Words by Christianah Babajide
“And if the city never sleeps then that makes two.” – Ed Sheeran.
London is the captivating, charming city claiming more and more students every year, even those who were born and bred here. Two years ago, when 17-year old me was applying to universities, I realised I wasn’t anywhere near ready to leave this beautiful city. It’s nearly three years later, I can’t say I regret my decision – I have had a wealth of opportunities and unique experiences, all in City of London. I have decided to write this reflective article to offer prospective students an insight into life in the City, as well as top tips for whoever may wish to study here.
Since there are far too many good things to share, I will keep it brief by focusing on three topics that are of vital importance for every student studying in London; (1) Lifestyle and Living Costs (2) Transport for London and (3) London’s place in the world.
Lifestyle & Living Costs
London has been named the world’s most expensive city in which to live and work, beginning with rent, up to the cup of a coffee, ergo it is a place where money has power. When you first receive your student loan, you will want to spend £200 on alcohol in your first week of university. I understand leaving the parental nest and venturing into the big bad world without any constraints is exciting, you've probably been waiting for this moment all your life, but I urge you to budget sensibly. You need to think about paying for fees and accommodation, everyday living expenses from food to transport, notebooks to clothes. It is difficult to provide an accurate estimate of the monthly cost of living as that largely depends on your lifestyle. However, if you plan carefully and budget efficiently then you can take advantage of the amazing opportunities the capital has to offer. Overall, you will find that your university’s accommodation is the cheapest, and most offer subsidised cafes and bars where eating and drinking is affordable.
London can be expensive but it is also home to thousands of students who take advantage of special discounts and deals designed for them. To begin with, ensure you sign up for an 18+ student Oyster card and link it to your railway to get a quarter off travel costs. Secondly, when eating out, always ensure you take your university’s ID card and purchase an NUS card to get student’s discount, you should also consider purchasing items online through myUNiDAYS, where you can get up to 40% student discount on a range of branded products. Lastly, buying food from a local market rather than a supermarket could save you money on your fruit and vegetables. Maybe consider sharing your food shopping with your housemates to make things cheaper. Alongside this, take advantage of your university’s student bars which sell cheap drinks during Happy Hour, reasonably priced cocktails and inexpensive meals.
Transport for London (TFL)
Riding the tube is harder than you think. 10 million people are using public transport (tube, bus, DLR) at rush hours (7.30am-10am and 4.30pm-7pm) to get to and from work so avoid TFL during these hours. Central locations such as Liverpool Street, Oxford Circus, Westminster, King’s Cross and Victoria can get crowded and unbearable at times. It isn’t uncommon to stand throughout your long commute due to lack of available seats nor for your train to be stuck in a limbo due to a red signal. Looking on the bright side, this gives you a chance to listen to some music or catch up on the news, that’s if you can hold onto your newspaper.
For those studying or living in London, I recommend finding a job; start with your university’s careers service which may offer well-paid roles via Unitemps. I would also encourage setting up an account with ‘StudentJobUK’ whom help London students to find part-time, temporary jobs and internships. Transport in London can be quite expensive, especially living on a student budget. I was one of the lucky few to get a job as a Student Ambassador in my first year of University; earning while learning helped to subsidise the cost of living in London. Another good way to save some money is by cycling. Almost at every corner, you can find and rent one of Boris’s Barclay’s bikes, which is free up to 30 min for £1ph. Biking can offer great adrenaline rush before lectures and it is also a great way to stay fit and work off those last night pizza orders. London is a very romantic city just waiting to be explored, on wheels.
London’s Place in the World
As someone who has always seen herself as a City girl, I fell in love with this city a long time ago. For some, it takes years to adapt to the hustle and bustle of London town before they start to appreciate the city. Even when I have found myself squashed like a sardine on the tube- I promise you, if you didn't have personal space issues before, you will do after travelling on the Central Line at rush hour, I could always take a deep breath and remind myself how privileged I am to live and study here. You will live in the city that never sleeps, so there’s no chance you’ll ever get stuck for something to do. Aside from all the tourist attractions and art galleries, London also has pretty pop-up restaurants, weekend festivals and celebrations for everything from cocktails to afternoon tea.
Despite all this, the best part of London isn’t the cultural diversity, entertaining musicals or green charming parks, the best part is the calibre of people. Over 100,000 international students are studying in London every year; the city is bursting alive with different types of people from around the world; so, don’t be shy to network and make friends, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised to discover they share similar goals as you. The different nations, races, backgrounds and personalities I have met has been a culturally enriching study experience. Everyone in London is so friendly and accepting; even in the face of adversity, this global city stays united.
I am proud to call London my home, a city that celebrates ethnic diversity & religious tolerance. Long may it stay that way. As King George VI said “It is not the walls that make the city, but the people who live within them. The walls of London may be battered, but the spirit of the Londoner stands resolute and undismayed.”