Satomi from Japan, PhD in Biochemistry
Satomi Miwa, 40, from Japan
Postdoctoral researcher at Newcastle University
Previous UK education: BSc Human Sciences, University College London; MSc Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Glasgow; PhD Biochemistry, University of Cambridge
I think English (or any language) is best learned through life and culture. In the UK, people treated me like a family member – I was even invited to family homes at Christmas and in holidays! I couldn’t believe the friendliness and welcome I received from people.
I first came here when I was 19 to do a foundation English course so my language level would be good enough to apply to UK universities. I liked sports, and since school, I had wanted to become a sports scientist so I could learn more about the medical side of sport and to promote people’s health through sports. I knew that the subject was very strong in the UK, so I thought I would love to study here and study in English.
I became interested in exercise and free radicals during my MSc at Glasgow University, then I got a PhD to work on free radicals and mitochondria at the University of Cambridge. That led me eventually to my postdoctorate in premature ageing at Newcastle University.
In Japan, people are talking a lot about the ageing population and interest in this kind of research is increasing – partly out of necessity. Japanese researchers come to the UK to speak to experts about ageing research, so I think I might be able to contribute to the advances in ageing research in Japan in future – I’ve studied here, and of course I can speak English too.
Before I came, I could not imagine what it was like to study abroad, but the British Council in Japan was very helpful. I went to a British universities’ fair they organised, where I met representatives of universities – the first time I’d ever spoken to British people!
The British Council put me in touch with a Japanese student who’d studied here, and I remember one thing he wrote to me: ‘Come only if you are really sure you want to study in the UK!’ He was not intending to discourage me, but rather to point out that life is not always easy when you go abroad. This isn’t a holiday, and you’ll face some challenges.
A lot of bright brains come here from all over the place, and I had to retake one year of my three-year BSc because my English wasn’t good enough yet, but my university was really supportive then and helped me get through it – and I still wanted to study here even after those difficulties, and having to go home and work between the degrees.
Science is very exciting here; it’s all about noticing even a tiny thing you don’t understand, asking questions and trying things out. You see different people with different talents, and have fun socially too – it’s not just work! We go out at the weekend, and every year my supervisor, Professor Thomas von Zglinicki, throws a fantastic party at his house by a beautiful beach (even though it often rains a bit)!
When I did that first language course, the tutors encouraged us to find opportunities to mix with local people. So I did – I joined a running club, a walking club, and went along to various events for international students. I have many great friends, many of them through the university running and walking clubs. I’ve become a keen runner and have taken part in the London Marathon a number of times… such a special experience!
Most cities in the UK have international student clubs too – I like the Globe International Students’ café, a meet-up organised by volunteers from local churches, which is a great place to meet British people and students from all over the world. People come of all ages and all religions, even if they’re not students, to learn about British culture and to showcase their own culture. I love being able to give advice to students facing similar problems to ones I faced.
I’d advise any students who want to study in the UK to do a pre-sessional English course; it not only gives you a chance to practise English, but also gets you used to living in the UK – such as finding out where to buy things – and is a good chance to make friends. Also, find out if your university offers a ‘welcome team’ when you arrive – a group of people can come to meet you at the airport or station when you arrive.
My parents couldn’t believe the help there was for international students in the UK, and I knew straight away I wanted to come back here. I now think that it is down to the historical traditions in the UK for systems such as ethics, healthcare, and the way they look at society – that’s why I feel so at home.
It’s so international here – and a great family atmosphere.
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