When I received a confirmation for a place at a renowned university in London two years ago, to say I was excited is an understatement. London. Described by many as the “most exciting city in the world”, second only to New York, maybe. Before packing my bags and leaving to London for good, I had only been there once, years earlier, with my parents. At the time, I was a teenage girl from a small village, in expedition to the “big city”. I loved every moment of it. The people from all over the world, the beautiful buildings and skyscrapers, the typical double-decker buses, the red phone cells. I felt like an extra in my beloved Harry Potter movies. At least that’s the way I remember it now – we all know memories start to shift and get distorted and look all rosy in hindsight.
Two years into my three years degree, my rose-tinted glasses have disappeared, the thrill of the “big city” had gone. I’m not trying to say that I don’t enjoy my time here, or that I regret going to university here. But I also think that London isn’t a city for everyone, and that there are many things to take into careful consideration before deciding to live here.
London is expensive
I know this is a generally well-known fact, and something that (I thought) I was well aware of. However, what most people don’t realize is just how expensive London is, and what sort of impact this has on your day-to-day life. While my friends were staying in beautiful rooms in the centre of metropolitan cities like Berlin or Hamburg, I was paying two to three times as much for a tiny room (more like a box room, one might say) in the basement of an old, run-down building 40min away from uni, right next to a noisy road. And I actually spent these 40min walking back and forth to university because the travel card is so expensive.
The nightlife isn’t as great as you might think.
Speaking of money: you can easily spend 15-20 pounds only to enter a common night club – it is best to not even think about buying drinks there. The common solution therefore is to get drunk before going out – at which point you will realize that British tax regulation make that it isn’t possible to come by a bottle of red wine for less than £5, for example. To top it off, most night clubs will kick you out at 3am, pubs even at 11pm during the week.
Expensive prices don’t mean higher salaries
A common misconception about London is that, as everything is so expensive, the employers are going to make up for it by increasing salaries, too. While it may be true that manager salaries in London are sky-high, this does by no means apply to any type of “unlearned work”, e.g. in hospitality or retail. Most employers merely pay the minimum wage, which is set incredibly low at £6.31.
I lived with an Italian couple last year. Both had a good degree from a good university, but both didn’t get a “proper” job, so ended up working in a restaurant. What did this mean? They lived together in a tiny room, consisting of a bed and a bed side table, in a shared apartment in Zone 3, working 6 days a week and hardly able to afford anything. Does living in London really make up for that?
London isn’t big. It’s huge.
London is the biggest city in Europe, more than 10 Million people live there. While most people are aware of this, what does it really mean? It doesn’t only mean that there are endless sights, museums, and areas to explore. It also means that you will, usually, not be able to even live one day without using the tube, or bus, or taxi. You will take the tube to work, to go out, to meet friends, to go shopping. Personally, I love getting to places by foot. In London, however, this is impossible: Even if you live in the centre, your friends, colleagues, acquaintances, family members will be scattered all over town, and you will spend your time getting pushed and stepped upon by hundreds of sweaty people hundreds of meters under the surface of the earth.
As said above: I am still in love with and excited by London, its internationality and diversity. I’m just trying to convey the message that it isn’t all as bright and shiny as sometimes conveyed by media or friends, and that moving to London isn’t for everyone. After my graduation, I can say without doubt that my way is going to lead me somewhere else.