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10 tips on how to meet people and make friends as a new student in London

 

A group of four students sat on the grass in a park on a sunny day

BA Film and Media student, Valentina Vlasich, knows first-hand what it’s like to be a new student in London. Here, she shares her top tips on how to find opportunities to socialise and bond with classmates.  

You just moved to London after being accepted into university, a lot of exciting new experiences are on the way. But worry about meeting new people and making friends starts to set in. Never fear, here are some tips on how to overcome that concern.  

1. Know that you are not the only new person around
Even though it may seem like it is you against the world at the beginning, keep in mind that most new students are in your shoes as well. Almost everyone is a bit lost at the start of their university experience, so try bonding with others over being new and discovering London together.   

2. Start Conversations
As a shy person myself, I understand it can be difficult to come out of your shell and make the first move when meeting people. However, if you try talking to others, you will quickly realise that everyone is very approachable and eager to make new friends. A really good way to overcome shyness is to join activities that other students are organising, which leads me to my next tip… 

3. Join others to socialise after classes
Being in the heart of London gives students plenty of opportunities to go out after class and you’ll find that many students fancy going out for some drinks or food. If you have the opportunity, definitely join them – it’s a great way to learn more about your classmates outside the academic environment! 

4. Join student clubs and societies
Birkbeck has many clubs and societies for students to join, from the film society to the international student’s society, there is something for everyone. Joining a society will help you find people who share your interests and come from similar backgrounds as you, they’re great for building a sense of community. These societies are free to join, and you can join them via the Student Union website 

5. Attend events
Another fun tip is to attend one of the many cultural events offered by Birkbeck and other central London institutions. Going to events such as the film screenings at Birkbeck, or the special exhibitions at museums and galleries around London, opens the door to meeting new and interesting people.  

Valentina stood in the doorway of an gallery room about to enter

Valentina exploring one of the many galleries in central London.

6. Explore by yourself
It might sound a bit strange to recommend going solo as a tip to making friends, but you should not deprive yourself of new experiences and discovering all that London has to offer, if you have no one to join you yet. By exploring the city by yourself you will discover quirky locations, fun events, and meet new people. Going out by yourself is better than staying in your room, and one way or another, you will meet someone on your adventures.  

7. Join WhatsApp group chats
For most classes and modules someone will create a group chat to exchange information. Using these chats to talk to others and propose activities outside class is a simple way of breaking the ice with your classmates.  

 

8. Volunteer
If you don’t have a lot of spare time for socialising, volunteering is a fantastic way to use your spare time effectively and still be social. By volunteering you meet new people while dedicating less hours than you would at a job, and it is also plenty of fun. What’s more, it’s rewarding, and you are also expanding your resume at the same time.  

9. Cultural excursions
This tip is specifically for international students, but everyone can benefit from it. Birkbeck regularly offers cultural mixer activities for international students, which are a great way to meet and bond with lots of international students from different universities. Recently, for example, they offered a tour around Greenwich which was a huge success. It’s a great idea to take part in these cultural excursions, which are a great way to both meet new people and see the city!  

10. Be yourself
Finally, even if it does sound a bit cliché, you should always be yourself. Do not try to change who you are to make friends. The right people will come along and making fake friends or having to put on a façade for others will not bring you joy. London is so diverse that you will always find people who are the right fit for you, so don’t be afraid to be you. So, go out there and see what London has to offer while people join you along the way.  

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“I would encourage anyone thinking of studying at Birkbeck to go for it!”

 

Kelvin Omuojine, an MSc Sport Management, Governance and Policy student from Nigeria, tells  us about his experience as an international student at Birkbeck.

Tell us about your education before Birkbeck.

Before Birkbeck, I did a Master’s degree in Sports Law from Nottingham Trent University, in 2008/09; prior to that, I had my undergraduate education in Nigeria, where I studied law and was called to Bar.

Could you tell us about your career before starting your study at Birkbeck?

I started my career as a practising lawyer. I have worked in commercial law firms and as a Public Prosecutor at the Delta State Ministry of Justice in Nigeria. My passion for sport led me to work with the Nigeria Professional Football League, after completing my first postgraduate programme (in sports law). So, up until I started studying at Birkbeck, I was working at the Nigeria Professional Football League.

Why did you decide to study at Birkbeck?

