Gautham Shankar is a 3rd year Commerce/Law student who studied at the London School of Economics for the summer school program in 2018.
Interviewed and edited by Sharon Li
What made you decide to do a summer school program?
The first thing was that it allowed me to get ahead in my degree. The second thing was that it was a good opportunity at the year end for studying abroad. Also, it would be in a period where I wouldn’t fall behind, as studying a law degree, it’s quite difficult to do an exchange before your final year. So rather than do an exchange in my third year, I would get to experience it earlier than other students, as well as being able to travel (the break between semesters is quite long) and I could experience a new way of studying.
What were the main factors in deciding which summer school to go to?
Ok, so your options for summer school are much more limited in comparison to normal exchange, so I had to choose from a limited number of universities to begin with. For me, it was either going to the US, where you could go to UCLA and Harvard, or the UK, which was LSE (London School of Economics). So the reason I chose London School of Economics was that the time the course takes is three weeks, as compared to the US universities which was six weeks (I might be wrong, so make sure you double check). The next thing was that studying in Europe allows you to travel much more easily around Europe as compared to studying in the US. For Europe, you don’t really need a visa to travel around, so you could go to most countries and experience a wider range of cities and destinations whereas with the US, there was a lesser variety of cultures to experience when travelling. Aside from that, LSE was also easier to match my courses up with, whilst also having a good reputation.
What was the admission process like and how does it differ from the admission process for regular exchange?
For summer school (it’s our winter, but their summer), you don’t actually do an exchange form, you do a cross institutional study form, which is a bit different. You lodge this form directly with the faculty your degree comes under, so if you’re studying a business degree you’d go to the business school and if you’re studying an arts degree, you’d go to the arts faculty etc. A cross institutional study essentially means that you don’t actually have to declare as much as you do for a normal exchange program, so you just declare the course you’re studying at the exchange university, say which course it matches up to at UNSW, then the faculty approves it and that’s pretty much it. It’s much simpler than the normal exchange process.
How competitive was it applying for LSE?
I’m not too sure if there’s a WAM requirement for summer school as it’s a bit different to exchange. So with exchange it’s a bit more like UNSW allows you to study at another university, but in order to be nominated there are WAM requirements that must be met, whereas with summer school, because you’re not actually leaving a UNSW semester, requirements aren’t as stringent, you need to have a minimum of a 65 WAM, but aside from that most students get in, so it’s not too difficult to gain a position.
How many courses did you take and which faculty were they in?
I took one course and it came under the finance faculty. It was a finance elective course called Analysis and Management of Financial Risk.
What was the main thing you got out of the summer school and would you recommend it to other students?
The main thing was that the quality of teaching was really good and you learn a lot too, especially if the course that you’re doing is relevant to your degree. It’s a new way of learning as well, as the style of teaching is very different and you get to meet a lot of new people who come from many different countries. Summer school is different from exchange in the sense that you’re studying with students who have come specifically for summer school, so they’re almost all international students like yourself, which is good as you learn a lot more about different people and see many new things. It also gives you a sense of independence which was really good. I would definitely recommend it to other people!
What kind of things did you really enjoy doing while you were there?
I really enjoyed the general culture in London, which I found to be very different to Sydney. I also enjoyed living on campus in the university college, as you get to meet lots of different people not only on your floor, but in the college as a whole. Even just experiencing the different lifestyle was a great experience as you obviously have to sort a lot of things out for yourself, which was really exciting and something you definitely wouldn’t be able to do at home.
How did you manage the balance between studying and enjoying your summer break? Was the workload intensive in comparison to UNSW?
Obviously because it’s a summer school program, it’s a bit more intensive, as you have five days of uni and each day you have four hours of classes. While it was more intensive, I felt that it was also good as you did have a lot of free time during the day to go sightseeing. When exams are around, (there are two exams, one in the middle of the second week and another at the end of the third week) it was definitely tougher to maintain a balance between work and holiday. However, overall, you could definitely balance the two, besides you also had the weekends to do a lot of travel. The university also organised a lot of social activities that you could take part in.
What kind of activities did the university organise and did they help you with immersing yourself into the local culture?
The university did organise day trips to specific cities, so they had day trips to Oxford and Cambridge and also some cruises, which did help with getting to know the culture. The university also organised many other social activities, including a lot of parties.
In terms of cultural differences, what was something you found difficult to adjust to?
I guess that London is a bit more relaxed in the sense that people are a little more laid back. Aside from that, just small day to day things are different and they do add up, so for example, you stand on the right instead of standing on the left. The public transport is also very different and there are many more shops available with a wider range of products. The city of London is very diverse and multicultural and there’s a large number of shops from all around the world, with a lot of food stores and markets set up, which I found to be different from Sydney.
How does the accomodation get organised?
LSE had a very efficient system of organising your accomodation, so once you get enrolled into the college, you get a link where you can check out accommodation. You have the option of checking out accomodation provided by the university or organising your own private accomodation. They give you a link to 6 or 7 colleges you can live at, so you have a look at these and select what kind of room you want, pay through the website and it guarantees you your reservation into the college. On the day before school starts, you go to the college, check in, they give you your key and then you go to your room!
Is there a significant difference between the cost of living there compare to living in Sydney?
Definitely yes. London is quite expensive as compared to Sydney, mainly because of the exchange rate. The Pound is a lot more favourable than the Australian Dollar. A lot of the time most things were denominated in the pound, so for example imagine you went to the shop and wanted to buy a loaf of bread and it was denominated as 3 pounds. Once you convert it to Australian Dollars it might be $5, but then you’d only be expecting to pay $3 for the product. Basically the numbers were the same, but once you converted it, it would be like 1.7 times more expensive. So definitely it was a lot more expensive for some things, but of course not all things. Food was a lot more expensive in some areas in comparison to other areas. Public transport was more expensive too. Accommodation was also quite expensive, but that’s to be expected. It would definitely be a bit more expensive than say travelling to Asia.
If you’re considering the UK for exchange instead, be sure to check out our other university profiles where we’ve written on universities such as the University of Leeds, which you can read here!