As London welcomes another 90,000 freshers to our fair city, we thought we’d ask five second-year students to reflect on their first year studying in the capital. May their experiences, highs and lows prove educational…
Who are ya?
Alexandra C, 18, moved from Essex to study Creative Writing at University of Greenwich.
Lauren S, 20, moved from Bridgend, Wales, to study Media & Communications at London College of Communication.
Louise B, 20, moved from Cambridge to study Journalism at London South Bank University.
Marketa M, 20, moved from Prague to study Music Industry and Events Management at London Met.
Jade M, 25, moved from Sydney, via Durham, to study Primary Education at Roehampton University.
On choosing London…
AC: ‘At the risk of sounding clichéd, there was something romantic and brilliant about the idea of studying in the city. Plus, I’m quite good at playing the grumpy Londoner. And as I’m from Essex, it’s the perfect balance of being both far enough and not too far away from home. I had enough freedom and space to myself but could still afford to pop home every now and again to check in on my mum. I have a small family so I feel the balance of my own space and theirs is important.’
LS: ‘It actually happened so fast – I thought I was only enquiring, but I got given a place really quickly! I’d been studying in Reading but dropped out of my first year. I was filling my summer by working full time in a call centre and planned to continue, but as it got to the first week of September my friends were depleting and returning back to their university towns. I was so bored of selling Post Office broadband that I decided I’d browse the UCAS Clearing website. I narrowed it down to Brighton or University of the Arts London, phoned them both on my lunch break, had a phone interview with the UAL course leader and got called back on the Friday telling me I’d been accepted.’
LB: ‘A lot of my friends live in London, particularly around the area where my university is based and I suppose I just fell in love with it.’
MM: ‘I have visited many cities in the world, but London just got under my skin. I applied to several universities across England, but at the end, I always knew London would be the one. It was my dream.’
JM: ‘I had lived in Sydney, Australia for a few years. Returning to a small town just didn’t do it for me, and I missed the city. I visited London regularly. I remember coming to London for New Year’s Eve – standing at Big Ben watching the fireworks and thinking, “that’s it! I’m doing it” so I did.’
Finding somewhere to live…
AC: ‘In my first year I lived in halls. When I was placed in one 20 minutes’ walk from campus rather than two minutes, I got rather upset! I had fallen for the idea that I could get up at 8.50am and still make it in for my 9am lecture (it didn’t help that you had to cross a bridge to make it to campus and ‘I had to wait for the boats to cross’ would not hold up as an excuse for lateness). However the distance doesn’t make much of an impact in the end… plus the walk to the local Wetherspoons wasn’t so bad. Now I rent a flat with the people I met in halls instead.’
LS: ‘I tried to get into a flatshare first, but I ended up in Furzedown Hall, a run-down looking tower block in Tooting. It’s nothing pretty to look at from the outside, but the inside is actually very modern and the rooms are quite big too (OK, the marble floors are cold, but considering how much red wine gets spilled, maybe they’re not such a bad idea). Location-wise, I originally thought that the halls were isolated and a bit shit… but as my time at uni increased I realised that Tooting is actually a real cool place that I reckon is definitely up ‘n’ coming. There’s loads there, honestly – Toots is so amazing. Anyone who says Zone 3 isn’t cool is lying. Take me back to Toots!’
LB: ‘I moved into halls. If I’m honest I really didn’t enjoy my experience there. This was probably due to disagreements with my flatmates and the excessive noise that was constantly echoing round the building! I wish I had picked a flatshare or at the very least a different, smaller halls building.’
MM: ‘I found an ad on Gumtree and moved in with three older Polish guys. I would never do something like this again.’
JM: ‘I moved in with my sister and rented a room with her. I adore my sister but if I could do it differently I’d have moved into halls. It’s easier to make friends and form a community. Living off campus I felt like although I belonged… I was on the outer circle. I thought no one else my age would do halls – loads of them did!
AC: ‘I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I remember gibbering non-stop to the first flatmate I met in halls. And when I told people I was from Essex, I felt like they based their first opinion of me solely from The Only Way Is… and I had to prove them wrong. Anyway, it’s very easy to make ‘best friends’ after a couple of drinks and drinking games like ‘never have I ever’ are a great way of getting to know people, maybe a little too well. In fact when we showed up (after a few drinks) to the fresher’s BBQ on the second day people assumed that I knew the people I was with before starting university as we were already comfortable around each other. ‘
LS: ‘I wouldn’t say it takes me long to settle into a new place. My first night in London saw some guy in my halls arranged party where he wanted to ‘show off his “DJing skills” , and I had met my first friend, Juliet earlier on that day and she invited me along. Literally after the first few awkward conversations were out of the way (and I’d produced the litre of Smirnoff my dad had bought me) I’d made my second friend, Leila, and we’re still best friends now. It wasn’t until the next day that I realised that these new people sleep all day long, whereas I usually wake up at 7am. So it was only after a few weeks of body clock adjustment – when we partied at Fabric until 7am then slept in until till 2pm – that I truly felt felt part of the gang!’
