A Mature Age Student in London
Being a twenty-something male completing his second year of his Communication undergraduate, perhaps you could understand my initial apprehension about the prospect of moving into student housing. Sharing living spaces with fresh-out-of-school late teens, my life experience making me the old, boring one — always? Nervous, scared, anxious: these words don’t even begin to cover it.
‘Should I live in the Halls of Residence or try to find my own flat in Central London?’ I asked a myriad of my nearest and dearest, in the hope their responses may steer me out of my indecision.
‘What’s the cheapest option?’ my mother replied, economical as always.
‘This isn’t necessarily the last time you’ll be living in London; you could live in Central London some other time,’ my eldest brother countered, his traveller’s wisdom shining through.
‘Student housing. Definitely. You’ll never get the college, on-campus experience again. Ever,’ responded one of my closest friends, a sense of finality to her tone.
So, Halls of Residence it was.
I filled out my application, and I waited for the outcome.
Months later, the University of Westminster sent me my acceptance letter: I was to live in a large ensuite of the Harrow Hall come January 4, 2014.
My fate was sealed.
I don’t remember much of the drive from Streatham to Harrow. I’d been in London since December 23, 2013, my brother and sister-in-law — Mike and Steph — graciously allowing me to set up camp on the fold-out of the spare room in their humble terrace home. What ensued following my arrival was a series of Christmas and New Year’s Eve eating and drinking festivities that left me indisposed four days into the New Year.
We arrived in the early afternoon.
I stepped out of the car and looked at the row of glass and brick buildings before me. ‘Just like the pictures,’ I thought.
I had some trouble locating the Reception. Wandering around aimlessly in the cold, it then began to rain. I hoped that this was not an omen of sorts.
There was a line of other nervous soon-to-be residents, patiently awaiting their greeting and allocation of keys.
‘So, this is it,’ I thought to myself. ‘Months of working, saving money and planning, and now you’re finally here.’
To my right there was a guy and a girl with bright yellow jumpers sitting, in silence, on a navy sofa, staring off into space. To my left there was a light yellow wall with a group of pictures stuck to it. They were photographs of the Residence Staff. Along the bottom row were the Resident Assistants, two of whom I realised were the two seated on the sofa. I chuckled to myself: the Human Relationships Manager was a black cat named Batman.
Next thing I know, I was called forward.
‘Hi. Ante Bruning, from Sydney, Australia. I’m, er, checking in?’
‘Welcome, Ante! We’ve been expecting you.’ The Receptionist smiled kindly, briefly guided me through my Welcome Pack and explained the formalities. ‘So, you’re in Block P, Room 83L.’
‘Oh, you’re here!’ someone exclaimed, making me jump. It was the girl with the bright yellow jumper. She stood up and walked towards me, clearly excited. ‘I’ve been waiting for you; I was wondering when you would get here.’
Mike and Steph chuckled to themselves behind me, enjoying the awkwardness.
The young girl blushed. (Weeks later, as our friendship blossomed, she told me it was because she realised she must have sounded like a complete stalker.)
She walked me to Block P to show me my room. Along the way we engaged in introductory conversation and she pointed out where the bins are, where the Tube station is, which way to get to campus, and how to get to the nearest Sainsbury’s. I did my best to follow, however I was partially distracted by the beauty of the luscious green park outside of the Hall’s Reception.
‘Here we are!’ she said, beaming. ‘I’ll leave you to check the room out and get settled. If you need anything, just knock — I’m in Room A, at the beginning of the hallway. See you in a bit!’
I unlocked the door and walked into my life for the next four and a half months. Mike and Steph followed and joined me in the inspection.
‘I thought you said you got the large ensuite?’ Steph remarked.
‘Honey…’ said Mike.
‘Hey,’ she back-pedalled, ‘you’re definitely not going to get cabin fever. And look at you: you’ve made a friend already!’ She patted me on the back and threw her head back in laughter.
I’m now ten weeks into living in Student Housing. Contrary to my original anxieties, I’ve been having the time of my life. I share a flat with thirteen other students, and although they are younger than me, what they lack in years they make up for in warmth, personality and creativity. I enjoy sharing a home with them, and everyday I learn something new about others and myself. Never have I felt like the old, boring one like I’d originally feared — not once.
University life is good, too. Although it’s a little different to how it is back at UTS (they call subjects ‘modules’, they don’t have all your weekly readings available online, and there’s less contact hours and more independent study), I’m enjoying it nonetheless. Besides, it’s kind of nice having the old university experience your parents told you about, where you go to the library, find the books yourself, and study late into the night. I like the subjects I’ve chosen and the teaching staff are great, professional and approachable. Everyone who studies here is nice, too — they always warm up to you when you tell them you’re Australian, and everyone’s good for a chat and a laugh over a few drinks on “Messy Mondayz” [sic] at the student bar, SU.
Harrow is about 40 minutes out of Central Student Housing. Contrary to my original anxieties, I’ve been having the time of my life. I share a flat with thirteen other students, and although they are younger than me, what they lack in years they make up for in warmth, personality and creativity. I enjoy sharing a home with them, and everyday I learn something new about others and myself. Never have I felt like the old, boring one like I’d originally feared — not once.
University life is good, too. Although it’s a little different to how it is back at UTS (they call subjects ‘modules’, they don’t have all your weekly readings available online, and there’s less contact hours and more independent study), I’m enjoying it nonetheless. Besides, it’s kind of nice having the old university experience your parents told you about, where you go to the library, find the bookLondon, but it isn’t without its charm. It’s like the suburbia of London, with its schools, hospitals, commons (that’s what they call parks here), shopping centres, and streets of houses that are joined together in their old-fashioned architecture — it’s like something out of a movie.
The Harrow Hall is not even a five minute walk from the Northwick Park tube station, which has meant that I’ve been able to do and see a lot in the past few months. London is such a lively city: its brimming with culture and activity, so there’s no way that the cold weather can stop you from enjoying yourself. I’ve checked out many art galleries, museums and theatres. I’ve seen the attractions like Hyde Park, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Millennium Bridge, Thames River, The London Eye, Little Venice, Old Street, Brick Lane, Borough Markets, Spitalfields Markets, Portobello Markets, Camden Markets — it’s hard to keep track of everything I’ve been doing, but luckily I’ve been taking lots of photos and keeping a diary. The point is: there is so much to do here, so there is no way you can get bored and sit around and do nothing. Whether you’re into site-seeing, wining and dining, vintage shopping, arts and craft, partying — whatever — there’s somewhere for you in London.
The past ten weeks have flown by, and already my flatmates and I are dreading leaving the Hall at the end of May. I remind them, though, that we still have two months together, so we mustn’t fret and should make the most of it and enjoy what time we have. But hey, maybe that’s my age showing? 😉
Twitter & Instagram: @thislittlefox
PS. Here’s a snippet of my experience, in pictures:
Fountains outside of Marble Arch.
Into vintage shopping? Brick Lane’s for you.
If you appreciate graffiti, you have to loiter the streets of Shoreditch.
Gotta love the old-fashioned English pub decor.
The Venus Fountain, Sloane Square.
Beautiful sunny day outside the Granary Building, King’s Cross.
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