5 Social Tips for International Students

Your suitcase is crammed with everything from kitchen appliances to your favourite stuffed animal, your new shoes are polished and ready to trample the streets of London, and you’ve packed every local delicacy that has ever existed in your hometown for the pangs of homesickness that will inevitably strike you. “So, what’s next?”, you might ask yourself. Well, there really isn’t anything else you need to do at this stage, but if you want to be one step ahead of everyone else, here are some tips I’ve compiled that might help to give you a kick-start. The first chunk of this 2-part series will focus on the social aspects of being a student, whereas the next one will be slightly more general.

If you’re stepping foot onto foreign soil for the first time, it’ll be absolutely normal for you to experience some form of apprehension as you wander through the city looking for a familiar face. However, what’s important to keep in mind is that you’re far from being the only international student in the university, and that you’re actually part of a diverse group of individuals who hail from all corners of the world.

A great way to meet new acquaintances (and hopefully, besties) would be to attend the orientation parties held in student halls during the first move-in days. Get to know your housemates as well, and if any of them are locals they’ll be able to lend you a hand in familiarising yourself with the city. You’ll be staying with them for an entire year, so it’s certainly important to build a good rapport with them early on. Nevertheless, in the unlikely event that you don’t enjoy staying at your current residence, you can swap your room with someone else’s after a month – it’s as simple as filling in a form!

You might also want to partake in several Welcome Week events organised by KCLSU, such as pub quizzes, picnics and campus tours. One of the main thing I was worried of before coming here was that I would be excluded from social events since I don’t drink alcohol, but I found that to be entirely untrue! Pubs and bars were rather foreign to me, and I was genuinely afraid of entering them solely due to my fear of the unknown. However, I’ve realised that they’re essentially just more casual versions of restaurants, and non-drinkers can always order an alternative beverage such as fruit juices and nobody will disparage you for doing that. If they do, then they clearly aren’t worthy of being your friends, wouldn’t you agree?

I can’t emphasise my next tip more — attend the Welcome Fair at the Barbican! It was literally a life-changer for my university experience, as it led me to join numerous societies that have been a huge part of my life these two years. As its name suggests, the Welcome Fair puts all King’s societies on display in one massive venue, and the best part is that you’re free to browse through all of them at your own leisure. You might even encounter several societies that you had not previously been exposed to and who knows? You could end up uncovering a hidden talent that might take you all the way to the bright lights of the West End.

Whilst you’re at the fair, I would also recommend scouting and joining your country’s dedicated society at King’s (if there is one). When everything seems all too foreign, it can feel very comforting to know a group of your fellow countrymen who are in the exact predicament as you, and can understand exactly what you’re going through. Besides, one of them can probably whip up a convincingly authentic meal from back home, so that’s a plus! Also, don’t forget to pick up your very own NUS card which would typically be sold at the fair – it’ll get you many student discounts for a variety of essential items and services.

Lastly, attend your induction! King’s has designed a ‘Welcome to King’s Guide’ this year which you can download onto your device. I’ll leave you to peruse that while I put on the final touches for the sequel to this article. Make sure to check that out later!

5 General Tips for International Students

If you’ve read my previous blog post, you would hopefully have become an absolute pro at socialising by now. In this article, I’ll divulge some general tips and life hacks that I’ve gathered at university so far, so read on if you’re curious to see what they are!

One of the first things that you should do after arriving is to set up a bank account if you don’t already have one. I would advise you to do this ASAP, as banks are typically very busy this time of the year and it might be trickier to get an early appointment. Furthermore, having your bank details at the ready is crucial when it comes to identity inspections, particularly for students pursuing healthcare courses who might need to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check later. It would be wise to consult with Student Services (formerly called ‘The Compass’) in the libraries prior to making a bank appointment, as they’ll be able print off any official documents required for this procedure.

Being such a huge and bustling city, London might seem slightly overwhelming to new inhabitants especially if you’re more accustomed to the tranquility of the countryside. Nevertheless, with the proliferation of smartphones in this age, one can navigate the city quite effortlessly with apps such as Google Maps and Citymapper. In fact, one of my favourite things about London is the ease at which you can roam the city, and with the assistance of such apps, literally nowhere is off bounds.

