‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ — Samuel Johnson

London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world with foreigners constituting about a third of its 9 million inhabitants. Whether you’re walking down the street, sitting in the bus or out shopping in Sainsbury, you’re bound to hear different languages being spoken around you — from French to German, Arabic, Swahili or Mandarin. Living in a city with people from different ethnic and racial and economic backgrounds, one needs to be aware of and sensitive to the cultural differences to navigate and maintain healthy relations with neighbors, classmates or co-workers.

The multicultural population in London represents a modern cosmopolitan city — a progressive, dynamic and tolerant space where everyone can express themselves (as long as its legal of course) For a young person, living in London can be exciting because of the dynamic socio-cultural environment with its myriad of options when it comes to food, culture and entertainment. Your flatmate, neighbor or colleague could be from anywhere in the world, making it possible to make friends from different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. A friend described living in London as the cheapest way to travel — you could be talking about a beach in Barbados with someone you met or get tips on skiing in Norway over lunch with another person. All it takes is talking to people. Interacting with different people will give you exposure to the world’s diversity in a way that no book can ever explain. Another interesting observation is that although London is full of strangers, you never really feel like a stranger. There’s an odd comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one who’s new to the city and even though we are all different, we’re all the same.

However, while it’s great to live in such a multicultural city, it does come with its challenges.

The sense of community and connectivity with people can be short-lived or barely existent. People move to London for different reasons — some are studying, others come to find work making London a transitory city with people moving in and out at different stages of their lives. Undergraduate and doctoral students have about three years to integrate and establish that sense of community while pursuing their studies. University societies and groups are one way of establishing relations with people with similar interests. Students pursuing their post-graduate degrees face a greater challenge as most of the programs are just a year long. Having to balance readings and research while navigating through cultural differences can be frustrating and it’s quite likely that after a whole year of being in London, you will find yourself with one or two friends.

Living in a city that can best be described as a melting pot of cultures has a great influence on the construction of identity — won’t be the same person after living in London for a a few months or years. There are many stimuli that will challenge your values, your beliefs, your mind set. It’s easy to lose yourself and identity crisis is a reality. This is important, considering that as we grow older, tend to become more set in our ways, in our beliefs — changing is not easy. Brace yourself for conversations with people who do not share the same belief or values you have. Open your mind to try and see the world from another person whose experiences are vastly different from yours.

So whether you’re looking to moving to London, or you’re already here, here’s what you need to survive in this multicultural city:

a sprinkle of kindness — everyone around you is probably feeling just as lost/ tired or frustrated

unending patience — in the tube, in class or while you wait to be served in Pret

and an open mind — the familiar, the new, the strange — its all in London!

Your feedback (questions or contributions) on this subject would be greatly appreciated and welcome. Comment below or send an email to marketing@ish.org.uk

— ISH: Hello — can you please introduce yourself?

GM: My name is Gonzalo Maza, I’m a screenwriter. I started my studies here in London at the London Film School as a Master in Screenwriting in 2016, and I came to live at International Students House in the same year. I wrote a film called ‘A Fantastic Woman’ before I came here, and when I started in London it began to be released all around the world. The film was very well received — it won an award at the Berlin Film Festival for Best Screenwriting and was nominated for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. More recently, it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film a few weeks ago.

— ISH: What is it like living in International Students House?

GM: I live here with my family — my wife and kid — and I feel very lucky to be living in International Students House. It’s so diverse, so open, it receives people from very different communities. I feel very comfortable living here with my family, and I think it’s a great experience.

— ISH: Tell us more about screenwriting…

GM: At the moment, I’m still a student here in London doing a PhD in Film based at the University of Exeter but researching screenwriting London. Screenwriting is a very complex matter that, in a way, is taken very lightly in the industry and screenwriting studies are important now to make people aware of its complexity.

— ISH: Tell us more about ‘A Fantastic Woman’

GM: ‘A Fantastic Woman’ is film about a transgender character called Marina. The film begins when her lover dies. He’s an older man, she’s 27 and he’s 50. When he dies, Marina has to tell the family about his death, but the family turns against her. She has to deal with microaggressions and the problems others had about her being with him, so in a way Marina has to show everyone that she’s a normal person like anybody else. Living in this world in 2018 and to be forced to show the world that you’re just a normal person seemed strange. We based the film in that.

