How to find your community and settle in as a student in London

London in the UK is not as overwhelming as you might think – it’s all about finding the right community.

February 16 2016
Coffee cups overlooking St Pauls, London

The thought of studying in London can be overwhelming for some people when they first consider it and realise that they might become just one small ant among tens of thousands. It doesn’t help that Londoners are often labelled as “cold” or “unfriendly”, but don’t let the misconceptions about London and its inhabitants put you off.

There’s something for everyone in London. But as wonderful as it can be, it’s not a place that every student could call home. London is busy, noisy, polluted and expensive. It can be amazing as a day trip or for a sightseeing holiday, but living in London long-term can be a very different proposition. Some people might not be able to see themselves living in a big city for the rest of their lives, but living in London for a short time while at university can provide the perfect opportunity to get the most out of what the UK’s capital city has to offer.

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I have lived in London for almost four years now, and I do not regret a single thing. Studying here has been a great broadening experience; it has given me the opportunity to meet people from all around the world and from all walks of life. In London, there is always someone with something interesting to say, always someone amazing to meet, and it is the interactions with all these varied people that educate you far beyond the scope of your university degree. The capital’s inhabitants don’t always get a good reputation, but these are misconceptions that shouldn’t put you off.

Londoners are often labelled as “grumpy” and “unfriendly”; this might seem to be the case if you come from a quiet town where everyone knows each other, but actually Londoners are no less friendly than anyone else when you get to know them. If you’re highly extroverted and enjoy friendly exchanges with strangers, no one is going to stop you here. But if you like minding your own business and getting on with daily life uninterrupted, the anonymity in London can be liberating.

As I came from a fairly busy town in the first place, London was not too much different. I know many students who come from smaller towns and villages and find the atmosphere of London to be somewhat frosty. It can make people feel lonely and isolated if they are used to a tight-knit community, and it’s definitely something to consider if planning to study in the capital.

However, this is where your choice of university can make such a difference. Be sure to look into your university’s students’ union, see what societies it runs and what sorts of events it puts on, because university societies will be a great place to find that sense of community that living in London can take away from you.

Joining university societies can also be a great way to celebrate your individuality and the things that make you unique, as this, once again, can suffer when living in a city with more than 8.5 million people. Find groups that you identify with, groups that represent you. This could be anything from sports or hobby groups, to cultural or religious groups. There are even societies for local volunteering, charity organisations and political activism if you feel that you have spare time that could be used to contribute to a cause.

Even if you have often felt isolated because you come from what may feel like a minority group, in London there are vast support networks so that you can find other students just like you. King’s College London, for example, has more than 260 different societies, including groups as varied as a Harry Potter Society, a Whovians Society (for fans of the TV series Doctor Who), a Cocktail Society, a Sober Society and a Cheese Society (yes, cheese). So even if you don’t identify with the societies based around sport, culture, religion or politics, there are a multitude of other quirky societies to be a part of. The beauty of London is that with such a large student body, there are so many options available. There will always be a community, no matter how niche, where you can fit in.

You will find that once you start to branch out and become more accustomed to the city, it is possible to make deep-rooted connections. Being a single ant but part of a bigger, supportive colony is suddenly not as daunting. The metropolis will remain a large and sometimes overwhelming place, but if you find the right people to share it with, you’ll discover that making your own community and settling in is easier than you think.

Saira is currently a master’s pharmacy student at King’s College London.

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