Karen is an international student from Hong Kong who is studying at King’s. In this post, she writes about her experience coming to King’s and living in London.
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and I’d never lived anywhere else before coming to London for university. Having visited on holiday before, I knew that I’d be able to adapt quickly, though – in some ways, the two cities share comparable moods, and there are bits of each that I notice when I’m in the other. I’ve been able to feel settled in both places, so I think that says something about their energies.
One of the main reasons that I decided to come to King’s was because the Strand campus’ location in central London. I’ve absolutely loved attending classes at Bush House, especially, as well as being so close to places like Covent Garden, the West End and Chinatown. After class, I’d often either walk or hop on the Tube to meet my friends there, and that convenience – which almost, though not quite, mimics Hong Kong’s – has been really important to me. I never experienced any real moments of culture shock, except for the time I realised my friend had never heard of siu mai before!!
Above all things, studying in London turned out to not only be energising, but it also meant I would never have the opportunity to become bored. There’s always more to explore. Regardless, London is a sizeable city – much larger than mine – and there were so many different neighbourhoods for me to work my way through and get acquainted with, all of them different in their own way.
I’ve been able to visit some of the beautiful parks for which London is so well known, such as Hyde Park, St. James’ and Regent’s. These enormous green areas are astonishing to someone like myself, who has always been surrounded by relatively small urban parks back in Hong Kong. There are lots of activities available in and around the parks too – I remember waking up early to go ice skating at the Queen’s House next to Greenwich Park, and watching deer at Richmond Park. Furthermore, whereas ice skating is a distinctly indoor affair in Hong Kong, in the winter, my friends and I would visit the temporary outdoor ice rink at Somerset House in the winter, which is right next to the Strand campus where I’m based.
In my first two years at King’s, I lived in a South London neighbourhood called Vauxhall, which I found to be lovely! It felt different to areas like Westminster and Pimlico – the latter was just a stop away on the tube, and getting to visit new cafés amidst the Regency buildings was a wonderful experience. In contrast, Vauxhall was more down-to-earth, and I loved going to the Noraebang restaurant and city farm – both which I lived only minutes away from. A city farm with alpacas is something I would certainly have to go a little further out for in Hong Kong.
As I mentioned earlier, the West End also stands out to me. I frequently went to see plays and musicals – sometimes we would sign up for cheaper aisle seats or sit a little further back – and after every show, I had the opportunity to wait outside to meet the cast. A teenage me would have found the people I’ve been able to meet mind-blowing – the likes of Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, and Matt Smith… And had it not been for the pandemic, Daniel Radcliffe and Timothée Chalamet as well. Their shows were right in the heart of the city, and being able to watch their performances in person is something that’s quite unique to living in London.
I also spent a lot of time in Chinatown whenever I was homesick, and then some more. There’s a revival house there called The Prince Charles Cinema – I was so attached to it that I became a member – where they showed all the Studio Ghibli films. Most from Hong Kong have seen their films at one point or another, and being able to see films that had been shown in theatres before I was even born, was quite an unusual thing that helped me feel closer to home, when I was physically so far away.
The Cantonese food in London isn’t quite the same, and the dim-sum and bubble tea is much more expensive than in Hong Kong – but it’s still so comforting to know that the area is there for you, always. I found real solace in its Chinese establishments, such as the dessert shops that the area is home to, like Yolkin and Mamasons, both of which I frequented often. At Yolkin, my friends and I would indulge in ice cream flavours like Hong Kong Milk Tea, Egg Tart and Horlicks, all of which are nostalgic for a Hongkonger like myself.
My favourite London food spots have included the following: Yi Fang’s bubble tea, Koya Soho’s udon, Tokyo Diner’s Japanese curry rice, the Chinese, Korean and Japanese grocery stores SHOP AND GO, Oseyo and Japan Centre, and all the supermarkets in Chinatown. I would often make dumplings and cook sesame noodles too, and I’d buy packs of malt Vitasoy regularly from Sainsbury’s, where it was surprisingly cheap – on par with Seven Eleven in Hong Kong.
If you liked Karen’s blog post, check out Justine’s vlog on life as a KCL student by clicking here
Or would you rather keep reading? Check out Ginny’s post on her virtual learning experience at King’s by clicking here
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