London is often hailed as one of the greatest cities in the world. By many measures, the question is exactly what are their considerations; the architecture, diversity, being at the centre of things?
In some ways, London is indeed a great city and this is true regardless if you are a tourist, a worker, or a student. However, if you are a typical international student coming from a median type of family, that is to say, lower-class, middle-class or upper-middle class, even with a scholarship, will you be able to fully enjoy London? Yes, you will enjoy new things just like any other great city but while you only ever get a slice of a place at any given time, the slice that you get out of London has been getting thinner and thinner for a while.
There are definitely more expensive cities than London but in most of these cities, the range of options is wider. Yes, the prices can reach exorbitant rates but if you want to save up on costs, there is a way to live it up and find cheaper options. Places like London, however, will scantily provide you with this option unless all you want to do is eat white bread for the rest of your student days and compromise your health and well-being in the long run. A bit of an exaggeration, for sure, but not by much. Check global top inflation: a poorer country with 10% inflation versus an already expensive city prior to a 10+% inflation.
Even rich and well-paid professionals get crushed by the absurd rentals in London. In one sense, there are reasons why leading cities are very expensive; inflation, cost of living, housing, food, and transportation are some of the reasons.
But there is a hidden truth; places like London, Singapore and other cities like them are partly expensive because of the “unofficially unproductive” financialised sectors and the property-owning class. Most of these real estate-owning classes rent out properties that were handed down through generations, or handed out by governments for electoral votes like council housing, HDB, and other assets. It is a means to maximise profit from assets mostly (not entirely) derived from inheritance and entitlements, aka people who got lucky their ancestors paved the way already.
What are the impacts of these?
Generally — and of course, there are always exceptions and stories can always be twisted — the real productivity of nations like these is ironically generated by the people they do not welcome or abhor; the migrants and the immigrants.
Being a student for one year in London at average overall costs, not just tuition fees and flights, nearly equates to 2-7 years of taxes even if you just went here to work, assuming they accept you. Even the graduate visa option takes into account the fact that you already paid for taxes for 3-7 years and they will only hand you out 2-3 years of graduate visa to lure you into believing they are:
Great Britain! It is great at everything!
- handing you an immense favour when in fact these will barely cover your sacrifice and your family’s sacrifice (unless you’re here for “immersion” or an “immersive holiday” Paid for by your rich folks);
- giving you a fair and honest path to integration and becoming a useful/welcome part of society when at every step of the way [even after gaining your citizenship (maybe) in the future (maybe again)] all you will ever feel is how unwelcomed and disconnected you are unless you can flash cash;
- Great Britain! It is great at everything! Except when all you will ever worry about is if you can still afford the aforementioned white bread or if you have to start starving yourself and your family for the promise of a great life in this great city; if you can make it to school given the never-ending transport strikes; if that bleeding nose or that hacking cough is not anything worse since emergency services are inaccessible and the NHS is always on strike and other facilities are lacking even for their own citizens.
For all of these, another surprise fineprint during your application with UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) is that your first and primary ticket to the UK is not your university acceptance offer but your money to pay the NHS and other fees first. By what is right, you have every right to seek help in clinics and hospitals for health worries assuming there is anyone around in the first place. But you don’t have any right, in practice.
It is not worth the risk
If you are with family, expect it to be five times (5x!) more difficult than a normal student for the very same reasons: costs, housing, social pressures, schooling for your own children, and finding work.
Regarding schooling for children: again, this assumes you are lower to upper middle class from wherever you came from, this means immense sacrifices — much much more than is bearable — have been made. Part of this sacrifice is for your children, and for your family, either by directly improving your career chances or indirectly by finding chances (not certainty) of a better future for them in the UK.
It is not that simple anymore, even for people who have been in the UK for a long time and who deserve it struggle to find ample quality schooling for their children. You may also find that the UK is losing the best of their teachers both local and otherwise. The approach to education has gone from questionable to exploitative to parasitic and you may find out that the best of what the UK has to offer can be found not here but in the Middle East or in Africa.
The world has changed a lot and while it is not unique to the UK to protect borders and prioritise local concerns and employment, other leading economies like USA, Canada, Australia, and Singapore amplify this reality and social pressures.
This does not mean that there is no hope, there are always exceptions, some make it through and most find joy in the little things in life. But systemically, structurally, and politically, the situation is designed to extract and exploit as much as possible through the hopes and dreams of good deserving people; all while squeezing their necks and hanging them over the cliff.
Do not forget that culture primarily comes from people and not just the architecture you see or the experiences that you gain.
The UK often portrays itself as very cultured because of its long and storied history. Take the recent Coronation of King Charles for example, while I am not against the monarchy, it does seem a bit out of touch to have this kind of display of pomp and pageantry while most of the nation is suffering from the cost of living crisis.
Do not forget that culture primarily comes from people and not just the architecture you see or the experiences that you gain. The truth is, the culture that will influence you the most is the culture of the prevailing times; the language, values, ways, manners, and others.
If you have fooled yourself into believing as an outsider or a migrant — who did not come from another developed part of the world — that you and your family will be encultured with politeness, grace, good manners, fairness, and those other mythic British “values”, you will quickly get a rude awakening as soon as you queue up at the borders. Most likely, you passed by Singapore, or Dubai, or Doha or New York, or other hub airports. Prepare yourself after that long journey, both the flight and the preparation preceding it, once you arrive at Heathrow (or other airports).
Some sacrifices are worth it, some sacrifices are not.
I write this not in hate, not in anger, or whim. I am not a prophet of doom and gloom and make no mistake; London and the UK are indeed places blessed with natural beauty and wonder. I offer these thoughts, right or wrong, limited in view as it is for humanity.
Some sacrifices are worth it, some sacrifices are not. Make sure your sacrifice for whatever it is you think the UK is and what it represents reflects the truth or at least the far vicinity of it. Match your hope and sacrifice with intelligence and research. Your life and the Earth is ( i ) greater than the hell you are escaping wherever you come from, ( ii ) bigger than the myth of the UK, and ( iii ) contains more dignity and promise than those who will treat you here in the UK or elsewhere like rubbish.
Contributed and written by Edward Holloway
Edward has travelled the world, met, interacted with people from all walks of life, lived and worked in multiple cities like New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Singapore, Bangkok, Manila, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Brisbane. He currently resides in London.
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