Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Imperial College School of Science, Technology and Medicine
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Spring semester 2020/2021
Name: Rosa Radmann
Email address:


After 2.5 years of living in Sweden, I was ready for a new challenge. The semester abroad was one of the main reasons why I decided to study at Karolinska Institutet, and it had been my plan all along to do my thesis project at Imperial (I had been thinking about doing my whole Bachelor there but decided against it for personal reasons). Imperial College London is one of the top universities for medicine worldwide and located in one of the greatest cities in the world, so I was beyond excited for this opportunity. 

I got the nomination to go on exchange right at the beginning of the pandemic so, naturally, planning was put on hold for a couple months. The organisation was a little tricky as the responsible person at Imperial hat taken a year off but after initial difficulties, I found the administrative side of Imperial very helpful. They were very experienced with Erasmus exchanges and answered emails promptly. 

I applied to a variety of labs and had interviews with a couple PIs before making my decision. I had a really good relationship with my PI from the very beginning and we were able to quickly get all the documents together. Although Imperial only takes in students in the Life Science Department, I ended up working at a lab at the Faculty of Medicine. However, I am not sure if I would recommend this as there was a lot of resistance from both Imperial and KI about this decision. 

Moving to England in the midst of a pandemic and a week after finalisation of Brexit brought a lot of challenges. As an EU citizen, I was not required to apply for a visa but instead got granted “short-term study entry clearance” as the course was under 6 months. The COVID restrictions turned out more difficult, as the UK had shut down a couple weeks before the moving date. There was a lot of back and forth and mental stress about whether to move or not but thankfully, everything worked out smoothly in the end. I had all the required documents to be exempted from the entry ban and had to quarantine the regular 10 days.

Arrival and registration

As mentioned, my semester abroad started with 10 days of quarantine. I had discussed this with my supervisor and used the time to take care of administrative things prior to starting in the lab (health and safety inductions/courses). 

Unfortunately, Imperial hosted no introductory events. I think this might have been due to the fact that they had no visiting students due to COVID (that were taking courses at least) and because the term dates are slightly different than in Sweden, so I arrived at the end of the winter term rather than at the beginning of a new term. ESN London (the Erasmus network) organised a couple online events which were fun but overall, I didn’t meet any fellow students via events hosted by Imperial/ESN.


If you decide to go to London, make sure you know: London is really, really expensive. This is already shown by the fact that as trainee student, I received the highest possible Erasmus grant that they give out. 

Thankfully, that extra money helped a lot and at least for me covered exactly how much more expensive London is compared to Stockholm (and this means mostly rent). I had also lived on a very tight budget in Stockholm and saved up quite a lot of money by that. I had made the decision beforehand that I am willing to spend more money in London and take with me all the wonderful experiences I made, so it will definitely be possible to spend less money than I did (but you might miss out on great stuff, too). 

Here are practical tips for living on a student budget in London:

  1. Same thing as in every city: Choose wisely where you buy your groceries. Buy in bulk at cheap stores such as Lidl, Asda or Aldi and then whatever they don’t have at Tesco, Sainsbury’s etc. Sign up for the loyalty/Clubcard memberships as they get you discounts!
  2. Get the student Oyster card or alternatively, bike/walk. I lived a little further from the hospital I worked at so I needed to take the tube every day but if you like walking/biking like me you might not even need an oyster card.
  3. As I worked at a hospital, I had an NHS card and there are big NHS discounts almost everywhere as a thank you for the hard work they do (literally the only good thing about this pandemic). 
  4. There are A LOT of student discounts that you can sign up for, such as Unidays. In general, whenever you order something or sign up for something check if they have offer student discounts before you pay.
London is an expensive city but it also has so much to offer. And with a bit of financial planning and budgeting you can definitely make the most of it without going bankrupt. 


Imperial College is located in one of the nicest areas of London (Kensington)i. London is a huge city so unfortunately, this means if you want to live anywhere near campus, rent will be high. However, the area is also very beautiful, and I really enjoyed living there. The buildings and streets are beautiful. Hyde Park and Holland Park are just around the corner, together with great museums, cute cafés, restaurants or pubs. Another advantage: you are closer to the city centre so biking/walking somewhere will definitely be possible. 

Unfortunately, I was not eligible for student accommodation as it is only for undergraduate students and because of the lab I worked at, I was considered a postgraduate. That being said, I am quite sure that this is not the case when you choose a lab at the Life Science Department and then I think Imperial student accommodation would be a great choice.

