By WENYAN DENG ’15
It’s your first weekend trip to London. You are at the Tower of London. Do you spend 20 pounds to go into the Tower of London to see the crown jewels? Or would you take a cruise down the River Thames instead? Or maybe go on to the London Eye and get a breathtaking view of the city?
All these activities will cost you money, and budgeting can be tricky for students traveling overseas. Among the concerns on the minds of study abroad students, monetary considerations probably rank the highest.
But affordability means more than just saving money; it means maximizing your money’s worth and using it to buy the best experience. It seems a no-brainer that saving money on things like an extra bag of chips or one more night out will leave you with more money to travel during your semester abroad. But students studying abroad need to strike a balance between paying for everyday expenses and saving up so that they can enjoy cultural experiences associated with being in a new place.
This semester, I’m studying abroad in Cambridge, and I’ll be writing a biweekly column about the hidden gems of Cambridge and some of the best advice I’ve gathered on how to make the most of a semester abroad.
For this week’s column, I’ll be discussing how to best economize a stay in Cambridge. Different people have different ideas about what is worth paying for, but here are some tips on everyday saving that will help you economize your stay in the United Kingdom and maximize your money’s worth.
In terms of banking, if you have a Bank of America account, you can withdraw money without transaction fees at a Barclays ATM machine, but the exchange rate isn’t always ideal. Most people choose to bring some cash and open a bank account with Barclays, so that money can be wired to the account. Alternatively, there are many HSBC ATMs around Cambridge, which works well if you already have an HSBC account.
The biggest expense at Cambridge is probably on food. Like Cambridge undergraduates, study abroad students at Cambridge are not on meal plans. Options for dining are limited to cooking, dining halls and eating out.
Cooking is the cheapest option, but it can be time consuming, especially if you have classes near lunchtime. The next most economical choice is going to the dining halls or junior parlors, which are student centers for undergraduates and serve as cafes. For a quick lunch, Cambridge Pembroke College’s junior parlor offers an excellent panini for only one to two pounds. Alternatively, a meal at Pembroke College’s dining hall costs only three pounds, depending on what you order. If you are a member of Pembroke College, but are living in another college’s accommodations (for example, at Downing College or Corpus Christi College) you’ll also be able to use the junior parlor and dining hall of the college where you are living. Generally speaking, Downing College has the best food—especially desserts—and meals cost less than four pounds.
A third option is eating out, which can be expensive. There are many cheap and good Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Mexican and Thai restaurants in town. The cheapest food probably comes from the street vendors near the Cambridge markets. If you purchase food at a Thai food vendor, you’ll get a portion of Pad Thai that’s enough to last you for two meals, and you’ll only have to pay as little as six pounds. (Plus, the Pad Thai in Cambridge is better than what is offered at Lemon Thai.)
Chinese food options range from Beijing and Sichuan restaurants to Cantonese restaurants. You’ll pay anywhere from seven to ten pounds at most of the Chinese restaurants in Cambridge. If you are looking for a night out with a friend, trying out new restaurants could be a worthwhile way to spend your time and money, but it isn’t practical for three meals a day.
Cambridge also has formal halls that provide a unique dining experience. All colleges have formal halls, which are fancy dinners that last for two hours from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Ladies attending formal halls are expected to wear cocktail dresses and men must wear tuxedoes in addition to black gowns that look very much like the robes from Harry Potter. During dinner, students are served a four-course meal by dining hall staff. A Pembroke formal hall costs as little as eight pounds. Some other colleges, like Robinson College, have more expensive formal halls that costs about twelve pounds. The formal hall experience varies among the different colleges, but in general, attending a meal at a formal hall can give you a great “taste” for what life is like for Cambridge students.