Moving to the UK for university is a daunting experience for any international student. The food, weather, language and culture will almost certainly be different to what you’ve grown up with. There will be culture shocks along the way, but consider these tips a survival guide to help you get the most out of uni!
1. Be prepared to miss your family and friends
Homesickness hits everyone in different ways. You might feel fine for the first few weeks because of all the new people you’ll meet and the busy days you have, but at some point, you may start to miss home quite a lot. Watching flatmates go home every few weeks via a 2-hour train ride doesn’t really help either.
There isn’t much you can do to curb the feeling of missing your friends and family back home, but you can keep lines of communication open and embrace it! I like to think that feeling homesick means that you have people who love and care about you, which - if you think about it - is truly a blessing!
2. Learn how to cook some basic dishes from home
Cuisine forms about 95% of a country’s culture. Or that’s how I feel anyway. It depends on where you come from (and which uni you’re studying at) but in my experience, food in the UK can get quite repetitive. If you come from a country where spices are key ingredients of any dish, it might be wise to bring some so you can add a taste of home to your food.
Learning how to cook a signature dish from your home country is also great when you want to introduce your culture to others. After all, there are few things better than food to bond over.
3. Be aware of how long it takes to get a debit/credit card
This threw me off completely when I came to the UK to study. To get a debit card in the UK, you’ll have to get an official document from your uni stating that you are a Visa-approved student as well as another document that proves that your address is in the UK.
After that, you’ll have to go to the bank of your choice and apply to make an account, which will take more time than you think with all the students coming in to fill in applications. Once your application is processed, it will take about a week for your card to arrive in the post. Then you’ll receive your PIN number through a separate letter. To cut a long story short: come prepared with cash or a card that you can easily use worldwide.
4. Know it’s OK to seek friends from your home country
Yes, it’s ideal to make friends from all different backgrounds. Yes, making friends who are native English speakers will probably improve your English. But it’s completely fine to seek comfort in friends who understand your culture and mannerisms.
There are just some things that people who aren’t from your country can’t relate to, and when you’re in a completely new environment, it’s nice to have a safe haven where you can relax and feel like you’re at home. Student societies are a great way to meet people from your country or area and if one doesn’t exist, why not start one?
5. Try and initiate conversation with home students
That being said, I do feel that international students making friends with home students is beneficial to both parties and if you find someone you vibe with, it’s definitely a friendship worth putting time into!
In my experience, I’ve found that it’s much easier for these friendships to form when international students make the first move. Some home students are afraid to say something insensitive, or may merely be shy. Try and casually make small talk to break the ice.
6. Do NOT hesitate to ask for academic support
Even if you were top of your class in your previous school, uni is very different from many secondary education programmes and you might need help in adjusting to the rules and standards of your uni.
Whichever uni you attend, there will definitely be writing centres and other academic help available, so don’t hesitate to go and see what’s available for you! In almost all cases the service is free, so why not make use of it?
7. Do research on your housing options
In the UK, halls are not the only option. There are so many private student accommodation lettings available and a lot of them are cheaper and newer than the rooms in uni halls.
Of course, if you want the quintessential “uni experience” in your first year it might be better for you to choose halls, but I’d recommend looking up what’s available around your uni to see your options.
8. Explore the SU and societies
The Students’ Union is such a big deal at UK unis, and it’s understandable why. If your uni has a great Students’ Union building, it’ll be the place where you can meet new people, participate in events, and sit in meetings for a society you’ve joined.
Societies range from low to high commitment, depending on the type of society and how active it is. Some ask for a small fee to join, while others are free, so be sure to attend fairs where you can speak to members of societies to find a good fit.
9. Be aware of the grading system/exam periods
Of course, uni’s supposed to be fun, but what you’re really there to do is study. In the UK grading system, there are usually no letter grades, and instead you are given a score out of 100. A “first” is 70 and over, which can seem low to those of us who have suffered through systems where a 98 is an A, but it’s harder to achieve than you’d think (especially in humanities).
You should also check your exam periods to schedule a flight back home for the winter and summer holidays. Some unis have exams earlier than others, and they’re usually a bit long (3 or so weeks), so check up on those dates.
10. When something goes wrong or you feel uncomfortable, speak up
In a new country, chances are, you’re going to run into some issues. Even at a diverse uni, you might feel uncomfortable because of something another person said about you/ your country/ your race, or you might find that your course isn’t what you imagined it to be like.
In any case, speak up when something feels wrong. For many international students, the invisible responsibility we put on ourselves to be shining representatives of our respective countries can get overwhelming. Know that it’s ok to be your own person. Know that your voice needs to be heard.
Moving away from home (for the first time for many of us) can make you feel terrified and ecstatic at the same time, and there are so many opportunities ahead of you. I hope you find these tips helpful; I sure wish I had some guidance when I first moved!
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