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As someone from France, the culture shock that I experienced when coming to London was brutal and subtle at the same time. Although Londoners are so diverse that they sometimes don’t appear to have much in common with one another, I think the city attracts a specific breed of people that share the same desire for a fast-paced hustle and bustle lifestyle. This manifests itself through some quirks that you may not be used to at home, such as jam-packed rush hour tube rides, exorbitant housing prices, and Londoners’ athletic walking pace which includes unrestrained jaywalking at every street. Even the drinking culture! The goal of pubs here seems to be to get you drunk after work at 5pm and send you home as quickly as possible, seeing as they all close at around 11pm or midnight. That’s the time when the party only starts to kick off in France!
Maybe this lifestyle is due to London’s vast size. I thought Paris was big but London dwarfs any other European capital in area and population. It is also incredibly multicultural; you can expect to hear conversations in foreign languages like Italian, Arabic, and Mandarin at any given moment. Unless you’ve lived here before, nothing can quite prepare you for the culture shock and fast-paced lifestyle. All this is exciting but can also be daunting for the prospective Londoner, so here are some things that you can do to prepare for a smooth transition to university.
1. Get your visa sorted
If you’re NOT a citizen of the EU, EEA, or Switzerland this should be your first priority. Apply for your Tier 4 visa as soon as possible because the process can take weeks to finish. This is the last thing you want to be stressing about before moving so make sure to get it sorted beforehand. If you’re an EU citizen you might want to do some research on Brexit as new policies may affect your stay, though if you’ve already settled in by the time the UK leaves the EU your current status will remain secure thanks to the EU Settlement Scheme.
2. Bring some cash
Change some cash into pounds before arriving to save yourself the hassle of using a foreign card for your first purchases in the UK like food or the train/bus from the airport. Trust me, it’s just easier and it’ll save you from your bank’s exchange rates (which are a rip-off).
3. Bring goodies from home
Whether it’s saucissons from France, raclette from Switzerland, or salmiak from the Nordic countries, try to sneak in a cheeky handful of your favourite goodies from home because you will definitely want them when you get homesick. They will be your warm blanket of comfort during dark times of stress and self-doubt.
4. Set up your UK bank account
First check if your current bank account has any ties to the UK, such as Santander or HSBC, as this would make the process smoother. Setting up an account is pretty straightforward but you should definitely get this done before the start of term to prevent your first week at uni from being more hectic than it needs to be.
5. Get an Oystercard
An Oystercard is what is used for London’s public transport system, TfL. Instead of paying for tickets every time you take the tube or bus, you just add money to your card through machines in the Underground and tap on a scanner to get on. Don’t try to get on a bus with cash! If you’re under 18, apply NOW for the 16+ Zip Oystercard. It’ll give you 50% off the tube and free bus rides. Considering how expensive London transport is, I guarantee it will save your wallet.
6. Get a National Insurance Number
You will need this if you’re planning on working or applying for a student loan. During your time in London you will probably end up working or getting an internship at some point or another, so it’s best to have your NI number ready so you’re able to start work as soon as you find one.
7. Get a UK phone number
To be honest I’ve never done this and I regret it. Although it’s possible to get by with an EU number like I have for the past two years, it’s just so much more convenient to have a domestic phone number. It will make communication with your bank or your landlord easier and online forms can actually recognise your number (sometimes they don’t accept foreign numbers as valid). Plus, who knows what 4G roaming will be like once the UK leaves the EU in October. Just save yourself the headache and get a UK sim card.
8. Register with a local doctor
It's better to register well before you need to use the NHS as you might find yourself in a situation where you have to wait weeks instead of days before seeing a doctor. In the UK, your local doctor is known as a 'General Practitioner' and is normally the first port of call for non-emergency related illness. If you're in an emergency, call 999!
If you're outside of the EU, you'll have to pay a health surcharge as part of your visa application. This gives you access to the NHS, which includes hospital treatment and visits to the doctor.
9. Pack appropriate clothing
Pack layers! The UK has a rep for being rainy and cold, and although this is the case some of the time, what I found about the UK weather was that it was prone to change suddenly. One minute, it's sunny, the next minute you're getting soaked with rain. Pack layers that you can easily take off or put on. The UK is also a very humid country so the cold feels colder than it is and the warmth feels sweltering. Bear this in mind when packing too.
10. Come with an open mind
If you’re French, Italian, or Chinese you can quite literally get away without speaking a lick of English for your whole stay in London. Don’t get me wrong, communities of people from the same background can definitely be a source of comfort but think about why you chose to come to London. If you chose to come here only to be surrounded by your fellow Parisians, then fine – but I don’t think most of you reading this article would think that way. You more likely wanted to discover a new place, make new friends, be thrown into a new environment. If that’s you, then follow the steps I’ve laid out and get the boring administrative stuff out of the way so you can be focused on settling in your new home and meeting new people. Make an effort to talk to everyone!
Written by JC Li, BA History