Working in the sport industry in Nigeria, with the benefit of my background in law, I realised that the bulk of the problems impeding the development of the industry were governance related – there are people with knowledge and skills and there are regulations that are fit for purpose, all already existing, but the governance framework just did not seem right. So I wanted to learn more about not just sport management but also about sport governance. The programme at Birkbeck is unique as it effectively covers governance and policy as it relates to sport. This option was perfect for me based on my career path and progression.

How did you find the application process?

The application process was quite simple and straightforward and the officials at Birkbeck were always helpful, with enquiries and all through the process. I successfully applied for the partial scholarship for international students and was awarded £3,000, which was helpful indeed. Despite the difficulties caused by Covid-19, there was always sufficient information to guide planning.

What’s it like living in London?  

Having lived in Lagos, Nigeria, I knew I could cope with how busy I had heard London was. I found the city to be vibrant, diverse, with lots of opportunities and attractions. It is a busy city with people constantly on the move, and fast-paced too. If the right opportunity presents itself, I would be happy to live in London.

Can you tell us about the programme you are studying?

As a result of my interest in sport governance, I opted for the Sport Management, Governance and Policy programme. I found the lecturers to be quite nice and accommodating. Quite naturally, the Sport Governance module is a major highlight for me. However, I also particularly enjoyed the Sport Economics and the Design of Competitions module, as well as the Sport Events Management module. The former because of the exposure to economics of sport and the factors that go into competition design; and the latter because I am opportune to be working at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Did you take advantages of additional support and activities?

I appreciated the support services available – from one-on-one sessions with tutors, skills workshops such as on dissertation writing, to the many learning resources available both internally within the library and externally such as LinkedIn Learning. It is impressive that students can gain a lot from these resources and even get to watch recordings of both pre-class sessions and live online classes.

What are your plans for the future?

My studies at Birkbeck have equipped me with a broader understanding of the framework of sport management and governance, as well as transferrable skills in areas such as research and analysis. I’m now looking to explore career opportunities, preferably in the sports or a related industry.

What advice would you give other people thinking of studying at Birkbeck?

I would encourage anyone thinking of studying at Birkbeck to go for it! Not only does the programme have unique specialist features and is rich in content, but it is also a plus that studies are in the evenings, offering you time to get some other things done earlier in the day.

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“Being able to function and cope well in a new academic and cultural environment has been a fulfilling and exciting experience”

Rachid Meftah, from Morocco, is a 2021 Chevening scholar. In this blog he talks about his Chevening application journey and studying Language Teaching/TESOL (MA) at Birkbeck.

How was your Chevening application journey?

Reflecting back upon my Chevening journey, I find it a rich, exciting, and fulfilling experience. I consider this journey to have been smooth – despite all the challenges – for this one main reason: I knew what I wanted to study and what to do with it.

As a teacher, I had always been looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge and expertise in the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Having been introduced to this area through a short audit class had given me insights into what I could gain from doing a full-time master’s in it, and of how this could impact my colleagues and community. So, the vision had been clear in my mind: I wanted to gain valuable qualifications in TESOL that would help me to bridge the gap between practice and theory as a teacher, and to enable me to bring change to education in my community and country through teacher training.

Thus, when the Chevening opportunity came, all I had to do was to put my clear idea into words, and to showcase it as a project worthy of the Chevening award well enough throughout all the stages of the application process. Not only did this vision help me win the scholarship the first time I applied, but it also gave me enough motivation and positivity to surmount all the obstacles.

Why this course and why Birkbeck?

My choice to study at Birkbeck was guided by two things: the nature and the quality of the course and the reputation of the college. After searching and comparing Masters online, I chose TESOL at Birkbeck for these reasons:

  • The course suits my academic and professional goals since it was designed for English language teachers who already have an experience in the classroom and who want to develop their career opportunities
  • It offers me the opportunity to expand my knowledge in the field of applied linguistics and develop language awareness and analysis of English as a second language
  • It offers me the opportunity to conduct research in the field of second language acquisition

My choice of Birkbeck college was based on the search I did and on advice from a former professor. I wanted to do my master’s in central London, the hub for an international and vibrant scholarly community, and Birkbeck offered me that. In addition, a former professor advised me to choose Birkbeck for the quality and academic excellence of its research. Now that I’m conducting my research dissertation, I could see the benefits of being a part of the Birkbeck scholarly community.

