Bursting out of the NYU London bubble

NYU London students are finding ways to connect with local students through UCL clubs while abroad.

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A busy street in the center of London. (Camila Ceballos for WSN)

Madeline Carpinelli, Staff Writer

LONDON At NYU London, students have the special opportunity to join the clubs and societies at University College London, a local public university with almost 20,000 undergraduate students. Along with meeting people at pubs, gyms or parks, NYU London students have the opportunity to create lifelong connections at UCL — they just have to put in the effort to do so. 

But this doesn’t mean that students can just join one UCL club and go home with 20 new friends — in part because cultural differences and social anxiety can be limiting. British perceptions of Americans initially made LS first-year Alex Hershfield nervous when she joined the UCL Boat Club and UCL Jewish society.

“You’re like, ‘Oh crap. I’m American and I’m going to meet all these British people. I wonder what they’ll think of me or [if they’ll] have any predispositions against me just because I’m American,’” Hershfield said. “If you get past that, it’s whatever.”

Unlike at most American universities, many of UCL’s extracurriculars also host socials at local clubs and bars to help students connect. With 48% of UCL students being international, NYU students are far from the only foreigners. 

“I know people from Singapore, Hong Kong and around England,” Hershfield said. “I feel like when you’re with people in that boat, they’re excited to meet new people too. I met one of the people that I’m closest with in one of the locker rooms.”

For Gallatin sophomore Julia Rodriguez — who joined the soccer club and live music society — the extensive international population at UCL makes the challenge of cultural differences seem insignificant. Rodriguez feels like it is also easier to traverse language differences with other Americans.

Nevertheless, students still have to make an effort to put themselves out there and build connections. NYU’s partnership with UCL provides plenty of opportunities, but outside of these environments, it can be pretty difficult to meet new people. 

Though Rodriguez went to London to immerse herself in the community and meet locals, she found the move very isolating. In comparison to the United Kingdom, she finds it easier to create connections in New York City. 

“In New York, I think there’s a lot more people more willing to talk with you for a long time or at least get your Instagram or something like that,” Rodriguez said. “New York feels outgoing. London feels a little bit more introverted.”

Like Rodriguez, Hershfield also finds that making friends in Britain is quite a different experience than in the United States. Unlike at American universities, which she finds cliquey, Hershfield finds that it is typical in Europe to be friends with various groups of people.

If Rodriguez’s experience so far has taught her anything, it’s that looking like a tourist can sometimes be an advantage. 

“I think once you tell them, ‘I’m new to the city,’ people are way nicer,” Rodriguez said.

Hershfield’s advice for other abroad students is to pursue your own interests and be okay with going places alone. 

“I went to the rowing society alone,” Hershfield said. “I just went there and was like, ‘Oh, hopefully, I’ll meet someone. If I don’t, I’m spending five hours here on a boat,’ which is still fun. Don’t do what the crowd does, do what you want to do.”

There are also plenty of students at NYU London who are more comfortable staying within the NYU community and its small, but close-knit, clubs and societies. After all, those are friendships that you can maintain when you’re back in New York City. But for Hershfield, Rodriguez and many other students, the opportunities that the UCL partnership provides have greatly enhanced their connections to London and the people there. 

“These are people that are absolutely amazing and I’m really thankful that I met them,” Hershfield said. “They’re totally different from Americans. I think it really enhanced my experience.” 

“Before, it felt like I was just a student and the place that I was at didn’t really matter because I was just doing my work,” Rodriguez said. “I think that if I didn’t join other things, there would be no personal growth. There would be no point in being in London.”

Contact Madeline Carpinelli at [email protected]