International Student Life: Onyinye Nkwocha on Securing Great University Accommodation in the UK

Many students look forward to studying abroad in order to acquire quality education and make their dreams come true. But then, this dream might become a nightmare if accommodation issues are not sorted out as one cannot get the best out of their study-abroad experience if they do not have a good shelter over their head(s)- especially when they’re in a strange land.

Today, we bring you the first-hand experience of an international student on her journey to securing great accommodation as a graduate student in the UK.

Our guest this week is Ms. Onyinye Nkwocha; a 2019/2020 Chevening Scholar from Nigeria studying MA International Education and Development at the University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. Join us on this fascinating ride which reveals her accommodation experience in the UK.

Onyinye in school-happy as ever! Picture Credit: Onyinye Nkwocha

What was your experience getting accommodation?

At first, I was conflicted about choosing a university accommodation or private accommodation in the city. I would be there for just a year, and I wanted to experience life with the locals which an on-campus accommodation may not offer. Luckily my school offers off-campus houses, so I went for one of those. It was not a difficult process, all sorted online from the comfort of my home in Lagos.

What type of accommodation were you able to secure?

I secured a university accommodation off-campus, in the heart of the city. It is a single room with shared facilities, but very decent and organized.

What types of accommodation are available to international students?

There are university managed houses on campus and off-campus. In my school, the housing unit also has an arrangement with private landlords to provide accommodation to students. Some students also choose to secure their private housing in the city by themselves.

What’s a birthday celebration without a cake? Onyinye celebrating her birthday with housemates.
Picture Credit: Onyinye Nkwocha

How expensive/affordable are student accommodations in your institution and off-campus?

Pricing is relative to cities from what I can tell. The cost of housing in Brighton, England may not be the same as the cost in Dundee, Scotland. In Brighton, we believe it is more expensive than we would love to spend…(lol)… but the private housing is just as expensive as the ones provided by the university if you factor in bills and all. This is an important factor to consider when thinking of accommodation experience in the UK.

How easy/difficult is it for international students to secure accommodation?

International students who start out late may find it difficult to find one in good time before the lectures start. The idea is to start your accommodation search early. A possible challenge will be making financial commitments to landlords when you are still in your home country and not being able to view the house yourself. But what works in Sussex Uni, is the Facebook group for Housing issues. You get to see other students house hunting and posting pictures of the accommodation they have found. You could view and decide to make a holding fee or ask if it could wait for your arrival (If you are arriving at a sooner date).
However, I went for university accommodation because there are fewer surprises and there is an assurance of accountability from the housing department and the landlords to guarantee you a decent living experience.

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Did you suffer any form of discrimination while securing accommodation?

No, I didn’t. But I know a friend who was refused an apartment because of her nationality. Apparently, the landlord already had tenants from the same nationality, and he wasn’t happy about their attitude I believe. So, he stereotyped her and rejected her offer. Another international student was refused accommodation because of her marital status; she would be living with her spouse and the landlord didn’t want a couple. Other than that, I don’t know of any discrimination.

Did you choose your roommate(s) or were you paired?

I didn’t choose my housemates. My room is a single occupant room. As well as other rooms provided by the university.

International student accommodation uk
Onyinye and housemates celebrating her birthday recently. Picture Credit: Onyinye Nkwocha.

What has been your experience so far, living with a roommate/ housemate(s)?

I am fortunate to be in a beautiful apartment with lovely housemates. We are all responsible for the living experience we desire. We have the best of times together and help each other relax from the pressure of studies. This is an important factor to consider when considering accommodation experience in the UK.

What’s the proximity of student accommodations to campus and other locations central to students in your school?

My accommodation is 40 minutes away from school. Which I believe is the farthest a Sussex university-owned accommodation is in Brighton. This was my major concern about accepting the offer when it first came. But the property is strategically located. A 5 minutes’ walk to the bus stop where I can pick a bus direct to campus. And a 15 minutes’ walk or 5 minutes bus ride to the train station to get on a train which can get me to school in 10 minutes. It is also in the city centre, thus central to shops, banks and the mall. There are other off-campus houses also all strategically located at bus stops and the train station. The on-campus houses are a walking distance to classes and the library. All convenient for students.

Are there issues associated with living on/off-campus?

So far, perhaps the issue of riding home for 40 minutes in the winter. The cold might not be fun for some international students.

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Friends make studying in a foreign land easy!
Picture Credit: Onyinye Nkwocha.

What is your advice to international students looking for accommodation?

If you really want to avoid the hassle and you have no one to help you view the houses while you are yet to arrive, just apply for university accommodation. If you apply early, there are chances that you will get your first choice. If you are a masters student, you will only be living there for 52 weeks at most, so it is not a bad situation. If you are an undergraduate, you can move into off-campus housing or any other one you prefer after a year of familiarizing yourself with the school and the city. Here’s another factor to consider about accommodation experience in the UK.

Is there any other thing you think international students should know?

Studying abroad is most likely going to be different from the system you are familiar with in your home country. You may struggle at the start of the program, but don’t think you are alone. Most international students struggle too, some universities are very helpful and supportive, take advantage of every help and student buddy system your school offers international students and students in general.
Find time to make friends so you are not alone and stay in touch with your loved ones back home if it helps you. You will need to have a clear head to catch up with the academic rigour ahead of you.
If your department sends you a reading list ahead of your start date, please read up. You may not understand all, but it will help you catch on quickly in class at the start of the program.

You can spread your wings and fly when you have great accommodation with awesome housemates. What else, can a student ask for?
Picture Credit: Onyinye Nkwocha

The International Student Life series aims to help African Students studying abroad with a seamless transition process by blogging about issues related to every study-abroad experience to meet their peculiar needs; thereby helping them gain clarity on issues they might be struggling with.

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