There’s nothing quite like riding the Central line Eastbound at 4:30pm on a weekday to drive home the reality of living in London. The warm, squashed air and the warm, squashed people; you wonder, how can there be so many people alive in the world? With their own memories and hopes; how do they all fit? Or at least, that was my experience as a dictionary definition of a country bumpkin: “a person from the countryside, especially characterized as unsophisticated, unfashionable, or socially awkward”.
As a fresher this year, the most common question to follow “where are you from?” was “where’s that?” So rural and green that Tolkien’s Shire of Middle Earth was partly inspired by the area, Herefordshire is a beautiful, quiet and romantic place. I grew up with fields and blue sky, woods to explore and discover. This sounds wonderful, and in many ways it was. I am so incredibly lucky to call such an amazing place home. But I also grew up with solitude, isolation and a lot of sheep. Living in the north end of a county whose biggest city only houses 60,000 people is not the ideal situation for a young girl who is desperate to explore the world and its cultures. With very little public transport and friends and activities flung to all four winds, I was completely dependent on my parents for the first 18 years of my life. Especially, if I wanted to go anywhere other than the fields that surrounded our house.
So naturally I took the biggest u-turn possible and moved to London for university. As someone with family here, it wasn’t as difficult as it could have been. But, I was still surprised at how for the first couple of weeks, I didn’t really miss home or feel like I was in a strange and different place. The hardest part has been the last week or so, when everything has started to feel less like a surreal dream and more like something close to a reality that I will be living in for the next three years. The vastness of a full city can be almost as isolating as the emptiness of sparsely populated countryside. But I have no regrets: living in London as a student is the best way to experience the life of a city. It’s a fantastic opportunity to live relatively cheaply and have a safety net of support if anything goes wrong. At a campus university like Queen Mary, you have everything you need within a five minute walk, so it’s almost like living in a little village with the city on your doorstep. And if you need some quiet, the fields and the sheep will still be there when you go home.
- Check before you go somewhere that it will actually be open. It’s easy to assume that because you’re in London, everything will always be accessible unlike home where everyone packs in at about 3:30pm. Many museums and galleries do stay open relatively late, but often they will close on a set weekday. Don’t get caught out and be disappointed.
- Citymapper is your best friend. For getting familiar with buses and the tube as well as the streets, this app is perfect. There are many intimidating unspoken rules for life as a Londoner, and getting used to them takes a while. There’s no shame in seeking out information that may seem obvious to others but is confusing to you.
- Don’t use the tube all the time. Buses are only £1.50 flat rate for any journey, and it’s so useful for your sense of direction to see where you’re actually going. Walking is obviously a great way to get around, especially in central London where most things are closer together than you’d think from looking at a tube map.
- Make the most of your location. Exploring can be incredibly intimidating, especially if you’re alone, but you mustn’t let fear take opportunities from you. You don’t have to travel far to find something amazing. Meet new people, find new stories and enjoy living in an incredible city.
Thank you to those who helped provide information and inspiration for this article.