like Borough Market and Camden market has food stalls in rows with food from all over the world.
I would also advise to take advantage of the student union at Imperial College, a partnership that is unique to CAPA. There, you can make friends with British University students, join clubs and sports, and utilise facilities. Imperial is one of the top universities in the UK- and you can easily be a part of the community- it is there that I've made some of my best friends, and also discovered London through a local's point of view.
Travelling is also a must- though you are not on the mainland of Europe- any country is within a few hours away. I suggest planning ahead to find the cheapest rates.
Quick tips for making the most of your experience:
1. Don't just do what tourists do- by doing the "typical" things, you don't experience London as a local; just what all foreigners see- anyone can see Big Ben- but going on a street art walk in Shoreditch is something I wouldn't want to miss
2. Get to know the locals- you'll have friends with different view points, who can introduce you to their city- too many of my friends say they didn't know any British people by the end of our program- that's because they just stuck to each other. You're not in a foreign country to get to know more Americans.
3. Utilise your Oyster card as much as you can- it's prepaid- anyone who's stayed after the program knows that those fees really add up.
4. If you're going to travel- plan ahead of time. Airline flights are ALWAYS more expensive the closer you get to your departure date. And hostels are a marvellous alternative to expensive hotels.
5. Document your discoveries with photos and maybe even a journal- you'll look back on it in the future and be glad you could relive those memories.
6. Go out of your comfort zone and try something new- you never know what you're going to discover. You have time to sleep and rest when you get home- these several months should be filled with discoveries and new things. So get out there and enjoy yourself!