Student life in London: culture and cuisine

As London has just been named one of the top university cities, Charlie Pullen highlights his experiences as a student in the capital.
February 20 2017

When I was 17 and putting together my UCAS application, I only applied to London universities.  I could not be swayed by well-meaning teachers or sensible family members who encouraged me to keep an open mind and explore the whole of the UK. London was the only place I wanted to be a student. A few years on and now London has just been named one of the best cities in the world to be a student, I would say I made the right decision.

Coming to London as an English student, I could watch Shakespeare at the Globe, walk around Bloomsbury like Virginia Woolf and visit all manner of museums and galleries. As a young gay man, the many bars and pubs across the city allowed me to socialise with people I hadn’t had the chance to meet before – even back in colourful Brighton, my hometown.

 As a foodie, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice my favourite hobby – eating. I’ve been introduced to Ethiopian cuisine, gorged in amazing Turkish restaurants, dined alongside the Thames and queued, both day and night, for the legendary Brick Lane bagel. London is big and it has lots of nice things. It’s as simple as that.

But when I’m not stuffing my face or dancing at an ABBA night, I’m in the best place to be getting on with my studies. London is a great constellation of world-leading universities, institutions that excel in the arts, sciences and humanities alike. Plus if you belong to a University of London university, like I do, you can benefit from other institutions by taking their modules and accessing their libraries.

You can work at the British Library – the biggest in the world – and access books you probably couldn’t anywhere else. You can meet academics, writers, and intellectuals from all over the world when they attend and speak at the countless, and often free, events that go on throughout the year. Nowhere else in the UK can surely match the resources and scholarly networks that London offers.

London does have its problems though. I’ve often wished that I’d gone to university elsewhere just to avoid the rent prices and the criminal landlords. Housing in London is a serious issue, but I don’t think it’s the only place where young renters suffer. There are also those who dislike the city’s atmosphere. However, I have little patience with the types who complain about how busy London is (why live in the capital city then?) and how miserable everyone is (purely because people don’t like to chat on the Underground).

There will be many people who take umbrage with my view of London; "Restaurants? Gay clubs? Libraries? Other places have those, you know!" I’m not idealistic about London at all – it’s just a place with lots of different people and interesting things to do. It’s rather unfashionable these days to be so upbeat about London’s great, mixed culture, but as a proud metropolitan elite, I would say it’s a fantastic place to get an education. 

Charlie Pullen is a a postgraduate English Literature student at Queen Mary University 

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