Frequently unanswered questions of international students
By Tiffany Tivasuradej 23 March 2016
Tiffany Tivasuradej from Hong Kong is studying MSc Business (Marketing) at the University of Warwick who has been selected to be a student journalist for the Education UK website. Here she speaks to several international students to find out what it was like for them to move to the UK.
When researching studying in the UK, sources will usually describe its cuisine, customs and weather. But they often neglect to explain what matters most to international students, such as handling homesickness and making friends. For those of you that are anxious about the great move to Great Britain, here are some top tips on how to survive as an international student. Sit back, relax, and discover the stories told to me by students from China, (Tianqing), Hong Kong (Keanne and Kylie), India (Shashank) and Italy (Maria), all of whom are presently living and breathing this incredible experience.
Q1: What’s it like to live in the UK?
Tianqing: I’m a postgraduate at Imperial College in South Kensington, London, which is a 5-10 minutes walk away from Hyde Park, home to annual ‘Winter Wonderland’ Christmas festival. I’m also near Royal Albert Hall, which has hosted fancy events like the 007 movie premiere. Imagine yourself literally 30m away from Daniel Craig and The Royal Family!
Shashank: The UK is a beautiful place to live in! The scenery in the British countryside is stunning, and the public transport system, especially the trains, is well-organised thus making it easier for sightseeing. Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle were highlights of my postgraduate experience at Warwick University so far. Moreover, security in the UK is excellent, which makes you feel very safe. People are also very kind and respectful.
Keanne: As I’m an undergraduate in Brighton, a popular seaside resort town, every day feels like a vacation! After lectures, I like to relax by strolling along Brighton Pier and admiring the surrounding Regency-styled architecture.
Tiffany: Durham is an UNESCO World Heritage site and its cathedral appeared in multiple Harry Potter films. Studying in such an amazing place definitely made my undergraduate experience feel very magical.
Q2: Was there anything you didn’t expect before you arrived?
Tianqing: The different accents! I couldn’t quite understand the North East, Geordie accent at first. But fear not, you will get used to it and somehow find it ‘cute’ eventually.
Shashank: In India, we generally greet one another with handshakes. However, in the UK, social (cheek) kissing is more common. People also say ‘sorry’ very frequently. And if you take the bus, don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ to the driver when you leave!
Tiffany: The 9 to 5 store operating hours which, on the bright side, makes you more productive as shopping time is limited!
Keanne: The hospitality of cashier workers. I’m always greeted by a ‘hello dear, how are you?’, which is different to how customer service is at home. Their politeness truly made me feel more welcome when I first arrived in the UK.
Q3: What’s the best way to make new friends?
Tianqing: Cook dishes from your home country and invite your flat mates for a feast. People really appreciate the authenticity, the culture behind it, and the effort you make.
Kylie: Try to arrive at your accommodation early to greet incoming flat mates and offer them help in unpacking. It’s a great way to start friendly conversations and to get comfortable with those that you’ll be living with for at least a year.
Shashank: Be open and have a good sense of humour! Invite those that you meet in classes to dinners, movies etc. Make sure you stay in touch on social media so that you can plan more gatherings together.
Maria: Be ready to learn about and respect new cultures and, most importantly, be yourself!
Q4: What is your number one cure for homesickness?
Tianqing: Keep yourself busy by taking short trips to museums and parks during your spare time. Don’t forget your camera!
Shashank: Chatting with my relatives via Facetime or Skype!
Maria: Being with friends. They’re like my second family, and expressing my feelings to them makes coping with homesickness much more easy.
Kylie: Decorate your room with photos of your home, family, and friends. If you’re comfortable, you’ll adapt to you new surroundings quicker.
Q5: If I wanted to learn more about the local culture, what do you suggest I do?
Shashank: Mingle with local students at society events. This helps you to learn about regional traditions that makes the UK amazingly unique.
Maria: Familiarise yourself with the local news through reading newspapers, and watch popular TV shows such as Doctor Who; it’s also a great way to hang out with friends!
Tiffany: The UK is rich in history, therefore travelling during the summer is definitely what I’d recommend. I personally enjoy visiting different castles. It’s educational, inspirational, and keeps you physically fit!
Kylie: Go to independent grocery stores with friends and chat with the employees to learn the local slang.
Q6: Do you have any suggestions for what international students could do to prepare themselves before coming to the UK?
Tianqing: Bring souvenirs from your home country. They don’t have to be fancy, but it can help in creating rapport with your dorm mates or to make new friends.
Shashank: Check out your university’s fresher’s week guide and sign up to events that interest you. Make sure you pack enough clothing suitable for all types of weather, since it’s not uncommon here for four seasons to occur in just one day!
Tiffany: Contact the British Council or the alumni community of your university in your home country. Settling in a new place always feels less terrifying if you can speak to someone who has gone through that experience.
Keanne: Ensure that you have enough £5, £10, and £20 bank notes as shops do not always accept £50 bank notes.
Final words of wisdom?
Studying in the UK can be one of the most rewarding phases in life. Make the most of each opportunity, live all moments to their fullest and, most importantly, enjoy it!