— ISH: You didn’t sensationalise ‘trans’, but made it just one aspect of the film…

GM: The reason we decided to make a film about a transgender character didn’t come at the beginning of the creative process — actually it was at the end. We wanted to make a film about grief. We wanted to make a film about the sense of loss when someone you love dies. At the end of the process we decided to make the character transgender because we realised that we live in the world alongside this very specific community, and people have a lot of issues with them.

We knew so little about ‘transgender’ when we began, so we did a lot of research, we learned a lot; we felt ashamed of ourselves for not knowing more, for example not knowing that globally the life expectancy of a transgender person is 35 — maybe because their lover killed them. It’s a very rough life. At that point we definitely wanted to make the character transgender. The film isn’t just about being transgender, there’s a story that comes before. Marina lives in the story like any other human character.

— ISH: How did you find Daniela Vega, who plays Marina?

GM: When we were doing research for the film we started interviewing transgender people. We got to know Daniela — she was an actress doing theatre but she’d done a film before. Not only were we fascinated by her and her charisma, but she was our introduction to issues facing transgender people. She was open to answering all our questions.

Later, the director Sebastián Lelio — who also wrote the film with me — was thinking maybe she might be the right actor for the role. It took a while but at the end we made the decision and I think it was the right one. She’s such a character in her own way — she really has a political position within the film, she was very open and aware to realising the importance of the subject.

— ISH: Did you try to make the film a deliberate statement?

GM: It definitely wasn’t our intention to make a ‘statement film’. However, when you make a film you have your intentions but reality can take a different course, and this was the case. People really embraced the film in a way that we weren’t expecting at all. We definitely wanted audiences to understand more about transgender people, but we weren’t prepared for the impact ‘A Fantastic Woman’ had in so many countries and how many discussions we started.

— ISH: How important is it to you that we continue these discussions? Is the film as much politics as art?

GM: Yes. Every artistic film is a political film. Every time you write your story it’s about something, and the reason you write about it is because you think it’s important. We were rally aware that we live in a world full of injustice and this is one tiny story about one person’s injustice. You can definitely understand ‘A Fantastic Woman’ without being transgender. In our daily lives we all feel injustices and aggressions that aren’t necessarily related to our sexual identity — think of our skin, social class, education, country, religion… I think lots of people can relate to the film in a political way without being transgender themselves, and that was our main goal — that a huge amount of people connected with what Marina was feeling rather than what Marina is.

— ISH: What barriers to entry can you see in film, and what are your thoughts on improving opportunity?

GM: Diversity is a big issue in the film industry now. Films are mostly made by men, of a certain age and skin colour, and it’s a problem. At the same time, there are other efforts in the industry to change that. I feel that especially here in the UK it’s working — as a foreign screenwriter I can make a career here, I feel welcome. If you work hard enough you can get a chance to make what you want to. But at the same time, there is a level that becomes hard to reach for us.

— ISH: Thank you Gonzalo, and congratulations again.


It’s just over a month since you started university (though it does feel longer) and by now you’ve probably been to a few events where people keep telling you to network. This is the beginning or continuation of a life-long activity that can either become a chore or an exciting opportunity to establish new relationships. The art of networking is one that needs developing as interaction with people takes place in different forms — it may involve one-on-one meetings, conference calls with peers or mentors and even via social media platforms. As a student you will inevitable attend mixers, conferences or events that will require you up your small talk game and, with some the help of the tips suggested here, take networking beyond fishing for business cards and insignificant chitchat.

1. Build Genuine Relationships

When networking became a 21st century buzzword, it was a way of better meeting people with similar interests and establishing relationships across different spaces — networks. However, it fast became just a word people used to justify the need to accumulate contact details and make small talk with as many people in a room. To make use of opportunities of interaction with people, its essential to understand what networking is about. Appreciate that the essence of networking is to build genuine relationships with people. Invest in quality conversations with one or two people after a conference or at a mixer, rather than chasing 20 people for 5 second conversations. Focus on creating genuine relationships by listening, contributing to the conversation and showing real interest in what the other person has to say. This is the foundation of networking and if done right, can lead to a more fruitful and lifelong relationships.

