Health and safety in your first few weeks
Moving to a new country is an exciting time!
At the beginning of a new academic year, you will probably be very busy settling in and making the most of your school, college or university's events for new students. These are great opportunities to get to know your campus and start making friends. In fact, you may never have an opportunity to mix with so many people from so many countries and backgrounds again, so go ahead and get involved!
At the same time, though, you need to be prepared for your new life to be a bit different from your experience back home. For many students, this will be the first time away from home, and it's natural to feel a bit homesick or anxious – this is part of the process of finding your feet.
A good way to keep happy and healthy is to make sure you don’t burn out from trying to do too many things from the start! Here are some tips for taking care of yourself during your first weeks in the UK.
It is important to register with a GP as soon as possible after you arrive, to ensure help is available if you need it later on.
Clare Gerada, former Chair of the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners, explains:
'A "GP" (general practitioner) is a specially trained doctor with skills in dealing with the vast majority of your health problems or health needs, such as blood tests, immunisation, contraception and sexual health advice, and so on.
'General practitioners work in teams with other doctors, nurses, counsellors and other health staff and managers in practices. You can choose which practice to register with as long as it is near where you live.
'Most practices offer a choice of gender of the doctor and increasingly, practices are offering online booking, access to your medical notes, telephone or even email or Skype consultations. The core opening hours are usually 8am–6.30pm Monday to Friday, but many offer early morning or later evening appointments.
'Outside these hours, a GP can be contacted via their emergency number and groups of GPs working together provide 24-hour emergency care.'
Go to Health for information about registering with a GP.
More health tips for new students
If you're an undergraduate student, you may hear people talk about 'fresher's flu'. This term is used to describe the range of minor illnesses (such as a cold, cough or flu) that some students experience in their first year at college or university.
Minor symptoms can usually be managed with medication available from a pharmacy (also called a chemist in UK). You can speak to the pharmacist for advice, but you should always contact your GP for a professional diagnosis if your symptoms are more severe.
Moira McLoughlin, Senior Lecturer and Student Experience Lead at Salford University, gives more advice:
- Try to get enough sleep. The average adult needs between 6 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Making sure that your bedroom is a relaxing and calm environment can be a crucial aid to drifting off easily… so that means no watching TV or playing computer games in bed! Other things you can do to help you get a good night’s sleep include having a warm bath before bedtime, or reading a book. If you still find sleep doesn’t come easily, speak to your GP, visit the NHS website or the UK Sleep Council for further advice.
- Keep hydrated – staying hydrated is absolutely essential for your body to be able to function properly, so try to drink between 1.5 and 2 litres of fluid per day. Drinking enough water also has the added bonus of keep your skin looking fresh and glowing!
- Eat healthily – the NHS recommends that you eat at least 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day, with some recent scientific studies advocating up to 10 portions per day! With all the excitement of a new term, eating healthily can be difficult to remember. So put down those chips and take a look at Education UK’s advice for eating healthily on a budget. Your waistline, and your wallet, will thank you!
- Avoid ‘fresher’s flu’. You may have heard about the dreaded flu that terrorises campuses across the UK during a new term, but don’t panic – 'fresher's flu’ is just another name for a common cold! The combination of a large student population, shared accommodation, late nights and poor diets mean that colds are rife among new students. To avoid it, make sure you follow the advice above.
If you do catch a cold, follow the advice on the NHS website and make an appointment to see your GP if the symptoms don't improve.
- Stay relaxed – it's natural to be busy, but if you find yourself feeling stressed, step back and take a few deep breaths. Remember that everyone around you is in the same boat, and your school, college or university has resources to help. If you feel overwhelmed or worried about coping with the pressures of student life, then you can always speak to your student support services or your personal tutor – that’s what they are there for!
This guide should help you steer clear of the dreaded freshers' flu – but above all, relax and enjoy yourself!
In the same way that you would think about your personal safety at home, remember to take sensible precautions to make sure that you and your possessions stay safe. Here are some top tips from Sheffield University’s Head of Student Support and Guidance, Audrey Leadley:
- When walking after dark, try to go in a group. If you are on your own, stay on well-lit main roads and try to avoid darker side streets where possible.
- After a night out, walk home with a group of friends or take a taxi.
- Have your door pass or key ready before you get to your accommodation, so that you can get in without delay.
For more advice about night-time safety, read UK student nightlife: Top tips on staying safe.
A good way of looking after your valuables is to get them marked with UV pen. You can also register your belongings on property marking websites. The police may be able to provide help with this, including free UV pens to mark your valuables. Find out more in this video.
Another way to stay safe is to avoid using any valuable items in public, such as mobile phones, and being careful when using a cash machine or handline money. This film by Greater Manchester Police includes advice about using cash machines.
For more advice about safety and security, we strongly recommend that you download and read the British Council's Creating confidence guide.
To read more about Freshers' Week (for new undergraduate students at college and university) see What is freshers' week?, and if you're worried about settling in, coping with culture shock or homesickness, read Finding your feet.
And finally... remember that if you have any problems, your institution will have resources and information for you. You can also get support and information from UKCISA and the police so that you can enjoy your whole student experience worry-free.