Savannah Symister is a “fresher” at Goldsmiths University of London. Princess Beatrice of York, daughter of Prince Edward, also attended Goldsmiths and majored in history.
Q: You’ve had a unique experience being abroad in London. What is it like?
A: It’s really cool being in London, especially this past month. There is always something going on and it’s never dull. When Kate Middleton gave birth to the royal baby, there were celebrations everywhere and this big tower in the city was lit up.
Just the other day we had the election (on May 7, the British people re-elected the Conservative party to a majority), and that was also really exciting. The news kind of hits you in the face here.
Q: How’s your dorm?
A: I live in the East End of London, but I live with my mom and my aunt in her house. My school is in South London, which is about 30 minutes on the Tube.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between schooling in America and schooling in England?
A: The teaching is really different here. The teachers expect a lot more from you here, especially since it’s a college. Nothing is fed to you. I guess the workload is rather chill compared to America, like I had no homework for the first part of this semester. The most important thing is to keep up with your reading.
The only real hard thing is that there is one giant exam and one huge essay at the end of the year that is cumulative. It’s basically one big examination, but it’s doable and it gives you freedom throughout the other parts of the year.
Q: How do you feel about your choice?
A: Honestly, it was the best choice that I ever made. To think that just a little before this time last year I was weighing all of my college options!
I basically thought when I decided to go to Goldsmiths, “Why not? If I don’t like it, I can always go back home.”
Not only is it amazing to study in a different country, but since London is a major cultural center of not just Europe but internationally as well, I get to experience a whole new range of cultures and ideas from around the world.
When I jump on the bus, I don’t hear any English at all.
Q: I heard that the British major system is very different.
A: It really is so different. They make you pick a major as soon as you apply, and then once you declare your major, all your classes are based from it.
For example, I’m a history major and all of my classes are history based. Because they are history based, they have a lot of discussion, and Goldsmiths has a reputation for being a bit of a hipster school, so really you can say anything.
Q: Your mother moved to London, but you’re overseas, so you probably have a different type of homesickness. Can you explain?
A: Yeah, it’s not too bad because most of my family lives in London, so I have the comfort of home with me. But I miss my California weather.
Let me tell you, this is the coldest winter of my life. It is absolutely freezing here, and it’s only just started to get better. It’s kind of like how in “Game of Thrones,” they always say that winter is coming, but it never does until it does and then it’s very scary.
Teachers and other people would tell me how cold it would be, but I didn’t believe them in the beginning. At first I was freezing all the time. I had to buy new clothes, and I got sick a lot because I was always cold.
Q: By the way, it’s a balmy 79 degrees in Sacramento right now. With your college being in the city, does the school need a lot of clubs?
A: Well, first there aren’t any Greek societies here. But there are a million different clubs you can join. The first week is called fresher’s week (freshmen are called freshers) and they have every society out and about. Unlike in America, the sports teams don’t rule the school.
Don’t get me wrong. There are teams at schools here in England, but it’s more like Country Day with no drops. Also you can select which level of difficulty you want, so some people can play at the level where you compete with other schools, or you can choose the level where it’s really just socializing.
Q: Have you joined any societies yourself?
A: I joined the drama and volleyball societies.
Q: What is it like with no Greek life?
A: Because we don’t have fraternities or sororities, the societies take their place on the social scene here. So each society has their own initiation rite and it becomes your little family.
The cool thing about all the societies is that they go on getaways. I went with the sport society to Spain for a week during spring break. We played sports on the beach, and partied a lot. In Europe we don’t do Cabo; we do Ibiza.
Q: Wow! Quick trips just like that? Tell me more.
A: I have one friend that’s gone every other weekend. She’ll just get on the train and jet off to another city, and it’s not just her. Another society just went to Berlin, even though it’s not a break. It’s just so normal to go to a different country here. It’s very exciting.
Q: Have you had any British experiences, like tea time?
A: Tea time is one of those major misconceptions. It’s not like we have a national bell that rings in the middle of the city. It’s just a little custom. If you invite someone over to your house, you offer them tea, mainly because they are so cold. Tea is just like coffee in America.
Q: London is one of the most important cities in the world. Have you had any uniquely “London problems”?
A: Yes, the Tube and the rainy weather. When I first arrived, navigating the Tube was really challenging – not getting on the train, but moving through the station. My friend and I were traveling through the Tube to Oxford Street, and there is apparently a unspoken rule here that you stay to the left.
Of course, me, being an American, I didn’t know that I was supposed to go to the left, so instead I ended up going up-traffic on the down side. That was absolutely terrible. It was like a salmon trying to swim upstream. People would just slam into me and keep moving. When I finally got out, the guy by the ticket machine was smiling and said “Stay on the left,” and he was laughing as he said. it.
The other London problem that I’ve had is the weather. It will start to pour all of a sudden, with no warning at all. Like from blue skies to pouring rain with no warning at all! In the beginning I didn’t know that so I would get drenched on my way home, but now I’ve learned that you just have to do what the locals do and always have an umbrella on you.
Q: So London’s transport system is a disaster?
A: I try to avoid rush hour because it’s so busy. Getting on the bus system here can be confusing. I’ll take the bus in the wrong direction and it’ll leave me in the middle of nowhere.
Q: Have you tried Uber?
A: They have Uber in London, and at first I was really against it, but now it’s a good alternative. At night time, I’ll jump on the nighttime bus and that’s when you see the crazies. You meet the true heart of people in London when you’re on the night bus.
Q: Can you tell me a bit more about the night bus?
A: You get the creeps. You get the overly drunk people. You get the really happy people. One time I was on a night bus and there was someone who liked to sing. She had headphones in, and I don’t know what compelled her to think she could sing out loud in the bus. She was belting up “Let It Go” and Michael Jackson.
Q: Do you have any advice for the freshmen?
A: Only two real pieces of advice. First, don’t be worried about college. Focus on finishing high school and jump into the college experience. It really is a fresh start. It’s going to be something different entirely. Secondly, don’t worry about meeting new people. Whether you live at home or in the dorms, you will find your own clique.
Q: So as we’ve been doing this interview, you keep switching from a British accent to a Californian one. Did you realize that?
A: That’s what people keep on telling me now. As soon as I step outside, they say “Wow, she’s an American.” The first week it felt really weird, as if I was the only American. Actually at Goldsmiths I sometimes feel as if I’m one of the few Americans on campus. You always get weird questions, like “Why would you come to London?” I’m like, “Why wouldn’t you want to come to London?” It’s a bit like how we would want to go to London, they want to come to America.