August 19, 2016
Melissa Williams, HKS Salt Lake City

Hi everyone, Melissa Williams here in London for the Q3 Xchange! I’m a Utah transplant (originally from the Midwest), and you can normally find me in our Salt Lake City office. However, for the third quarter of this year, HKS has given me the opportunity to experience our firm abroad in the incredible city of London. I arrived just over a month ago to the Chelsea flat in proper London style—jetlagged in the back of a black cab—and was welcomed to my new home by Natasha Kemp. Previous London ‘Xchangers’ had clued me in about the poshness of the area, but I had no idea how lovely the flat itself would be. So, thanks to HKS, I get to spend the next three months living in the heart of Central London on the banks of the Thames, in easily the nicest place I’ve ever lived.

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These first few weeks have been spent simply getting my bearings and adjusting to a new city: it’s mind-bogglingly huge, especially coming from sparsely-populated Utah. In fact, London has triple the population of the entire state of Utah, but all in an area equivalent to just the Salt Lake Valley. That is to say, there’s a lot of people living in not a lot of space. To make things more complicated, very few streets are laid out in anything remotely resembling a grid. For most Americans (theoretically speaking), if you make four right-hand turns, you’ll end up in the same place you started. In London, four right-hand turns will land you—somehow—on the opposite side of the city. The scale across the city changes rapidly and (on a surface level) without much reason. I’ve missed countless turns because, why yes, that “alley” was actually a road, or because those two small storefronts comprised an entire “block”.

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What London lacks in urban planning rationale, it makes up with urban green space: for a city of its size, there is a lot of living, public greenery. At first I thought maybe it was just my imagination, so I had to look it up: about a third of London is public green space—and that’s not even counting private gardens and terraces. One THIRD, people! By contrast, New York City doesn’t even hit 15%. It’s no wonder, then, why Londoners cherish their summer weather—there are so many places here to get out and enjoy it. In fact, Londoners’ love for being outside isn’t limited to the parks, either: people pack into every bar, cafe, and restaurant with al fresco seating. Clearly, there’s an unwritten law here that when the weather’s nice enough to tolerate being outside, then be outside you must.

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Enough about the city...tune in next time for more about life in the HKS London office! For now, though, here’s a list of ten things I’ve learned so far:

  1. For the love of all things holy, do not stand on the left side of the escalator.
  2. ...sidewalks, however, are a free-for-all.
  3. If you’re an American, lower your voice by 40-50%...we yell-speak. It’s rather easy to pick us out in any given place—you can hear every word we say.
  4. Commute by bus. Take the tube when you must, but otherwise, take the bus.
  5. I miss having a personal vehicle exactly 0%.
  6. Picnicking is a way of life here; bread and cheese totally counts as dinner, and it’s delicious.
  7. ‘Mostly cloudy’ still counts as a sunny day.
  8. British supermarkets carry 20+ types of sausage. None of them, however, are Italian.
  9. A ‘pound sign’ is £. The # symbol is a ‘hash’.
  10. Bus drivers are the real heroes in this city.

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