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Last Saturday I joined a hundred or so UK bound students at a pre-departure briefing seminar in Manila. The four hour programme, organised by the British Council, was packed with helpful information on British culture, student life, cost of living, part-time working, and getting around the UK.

The 300 Peso (around £3.00) entrance fee was well worth it and most of the delegates I spoke to felt they got a lot out of the day.

Delegates also received an information pack including a brilliant pocket guide to life in the UK, which I would recommend to anyone considering travelling to these shores.

The speakers were well informed about life in the UK and their facts and figures were accurate and up to date. The presentation was mostly upbeat and positive about life in the UK, apart from the obvious high cost of living.

Whilst not wanting to appear negative, I would just like to add a few words of caution to the young students embarking on their new adventure this autumn.


Street crime and drug related crime can be a problem in the major cities, so use your head. That is, to think, not to do a “Zidane” on anyone who criticises your mother!

Follow the British Council’s guidance on security in their pre-departure briefing pack or visit


You are particularly vulnerable upon arrival after a long tiring journey. Even seasoned travellers have lost bags during a momentary lapse of concentration. An American friend of mine who had travelled all over the world lost his luggage at Gatwick Airport. He put his bag down for a second whilst searching for change at a train ticket machine. By the time he looked down again his leather bag and flying jacket, which he wore in Vietnam, had disappeared.

Try and get someone to meet you at the airport if at all possible and avoid travelling into central London unless absolutely necessary.

If you are travelling on to another city use the excellent National Express coach service which has terminals at all major UK airports. The coaches can get you to most parts of the country from right outside the airport without the need to take two or three trains or travel into town to pick up rail connections. The service is reliable and cheap and can be booked on line at

In general the UK has an excellent public transport system.

Drinking Culture

The British love of alcohol was affectionately covered during the seminar with pictures of one of the speakers in a cosy pub with friends. Fine, there’s nothing quite like a British pub and having a few beers with friends is one of life’s great pleasures. But people from what I would describe as “non-drinking” cultures may be shocked at the level of alcohol consumption in the UK especially by young people.

Here in Makati’s Greenbelt area in the central business district I see hundreds of young people enjoying a glass of wine or bottle of San Miguel beer in the many open air bars and café’s. Alcohol is more widely available than in the UK and yet I have never seen a drunken Filipino causing a disturbance or being ejected from a bar. I have never even seen a drunken Filipino in a bar. You will not find scenes of inebriated Filipino’s spilling out onto the streets of Manila at two in the morning, as is commonplace in city centres in the UK.

Go to any University town on a midweek “student” night, where students are offered cheap alcohol or “drink as much as you like” promos, and you may be shocked by what you see. You will also find where most of their parent’s money and student loans are going, i.e. straight down the toilet!

Alcohol in the Philippines is taken in moderation and is not the primary focus of a night out. At any Filipino party, the food is the main event not the booze. Filipino women do not generally drink, or smoke, and may be surprised at how much young British women drink on a typical night out.

They will be even more surprised by their “ladish” (masculine) behaviour; out-drinking the men and falling down in the gutter unable to stand up after a belly full of alco-pops and Vodka mixers.

Take it easy on the alcohol especially the deceptive mixers which taste sweet and innocent, but are just as potent as a premium strength lager or shot of Whisky.

Until you get to know the local scene, be careful and choose your pubs and company wisely.

Unless you are with trusted friends, NEVER leave your drink unattended. A good friend of mine’s daughter was raped after having her drink “spiked” (date rape drugged) in her local pub.


Clubs are a whole different culture on which I am not qualified to write, being around twenty years too old. At the risk of sounding like your boring Dad, my advice is once again “be careful”. Some of the clubs and clubbing districts can be pretty wild places compared to non-western countries.

Mini Cabs

Mini Cabs are licensed taxis which can only be hired from a Mini Cab Office or ordered by telephone. Unlike the famous London ‘Black Taxis’ they are not allowed to pick up passengers on the street.

If you are offered a ride by mini cab driver in the street the driver is most likely an un-licensed illegal driver and you could be in danger. There have been a number of cases where women have been raped by illegal mini cab drivers.

Never get into a mini cab on the street.

Am I trying to scare you? Well, just a little. More to the point I’m trying to open your eyes to some of the less glamorous side of life in the UK. Having said all this, the UK is a relatively safe place with low crime rates. The Police do not even carry guns!

I feel, however, that things are changing. Muggings, stabbings and murders seem more commonplace nowadays and I no longer feel safe at night in many of the areas in which I grew up.

The UK is still a great place

The British are among the most creative and talented people on the planet. Turn on a radio in virtually any country in the world and you are likely to hear a song by a British artist.

Britain has an entrepreneurial spirit that has created world class businesses and made it the fourth largest economy in the world. The UK is a hugely successful nation punching well above its weight.

The vast majority of people in Britain are tolerant and fair minded and welcome visitors and migrants.

Culturally the UK is a rich melting pot and I would recommend anyone to visit or study here.

Have a great time in the UK, have fun, work hard, but be sensible.

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If you should have any questions concerning any of the above issues please email Charles Kelly or see our website.

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