London also has one of the most well-connected and efficient public transport networks in the world, so whether you’re commuting from the city centre to the outskirts of London or just hopping between King’s campuses, travelling is an absolute breeze. I recommend linking your 18+ Student Oyster photocard to your 16-25 railcard if you have one, as that’ll give you a substantial discount during off-peak hours. If you travel frequently, you could set your card on auto-top which will then spare you the constant worry of your balance running out.

You’ll also be relieved to know that King’s has its own dedicated National Health Service (NHS) centre. In case you’re unsure of what the NHS is, it basically entitles you to free consultations with a registered GP and free primary care as well as emergency treatments. However, as there might be a short wait before an appointment can be made, it is advisable to visit one of the many pharmacies scattered around London for minor ailments such as cold and flu – as a Pharmacy student myself, I can attest to this! Having said that, you should definitely still make it your first priority to register with the NHS before it gets buried amongst your growing pile of chores later on.

Shopping on a budget can be rather tough, but with the help of your student ID and NUS card, everything will seem a lot more affordable! Eateries that currently offer such discounts include Leon, GBK, Itsu (after 3pm) and Pizza Express (on certain days), but just bear in mind that these are only accurate at the time of writing. If you happen to be at the Waterloo campus, I recommend trying out Lord Nelson (near Southwark station) which offers discounts for its award-winning burgers, as well as the Lower Marsh Market for a wide array of international street food. In terms of shopping, you can save some cash in the long run by opting for stores that reward you on your accumulated points such as Boots, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Most of my shopping is done at Co-Op as my NUS card gives me a nifty discount every single time!

There will undoubtedly be many other life hacks that you’ll discover along the way as you navigate through life at King’s. My parting advice to you would be to just go with whatever life throws at you, be open about accepting new cultures and ways of life, and most importantly, appreciate every moment that you spend here. A few years might seem like a lifetime for now, but before you know it, you’ll be sitting contentedly amongst your best mates in the graduation ceremony, reflecting back on what must have been some of the best years of your life.

A Guide to Packing

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Shopping for practically anything is a breeze in London – if you know where to look, that is. Finding out which establishments have the best deals will take some trial and error, and you’ll be a seasoned consumer in no time. However, in your first week of arriving here, the last thing you should do is wander blindly in the streets of London searching for a shop that sells shampoo because it had completely slipped your mind to pack it! To avoid such a hairy catastrophe (and other similar disasters) from occurring, take a look at the following check-list:

1. Things you can’t live without
I know this sounds fairly obvious, but some items have fused so seamlessly into our lives that it doesn’t even cross our minds to pack them. Try going through your daily routine at home, whilst compiling a list of things that you used along the way – your medicines, toiletries, phone charger etc. It’s amazing how many things we take for granted!

2. Documents
Nobody likes going through the identification check at the customs, but it’s not exactly legal to bolt past the security gates either. To speed things up, have your passport, visa and confirmation of studies letter ready in your hand luggage. If you’re a pursuing a healthcare-related course, you would be required to take your immunity records as well to facilitate your immunisation process later in the year.

3. Clothing
If you’re from a tropical country like me, chances are you’ve only been accustomed to the sweltering heat and torrential downpours. However, don’t fret if you’re completely lacking any winter attire. September is usually not the chilliest time of the year, so there’s still plenty of time to purchase some after you’ve settled down. Besides, your local retail outlets might not have the most appropriate winter attire for the chilly and damp London atmosphere. As a side note, pack a set of formal-wear for official ceremonies and a pair of gloves for protection against the harsh winds.

4. Books & stationery
We all know that one guy who has perused the entire semester’s textbooks before classes have even commenced, but is it really advisable to purchase them in advance? The answer to that would be a resounding “no”. During your induction, your lecturers will outline the few mandatory core books, and the libraries at King’s should provide you with sufficient further reading material. Also, there are numerous second-hand book sales in September that you should absolutely watch out for. Stationery doesn’t weigh much anyway so go ahead and buy all the pens you’ll never need.

