"This was the place I wanted to be": Why three international students chose Brighton

Lilly Gentner speaks to three international students about what drew them to Brighton and Hove.

"This was the place I wanted to be": Why three international students chose Brighton
Source: Lilly Gentner

At least once in their lives, everybody dreams of being adventurous–of packing up their things and moving abroad to some place warm and sunny, maybe Hawaii or Australia. Usually, it's just a fun little daydream, stored in that one little box of dreams that you keep in the back of your mind; but for some residents of Brighton and Hove, it's reality.

Brighton is a place full of dreamers, entrepreneurs, and out-of-the-box-thinkers from all over the world. It is a well-known fact that this seaside city is a popular destination for family holidays in the Summer and weekend trips with friends. But what does Brighton have that makes people from all corners of the world settle here and start a whole new life? Lilly Gentner interviewed three young women for The Seagull who followed their dream to ask them: what is it that they love about Brighton?

A 22-year-old woman with a brown fringe, grey headband, and colourful scarf stands in a park
Luisa Gulden. Source: Lilly Gentner

Luisa Gulden, 22, came to Brighton from Munich, Germany, for an exchange year at the University of Sussex, where she is studying Educational Psychology and teaching English. Luisa wanted to study in an English-speaking country and ''always wanted to live abroad at least for some time, so this was the perfect opportunity'.

Originally, she did not know a lot about Brighton and Hove, having only heard about it through friends who were travelling or studying in and around this town, but she already knew enough to be drawn to it. She said:

I think I always associated Brighton with alternative and LGBTQ+ friendly people, which was kind of the main reason for me to come. I also knew that it is great for vegan food, which was another plus for me, and I love the fact that it is at the seaside because I never lived close to the sea.

However, Luisa also found that 'it was actually quite hard leaving home. I was really sad leaving all my friends and family behind, and moving to a city without knowing anyone there was more challenging than I thought'.

"My time here so far is a bit different from how I imagined it to be," she continued. "But that’s okay. Yet, I think I’m also happy to go back home after my year here. I guess I’m more attached to home than I thought." Nonetheless, Brighton will always be a special place for her:

I love how colourful Brighton is. I feel like everybody can be [who] they want to be, and nobody would look at you in a weird or judging way. That’s really special and I haven’t experienced that in many other places.
A 20-year-old woman with brown wavy hair, a black puffer jacket, and a red scarf, stands in front of the Pavilion
Kali Todorovic. Source: Lilly Gentner

Kali Todorovic, 20, is Serbian but has spent most of her life living in Ibiza. Kali attended an English international school whose students applied for universities through UCAS, which is where she first heard about Brighton, and she is now studying Media and Communications at the University of Sussex.

When asked why she had decided to move here, she said:

It felt a lot better than the rest of England. I liked that it was by the sea because, being from an island, it kind of felt strange to me to be somewhere that is landlocked and not close to the sea, so that was one of the main reasons I was drawn here. But also, I just really liked the vibe of Brighton. I thought that there would be loads of international people.

Kali then explained that it 'really felt like [she] was moving abroad' since it was so different to life on a small Spanish island. "Living in Ibiza is kind of like a little bubble," she explained. "It gets you quite separated from the rest of the world because it’s an island and everybody knows each other. It’s very communal, and it kind of feels like a really safe space."  

However, now that she's here, Kali appreciates the duality of this East Sussex coastal city: "It is kind of a city but has more of a charming village feeling, which I really like. And I really like all the buildings, they’re so cute!"

She told me that some of her favourite spots are Hove beach and the fields and nature of Brighton: "Because I am a country girl, it felt really nice to have the feeling of a city but also the feeling of the countryside all in one with just a 30-minute travel." Overall, said Kali, her big and life-changing move to Brighton 'went quite smoothly because I felt like this was the place I wanted to be'.

A 24-year-old woman with brown wavy hair, black puffer jacket, and a blue knitted jumper smiles at the camera in front of a blue beach hut door
Caroline Mathias. Source: Lilly Gentner

Caroline Mathias, 24, is a musician who was born in India but grew up in Oman. She moved to Brighton for her Master's degree in Music, which she has just graduated from. Initially, she wanted to study in Ireland, but that did not work out in the end. Like Luisa and Kali, Caroline 'wanted a place by the seaside so that I could walk by the sea if I ever feel low or ever just want to take a break'. Like Luisa, Brighton's LGBTQ+ community was a plus for Caroline because, she told me, 'when you have a lot of LGBTQ [people] you also have a lot of people who are really friendly'.

Indeed, Caroline describes the people of Brighton as 'friendly, honest, authentic, and able to express themselves'. She likes that Brighton 'feels like a small town but you can actually walk everywhere, and every five steps you take it's like a different country, different city, different scenery. It’s so pretty it’s like all countries in one'. She continued: "I think Brighton is so magical. It’s such a magical place. There are so many people, so many cultures, so many different people. I literally feel like this is where I need to be for my music career."

At first, she didn't really know what to expect, but she thought 'okay, this might be my city, and I might actually benefit from it a lot. So I decided to come'. Even though the process of moving to Brighton was scary and hard for Caroline, she told me that she was 'so happy and just joyous' when she arrived. "I don’t think I ever felt homesick as much," she told me. "I am happy to be here [and] I think I’ll stay here. This is my home."

Even though Luisa, Kali, and Caroline are at different stages of their lives, with their own individual reasons for moving to Brighton, they all have something in common. As well as a love for this city's inclusiveness, its mix of urban and rural, and the sea, they share an appreciation for how special this corner of the world and its people are.