This post was written by an external contributor. Anca Coman draws on her own experiences to prepare anyone who is considering studying abroad.
Coming to university in the UK was a dream come true for me. I did my research for my future university, course and the city I would be living in for the next three years. I was all excited about becoming a media student in a foreign country and getting to know the British culture, and I couldn’t wait to join the television society and meet loads of new friends from all over the world.
However, I never thought that moving to a new place and starting from the bottom would be so difficult. Despite being an amazing opportunity, this huge change came with some major challenges. So, if you’re considering becoming an international student, here’s some things to be aware of:
The linguistic barrier will always be an issue
I’ve been learning English since the third grade. I was enrolled in a bilingual class which I studied for six hours a week, and I passed the Cambridge Advanced in English with an A. Pretty cool, right?
However, when I moved to the UK, I’ve realised not only that different British accents were quite hard to understand, but also that I couldn’t express myself as clearly and precisely as I could in my native language. When telling jokes or stories, some people wouldn’t react as I expected. The linguistic barrier was definitely an issue which affected my social and communication skills.
After four years of living in the UK, I now totally understand British accents, but I still believe the linguistic barrier doesn’t allow myself to express as freely as I wish.
It’s not easy to make friends
I’ve always been a bubbly and extroverted person, having the ability to talk to strangers and make friends. I showcased this at university; getting to know my peers, attending various societies and getting a part-time job.
However, this isn’t like secondary school, where you’re stuck with the same people every day and (like or not) you eventually become best friends. Being in a completely new environment and starting afresh can be extremely difficult. You’re very often around different people, so it can be hard to sustain a meaningful connection.
My advice? Take advantage of societies and activities as much as possible, as this is a good way to bond with people who have the same interests as you.
The first few months are the hardest
Any beginning is difficult, but starting out as an international student will be probably be one of the biggest challenges that you’ll ever face. From making friends, to getting to know the academia, to dealing with deadlines and of course adjusting to the new culture.
However, this is one of the best things that you can do to transition into adulthood. All your home comforts are far away, so you’re forced to make it on your own and cope with life without relying on your family. It can be scary, and it may even seem impossible to handle at first. But as I’ll explain, things will get better in time, so hang in there!
University assignments are different
There’s no doubt that moving to an international university will mean that the assignment styles will change. Some countries have different rules for exams, or prefer to assess you via essays and coursework. You’ll have to adapt to this new style, and it can be quite jarring.
Attending all of your lectures and seminars will help you clarify a few things, but it’s highly likely that most of your work will be done alone. From reading tons of books, to writing that 3,000 word essay. To avoid loneliness, I would recommend arranging group studies with your friends. That way you can spend some quality time with them whilst still being productive,
Be patient – it will get better!
Everything will get better in time. You just need a lot of patience and strength to overcome potential obstacles.
For the linguistic barrier, my number one tip is to not translate every word from your native language. Many phrases and words don’t even exist, or mean a completely different thing. Find your way into the language by talking to others and learning organically.
For making friends, get to know your fellow students on your course and start going out more often. What I personally regret the most is not staying in student accommodation during my first year. This is where most students make friends, so I’d highly recommend it for anyone studying abroad!
Finally for the university assignments, don’t be afraid to ask for help – go see your tutor, attend practical workshops, and check the library website for style and referencing. Remember you’re at the very beginning, so you’re entitled to ask for help!