London — In the 18th century Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote: ''When a man is tired of London , he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.'' Today's students attending Richmond College, the American International College of London, find the Englishman's statement rings as true as ever. Indeed , the British capital is a cultural smorgasbord and one big classroom for young scholars enrolled in the small liberal arts college.
Still in the growing stages, the four-year school, established in 1972, received full accreditation this year from the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges. Richmond confers the bachelor of arts and associate of arts degrees, in addition to offering summer, semester, and academic-year stints for visiting students.
Affiliated with the American Institute for Foreign Study in Greenwich, Conn., the school is autonomous and not a branch of any stateside college.
Richmond students come from a variety of economic and educational backgrounds. Seated around a cafeteria table may be students on leave from an Ivy League school, a small Midwestern college, or a Southern state university, plus recent high school or junior-college graduates.
But only 30 percent of the 500 students are American. The rest hail from more than 50 countries, mainly in Africa and the Middle East. The ratio of men and women is roughly equal.
Dr. William J. Petrek, president of Richmond College says: ''The product we want is someone who is well-educated and sufficiently trained, as would be expected of any undergraduate, plus two things one would not normally get out of an undergraduate school: (1) greater world awareness and recognition of the interdependency of peoples and (2) the capacity to become interculturally sensitive, much more sensitive than the normal undergraduate. . . . We would like to produce a special kind of elite - people who can make some difference out there.''
Susan Stuart, a sophomore from North Conway, N.H., said: ''Being at Richmond, you get rid of predetermined ideas of certain races and nationalities. I've never been in a minority before, but actually everyone here is in a minority.''
Although Miss Stuart plans to earn an associate of arts degree at Richmond and then complete her undergraduate education in the US, most of the students from the US are juniors enrolled for just a semester or a year.
Richmond, for its size, offers a tremendous variety of courses in business, the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The most popular major is business. New this year is a computer-science program for business and pre-engineering students.
Many courses take full advantage of the London setting, integrating field trips to schools, museums, theaters, and historical sites. Robert Kuehn, the academic dean, says: ''I don't know of a single place in the world that has what London has to offer. It may not be as beautiful and glamorous as Paris, but it is more comfortable and low-keyed.''
In any given week, he said, one can choose from 40 plays. In the world of dance and film, London reigns supreme in Europe, Kuehn added. And there are 260 museums, from small ones in former private homes to august bastions like the British Museum and Tate Gallery.
Richmond College has two campuses in Greater London. The original location is high above the River Thames in the leafy, green suburb of Richmond, a 40-minute subway trip to central London.
For freshmen and sophomores only, the Richmond Hill campus is just steps from sprawling Richmond Park, a royal property and former hunting preserve known for its wild deer.
Home for juniors and seniors is smack in the pulsating heart of London, in Kensington, an exclusive neighborhood of row houses, embassies, vest-pocket parks, and cobbled mews. This part of the school has much more of an American flavor, because of the many US juniors on sabbatical from their own colleges.
Annual tuition fees approach $8,500, comparable to fees charged by many private US colleges. A catalog describing Richmond's programs may be obtained from the American Institute for Foreign Study, 102 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, Conn. 06830.