It seems sort of obvious that moving to another country means having to get used to a different way of doing things. However, I sort of assumed searching for a flat wouldn’t fall into this category – I had some experience with it from back home, and I am smart. I thought I had it figured out.
Turns out, there are a lot of things that are different and searching for a flat in my first year left me in a state of utter confusion. At least now I feel qualified to talk about looking for a flat as an international student, discuss what shocked me, and what I can advise others to look out for.
Private accommodation is often cheaper than university accommodation, or at least at the same level. Having had some experience with my home country’s student accommodation, I expected UoM halls to be (so to say) really not of the highest standard. However I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived in my first year – and even considered staying there longer. However, conversations with other students gave me insight into Manchester’s – and the UK’s – housing situation. So if you are on a budget, renting a private flat is usually a better choice.
After I signed my first contract to rent a student house, I often had to explain to my family that I was not making a bad financial decision, and terraced houses are often more affordable than other options. I think my own neighbourhood was built around the 1900s and given how little there is of old buildings in my home country (because of WWII) this was a bit of a culture shock. Back home, the most affordable housing is in the big, ten or more storeys high blocks of flats built for factory workers during the socialist era. It is a conversation I keep having back home every time I mention my house in Manchester…
The other difference is landlords. There are a lot of agencies here, and a lot of private landlords that made letting student homes a business. I’m used to students renting private flats from local, independent landlords – nothing this well organised! There are pros and cons to this system, and students from the UK who better understand it might be able to act quicker in response to requests, arranging viewings and putting in an offer. I have found letting agencies often feel very impersonal and that it is harder to figure out a compromise when things don’t go quite to plan, so prefer to stick with private landlords. Ultimately, it’s up to you who you prefer but depending on where you are from, your choice might be more limited or informed by what you’re used to.
All the charming quirks of a UK house
I was lucky enough that one of my flatmates back in first year was British. They were kind enough to explain to me all the strange things I kept seeing, or was expected to do – and they only laughed at me a little bit.
First off; I should have expected the dampness issue. Britain is rainy and wet and that does influence how houses keep the damp in. Opening the windows for ventilation is often a must, even if it’s cold outside. Drying clothes inside produces extra dampness, so tumble dryers – something I have never used before coming to the UK – are a nice addition to the house. This became one of the things we looked out for when assessing houses during our search for accommodation.
Britain’s weather remains at a breezy few degrees Celsius above zero throughout the whole winter. Did I mention the houses are old and big and not perfectly insulated? One of our biggest criteria when choosing the house was actually heating – what is the heating system, and what is the energy rating. We also looked at the radiators and whether everybody could regulate theirs individually so that my British flatmate (who is used to the weather here) can keep their room a bit colder than everyone else.
Gardens – or sometimes, sad little tiled spaces behind the houses – are also a thing. I tried to search for houses without them, since I assumed they would be cheaper, but it was close to impossible to find any. Ultimately though, they’re useful. They are good for storing bikes, drying clothes, or for hosting homemade barbecues in summer. Still, sometimes I look out at the garden behind my house and I feel that confusion that has accompanied me since I entered the UK for the first time. As a student, on a student budget, I became a garden owner (well… a garden renter). There is a tree in my garden, and it is very popular with the squirrels – I take a lot of photos of them, and sometimes I show them to my friends back home.
Ultimately, even though renting a house still feels strange, even after a year and a half – it is very comfortable, and I think I have gotten a bit spoiled.