First a disclaimer: This is my own experience of dating and falling in love in London, as a straight, white, monogamous, cis gender gal from America. I cannot speak for other identities, nor do I pretend to have a comprehensive grasp of the scene. I can say London is a hugely diverse city, bursting with students, and full of young professionals. Most Londoners were not born in London, and many are foreigners like you.
In any case, whatever you are looking for, you have as good a chance as anyone of finding it here, as I found during my year studying abroad at London School of Economics.
Kicking off with the sexy stuff, personal security should be at the forefront of your mind. While many of the same rules apply in this context as on your home campus, given that you are in a new city in a foreign country, be extra vigilant. Know, for example, that the way you speak will give you away as a foreigner and may make your more vulnerable.
My advice is simple: Be smart and pay attention. Plan to meet anyone you’ve met online in a public place. Get to know someone before going home with him or her. If you chose to have sex with anyone, use protection. I can imagine nothing would stunt an experience abroad quite like a pregnancy scare or a surprise burning sensation when you pee. (If you run into any issues of this sort, locate the nearest sexual health or GUM clinic—the immigration health surcharge you paid as part of your student visa should cover NHS medical care.)
How I found my match
My first two weeks here were the most stressful of my life. I was picking classes, establishing a bank account, getting a UK phone number, finding my way around a new campus, learning the public transportation system, and desperately trying to find a place to buy oven mitts. My new friend, Sara (also American) and I returned to our half-furnished flat at the end of each day to binge eat cookies from Sainsbury’s and stress-swipe on Tinder.
Weirdly enough, it worked. I matched with my current boyfriend. We talked for about a week before going on a date and the rest is history. I cannot promise your first Tinder date abroad will yield you an amazing British boyfriend. I can only speak from my own experience (humble brag).
Dating in London
For a first date, I recommend getting drinks. It’s casual, less expensive than a meal, and low risk in the respect that the evening can last as long as you want—or alternatively as briefly as necessary. Furthermore, pubs and bars underpin the entire British social system. The fact is when meeting new people, most English guys are more relaxed with a drink in hand.
At the same time, London is expensive—so is dating in London. Cultural practices vary, but in general I would suggest that you offer to split the bill.
Beyond drinks and meals, here are a few date suggestions to get you out and about:
- Show off your general knowledge with a pub quiz.
- Go for a walk along the Thames or in one of London’s many parks.
- Picnic on Primrose Hill overlooking the city.
- Explore one of the city’s amazing and varied markets.
Having a British boyfriend is awesome. Beyond the amazing accent, I have a bona fide native to show me around and introduce me to local people. I even worked out my own private homestay in the form of going home with him for a weekend to meet his parents. Peak cultural immersion!
What if you don’t score an awesome boyfriend? Given that London is the land of Bridget Jones this is a real possibility. Does that mean you can’t have an amazing and immersive experience abroad? No! Join a sports club or special interest society, make friends in class with non-study abroad students, volunteer at a local organization, or use your IFSA contacts or career services office at your host university to get an internship. The city is your oyster and at the end of the day it is your attitude—not your boyfriend—that will get you where you want to go.
Returning home and reverse culture shock
The obvious drawback to falling in love abroad is that, ultimately, you have to return home. Not only do I have to finish my degree, but the UK Home Office does not take kindly to students overstaying their visas. Reverse culture shock is real, and to make matters worse I had to readjust to U.S. college-style learning and socializing while pioneering my first long distance relationship.
Before you dive into the dating scene abroad, think about what kind of commitment you are looking for—and be honest with yourself. Beyond that, stay safe and have fun.
Next year, I will return to London to get a master’s degree in social medicine. I have been offered a place to study international health policy at London School of Economics (my study abroad alma mater) and at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for Public Health. I will make my final decision in June. I was inspired to apply for these programs based on an awesome internship I had during my time abroad. The British boyfriend and I plan to stay together for the foreseeable future.
—Isabelle M. (Trinity College), London School of Economics