NYU London students grapple with an increasingly chaotic UK

Students studying abroad in London find themselves living in one of the most volatile periods in modern U.K. history.


NYU London’s main building is located at 6 Bedford Square. (Nick Guerrero for WSN)

Gabe Vasconcellos and Grace Muskovitz

The United Kingdom can’t seem to stay out of the media spotlight lately with its volatile government. There was first the death of its longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Less than 50 days later, the country’s shortest-serving prime minister, Liz Truss, resigned. Her economic policies caused the pound sterling to fall to an all-time low, while the cost-of-living crisis skyrocketed. 

Amid these ongoing historic events, NYU London students are grappling with studying abroad during an increasingly turbulent time for the country. They can now brag that they lasted longer in London than Truss did during her 49 days as prime minister — less than around the shelf life of lettuce.

The chaos following her resignation has led some students to become more involved in British politics. First-year Theo Aldrighi, who attended Truss’ inaugural speech in person, believed that her resignation came as a surprise, calling it “unprecedented.”

“I thought, ‘What are the odds that in the moment I’m here, it’s going to be the first time in history that the PM resigns in less than two months?’” Aldrighi said.

Junior Nick Wong believed that Truss’ departure was inevitable, and was surprised by how quickly the British public held her accountable. He noted how there are more free passes for scandals in American politics. 

“Lowering taxes and not accounting for how you’re going to make up that money is never really a good solution,” Wong said. 

An energy cost spike due to the war in Ukraine has also perpetuated the cost-of-living crisis and inflation, which currently dominates the national discourse in the United Kingdom. As a result, certain aspects of everyday life are starting to change. 

Meal deals at chain retailers and grocery stores are one of the most popular food options for students. A typical meal deal consists of a sandwich, snack and drink. Before Tesco raised its price by 40 pence after 10 years, one of the cheapest deals was around $3.53.

“I’ve been purchasing it so often and continue to do so, but that extra 40 pence is definitely going to hurt in the long run,” junior Brian Ribeiro said.

For some NYU London students, the pound’s parity with the dollar has actually been an unusual source of financial relief. Wong realized that his groceries suddenly became much cheaper when the currency weakened in late September. However, he still believes that food is expensive.

“I’d say [food prices] are probably neck-and-neck with New York right now,” Wong said.

Luckily, there are ways that students can save some money. Pret-A-Manger offers a £25 (about $29.38) monthly subscription that allows customers to consume up to five free beverages daily. Students can also get a 30% reduced fare on public transportation, but transport fares are set to rise 14%. This will increase the cost of a bus journey from £1.65 to £1.90 (about $1.94 to $2.23). In Zone 1, which is the zone most NYU London students use to travel, a single tube fare would increase from £2.50 to £2.85 (about $2.94 to $3.35). 

First-year Stefano Pace said his method of saving money is as simple as walking everywhere and eating at home. However, when it comes to traveling long distances, Pace takes the bus rather than the tube. 

In response to the U.K. economic crisis, many workers are on strike for higher wages. Ambulance workers are currently deciding whether to strike after receiving pay cuts despite inflation. Nurses have also been striking, and plan to partake in the biggest nationwide strike in the country’s history before Christmas. 

As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for students to access medical care. This is especially daunting as London soon approaches its coldest and rainiest months, with the spread of illnesses such as bronchitis, strep throat and freshers’ flu, a viral cold that students often spread at the beginning of the academic year. 

First-year Eitan Noy had to visit urgent care twice to receive medication to treat his tracheobronchitis. The first time he went, Noy spent 20 minutes in the waiting room, and the second time, he spent two hours. 

“They refused to give me antibiotics,” Noy said. “So instead, they gave me steroids.”

At NYU London students will have 2% deducted from their grade for every week’s worth of class that they missed. While the university believes monitoring attendance closely is part of a government-mandated requirement to maintain the school’s status as a U.K. visa sponsor, receiving a doctor’s note has proven more difficult with the healthcare strike.

First-year Ciera Beith said that she had to attend class sick because she was afraid of getting points deducted from her grade. 

“It’s a cause of extreme stress for me and a lot of other people who put their attendance above their health,” Beith said. 

While the United Kingdom begins to brace itself for a harsh winter, only time will tell how the country will be able to govern itself, or if, like rotten lettuce, its global reputation will wilt away.

Contact Gabe Vasconcellos and Grace Muskovitz at [email protected]