They make up over a quarter of the capital’s student population, so what is it about London that’s so appealing to international students?
London – known for its vibrant, cosmopolitan way of life, its rich history and its cultural diversity – attracts international students from all around the world.
Eager to escape sun-soaked Florida, I came here to experience life in a bustling city. I wanted easy access to museums and restaurants, and public parks that could provide an escape.
Nearly 103,000 international students were studying in London in 2011-12 – comprising 26% of its student population, according to the UK Council for International Student Affairs.
For a glimpse of international student life in London, I spoke to a diverse group of global students to find out what brought them to the capital.
Luís Costa Da Silva
Da Silva, 27, is Portuguese and has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in clinical psychology from the Higher Institute of Applied Psychology, Lisbon. He is pursuing a PhD in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London
“I’d been to London a few times as a tourist, but living here is completely different. At first I was overwhelmed by the number of people and the speed of everything.
“We all have preconceptions of London before we live here. Movies like Closer, James Bond, and British comedies or TV shows like Sherlock sometimes romanticise it. Oxford Street is portrayed as magical, but when you run an errand there at 6pm on a weekday, you realise it’s not so pleasant.
“I enjoy London’s free museums, restaurants, and its contrasting architecture. I also attend a lot of music concerts. Culture is so much more available here.
“I miss Portuguese coffee culture. Coffee is different in Portugal – not just its taste and size, but also in the social habit that comes with it. We meet friends for a quick coffee or chat for hours, usually outside. There’s more of a pub culture in London, and it’s hard to find a nice custard tart to go with my coffee.”
Holman, 21, is from Chicago, US, and studies journalism, law and public policy at the University of Southern California. She is currently at City University London on a study abroad programme
“As a journalism student, I think it’s important to experience new cultures. When I arrived in London I didn’t think it was too different to Chicago. I also remember being extremely impressed by the public transport system, the markets, the freshness of food and the accents.
“Museums help me learn more about British history and aspects of the culture that aren’t in history books. My favourite are the Museum of London and the V&A. I enjoy attending slam poetry competitions in Shoreditch and grabbing lunch from Borough Market.
“I miss how late restaurants and fast food places stay open in America – most are open 24 hours. I also miss the Southern California weather. I’m often sent photos of my friends sunbathing, but I get over it quickly when I remind myself I’m living in one of the most vibrant cities in the world.”
Wendt, 27, is from Roque Gonzales, a small Brazilian village, where he grew up with nine siblings on a farm. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in clinical psychology from two top Brazilian universities. He is pursuing a PhD in psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London
“I always wanted to be a researcher and realised I’d have to study abroad for cutting-edge training. The decision to come to London was based on the high quality of education and location – it’s close to many European cities and just seven hours from New York.
“I was disappointed when I arrived – the city was a mess, too crowded, with terrible food, constant rain and high prices. But after a month, I realised how amazing London is and I became an Instagrammer in love with London.
“I enjoy taking buses to random destinations – I’ve been to nearly all the London boroughs now. I also take short trips to cities like Cardiff and Brighton, and am following the Time Out food guide to experience new cuisines.
“I miss the Brazilian sun. Food isn’t a problem because there are so many Brazilian shops here and I can cook. I also miss the connection between people – in Brazil we hug our friends a lot, but here I have friends I’ve never touched. It’s weird.”
Rajaai, 25, left Iran to study photography at the London College of Communication and was recently elected to be the next National Union of Students (NUS) international students officer
“My first few months in London were amazing. It was my first time living away from home and the freedom seemed like a dream come true. There was always something to do and I was constantly meeting people from all over the world.
“Listening to British music – Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones and Queen – formed my understanding of the country. I’d also associated James Bond films with Britain from an early age, but none of these initial impressions resembled the reality.
“After a couple of months, the loneliness and homesickness hit me – the depressing weather and individualistic lifestyle were a shock. I miss little things about Iran – the mannerisms, street gossip and making cultural references with people on the street.
“I studied art, so spending time at London’s countless galleries is one of the most exciting things for me to do. I try to visit the Tate, White Cube, the National Portrait Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and the V&A as often as possible.”
Jauneau, 21, is originally from Bordeaux, France. She moved to Gabon, Africa, at age two and returned to France at 19. Jauneau is in London for a term studying business at INSEEC Business School
“I fell in love with London. I like the people and the energy. People come from everywhere in the world here, unlike in France. London is a cosmopolitan and a very tolerant city.
“I like to lose myself in different neighborhoods – I choose a tube station and walk there, and I might meet people or go to a pub. My favourite neighbourhood is definitely Shoreditch. London has great food, vintage shops and original people – the kind you can have great conversations with.
“I’m glad to be here, because I really like to share my culture with people from every part of the world. But I do miss French food and good wine.”