Being able to function and cope well in a new academic and cultural environment has been a fulfilling and exciting experience for me.

Can you tell us about your experience as a Chevener?

My Chevening journey has been an exciting and a rewarding experience in every aspect. I feel I have gained much academically, personally, and culturally studying at Birkbeck.

My course has offered me an excellent academic experience so far! I’ve been introduced to a research oriented and positive environment where professors consider us their colleagues, not their students. This has helped me gain an intellectually stimulating content and research skills that will enable me to conduct my own research.

As a Chevening scholar at Birkbeck, I could connect with many Cheveners and with other international students through the events organized at Birkbeck. This has offered me the opportunity to network and socialize with students from different professional and cultural backgrounds.

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Making the move from Argentina to the UK

Valentina Vlasich had never visited London but made the bold move last year to study for a BA Film and Media with Foundation Year. Here, she gives an account of acclimatizing to a new city along with the reward of embracing a new culture and learning the lingo with the help of friends at Birkbeck.

photo of museum

Moving to a foreign country brings out a mixture of emotions. One cannot help to be excited but, at the same time, terrified of this new change. Nevertheless, knowing how the experience was for others can help with those feelings.

I moved last September from Argentina to the United Kingdom without knowing much about how life was going to be here since I had never been to London before. So, there were many new aspects of life here for me to discover. Obviously, not everything was great from the beginning, there were definitely some hard parts that came along with this new chapter in my life. For instance, it was tough not having any friends at the start with whom to share my new experiences in the city.

However, soon after I started attending my classes at Birkbeck I met lovely people who shared my common interests, and I even began to understand the British sense of humour a bit more which was also a bit of a challenge at first. So, if you are struggling with the social aspect I would recommend to not get discouraged, you will make friends quickly during your classes. Also, there are many clubs in the Student Union that offer a great place to meet new people.

Furthermore, there were some other cultural shocks that came with this move. If you come from a warmer country like me, you will find the usually cloudy London a bit odd at first, but as long as you carry an umbrella with you there is nothing you can’t do in the city.

Which brings me to another topic which is my favourite thing about having moved to another country: exploring a new city. Being in a place that is unknown to you can be scary, but I recommend making it a positive thing and taking it as an opportunity to be a tourist in the city you live in. Instead of paying for a vacation to another country you can venture around London and discover all its popular places and hidden gems. In my experience you will be preoccupied with this activity for at least one month taking into consideration everything there is to see and do in this great city.

Additionally, if you are like me and love food but are worried that you won’t find the delicacies you usually eat in your home country, I would suggest a trip to Camden. There you will find a great variety of food (I even found typical Argentinian dishes) and you will find new flavours from all over the world. Maybe you’ll even try something you’ve never had before and it’ll become a favourite of yours- that absolutely happened to me. Still, if you don’t find what you are looking for in Camden, there are plenty of restaurants all over London that might offer the exact dish you are looking for.

Pic of Camden Lock

Finally, if you were to ask me how I feel now, almost six months later, about this massive change in my life, I would say it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Knowing that I am living in this huge global city and having so many opportunities gets me excited for what my future here will look like. If I had one tip to share with you, I would say to make the most out of being here. Don’t deprive yourself from anything due to a fear of new things. London is a city with so much diversity and it will welcome you with open arms.

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From finding Birkbeck on an alumni profile to studying and working in the UK

A self-taught software developer, BSc Computing student Peace Onyehanere, shares the details of life as an international student at Birkbeck and how she marries part-time work and studies. 

Peace Onyehanere by her bike

Can you tell us about your background? 
I am a self-taught software developer studying at Birkbeck to get a degree in Computing. Before joining Birkbeck, I did a diploma in Computing, and I worked as a software developer in Nigeria. 

How did you hear about Birkbeck?  
I found Birkbeck from an alumni’s LinkedIn profile. I got curious and did some research about studying at Birkbeck. I decided to choose Birkbeck as my first choice as I liked the evening studies, and I also had the best experience reaching out to lecturers for my course to ask questions. 

What is it like living in London?  
I watched a couple of YouTube videos on living in London and transportation in London so the first time I had to take public transport, I thankfully did not get lost. Google maps also came in handy. I always made sure to ask the driver when I got on the bus to be sure I am on the right bus. I shop at cheap supermarkets to save some money. There has not been any lockdown since I started studying. But there have been more cases of Covid-19 and new variants at the end of term one. I then had my classes online and I have enjoyed it.  

