by Micaela Papa
Coming from the close-knit family culture of the Philippines, moving to the UK on your own can be a very stressful ordeal. One of the things that will make the transition easier is finding accommodation that can be a true haven while you’re studying. Here are three important things to consider:
This is the most important thing to decide on as it will most likely determine if you’ll have a great time or will spend the year miserably trudging through the rush hour (just like home!). Obviously, the closer you are to the city (where most of the unis and all social activity reside) the more expensive your accommodation will be. If you’re in London, Zone 1 is the most central location, with Zone 2, 3, etc. indicating that you’ll be further and further out.
Despite the initially shocking price, I chose to live centrally as commuting in London is notoriously expensive (hence, the Londoner’s insane love of walking), and I actually ended up saving more by living as close to campus and the necessary shops as possible. It is possible to stay within budget as long as you’re willing to compromise - a budget of £200 per week may get you a complete studio in Zone 3, but only a single room with a shared bathroom in Zone 1.
Live on campus if you can. Not only will this allow you extra precious minutes of sleep (that would have otherwise been spent in transit) during the exam period, but it will also give you access to services provided by your university (health services, academic support, events with free food and entertainment). Moreover, campus accommodation generally means lower rates even though it’s in the best location possible for a student. Keep in mind though that slots run out fast so you have to apply as soon as you can.
The next best thing would be to live in external halls accredited by the school, such as the University of London’s Intercollegiate Halls, or those run by charities, such as Goodenough College, and International Student House. Aside from being within walking distance of universities, the rates are subsidized by charities, allowing you to live centrally at competitive prices. ISH and Goodenough even offer scholarships. Many of these halls also have meal plans, which not only mean one less thing to worry about in your busy student life but may actually be more cost-efficient compared to what you would spend on groceries and cooking. What’s more, these halls usually have social activities for the residents – free screenings in the in-house cinema, free dance and yoga classes, parties, and even subsidized trips around the UK and abroad.
Keep in mind though that slots run out fast so you have to apply as soon as you can.
Another option is private student housing. Like Campus halls and accommodation from charitable institutions, private housing catered specifically to students usually provides all the amenities and takes care of all the utilities, leaving you with nothing to worry about except your term papers. However, as they are privately owned, these manicured rooms can cost twice as much as campus accommodation.
Last resort would be flatshares under private landlords, which you can find through sites like SpareRoom and Gumtree. While you can get cheaper accommodation this way, it is doubly important to be wary against shysters. Universities commonly have a housing service that can recommend a private landlord in the area and check contracts for you. Always view the room before signing a contract, check if the electricity, water, heating and internet are included in the rent, and remember that full-time students are NOT required to pay council tax.
As previously mentioned, your ability to live centrally will depend on how much you’re willing to compromise in terms of room type. The key conflicts are often – twin or single bedroom? Shared or ensuite bathroom? Catered or self-catered?
Sharing a room with someone (i.e. twin room) would often be the cheapest option in any hall, but as you won’t have control over who you’re paired with in most cases (you might just win the lotto of getting the most horrible roommate in the world), most students I know avoid this if they can scrounge up the extra money for a single. Besides, a single room gives you the freedom of hosting Pinoy friends who want to explore the city (there will be a lot of them).
Contrary to popular belief, meal plans in catered accommodations can sometimes be more cost effective than buying your own food.
When it comes to shared or ensuite bathrooms, remember that Filipinos have… er… unique toilet habits, and having one in your room where a tabo is comfortably within reach will do wonders in making a foreign hall feel like home. On the other hand, if you can get around the discomfort of sharing a bathroom, this will spell savings in rent AND time spent cleaning your own bathroom - halls will usually have cleaners, while flatmates can arrange a rotation of housework.
Lastly, you must consider the catering options. This is often an overlooked aspect of accommodation even though the decision you make here could be key in abating homesickness. Self-catered accommodations (i.e. ones with their own cooking facilities) are often cheaper, especially if the kitchen is communal (shared between several rooms), but check your schedule and see how much time you can actually devote to cooking. Trust me – there will be times when grocery shopping for and cooking just for one person will be so expensive and inconvenient that you’ll just reach for the microwavable meal.
Contrary to popular belief, meal plans in catered accommodations can sometimes be more cost-effective than buying your own food. This is because cafeterias can buy in bulk, hence getting food cheaper. Be warned - cafeteria food can be hit and miss, so you WILL miss Filipino food (they just don’t cook rice the same way here) and, given the scarcity of Pinoy restaurants, you WILL want to cook. The best scenario would be to live in a hall that has both a communal kitchen and an optional meal plan. This way, you’re not tied to eating at the cafeteria whenever you want to eat out with friends or just crave something that tastes like home.
There you go! Follow these tips and hopefully, you can feel right at home even though you’re miles away from the Philippines.