Moving to another country for university is challenging as it is, but moving to a huge metropolis like London is even more difficult. And while you might be vaguely aware of what you are facing before making the decision, there are things that it’s difficult to prepare for. A few international students and myself have tried to summarise what we wish knew in the beginning!
One of the most obvious stereotypes about the United Kingdom is the rainy weather. You may think the same as we thought before coming here from countries with completely different climates: “I will get used to it, it can’t be that bad!’” Bad judgement. It gets more and more annoying every day and even if you didn’t consider yourself a ‘sun-loving’ person, you will miss the sun. However, the many great experiences you will get in London make up for it. But don’t expect yourself to start to love grey skies in the middle of May.
You have probably always known that the life in London is super expensive, but you will never truly 'know' until you live it. So many possibilities, so little money. Travel is expensive, food is expensive, tickets are expensive. But don’t worry, there are many low budget opportunities to have fun: such as free galleries and clubs with low entrance fees. You just have to know where to look. All the major museums such as the British Museum and the Natural History Museum offer free exhibitions. And if you want to experience London’s nightlife, there are several places with cheap entry in Camden and in Shoreditch, for example. And while the lifestyle is expensive, student part-time jobs offer better minimum wages than many countries in Europe, so with a little motivation, you will be fine.
Not many cities have as many tube lines as London. At first it seems scary and confusing, but it is almost impossible to get lost in the tube. If you know which stop you need, you are safe. It may be horribly crowded in peak times, but that should be your only concern. It is especially easy if you have the app CityMapper downloaded on your phone. This app has saved many new Londoners from getting lost in the past few years. There are several route planner applications for smart phones, but I believe CityMapper is the most reliable one.
Making friends in London is easy and difficult at the same time. Everybody is in a constant rush and people tend to only pay attention to themselves. But thanks to the endless social opportunities, especially for uni students, I am sure nobody will have any problems with it. One important thing that you have to remember if you are not a native British speaker: don’t be self-conscious about your accent. British people are used to it and others are in the same situation as you are. So don’t be too ‘embarrassed to talk’ in front of people, and never be ashamed of the way you talk. This is not your first language and it’s completely fine.
One more thought about the accent: talking from experience, you may be hoping to pick up the British accent in a few years. Sadly, this probably won’t happen quickly, but in a few months, you won’t pay too much attention to it anyway. Usually, while our pronunciation improves, we tend to preserve our unique, original accent. But nothing is set in stone: You can still try!
Other countries like to make fun of British cuisine and traditions, but don’t be fooled. First of all, an English breakfast is undoubtedly amazing, and you are not obliged to eat fish and chips every day. Since London is the most multicultural city in Europe, you can expect to find any type of food you want - Chinese, Japanese, Italian.. whichever you prefer, you will find a nice restaurant to fit your preferences.
If you’re arriving from a smaller, seemingly ‘less significant’ country, we’re sometimes guilty of daydreaming about running into our favourite singer or actor, casually walking down the street. There are no statistics or science behind this, but I think it’s safe to say that unfortunately, that’s not as likely as it might seem from a distance! Although, my friend once met Hugh Grant in a restaurant, so ...
But jokes aside, university life in London is one of the most fun experiences you will ever come across, so don’t be scared of the location change and leaving your family and friends behind. They will be waiting for you at home, and you will make new friends here and enjoy more freedom than you ever imagined. You will be so busy exploring the new environment that you won’t even have time to think about being homesick. Welcome to London!