This interview was originally published by Affinity China, a lifestyle platform for affluent Chinese travelers, and is part of Affinity China’s series on London as a Chinese tourist destination for Chinese New Year 2014.
The number of Chinese students choosing to move to the UK in pursuit of higher education is growing rapidly year-on-year, both for undergraduate and master’s degrees. Recent trends indicate that Chinese families have more money to spend on education and are more concerned with ensuring their child’s success rate at getting into university. This has caused the average testing age for the TOEFL exam to drop, and China Daily reported that last year, the number of those under 18 taking the language test rose by 30 percent. There are also an increasing number of students enrolling in foundation or summer language courses prior to university to guarantee entry. We spoke to 19-year-old Wendy to find out what it’s really like to study in London.
Where are you from in China?
I am from Tongzhou in Beijing.
When did you move to the UK and why?
I moved to London on the 25th of August 2012 to start my foundation course at Central Saint Martins. I chose to do the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design in order to prepare me for the undergraduate degree, improve my English, and guarantee entry. I am just about to start my undergraduate degree at Central Saint Martins in Product Design.
Will you plan to stay in London once you graduate?
For the moment, I plan to return to China where I can live close to my parents. However, I am only in my first year, so things may change.
How many languages do you speak?
I speak two languages, English and Mandarin, but I have plans [for] someday learning Japanese and French.
Do you get homesick by living away from home?
Living away from home at a young age can be tough and I do sometimes get homesick. As you know, everyone has his or her own way of dealing with homesickness. I quite often like to indulge my sweet tooth when I’m missing home; that seems to do the trick, although not a long-term solution! Or sometimes I go to Chinatown for a typical Chinese meal that will remind me of home, or a simple snack from the Chinese supermarket. Over the past year I have been lucky to make additional friends from outside university at my local church; they have become like family.
What are the things you value the most in your student accommodation?
Friendly neighbors or roommates are a must! Last year, I had an American neighbor who was lovely, and the fact that she wasn’t Chinese meant I was forced to practice my English. It improved drastically as we spent lots of time chatting together after class. We are still great friends today despite not living together anymore. Being able to cook is also very important, especially when living with students from other nationalities as you can learn about foreign foods, and most importantly, how to make your favorite foreign dishes.
Where are you living and how did you choose your accommodation?
I am living at The Costume Store, 160 Victoria Road, London W3 6UL, which is managed by The Student Housing Company. The property has an exclusive agreement with my university to house students at Central Saint Martins so we are all design students here and I was given priority to live here.
The most important thing to me when selecting accommodation is the location and how safe the area is. Last year throughout my foundation year, I lived in Whitechapel and I was constantly uneasy about living there. This meant I had to cancel all plans with friends that were scheduled for after 8 p.m. as I didn’t want to come home late alone, which meant I missed out on making a lot of friends. This year, my accommodation is right next to the tube station, a 30-second walk, so it makes everything much easier and I have much more peace of mind.
Another important aspect to consider is transport: the nearest tube station to my accommodation is North Acton, which is on the Central Line. Even though it is zone 2/3, the direct link on the tube means I can get to Oxford Street in about 20 minutes.
Finally, cost is a major influencer, especially in a high-cost city like London. Students have to make the choice between location and quality. Sometimes you will sacrifice quality to be in a central location at a cost that fits your budget, or else you can go further out and get the quality and space you like that comes with a longer commute to university. Each student will have their own agenda and has to make the best choice according to their own preference.
As a student in London, what are top 3 the items you cannot live without?
- My umbrella, because of the highly unpredictable weather in London.
- My Oyster Card to use the famous London underground and bus routes.
- My student ID in order to have proof of identity, access to university, and my library and student discounts.
Where do you think is the best place to live in London for students?
If I were to ignore the cost, I would say Angel is the best place to live. Angel is on the Northern line on the underground, which means it has excellent direct links to UCL and UAL and the other University of London campuses. There are also plenty of bus routes that link directly to popular destinations in central London such as Chinatown and Oxford Street. The four largest supermarkets are all found in Angel (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, and Waitrose) along with high street stores, a cinema, and an art store.
What is the coolest student accommodation building in London?
I have not yet been there as it yet to open but from what I hear from my friends, Scape Greenwich is an amazing property. It is designed by the famous architects Allford Hall Mohaghan Morris, and from the outside, it looks like a luxury residential block of apartments. I will be sure to visit it once it’s open. Nido in King’s Cross and in Spitalfields are also very popular, cool buildings.
What are your favorite luxury brands and why?
Montblanc is one of my favorite brands. I first noticed it on a Chinese soap opera called My Lucky Star and I realized I really like the hexagram they use for the logo. In fact, I did some research on their website and I noticed that all their pens have the iconic hexagram on the cap. I also like their jewelry design as I think it is accessible for younger adults like myself, while the pens are more appropriate gifts to give to a professional or say, your father.
Clothing-wise, at this point in my life, I would say the only designer brand I would like to spend money on is DKNY as it is probably the most accessible for my student budget. I also think the style is suitable to younger adults. I did some research about the brand before and I learned that the designer and founder is a mother who started because she wanted to design clothes for her daughter. I find that a really lovely story behind the brand and it definitely attracts me to the label.
Where do you learn about luxury brands? What influences you the most? Friends? Magazines? Online?
I’m a student at Central Saint Martins where many famous fashion designers originated, such as Alexander McQueen, Zac Posen, Matthew Williamson, and many more. This means I am constantly learning about designers and luxury brands in my day-to-day life here. My colleagues also influence me a lot when we have discussions in class.
What are your shopping habits like while living in London? Favorite stores? How often do you shop?
I adore the boutique shops around Covent Garden and this is where I usually shop in London. I find the designs in these boutique stores are far more original and interesting. I usually go shopping at least once a week. Even if I am only browsing, I enjoy shopping around and seeing what’s in stores. I also have a weakness for pretty stationery and my favorite shop to visit is Paperchase.
What do you think luxury brands should do to better understand the Chinese living and traveling overseas?
To be honest, I think Chinese customers are really important for luxury brands as I always see so many Chinese in luxury shops in London. Particularly when I went to Bicester Village at the Burberry Outlet Store, I think 60 percent of the customers were Chinese. I’m not sure what luxury brands can do to better understand us. I would say to actually take the time to do so would be a good start. Not just think about selling logos to us all the time, but really think about our lifestyle and culture.
Do you travel during the year? If so, where do you go?
Not yet. But I’m planning to go Italy this year or next year. That’s a haven for design students. I really want to visit the first Gucci Store in Florence.
What do you think the travel industry should do to better understand the Chinese traveler?
I think when the travel industry should have a specific, unique plan for target travelers. Some travelers may be interested in history and may just want to visit famous buildings from the outside. For young travelers, they mostly often just want to go shopping so this should be taken into consideration. In fact, this is a really important point for people to understand. I find it is horrible to be rushed when shopping! Also, don’t forget, young Chinese travelers always like a discount here and there.