LB: ‘I love London and I love spending time there, but the first couple of weeks sucked! When I wasn’t with my friends outside of halls, I guess I felt quite alienated. That soon changed though.’
MM: ‘The first few weeks were fun, because some of my friends from my home country were here on holiday, so they helped to feel better and not miss my family and so on so much. However, I have never really settled in. I hope it will change this year, when I will finally live with people I like. And the best night in my first few weeks? Definitely Kasabian show in Brixton on my third night in London.’
JM: ‘I was in awe of the city. With the Jubilee and Olympics etc., I moved in a great year, so it was amazing to see what London had to offer and I felt very patriotic. I was just crossing Waterloo Bridge one day and had a little “wow” moment, like “I can’t believe I live here!”‘
Getting used to stuff
AC: ‘As an only child I was well-looked-after whilst I was living at home, so moving out did come as a shock. It wasn’t that I missed home, because I feel comfortable being independent, but because I didn’t have many “life skills” I had to learn pretty quickly. I couldn’t live off of microwave meals and super-noodles for the entirety of the year… although I’ve seen some students do exactly that. Luckily there were people who were able to teach me the basics and after that it was all trial and error. When people say that university is a time to be experimental I never realised it would mean “discovering what can be done with a chicken breast.”‘
LS: ‘The one thing that took me a while to get used to was how no-one speaks to each other. I can’t believe the things that can happen on a rush-hour tube where no-one even bats an eyelid; just completely in their own zone, reading their paper whilst standing on one leg. That took a while for me to adjust to, but now I find myself doing the same – running down the escalators even though there’ll be another train in one minute, then remaining silent for a 20-minute journey. On the other hand, music culture in London took me a while to get my head around; going to a club and listening to a track that no one else has ever heard in Wales and everyone is in London is going wild for is pretty special. Probably the best aspect of life in London.’
LB: ‘Probably just trying to get along with other people that weren’t necessarily getting along with me without being childish about the situation. That was tough. But apart from that it was fine, doing stuff on my own wasn’t hard. I’m quite used to living independently.’
MM: ‘Not feeling at home while being “at home”. And also the expense – that’s something I will probably never get used to. ‘
JM: ‘It used to take me eight minutes to get to work in my small town. Now it takes 60-90 minutes! That’s the price you pay for the city… you just have to learn to love the commute!’
AC: ‘I was lucky in my first year because I attended the same uni as one of my close friends from home. I was worried in a way – it would be easy to be lazy and not go out of my way to make other friends, especially as someone who finds talking to new people difficult. Plus the concern that he would get on really well with everyone and I would get left behind! But in reality, it was a blessing rather than a curse. He was a safety blanket if I was feeling insecure with new people, someone to bounce off of in conversation and a familiar face in an unfamiliar world. We created a network of friends through our flats and various courses and were able to bring people together.
One thing about living in London is the pressure you face as a first year trying to make decisions about your second year. The pressure to choose flatmates does seem to cause trouble between groups and I can’t think of one person has hasn’t had some sort of housing drama.’
MM: ‘I find meeting people really difficult, I’m always struggling to talk to anyone new, but I was lucky enough to have met some great people at university who still wanted to get to know me, even though I was very shy at the beginning.’
LB: ‘Weirdly, I found making friends here harder than I usually would in any other situation. It wasn’t that I found talking to new people challenging, it was forming a lasting friendship that seemed tough. I think that’s due to the frivolity of halls and maybe down to my own stubbornness. I ended up becoming friends people on my course who I’d now count as some of my closest mates.’
LS: ‘I didn’t meet loads of friends in my first year, but I have made good friends, which I think is more important. In my halls there was a group of six girls who were really close, and then about four boys too; we all just met from going to freshers nights out and chatting whilst drunk, then realising we were all quite similar! Two of my friends from first year though have decided to leave uni so there are only us four girls left – the Core Four. On my course I found it more difficult to make friends – there are only thirty students and everyone seemed to click into their groups quickly – but as the year went on and I did group work with lots of different people, I found some good friends in my class too.’
JM: ‘I found it difficult. London operates differently – I felt like I knew loads of people, but didn’t actually know anyone. I’ve been here 18 months now and I’m still working on it. Moving out into a flat with people my own age is helping though.’
Studying in London vs. studying elsewhere…
AC: ‘Personally, living in the middle of nowhere does not appeal which is why studying in London was so important to me. People are jealous that I’ve got London on my doorstep. However the only problem with having London on your doorstep is not having any money in your back pocket to go and explore it. My friends from home and I are endlessly comparing the relative prices of drinks – I outrank them all with a vodka and coke for £7.40. Sometimes the lure of 50p shots starts to make me doubt my decision to move to London, but the doubts are quickly squished when I think about how much I’ve done here.
Another good thing is that a lot of my friends from home end up travelling through London for one reason or another, so I get a lot of visits compared to people studying on campuses.’
