Exchange report - Student at KI
Home university: Imperial College School of Science, Technology and Medicine
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Spring semester 2015/2016
Name: Ioana Chelcea
Email address:


My main reason for choosing Imperial College London was the fact that it is the most prestigious and highest ranked of all the partner universities available for an exchange through KI. Also London is an immense, exciting city and was an attractive choice. Lastly the UK was part of the EU meaning very little paperwork was required. Before leaving I also asked some advice from a previous exchange student that had been to London.

Arrival and registration

Since I was doing a research project, I didn't really have a specific date when I had to arrive in London. However the required length of the project is 20 weeks which means having to leave KI before courses end. This was however not a big issue as students leaving early were allowed to complete assignments abroad as long as the course coordinators were informed at the beginning of the course. Going to the introduction week was however not possible as it overlaps with an exam at ki due to its placement before the winter break.

I travelled to London in early January, a week before the start of my project in order to fix accommodation and maybe get to see a bit of the city before starting to work. One of the first things to do is also applying for a student discounted oyster card as this will reduce the costs of travel.


The most common thing everyone says about living in London: it's EXPENSIVE. Mainly the accommodation and travel are the big expenses. Food is otherwise fairly similar to Sweden or even a little cheaper. My stay was financed through CSN (both bidrag and loan), erasmus stipend, my parents and some savings I had. The reason why you need a fairly large amount of money in the beginning is that most agencies require at least a deposit worth one month of rent plus the first rent before you're allowed to move in. It's not surprising however when the deposit is 2 months worth of rent so make sure to read reviews of the agency before paying since many are up for scamming people off their deposit. Also even with travel discount, prices for the oyster card are about double of what SL charges and they goe up with the amount of zones you have to travel through meaning that if you live further from central London travel is going to be even priceyer.

Another important issue to think about is money. Paying with card is possible in most places but if you'd like to pay smaller sums a lot of places (especially restaurants or farmers markets) won't accept cards under a certain sum (often 10 pounds). Swedbank charges a fee every time you take out pounds and it adds up pretty fast. Also most agencies do not accept payment from international cards or add a ridiculously high charge for paying with an international card so I was forced to open a UK bank account. However most banks will refuse to open an account if you don't have a contract for living in the UK for at least a year. The only bank who has understanding for the situation and which allowed the opening of the account is the Santander located on the college campus so I highly recommend them.


Accommodation is the one biggest issue in London. There are plenty of places available but usually small, old and expensive. I tried looking for rooms in advance but that is almost impossible as most places you find are short notice and I haven't found anyone putting up rooms more than maybe half a month before the moving in date. The week before our departure however I managed to book a couple of apartment viewings using the site Most of them were advertised by agencies but some by individuals. Since I was going to live with my boyfriend, I mainly searched for a double room which makes it a little bit cheaper as you divide the price by two. I had a friend to stay at for the first week during which I went for viewings. Finding cheaper accommodation is possible if you live further out and share both bathroom and kitchen but the travel might cost quite a lot as well. We rented a room through an agency called Myrooms which was ok. They did respond to issues fairly fast and the deposit was returned to us within a month upon contract termination. A big piece of advice though is to read the contract thoroughly. There are many extra fees for anything you might forget doing such as termination of the contract (despite contract being signed only for a certain period of time).

In the end I rented a room (shared with my boyfriends) with a private bathroom and the kitchen was shared with 2 other flat-mates. The apartment was located close to the Shepherds Bush station and a large Westfield, thus it was very expensive (around 1000 pounds a month) due to its central location.

Studies in general

I was in London for my degree project so I wasn't involved with student activities and did not go to any courses. I worked with a great supervisor which I talked to almost every day and with the guidance of several PhD students in the lab. Coming from Sweden I was expecting a more hierarchical system at Imperial but personally I did not notice it at all. My supervisor was very nice and helpful and the PhD students as well.

Courses during the exchange period

Courses corresponding to semester 1 at KI

Project work

In the beginning I was not very sure what my project was going to be exactly and it sounded a bit more chemical than what I thought I could handle but as time progressed I became more and more independent and secure in what I was doing. Also since I mainly did a method optimization it was incredibly fun and there was no exact way to perform certain assays thus it all came down to trial and error. I spent around 5 to 10 hours a day in the lab depending on the day and occasionally came in for half an hour on weekends to put in a culture or prep some media.

I started writing materials and methods as soon as I started working in the lab but did the rest of the writing mainly the last 2 weeks where I did not perform any lab-work.

Overall the project was very exciting and it was the single most valuable experience during my studies.

Language and Culture

Since the spoken language in the UK is English, I did not experience many issues. Occasionally I had to ask people to repeat themselves due to thick accent and fast talking but otherwise there should be no language issues coming from KI to the UK.

London is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world and it was noticeable. I've met people from so many different countries, all loving certain aspects of London. It was a valuable and refreshing experience and I did not experience much culture clashing as such.

Leisure time and social activities

My project allowed for way more leisure time than my studies at KI since there were set working hours and weekends were not occupied by studying allowing me to explore London. I do recommend exploring different parts of the city as it has so many different things to offer. The abundance of cultures also gives rise to the most amazing variation of authentic cuisines with my 2 favourite places for food and drinks being Soho and China town. There are quite a few farmers markets all over London which offer an amazing variety of different cuisines including good British food (yes, there is such a thing and it's delicious) such as meat pies, pasties, scones and cakes. The Borough market is the biggest and offers the best variety but once a week there is even a market on imperial college campus offering many lunch or desert possibilities.

I also enjoy working out in my leisure time and imperial college has its own gym which is free for students but there is a onetime 40 pounds fee for an introduction. The gym is fairly good but quite busy with a ridiculously small free-weights area so think about going at non-peak hours. The gym was actually a great place to come in contact with other students since I didn't have any courses and I met several really great people that shared my interest for working out.

Also if London is not enough to quench your thirst for exploring I would recommend a trip to Cambridge which is charming in a totally different way.  The trains in the UK aren't extremely expensive so I even took a trip to Edinburgh which was also a lot of fun. 


I believe this exchange was an amazing experience both on a personal and professional level. Imperial college London is a prestigious university and knowing people that research there is definitely great for future prospects. Most importantly however I enjoyed London so much, I could imagine working or doing a PhD there in the near future and having lived there will help in case I will be returning. The UK in general offers great possibilities especially when it come to the pharmacological industry and medical research and living there for a semester is a great way to test if you want to be coming back or not.