Three tips to help you settle into life in the UK
By Suphanida Thakral 22 April 2016
Suphanida Thakral (Simran) is a student from Thailand studying BA Politics with International Studies at the University of Warwick who has been selected to be a student journalist for the Education UK website. Here she describes three tips for settling into life as an international student.
Walking back to my halls of residence with groceries in hand, I wonder: Do I not look alright to you? Before I could respond, my coursemate who had asked me had disappeared.
I proceed into the kitchen to cook dinner. Tonight’s menu: Thai-style stir-fried minced pork with basil leaves and sautéed chili. Minor detail: the exhaust isn’t working. As you can probably guess, this is a recipe for disaster.
A group of people in the kitchen joke sarcastically, ‘Trying to choke us?’
Red-faced, I hurry back into my room.
I bump into one of my flatmates in the corridors of Cryfield. She has a suitcase in hand and is heading back home for the weekend.
‘Lucky you’ I comment.
Welcome to the life of an international student.
University, here in the UK, is an odd place to begin with. It’s a rite of passage most 18 year olds take. It’s a transitionary step before venturing out into the real world. We’re leaving our nest for the first time, we’re thrown together with a bunch of people in the same boat as us, and we’re left to- in essence, ‘grow up’.
It is an exciting period and most people view their university years as the best time of their lives. But for us international students it can also be a daunting one. Not only do we have to deal with being away from home for the first time but also with a different environment and a different way of life.
The first few months for me were filled with excitement. I would appreciate the most random things around me; riding on double decker buses in Coventry, recognizing the roads in London from Monopoly, feeling like I was transported to the set of Harry Potter when I visited Edinburgh, and even seeing snow towards the end of January. Being here felt surreal - like an extended holiday.
Once the novelty began to fade, however, I longed for the familiarity and convenience of home. I craved authentic Tomyum noodle-soup from a street vendor at 2 am. I was sick of having to do the bagging at Tesco or having to take the buses. I missed the tropical sunshine and disliked bundling up in layers. And most importantly, I wanted people to understand where I was coming from- I was alone for the first time 5000 miles away from home.
I’m not trying to make studying abroad in the UK sound scary because it honestly isn’t. The UK, or the people here I should say, were extremely welcoming and due to the large pockets of diversity here it’s difficult to feel like an outsider. Even though there are fleeting moments of homesickness, you shouldn’t let that prevent you from having an amazing time. Everyone has different ways of dealing with this but perhaps the following tips might help you if you’re anxious about approach settling into student life in the UK.
University courses in the UK, especially social sciences and humanities, require significant independent reading. Since I do Politics, I only have nine hours of lectures a week! Yes, we’re supposed to be ‘reading’ but come on, no one actually spends the entire day doing so. This could leave a lot of time for you to mope around. My advice is to stay occupied so you’ll have less time to dwell upon feeling homesick.
Societies, or student-run clubs, are a big part of student life in the UK. They range from serious ones like the Finance Society to more fun ones like the Cheese & Chocolate Society. A platform for like-minded people to mingle, societies are a fantastic way to make friends. Join a ton of societies, or just ‘like’ their Facebook Page, and go to their events - you never know who you might meet and what you might enjoy! If you’re passionate about any particular society, there are also options to apply to be on the executive team to organize the events. These positions are much like a full-time job providing work experience.
Always have something fun planned to anticipate
It’s a universal fact that when you’re anticipating something exciting it distracts you from feeling down. Find something you love, plan things for the near future- things that you probably wouldn’t be able to do at home, and I guarantee you that you won’t have time to miss home. I personally love travelling so when I’m feeling homesick, I simply count down towards my next adventure! I’m sure you can apply this concept to whatever suits your fancy.
If you’re into travelling, check out trips organised by the International Office in your university. Alternatively, go via a society - most course societies do both a domestic and international tour. Or, you could just travel with your new friends. There is so much to see and do within the UK - the top two on my bucket list are definitely Lake District and Snowdonia!
With the ease of staying in touch nowadays, one can get easily carried away with Whatsapp texts, Skype calls, and constantly keeping tabs on what’s happening with family and friends at home through Facebook. It may prevent you from embracing your new surroundings. The key is finding a balance. Remember that what you see on social media may just be a sugarcoated depiction and people back at home most likely do have their fair share of worries and concerns as well.
With regards to balance, and this is especially relevant if you go to a campus university like Warwick, it can be overwhelming spending the whole term on campus. We have a name for this at Warwick as it’s in the middle of nowhere: ‘the Bubble’. Although I love it (despite joining Warwick Jailbreak, a hitchhiking challenge to get as far away from campus as possible!), I would recommend taking a break at least a couple of times each term. Consider Host International, a program that pairs you with a British family allowing you to visit them for a day or the weekend. It’s a great way to experience local cultures and meet people other than students!
As an international student studying in the UK, I feel down at times but then I realize that by being here I get to immerse myself in different cultures, lifestyles, and modes of thinking. I’ve had a chance to travel, try new things, broaden my horizons, and grow as a person. I’ve not had the chance to go home every weekend and maybe that’s a good thing. Instead, I get to call this place my home away from home - at least for now.
“The better, more amazing versions of YOU can’t happen if you stay where you are.”- Wendy Mak.