Foreigner in London: A True Story

On the 24th of July 2014 was the day that I said goodbye to my tiny hometown and country and moved to this giant-beast-of-a-city – London.

I remember the day and I think of it as my second birthday. I live through each 24th of July having grown a little bit wiser and having achieved a little bit more. I feel proud of myself for making this big step and if you’ve decided to come from a different country to study in London, you should be proud too.

I started off in a tiny flat in zone 4 that my friend’s friend’s friend allowed me to stay in for a few weeks while I find a job, a place of my own, enroll etc. Seemed impossible. I had never lived alone and that meant I had a lot of new things to learn. You might view this as just another sob story with a reasonably happy ending but hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes.

  1. Language. You might think that English is English wherever you go. Oh, how wrong I was! I think during the first few weeks in London I made every common language error that a person who has learned English from TV series would make. It really didn’t make things easier having a job at a pub where you’re constantly on the spot. I called trousers “pants”, referred to my hair in the plural, and I had no idea what “loo”, “chuffed”, “fortnight”, “quid”, “queue”, “tube”, “wee”, “Henry” (drink) or “hoover” even meant. And all the fuss with chips and crisps took me a while too. There’s also the fact that you can’t say “I don’t care”, it’s more appropriate to say “I don’t mind”. Oh, and I had a few confusing conversations where I was trying to say that I’m very angry using the word “pissed” while the other person thought I was saying how very drunk I was.  Not to mention the list of new swear words I had to learn… I guess it’s also kind of fun learning these things, as long as you don’t get into awkward situations. If you are as confused as I was, let me explain and save you the trouble. There are obviously a lot more examples than the ones I have listed but it’s a start. “Loo” is a toilet, “chuffed” means happy, “fortnight” is a period of 2 weeks, “quid” means £1, “queue” is a line of people, “tube” is a word for the metro/underground, “wee” means small, “Henry” is a drink that consists of orange juice and lemonade and a “hoover” is a vacuum-cleaner. Oh, and don’t get chips and crisps mixed up. Chips are potato wedges that are fried and crisps are potato slices that you get in packets. You’re welcome.
  2. Food. Student life is hard and my humble start was no exception. I lived mostly on pot noodles and cheap cream cheese on toast. Luckily the pub I worked at provided a meal after every shift, which made my diet a tiny bit better. Eventually, I learned to cook simple and cheap dishes, how to manage a weekly budget for groceries and how to do laundry without dyeing my white shirts pink. And, oh, how much trial and error! Grown-up life isn’t easy. Now I think I have mastered these things and sometimes I can even enjoy some of the weird things the English eat, like beans on toast. The amazing thing about London is that wherever you are from, you can find your favorite food somewhere here. Or at least all the ingredients. That makes it feel much more like home. And it also means that you don’t have to worry if you’re not a fan of Eglish national dishes.
  3. Transport. Buses are the cheapest if you don’t want to walk. I thought I was smart by buying a used bicycle from gumtree. Turns out it’s a pretty long ride from Crystal Palace to King’s Cross… And I’m not really proud of cycling home every weekend at 4 am after a late shift without a helmet. Safety first. I wish I had known from the beginning that getting a student oyster card, which gives you a 30% discount on all travel cards, is much easier and smarter than risking your life. I know a lot of people cycle in London but I think it’s only worth it if you know your route and it’s a short distance. In my case, it was terribly long, I constantly got lost and I felt exhausted. And it wasn’t even worth as a cheap workout because I had to inhale bus emissions most of my journey.
  4. People. I don’t really know what to say about people. In London you get the whole spectrum. And people that seem pretty decent and nice have turned out to be the worst while true kindness has come from people I thought to be incredibly mean. Maybe I’m just exceptionally bad at reading people. I don’t know. Keeping an open mind would be my suggestion. One thing is certain, London is enormous and everyone will find like-minded people. When I first got here it seemed like it was just me alone against the whole big world. But there is always someone fighting the same battles. The first person I talked to at the university was someone who, just like me, didn’t know where enrollment for foundation course took place. And my first real friend was someone who also lived quite far from the university and also had 2 jobs while studying.

Beginnings are sometimes difficult but it gets better. People adapt, they find friends and make any house a home. They make it work. Today I call London my home and the place where I have built my adult life. It took me nearly three years to get to that point and there were moments along the way when it felt especially impossible to have any warm feelings for this place. Like when I gave away my invitations to the foundation show’s private view to a friend with a big family because I didn’t have anyone to invite myself. That was a sad moment. I wished CSM would also provide free plane tickets for your family, not just bracelets that let you in the building for a show. In less than a month I am starting my 3rd year at this university and my parents are coming to London for my degree show. Things do seem to get better and distances seem to get shorter.

By Anna Margreta – BA Ceramic Design, CSM

This article was originally published on Carousel.


Karolina Budzisz's picture

So it is not advisable to cycle if you live that far? I was actually considering doing exactly the same as you did (cycling from Croydon to Elephant&Castle) but finally decided that it's not worth it.