5. Cooking
Nothing conjures stronger feelings of nostalgia like eating your favourite food from home. However, if you’re currently stuffing your luggage with bottles of soy sauce and curry paste, you might want to think twice about that. London is a multicultural city and as such, is populated by international merchants who stock up on many imported food items. The best example to illustrate this would be Chinatown, where you’ll be able to find a slew of exotic condiments and ingredients. Kitchen appliances are fairly affordable as well, so there’s absolutely no need to pack your heavy frying pan. That being said, I wouldn’t imagine that many Asian mothers (mine included) would permit their children to leave home without a rice cooker, so just be an obedient child and do so. Soon enough, you’ll realise how versatile it actually is!

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6. Bedding
Most student accommodation will not come with blankets or duvets, so I would recommend compacting these in a vacuum bag and cramming them into your luggage. Pillows take way too much space, so don’t even attempt to squeeze one in.

7. Miscellaneous
Do check if your devices are compatible with UK’s plugs; if they’re not, it would be wise to purchase a few adapters. While it is extremely useful to own a personal printer, it would be unfeasible to fit one into your luggage considering its sheer bulk. Hence, I would suggest just purchasing one here.

8. Personal items
Being in a foreign land with hardly any familiar faces around you, there will inevitably be times when you’ll feel rather miserable. Nevertheless, you’ll be surprised by how much a few tokens from home can cheer you up and provide the motivation you need to keep going. Be it a birthday card or simply your stinky stuffed animal, take whatever it is that will evoke some poignant memories of home. Just remember – whatever it is you are going through will come to pass eventually, and things will get better if you persevere and march on.

With all that said, I hope you don’t get overwhelmed by the whole packing process and I bid you a safe journey to London! You don’t know it yet, but your best life chapter is just about to begin.

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Entertainment Spots in London

If you think that university life mainly revolves around attending lectures, rushing to complete the next assignment and spending sleepless nights in the library, you’re… actually absolutely spot-on. But that doesn’t mean you can’t afford to have a little fun along the way, right? Right? (It’s honestly in these moments of self-deception that I indulge excessively and consequently subject myself to last-minute revision.)

Well, I think that’s enough information on my procrastination habits. So what exactly can you do in London to have fun? The answer to that question would obviously vary according to what your idea of “fun” is, but for this article I’ll assume that all of you enjoy the dorky forms of entertainment that I revel in, which is essentially anything to do with music.

Drama geeks would absolutely rejoice in the fact that the West End, which houses the majority of London’s theatres, is literally just minutes away from the Strand campus. I don’t mean to brag (yes, I totally do), but I’m guilty of having watched most of the current productions, and there was literally not a single one that disappointed me. From the spine-tingling murder mystery of The Mousetrap to the soaring vocals that define Wicked, every production is bound to keep you thoroughly entertained. Just between you and me: most musicals have day-seat policies, which essentially mean there’s a chance of you getting a heavily-discounted ticket if you queue up dead early at the box office.

I’ve been in orchestras all my life, so you could imagine my excitement upon finding out that I was staying mere minutes away from the Royal Festival Hall, which frequently showcases concerts by world-renowned orchestras, among other performances. A handy app called Student Pulse offers discounted tickets to students and is definitely worth having in your device. If classical music doesn’t sound appealing to you, fret not as London is virtually on every major musician’s tour stop due to its wide array of concert venues such as the O2. My inner fangirl was unleashed in all its glory when I attended a Shawn Mendes concert this year, which I shamelessly prioritised over my finals which were held the following week (sorry, mum). It’s worth looking out for music festivals as well if you’re not a die-hard fan of any particular artist.

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(British Museum)

When I first stepped into the heart of London, it struck me that I was literally surrounded by history. As you walk along any of the bustling streets in the city, it’s hard to not envision the many historical events that transpired on the same street that you’re walking on, besides the many undiscovered secrets that it still holds. Heck, part of the Strand campus is actually Somerset House’s east wing, and the Maughan Library was originally the national Public Records Office. If you’re a true history buff, head over to the British Museum and be prepared to spend an eternity wandering through the imposing sculptures of Ancient Egypt and the glistening treasures of Medieval Europe. Fans of Jurassic Park should definitely make a bee-line to the Natural History Museum as it has an extensive collection of imposing dinosaur relics.

