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London student experience: Torn between expensive and exciting

By Paula Munteanu Feb 8, 2015

Ranked the third best city for students in 2015 by QS, London dropped one position from last year,  surpassed by Melbourne and Paris.

With its prestigious universities, famed museums with idiosyncratic architecture styles, Soho’s neon-coloured night clubs, fancy restaurants and the City’s financial influence worldwide, London could be mistaken as an oasis of opportunities for students. But it is far from being a bargain.

Kari Ann Norton, 23, an international student at Kingston University, describes one of her experiences in central London.

“I got stopped on Westminster Bridge by these guys with face masks like French revolutionaries and they put fake guns at my head and told I cannot leave until I take a picture and give them money.”

For many students, this can sum up their London experience: A mixture of endless expensive adventures.

Roberta Vullo, a student who has been living in London since 2012, said: “This is obvious, London is expensive, especially when it comes to renting a room.

I try to be careful with finances, using buses when possible, eating out maybe once a month, but the only thing I cannot cut out and which sucks up most of my monthly expenses is rent. And talking to other people it looks like they’re in the same situation.”

However, she went on to say that it was not “an impossible level of expense” considering the career opportunities in London, even with regards to part time jobs.

According to the National Union of Students (NUS), the average living cost for students in London per academic year is £13,521, in comparison to £12,160 for students living outside London.

The breakdown of goods and services is as following:

  • Rent: £6,340
  • Personal items: £2,229
  • Food: £1,956
  • Travel: £1,538
  • Leisure: £997 for leisure
  • Household goods: £396
  • Insurance: £65

But money is not all that matters in London and it certainly cannot stop students from enjoying the city.

Vullo said: “What I love about London is that no one cares about you except those who actually have a reason to care, like friends.

“Coming from a small village I appreciate the open mindedness of most people and the fact that it’s hard to find some who is judgmental or stares at you. I love that I could do anything here, regarding hobbies, jobs, leaning, everything is a short bus ride away.

“Also, quite trite, but I love meeting people from other countries and cultures. Having lived my first year in Kingston, I also loved the fact that there are all these small, countryside-ish ‘towns’ just outside of London if I wanted to go to a quieter place but still London.

“Speaking of quiet places, I hate the tube, especially at rush hour, and I hate that probably 50% of the time I spend travelling is spent waiting for buses or trains.”

The tube is not only Vullo’s nightmare. Many KU students are also not keen on using the trains.

Emily Bitzinger, 22, an exchange student from the United States who recently arrived to London said that she does not want to get lost in London’s underground, making her apprehensive about travelling to central London on her own.

Bitzinger said: “Ever since I went last week I feel a little bit more comfortable navigating and going by myself because I like to plan thinks out when I go somewhere, not to be stuck in the city and get lost.

“I definitely will go more often once I figure out what is the best value because I bought a day pass last time but I need to look into a student rail card.”

Once the technical and financial sides of travelling are solved, there should be nothing to stop Kingston students from savouring the London experience. At least, this is the case for Sam Stortz, 20, who tries to go to central London at least once a week if she has enough time.

She said: “I don’t think it’s so expensive really, if you have a student rail card you can get into London for around four pounds.”

But even for Stortz, London has its darker sides.

“I don’t like how expensive the accommodation is, especially for student and I also hate that people don’t smile that much as when they do back home. If you smile on the tube they look at you like you’re crazy,” she said.

Besides financial burdens, there are other reasons that sometimes prevent students from travelling into central London more often. Many have cited lack of free time and the overwhelming amount of activities that makes choosing what to do difficult.

“I think I just don’t go often to central London because it’s expensive and I get really exhausted when I go,” said Kari.

“The top thing I don’t like about London is people that dress up like the Queen and try to grab your arm and dance with you when you walk across the bridge.”

All in all, despite the never ending expensiveness, rush hours, poker-faced people and confusing train schedules, London will always be one of the top choices for students.

“I think London is a great place for students to live in,” concluded Vullo. “Meeting so many people with different backgrounds and from different countries opens up your mind so much, and obviously, there are about endless opportunities to pursue your career if you just put in a little effort.”

As Samuel Johnson pointed out in 1777: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

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