What does it mean to be a Londoner?

London, England is no doubt an incredibly diverse and busy city – not to mention a place to learn a whole lot of history. I am a university student and currently study Medicine in London. I was born in London and was raised in London. I know all the great places to eat in London. And the worst. I know where to go if I’m in need of nature and calm and where to go if I need noise and people! The point I’m trying to make is that London has something for everyone but I didn’t always appreciate it the way I do now.

I used to hate this city

Let me preface this statement by sharing some background about myself. I come from a mixed family; my father is Jordanian and my mother, Bulgarian. My family in Jordan are much bigger which is very much characteristic of Arabic culture. On average I am in Amman (Jordan’s capital) several times a year where I get to enjoy time with extended family, middle eastern cuisine and the mix of desert with the open sea. With only immediate family in the UK, however, there were many occasions growing up where I felt lonely in London.

In a busy city, one can become incredibly susceptible to feeling isolated amongst crowds of people who all seem to have something going on for themselves. It was very much my perception that there was no time for community in London. Anyone from a larger city will easily relate to the feeling of no stranger wanting to be disturbed whilst they speed down a high street, tunnel visioned on the task ahead. In reality this atmosphere tends to breed quite a bit of anxiety and a sense of forgetting to look out for one another. This was very much a feeling I had growing throughout my teenage years right up to adulthood – particularly as ethnically, I hadn’t been exposed to much diversity in Greater London. I wanted to live in an area where I knew more about my neighbours than just their door number and I wouldn’t feel intimidated to speak with a fellow commuter on a train I took every day.

Seeing London differently

My perspective began to change during my undergraduate degree where I studied in an area called Tooting based in the South of London. Whether it was the diversity in culture or meeting students and workers from all classes of society, I felt involved. I felt relevant and I felt there was this welcoming community I hadn’t experienced much in my own more Caucasian neighbourhood. To take my two closest friends – both of whom I met during my undergraduate degree, one is Albanian and the other, Nigerian. I realised that if someone were to take a snapshot of my circle of friends, what they would see is a pretty accurate depiction of what London’s population actually looks like.

London: My treasure of the UK

Taking excursions outside of the capital to places like Eastbourne and Norfolk, this was where I began to truly appreciate a few things I would only see in London. It remains fascinating to me how in some of these rural towns – even those within an hour train journey from London, there can be such disparity in education, culture and political awareness. Something I did appreciate outside of the main city, however, was indeed the friendly nature of locals and the welcomed ‘Good mornings’ extended without hesitation. Small villages like these reiterated my thinking that it comes down to a person’s own nature as to whether they choose to live this lifestyle. A community, sure, but not much urgency or feeling of surging ambition. On multiple occasions to cities outside of London, I’ve felt this longing to be back in the capital. And now that I’ve found there are invitations for community, combining found family with a busy lifestyle, is truly down to the individual. I write to recognise this: Have I always loved London? Absolutely not. But as I lean into my adulthood, I’m beginning to learn that there is a lot of hidden potential within this city which embraces more cultural awareness, family and identity than I’d initially ever thought. You just have to keep searching for it.

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