2. Don’t just take — have something to give

Once the relationship has been established, it has to be nurtured. Genuine relationships are built on reciprocity. Whenever possible offer help or support to your network, whether it is in the form of a contact, a few hours of help or just a listening ear. Ask about the person’s current project with genuine interest in what they are pursuing and, if you have no knowledge in the particular subject, take it as an opportunity to learn. Just because you are a student, it does not mean that you have nothing to offer — your opinion, your time — that effort to be useful to your network is crucial. As this is a two-way street, it is also important to reach out to your network when you need help. A lot of professionals are always happy to offer advice on their expertise. If someone agrees to help you be sure to thank them.

3. Communicate frequently and consistently

Communication strengthens relationships. Reach out and stay in touch with people in your network, even if it just to say hello. Learn how to use different platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to communicate with people professionally and socially. If you can, post and share what you are doing or what you’re are interested in on these platforms also to ensure your network knows what you are up to in case someone is also keeping up with you online. Note, this is not to say that you need to share what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Be intentional about your communication and remember — the internet never forgets.

4. Step out of the audience

Attending conferences or talks in your field of study allows you to meet people with similar interests and provides opportunities to brainstorm and connect with them on a personal level. Another way to take your event networking to the next level is through showcasing your expertise as a speaker instead of an attendee. Speaking at an event boosts your credibility in the space and gives a platform to offer your insights to others. You can start small with events at your university and then step out onto bigger stages.

With these insights go ye therefore and network!


Reflection Piece

While you’re pursuing your studies, don’t limit yourself to learning in the classroom only. Take advantage of conferences, seminars, public lectures or talks by experts and professionals from different spheres of society. It’s always more interesting and insightful to hear from someone who has experienced and overcome challenges in a particular field. Students attend conferences and similar events for various reasons which mostly involve seeking connections, job leads or for exposure. Whatever your reason behind your attendance, these events provide platforms for interaction with people you would not have access to every day. While you may be focused on pocketing as many business cards as possible, do take note of the latest information and trends in your field of study as well as invest in some one-on-one interaction with like-minded people, tapping into their experiences and knowledge. It is an opportunity to initiate sincere relationships based on mutual interests. And take note, the quality of the of the conversations you engage in counts more than the number of people you get to talk to at one seminar or public lecture. Most universities, if not all, host a number of conferences, talks and lectures through various associations and will often partner with organisations to offer students free or discounted entry.

If you are interested in expanding your knowledge of African business, politics, culture or academia, consider the Royal African Society (RAS). The Society’s diverse membership body comprises of business leaders, academics, politicians, civil servants, health professionals, journalists, writers, artists, musicians and students and focuses on promoting foster better understanding and strong relationships between Britain, Africa and the world. The Royal African Society is hosted by SOAS, University of London, the only Higher Education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East.

One of the Society’s many events is the Annual lecture that draws keynote speakers from different aspects of society. This year, Former Liberian President and Noble Peace Prize Laureate, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf delivered a lecture on democratic traditions of Africa, speaking particularly on the rising generation of African women who are demanding greater inclusion in the political process. Drawing from her experience before, during and after her two terms in the highest office of the state, she offered contextualised solutions to foster leadership and the full participation of women in Africa’s democratic future. Sirleaf also highlighted that although there had been significant progress in engaging women fully in leadership roles at national, local and community levels in African states, there was a need to address the obstacles to political participation that are beyond patriarchy and misogyny — the institutional, societal and cultural.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

“If you look beyond the statistics, you will see that the real governing power remain largely closed to women,” she said.

While it is necessary to note the achievements of women like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, the late Wangari Maathai of Kenya, Joyce Banda of Malawi, Graça Machel of Mozambique, the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela of South Africa, Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic, and Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria, who is now Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Sirleaf emphasised that breaking all the barriers to political participation would enable more women to rise.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf delivering the keynote address at the Royal African Society 2018 Annual Lecture

Listening to Sirleaf’s speech as well as the Question and Answer segment that followed it, one couldn’t help but admire her energy as she shared that she was 20 days shy of her 80th birthday but felt no need to slow down in her work. Even after serving her country for 10 years as head of state, Sirleaf continues to inspire and motivate young women to engage in politics for the development of the continent.

Captivated audience listening to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf speaking just days before her 80th birthday

For more events by the Royal African Society, keep an eye on their website.