In most respects, I imagine this guide won’t vary much from the home students’ guide. International students are after all just normal students (despite the massively increased cost!)
One of the most important things to do whilst at University is to get out of your comfort zone – something involving exposure to new people, new events and new ideas. The best way to do this is to make sure you interact with people outside of your national/religious/cultural group. The experiences you get when dealing with people you wouldn’t normally spend time with or in places you wouldn’t normally go may in fact be some of the most memorable times you have at Uni. Whilst, of course, it is important to stay in touch with your own cultures, it’s also important to remember that part of the reason to come to a foreign country is the exposure to the unknown cultures and experiences. Sticking to the familiar is a sure-fire way to lose out on a myriad of things you would otherwise experience.
This is particularly important when there is a language barrier. International students, especially those who belong to a majority on campus, tend to form their own small groups, and avoid interacting with other students. This could not only affect your social life, but could even impede your academic work if your grasp of English isn’t up to par. This wouldn’t necessarily affect all courses, but would certainly affect some. It’s possible to take English language courses during term-time which would be helpful if you’d like to improve your language skills. These courses are a useful thing to have on your CV, especially if you want to work in the UK after Uni and need to prove your language skills.
For most international students, coming to Britain is a massive culture shock, especially for those who haven’t been abroad before. Partly it’s the weather – the cold can be a serious damper on life especially when you aren’t used to it. There isn’t much you can do about it but at least we get occasional snow! York doesn’t seem to rain quite as much as other parts of England – definitely a plus!
It is worth reading up a bit on the culture and lifestyle before coming to England. Although England is a tiny island, there are many differences between counties (regional areas). The major difference is the many dialects of the English language, which means that if you’re travelling around England, it may be difficult to understand people in other parts of the country, particularly if you’re used to a certain accent/dialect.
England’s food habits are also quite different to other countries – something you’ll realise the moment you have your first Efes (something you just have to experience for yourself…). There are a few cafeterias on campus and some excellent restaurants, café’s and bars in town. Being able to cook is a good bonus but not necessary as there’s a good meal plan on campus. However, it does limit your options, particularly if you really miss your home country’s cuisine.
You should remember that it’s completely normal to experience homesickness to initially – something which is likely to plague international students’ far more than home students, particularly because we don’t have the option of going home at the weekends. As long as you stay in close touch with your family and friends at home and also ensure you get to know the people you live with and people on your course, the homesickness is likely to pass quite quickly. However, if it doesn’t, it still doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the wrong Uni and there are systems in place for people who feel so. International Students’ can always contact members of the International Students’ Association (ISA) or phone Nightline. Remember that you can always change house/flat if you really don’t get on with your housemates. (This is where it’s especially useful that international students get housing preference.)
Most of the above is just logistics. The most important thing really is to be who you are, make an effort with the people you live with and the people on your course, work (as much as needed) on your degree and hopefully you’ll really enjoy it. There’s much to be got out of Uni – the freedom for starters. It’s a place to discover who you are and who you want to be. Don’t be afraid to take a chance, to start a conversation or to talk to people you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether you follow the advice in this guide or not, just remember these are meant to be the best days of your lives!
(Photo of Efe’s: Ceri Oakes. Photo of snow: Chris Northwood)