If you decide against it, then I recommend posting on Facebook (search for flat share groups in London or for other nationalities (or languages you speak) such as Svenskar i London). is the biggest page for finding a room and that’s where 90% of my friends found their place. Of course, if you have friends/acquaintances in London, talk to them and see if they know anyone who’s looking for a flatmate. I actually didn’t work on the main South Ken campus but worked in 2 hospitals so in case this is happening for you, make sure that you look into the commute to the hospital as that is where you’ll be most of your time.

Studies in general

I did not take any courses at Imperial but only conducted my thesis project. My supervisor was Hungarian, but Imperial is an equally international institution as KI, so I think that is quite normal. We had a really good relationship and got very well along. We had a lot of fun working together and even met for dinners. I found the work atmosphere to be very similar to Sweden (horizontal, little hierarchy, very casual) but this definitely depends on your supervisor/PI. I heard that in other lab groups, the traditional hierarchy is much more established (not that that’s a bad thing, I just prefer the Swedish way).

This was also the first time that I really experienced KI’s international reputation. Other researchers treated me like the prodigy and were very curious to hear about research at KI. To be fair, I do think that the facilities at Karolinska are exceptional as I definitely felt a downgrade in equipment and facilities coming from Biomedicum to Imperial.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 6 at KI
As mentioned, I spend my full thesis project (semester 6) at Imperial and only conducted research.

I definitely experiences some problems during my project work there. It's hard to say how much of this was due to COVID but there were a lot of administrative problems that came up. The department/division ended up having problems with my PI taking in a Karolinska student in so my work flow was disrupted multiple times. Experiments had to be moved, I couldn't enter certain facilities anymore and there was a lot of drama between the head of the groups. I was caught up in the middle of that which was very unfortunate because it was nothing that I did and yet I was most affected by these issues. 
In the end, Imperial is a huge institution with lots of bureaucracy and power-struggles as any big universities have it. But my PI always stood up for me and tried to make my experience and work as smooth as possible. I felt in good hands.

Language and Culture

Obviously, language was not a problem as they all speak English perfectly.

So let's talk about culture instead. As I mentioned before, you will most likely experience much more of a vertical hierarchy in the lab compared to the horizontal ways of Sweden. More senior positions are expected to be treated with respect and there is a bit of a "gap" between students and teachers whether I think in Sweden, it is much easier to connect with your boss and teachers. This is not necessarily better or worse but just different. 

Leisure time and social activities

I moved to London when things were at their very very worst in this pandemic. The UK was in a very strict lockdown with no social life happening whatsoever for so I am not sure how Imperial handles their incoming exchange students usually. For me, there were no events planned. ESN ( had a couple fun online events so I am sure they have cool stuff going on when there is no lockdown in place. 
Imperial has a ton of societies and sports teams that can be joined. Again, none of these were happening for the first 3 months I was there and by the time they starting meeting again I already had my group of friends and didn't feel like joining anything for the last month. 
I still met a lot of great people and made really great friends here. I had a few friends living in London already and reconnected with them, met some of their friends etc. I also made a lot of friends through my flat mate who was generous enough to bring me to every social thing that was happening. 

London is a very multicultural city so you truly meet people from all over the world. This diversity gives the city its own special charm and I found people to be very open and friendly towards strangers. Social gatherings are much easier to organise and take part in than in Sweden (nothing against the Swedish reservedness but you know what I mean). 
It is a lot bigger than Stockholm but there are so many things to do, even during lockdown. I went on millions of walks and cycles through the city and on countless day trips once that was allowed again with COVID restrictions. London really offers everything from restaurants, parks and nature, history and culture, sport activities and much more. The best advice I can give is take part in everything that is being offered to you and make the most of your time there. The UK is a beautiful country and there are so many cute small towns, huge national parks, seaside villages or big mountains to climb. 

hiking in Wales


I had the best time during my exchange. 

It definitely was no walk in the park, neither professionally nor personal. But in the end, I overcame all the obstacles of COVID, Brexit, moving to a new city and making new friends during a lockdown. It was everything I had hoped for. 

I know that this semester abroad will positively influence my future. Of course, this exchange will look good on my CV with a highly-ranked university. But I also feel like I learned a lot more about myself and what is important to me while living abroad. I can definitely imagine going back to London in the future to work here.
trip to Cornwall