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University Life In London: Things You Might Not Expect As A Foreigner

London is a funky city. I mention that a lot in my articles — it’s big; it’s incredibly multicultural; it’s filled with people of all origins, occupations and from all walks of life; it’s one of the big educational hubs of the world.

The ‘educational hub’ part means that a giant part of London’s population are students, both domestic and international. The internationality can vary — people come from anywhere in the world, be it as close as France, or as distant as Japan or Australia.

I came here from the outside, too. I’m a simple Russian girl (I have vodka in my blood) who wanted a good college degree, but got an incredible amount of knowledge and experience that came out of me living in London, not out of me studying at a uni.

That knowledge was filled with surprises, though. So here I am, laying my experiences out for you so that you know things in advance.

People can be very smug…

Hey, I know this stereotype about Londonders is, generally, pretty widespread, but that’s what I thought it to be — a stereotype, some of which are, usually, pretty baseless.

Ho-oh was I wrong.

Anything from a waiter sneering at you for saying ‘fries’ instead of ‘chips’ (I’m serious), to people flexing on you with just how unlucky you are (not ‘how lucky they are’!) for having been born somewhere else, a minute after trash-talking London themselves.

Go figure.


…but they can also be very nice

Another stereotype I hadn’t given much thought before coming here was the constant usage of the words ‘love’, ‘darling’ and whatnot to address people.

Legitimately on my second day of living here I went to the market, and when I got handed my bag of potatoes, the man that was handing them to me said: “Here you go, love.”

At first I was shocked, but then I remembered — this is indeed a thing people mention about the UK a lot. It bothers some people, too, because they’re uncomfortable, so you should know this in advance — as to not get too unsettled.

It spreads beyond words — people will often go out of their way to explain something to you as clearly as possible, if you drop something on the tube three people will try to pick it up for you, yada yada yada.


Students drink a lot

If you thought you drink a lot because you do it every — or every other — weekend then you simply haven’t met any young Londoners.

These guys are crazy. They will drink every day — and not just drink, they go bar-hopping, pub-exploring, dancing, hosting houseparties… you name it.

It is genuinely shocking, but a girl on my course would come to uni hungover every single time, on weeks when we’d study four days out of five. With words: “Oh, I’m going to a party tonight!”



The amount of actual studying is shocking

Shocking by how little there is of thereof.

London’s educational system — for higher education — believes into self-study very strongly.

As such, some semesters you might come into university for only one day a week — the rest of it will be some abstract projects you need to be working on by yourself.

It’s incredibly disorienting, especially after high schools, or educational systems where people get worked to oblivion (like Russia or, from what I know, Japan, for instance).



A lot of incredibly cool things come out of being a student in London.

Case in point: when I visited Paris last November I got a free entrance to the Louvre just because I showed my UK student visa. That works in most of the EU, as far as I’m concerned.

From the less ‘unexpected’ things, you also get discounts at most clothing stores, cinemas, sometimes even bars and a lot of other places.

See Also

I don’t know about you, but I love me a good deal.

Thinking out of the box is key

Whereas in some places you are expected to learn and answer test questions with precise vocabulary, here in London you’re expected to work on ideas and surprise people.

It obviously won’t apply to degrees surrounding, say, medicine, but any Bachelor of Arts (which includes anything from painting, to journalism, to ethics and politics) will encourage — or, maybe, even expect — you to bring something new, something of your own to the table.

Again, that’s incredibly disorienting for someone who comes from the vague ‘outside’, but it’s a wonderful thing.


Taxes, insurance, NHS, there’s a lot

This ties in with the fact that high school doesn’t really prepare us for life, just the academics, but there’s a lot of ‘adult stuff’ in London that you will have to concern yourself with.

Anything from being aware that you have to provide documentation to not have to pay council tax for your property (lest you are excited to pay well over £1,000 a year on top of your educational expenses), to having to register with a specific medical practice that is exclusive to the area you live in, to having to take a specific interview to obtain a document to be eligible to get a job at all—

It’s a lot. There’s a lot of things I’m not even mentioning here, because it will seriously get dull. Do your research in advance.

Public transport is properly expensive

So you need to work around it, or adapt to it.

There are numerous ways to do it. From getting a pre-paid monthly transport pass called an Oyster Card (that, depending on how many London zones you cross, can cost anywhere from £70.70 to £293 as of 2019 (and yes, that’s still cheaper than paying for tickets and pay-as-you-go passes)) to renting numerous available bikes in the city, it’s not like there’s no options.

London transport has its perks: from being one of the best-developed public transport systems in Europe, to having any single bus journeys fixed to £1.50 (which seems like an asshole move when you’re just travelling for five stops, but is a godsend when you’re travelling the entire bus journey until the terminating point).

But still, it really stings sometimes.


Are you in college, or have you finished already? What about college life shocked you the most? Share your experiences with us, in the comments below!

Featured Image Source:
Tamara Chagaeva

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