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Navigating change: Experiencing the transition from rural to urban living

Speaking to two students, Daisy Yates explores the reality of transitioning from a rural setting to an urban one

By Daisy Yates, First Year, Philosophy and Theology

In the 2023/24 academic year, the University of Bristol recorded almost 6,000 registered undergraduate students. Many of these new students will be unaccustomed to the bustle of a major city like Bristol, having arrived from more rural areas. 

To gain insight into the experiences of students who have made this rural-urban transition, Epigram spoke to Will, a first year Economics student.

Before moving to Bristol, Will lived in Ashdown Forest, which he fondly refers to as ‘Hundred Acre Wood’, referencing the iconic setting of Winnie the Pooh. Reflecting on his feelings about transitioning to a major city, Will explained that ‘I was very excited to try something new, as I have visited cities near me, and I knew that the fast paced nature appealed to me.’ 

For some, however, the prospect of living in a city for the first time can be nerve-racking. Epigram also spoke with Nel, a third-year student at the University of Bristol. Moving from a small village in Wales, she explains that this transition was, initially, slightly jarring: ‘At first the move was definitely challenging, transitioning from living in the middle of nowhere to a really busy city was a bit disjointing.’

Moving from the comfort of home to major city can be an intimidating and unsettling experience for many students. According to The National Institute for Health Care and Excellence, this transition is a significant risk factor for the increased prevalence of mental illness and deteriorating mental health. 

While Bristol is home to green spaces such as the Clifton Downs and Brandon hill, the city is predominantly metropolitan. Both Nel and Will felt the loss of being so close to nature after moving away. Nel mentioned that it wasn’t just the green spaces - like parks and forests - that she missed, but the sea too.

Research from the University of Aarhus  indicates that individuals who grew up with limited green space nearby had as much as a 55% increased risk of developing mental health issues. One of the main findings from this study was the restorative effect that being around nature had on the respondents mental health. One conclusion of the the study was that nature had the ability to provide respite for overstimulated minds. 

Epigram / Dan Hutton

When discussing the drawbacks of the urban lifestyle, Will explained that ‘Everything is so busy all the time, I’m used to very quiet streets and not seeing many people after 11pm, but there are always loads of people here.’

Despite the transition being difficult to get used to initially, both Will and Nel emphasised the excitement that came with exploring the breadth of activities that a major city like Bristol has to offer.

Areas like Gloucester Road - the longest shopping street in Britain - St Paul’s Carnival, and the local music venues in Stokes Croft serve as just a few examples of the wide variety of activities that Bristol has to offer. Will said that ‘There is so much more to do [in Bristol], my village where I lived only had a few thousand people living there, so it was always the same faces I saw doing the same activities.’

'I find it a bit tricky when it comes to explaining what it’s like where I'm from to people who come from cities - some people can be quite judgemental.'

Another aspect of living in a city is the accessibility of the essential goods. For Nel ‘Living in Bristol has made almost every aspect of [her] life more convenient and, in some ways, more interesting.’ She mentioned specifically how quick online deliveries and food shopping were in comparison to her hometown. 

Bristol’s diversity is reflected in the makeup of its population: the city is home to people from more than 180 countries, 45 religions and 91 languages. It is this richness of culture that allows students to broaden their horizons and form connections with peers from various backgrounds.

Nel found this particularly refreshing when moving to Bristol, explaining that she is ‘Finally living somewhere more diverse and has the opportunity to meet more people.’ She went on to say that she loved her hometown but ‘The farm-animal-person ratio is not exactly great for a 20 year-old who thrives on being around other people.’

For many, a huge appeal of the move to university is the nightlife, with Bristol’s iconic ‘triangle’ being a regular hotspot for socialising and entertainment. With popular clubs like the Brass Pig and La Rocca, there is no limit to the options available for a night out in Bristol. 

Will, reflecting on the contrast with his hometown, where nightlife was ‘non-existent’, emphasised that ‘Having options at any time to have fun is a huge benefit.’ 

Outside of the nightlife, going out to try new foods was a particular highlight for Nel, especially on Cotham Hill, which is a host to several independent restaurants. She mentioned that ‘Trying different cuisines has been something I’ve really enjoyed.’

Although there are huge positives to city life in Bristol, Nel explained that ‘I find it a bit tricky when it comes to explaining what it’s like where I'm from to people who come from cities - some people can be quite judgemental.’ 

Students from rural areas only make up a small portion of students in university. Analysis by the Rural Services Network found that only 45.5 per cent of rural students went on to Higher Education, compared to 50.9 per cent from students in predominantly urban areas. This figure is perhaps unsurprising given the fact that rural secondary schools receive approximately £500 less funding per head compared to pupils in urban areas.

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Moving away from your hometown can be a painful experience regardless of where you come from. For Nel and Will, this was both an exciting and disjointing time. The prospect of living in a large city - with all the opportunities for cultural experiences and ease of access to daily necessities - was incredibly attractive for them. However, this is balanced against a loss of connection to nature and the difficulties in acclimatising to the fast-paced reality of living in a city like Bristol.

With research showing that the rate of full-time entry into higher education by 18-20 year olds from rural areas is increasing, it is important to be mindful that more and more students may be struggling with similar problems.

Featured Image: Epigram / Dan Hutton