LS: ‘London student life is completely different – having studied for a year at a campus uni I can really see the difference. At a campus university you tend to always go to the student bar, everything is cheap and you’re very much in a uni bubble; and it’s very disconnected from normal way of life, you can find people in pyjamas in the uni shop picking up some milk or vodka. However, London student life feels as though you live in London and just happen to be studying there. You’re almost in real life! It can be hard sometimes when your friends are spending all their loans on clothes and alcohol, because all of mine seems to go on rent, Oyster top-ups and Sainsbury’s basics!
In London, I don’t go out as often as I did in Reading, when I could go out to a different “student night” every day of the week. Here I’ll really go out on a Friday and Saturday. On the other hand, I’ll be seeing producers and DJs who I’ve actually always wanted to see – it’s pretty cool to go out and see Mala play a five-hour set in Fire! That’s the best thing about being a student here. Also, when people visit you, you get to experience the city through fresh eyes and do some of the more tourist-y stuff – when my friend visited last December we went to Winter Wonderland and all the Christmas markets.’
LB: ‘I haven’t really visited any other universities so it’s hard for me to compare. A lot my mates went and graduated the same uni I go to’
JM: ‘More expensive! But a lot more to do! Exposure to lots of amazing opportunities.’
MM: ‘It’s completely different to student life in my country. Czech universities are without fees, and the system is more strict. The parties are not the same either: in Czech Republic, you can actually afford to drink in a pub all night, you don’t need pre-drinks!’
LB: ‘We always used to go to this Lambeth pub called The Flowers of The Forest (it’s decent in there the people are really friendly! ) or further afield Dogstar in Brixton or Las Iguanas in Waterloo, they do nice cocktails for very little money.’
AC: ‘Our local Greenwich Wetherspoons! Imagine our shock when we walked into the ‘Spoons in Camden to find there was no two-for- £12 deal on cocktail pitchers. The nightlife in London does cater for students offering promotional deals through the RA’s. On a Friday night you can pay £6 for entry into seven clubs around Leicester Square… although we only ever made it to two or three. Other venues: concerts at Koko (where they have drinks deals before 8pm) and XOYO and The Shoreditch Butchery both have a great atmosphere and I’m yet to have a bad night out there.’
LS: ‘In Tooting: The Antelope for a pint of Crazy Goat, and the Tram & Social, with free entry to their club nights. We went to Fabric pretty much every weekend in our second term but haven’t been back because we pretty much killed it for ourselves. Fire in Vauxhall is the place we go to a lot now (the acts are insanely good), and in central The Roxy do some student nights which can actually be good for just a random drunk night. And of course there’s Cheapskates £1 a drink that’s always fun but does end messily. And Las Iguanas on South Bank after class, way too often, for a cocktail or five.’
MM: ‘I always somehow end up in Dalston. And then I usually end up sitting on the pavement. It’s definitely always fun.’
JM: ‘Brixton Village!’
The best night out…
LB: ‘My 21st, my friends from uni and I went to a Bavarian beer house in Old Street and got hammered. It was a really, really good night.’
AC: ‘When I went to see Frank Turner at The Forum, and then we found the after party in The Monarch. ’90s hits, power ballads and Frank Tuner songs? 10/10 would go again.’
LS: ‘The highlight for me was DMZ 8th Birthday at Great Suffolk Street warehouse, just the best night I had been to! It was quite significant to me because it’s something I had wanted to go to for years then finally living in London meant I was able to go to DMZ 8! WOW.’
MM: ‘My visits to theatre, which made me fall in love with West End. Particularly a play called Peter and Alice in Noel Coward theatre. Probably the most amazing experience I had.’
How would you sum up your first year in three words?
LB: ‘Drunken, annoying, funny.’
AC: ‘Do it again?’
LS: ‘Friends. Skint. Wine.’
MM: ‘Impossibly, unexpectedly crazy.’
JM: ‘Exciting, scary, but worth it.’
Advice for freshers!
AC: ‘ Make the most of your surroundings! Where else can you hop onto a train and be in the centre of the world in 20 minutes? Do all the touristy stuff and don’t be afraid to get the camera out and look like the tourist. Sign up to Twitter and follow celebrities, media publications, companies that are based in London etc because all the awesome free things happen last minute, and nine out of 10 times they are advertised on Twitter. Sign up as an extra for a TV company! It’s a great way to meet new people, star-spot and feel glamorous without spending any dollar. Don’t get caught up in work and forget about the social side of things, and vice-versa. I guess that applies to any university in the world.’
LB: ‘Don’t be afraid to be yourself, even if other people don’t like it. Find your own friends and don’t try and fit in just to be popular. Try to pass everything first time round, doing resits are really inconvenient!’
MM: ‘Prepare yourself for the fact you can never be prepared for London.’
JM: ‘Say yes to opportunities that come your way. Join clubs/societies and do your best to make friends! Don’t worry about money – we all make it through.’