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Written by Emma Cheung, BA English

Whether you’re from Birmingham or Grantham, Shanghai or Padua, moving to London is a big step. London is iconic and gargantuan, it’s polluted and expensive. London is where the fate of the country is decided and where royalty reside next to beautifully pruned parks. London is mesmerising and intimidating, and coming to study here might seem daunting. That being said, moving to London can be an incredibly enjoyable experience. Here are a few words of wisdom from someone who is still figuring it out.

Housing

Space is a very valuable thing in London. As you might learn from getting the central line at 17:30, space is often hard to come by. Before coming to university, I had reservations about the housing situation here, thinking I had to pick expensive halls to avoid sharing a room. It turned out that the halls on the higher end meant living further from uni in a space not much different from anyone else’s. 

Here are a couple of tips for cheap accommodation and some reassurance that there are ways to navigate the unforgiving housing climate in London.

  • Housing Fair: I was incredibly lucky and found a good flat on my first viewing. It was advertised in the University of London’s Housing Fair and though I can’t promise that you’ll end up with the same luck, I’d encourage you to go. The flats advertised are suited for students and you’ll get an idea of what to expect and what kind of standards you require. The Housing Fair for this year was is likely to be in July/August but the University of London have a useful Housing Webinar and Flatmate Finder events coming up. 

  • Property Guardianship: If you’re okay with living with strangers, it’s worth looking into becoming a property guardian. Property guardians protect empty buildings by occupying them as shared living spaces. Only downside is the uncertainty surrounding how long you’ll get to live in one of these spaces. However, if you prefer a flexible contract and like to pack light, then this might be an option for you! 

  • SpareRoom: SpareRoom is a platform for finding flatshares and flatmates. If you’re open to meeting new people and want an easy move then check the website out.

If you’re still stuck without a place sorted then the Union’s Advice Service has a list of options you can try out. 

Money

At first London doesn’t seem very kind to those with empty pockets but, once you get into the swing of things, you’ll find that there’s more on offer than you expect. Once you’ve set aside enough for rent and groceries you might wonder if the glittering amusement park that London presents is more of a tease than an offer. Fear not! You will have to pass up a lot of expensive fun, but there is a lot of free fun to be had too. 

A lot of things are starting to open up again after being closed for a while due to COVID-19. I would suggest checking online before visiting. 

  • Galleries & Museums: Why not wander around the National Gallery after your lecture? How about heading east and popping into the Whitechapel Gallery? Keep up to date with free exhibitions and workshops at British museum and artist talks at the Tate Modern. Take advantage of culture in London and enjoy the beauty it has to offer.

  • Free Entertainment: Attend a lunchtime recital at St. James’s, Piccadilly. Check out free gigs at The Unicorn and Rough Trade. PWYW (pay what you want) at Camden Comedy Club and pay nothing at The Bill Murray.

  • Green Spaces: At some point you might find that the streets of London have become overwhelming and boring at the same time. When you reach this point I’d recommend a nice low-key green space like Abney Park Cemetery, Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood or the Barbican Conservatory.

  • Anti-tourism: I like to think of London as a patchwork city made up of little towns. A lot of enjoyment can be found in a 30 minute bus ride out of Camden to a high street in a different borough. Take a break from the tourist traps and find a quiet suburb with a nice café.

To let your money go further, Farida, another UCL student has written an article on budgeting which I think you’ll find useful.

Community & Independence

The strange thing about London is how alone you feel while constantly surrounded by people. Moving to university is a process of becoming independent in every possible way. You learn how to manage your finances and make friends in a proactive rather than passive way. You (hopefully) learn how to clean up after yourself and make your own decisions. And what London does, I think more than any other place in the UK, is to teach you how to enjoy solitude. Although community can definitely be found at UCL, London is the perfect playground to explore by yourself. Here are some ways to become a local:

  • Volunteering: The Union has its own volunteering service which you can use to help the homeless, be a friend to the elderly or help the community in another way.  

  • Markets: Buy local produce at a farmer’s market or find the nearest arts fair this weekend with a quick search online.

In Conclusion

You will soon discover that London is a place of coexisting opposites.

Council estates neighbour luxury apartments and quiet alleyways branch off from bustling streets. There is comfort in the chaos of London and affection hidden in every Londoner’s complaint. Take care of yourself and stay curious; coming to university might seem like a huge deal now but I have every faith that you’ll settle in just fine.