Peace Onyehanere at her desk

Can you tell us about your studies?   
I have honestly enjoyed online teaching over in-person teaching. With virtual learning, the classes are recorded, and you can refer back to it after the class. There are also reading material and pre-recorded videos you can go through before the class. Each of the courses I have studied so far have been three hours long. But we do have breaks in between the class. There is also a support class provided on weekends where you can ask more questions and get help. 

How is a typical day for you? 
I work as a Frontend developer at a FinTech company. I started job hunting before moving to the UK. I got a couple of offers before arriving, but I got the offer for the company I currently work at while in the UK. A typical day for me starts with work and ends with a lecture if I have one that day. As I work from home, I don’t have to go out. I try to go out and explore my environment, but I am mostly indoors all day. 

Have you used any of BBK support services?  
I have followed Birkbeck Futures and attended the last event organised. I have also had the opportunity to be mentored via the Mentorship program. 

What have you found most challenging about your time in the UK so far? 
I have had a great time in the UK. The one thing I have found challenging is the weather and the short days. I look forward to a great time at Birkbeck and meeting more people. 

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Taking on the challenges of the pandemic to embrace a world of opportunities in London

Flexibility and daytime freedom are what led Oghenemine Djebah to choose Birkbeck to study an MA/LLM Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. In this blog, the Nigerian student shares his journey so far with us.    

Oghenemine Djebah

Oghenemine Djebah

After obtaining an LLB from the Delta State University, Oghenemine Djebah enrolled at the Nigerian Law School, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and was subsequently called to the Nigerian bar. Since then, he has been in active legal practice in Nigeria.

He worked for two notable law firms (Rotimi Jacobs & Co. and Zatts Law Chambers) and volunteered to give free legal services through a registered NGO (Fundamental Rights Enforcement Enlightenment and Defense).

During a 2019 visit to London, Oghenemine fell for the culture and diversity of the city. So, when his desire to gain more in-depth knowledge of the workings of the law inspired him to pursue an LLM he naturally focused his search on universities in the capital. “I started searching for an institution that would be flexible enough to let me work or volunteer while I studied. I found out about Birkbeck on the internet and the evening lectures tallied with the type of institution I was looking for, so I applied and was given admission into the School of Law.”

As the pandemic took hold around the world, Oghenemine considered deferring his admission by a year. “Because of the financial challenges caused by COVID-19 it was quite a challenge getting the initial deposit in time. The management of Birkbeck recognised this and made the concession of reducing the initial deposit by 90% for all international students, which gave me the opportunity to meet all of the requirements and enroll for the 2020 session.” In recognition of his potential Oghenemine was subsequently awarded a Birkbeck International scholarship and a School of Law Postgraduate Award.

The pandemic’s impact was not only financial as, first the Autumn, then the Spring terms were moved online. Oghenemine embraced the challenges and attended online orientation, public lectures as well as the international student’s virtual event at the beginning of the academic year. He reflected: “The international student event was really helpful for me in understanding my role as an international student, including the benefits and how to tap into them.”

Oghenemine has also been making good use of the online services available to students: “The Birkbeck Careers platform is great and enables students not only to see available jobs and apply but also to help teach them how to prepare for interviews and tailor their CVs and cover letters to meet professional standards.”

With a few months of studies under his belt, the Nigerian student assesses his time learning online. “This is actually my first time doing any course via virtual learning. It is quite challenging because I do not get to meet with other students and make good connections which is also part of the university life. However, the lectures have been going great, better than I expected because we are provided with pre-recorded videos for each lecture. The COVID-19 pandemic has made everything different, from living, to studying. Not being able to meet physically and always being indoors has made this period a bit difficult. I look forward to having the opportunity to meet physically with my fellow students and lecturers before graduating from Birkbeck.”

More than anything the Law student sees and embraces the positives studying in London and at Birkbeck can bring: “London is well known for welcoming international students globally, including from Nigeria. Being a student in London enables you to be a part of a well-integrated international and diverse community. London is a city with a lot of opportunities for everyone beyond academic programs. I advise all Nigerians who wish to study internationally to study in London and join a diverse community and tap into the available opportunities.”

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