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(Maughan library)

Something I’ve really enjoyed doing the past year was hanging out in the many parks that adorn the city. Amongst the towering skyscrapers and the throngs of pedestrians, lie expansive parks where you can take a break and gather your thoughts. Hyde Park and Regent’s Park are perhaps the most renowned ones in London, but there are plenty of other quaint parks that you’ll discover along the way. Other places of interest would be the art galleries here, and some of my cheekier friends take immense pleasure in captioning the unique – and sometimes undecipherable – artworks displayed at Tate Modern. To cap off a long day of adventuring, head over to the Sky Garden for a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of the city.

If anyone ever tells you that London gets boring quickly, they either have been imprisoned in an underground dungeon (that got dark very quickly) or more likely, they just haven’t read my awesome blog. Jokes aside, the possibilities are virtually endless in this vibrant city as long as you are eager to explore for them.

Facilities Within/ Near King’s College

When I first stepped foot in London a year ago, I was pleasantly surprised not only by the range of amenities that it offered, but also the proximity of these services to residential areas. Of course, I had the good fortune of staying at Stamford Street Apartments (SSA) where literally anything is within reach, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that a Londoner rarely has to venture beyond their neighbourhood to run their daily errands. From grocery shopping to grabbing a meal (and subsequently burning those calories in the gym), you’ll find that completing your daily routine has never been this hassle-free. Considering how enormous the entire London is, I’ll just roughly highlight the facilities that are in the vicinity of King’s College and its residences.

If you’re anything like me – that is, you receive an exponential boost in productivity when revising in libraries – you can heave a sigh of nerdy relief as each of our campuses is equipped with them. It’s not exactly my proudest achievement, but as I was edging precariously closer to my final exams I had spent almost entire days in the Franklin-Wilkins library dashing through my notes. Part of the reason why I could essentially camp there was due to its extended opening hours during the exam season, when it was open 24/7. There are also several study zones within the library which are distinguished based on the noise level that they permit. One of my favourite features of the library is its self-checkout and return system, as you can technically return a book at midnight if you wished to. The Maughan library is as cavernous as libraries go, and you would be forgiven for thinking that it was taken right out of a scene from Harry Potter. Enclosed by modern glass windows that overlook the lawn below it, the New Hunt’s House library offers a rather tranquil setting for performing your revision.

True story: when someone first told me that they were heading to Iceland for some grocery shopping, I genuinely thought they were either pulling my leg or just had several private planes at their disposal. Anyway, it turned out to be an actual grocery store chain and I was somewhat let down by my friends’ lack of private jets. It sells common household items at comparatively low prices and it’s currently my preferred place to shop for fresh meat. But perhaps what sets it apart from its competitors is its wide-ranging selection of frozen food. From frozen broccoli to frozen chicken and frozen ice-cream (oh wait…), it’s the frozen food paradise you never thought you needed in your life. The Co-operative Food also receives my stamp of approval, as it offers a 10% discount on all items if you present your NUS card at the till. Since there are branches of these stores near the campuses, it’s actually quite feasible to do some grocery shopping on your way back home.

Now comes the part you either dread or can’t live without – maintaining your fitness. There are numerous jogging trails scattered around London where you can burn some calories whilst admiring the magnificent view of the London streets (if you can manage to catch your breath, that is). Avid swimmers would probably have heard of the London Aquatics Centre, which hosted the main aquatics events of the 2012 Olympics and is just a stone’s throw away from the Stratford student accommodations. Trust me, once you’ve swum in these glorious indoor pools, you will not settle for anything less in the future. There’s also a gym run by the student union strategically located in the same building as SSA, so residents there have virtually no excuse to skip their gym sessions. (Nevertheless, being a proud couch potato, I still managed to fight the pressure to stay fit.) The gym usually has a promotion for new students in September, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for that.

Well, there you go! I had barely scratched the surface of the wealth of amenities available here, but I trust that you’ll discover more of them throughout your studies. Just remember that when anyone mentions “Iceland” here, they’re probably not referring to the country.