Leeds: The International City

Laura Manzi interviews members of the diverse international student population

Interview 1: Raluca – Romania

We sit at the Balcony with our coffee, and she starts smiling shyly. I am so glad she accepted to be interviewed, this adorable girl. Raluca is a second year student, currently studying English and Comparative Literature. Twenty years old and blue limpid eyes; she emanates pureness. Born and raised in Romania, she tells me about her experience in Leeds.

R: I like the city, Leeds is so nice. And different form my hometown. Bucarest is much bigger, and I always have to take the underground. Here, I can walk anywhere. Leeds is such a friendly environment.

L: How was the shift from Romanian lifestyle to the English one? How long did it take to get used to it?

R: A long time! I still have to get used to it, actually, [she laughs]. You know what I don’t understand? The tap! Really, it is a serious problem. The water is either too cold or too hot. I can’t deal with this anymore. English people should cope with this issue.

L: What do you like the most about the Uni of Leeds?

R: The reason why I love to study in Leeds is the huge International student presence. Being surrounded by students like me helped me feeling more comfortable and welcome. Even though it is not easy to be an International student. I miss home many times.

L: It is not easy. I am sure that many students would agree with you. And I guess you miss your family, don’t you?

Yes, and my country. Romanians have different habits, and sometimes, here in UK, many people who have a different cultural background don’t understand me and my behaviour. I miss the food too, I started to appreciate Morrisons’ frozen pizza and nutella. But most of all I miss my family.

‘How has your life changed since you have been living in England?’

It was an enormous shift. With two brothers, one sister, my parents and my grandmother, my house was always busy and I was used to be surrounded by sounds, voices, laughter.  People were filling up every empty space of the house, but here I felt incredibly alone. At home, all those presences around me made the atmosphere warmer and I never felt cold. I felt cold in England, though.

‘How many times did you visit your family during your first year?

Last year, I went home for Christmas, Easter, and then two more times during the second semester. I decided to go back home since I was really missing it and feeling alone. At one point, I didn’t want to go out anymore, I stopped being sociable, I couldn’t focus on my studies and for some reasons I felt scared.

L: Didn’t you meet some nice people in Leeds?

R: I met many people during the Fresher’s week, which was absolutely amazing. But then we didn’t keep talking. Around March, I wanted to quit uni. I couldn’t bear the distance and the loneliness anymore. I was very determined; I packed my stuff, bought the flight ticket. Fortunately, my parents dissuaded me; they have been very supportive. I had also emailed one of my lecturers, and he helped me making the good decision. He told me how fundamental I was. Me, – a weird, tiny, young girl from Eastern Europe- was fundamental for one of the best universities on the planet. His caring and the importance that he gave to me persuaded me to stay. Now I am so pleased I am still here, I would have regretted it forever, if I had left uni.

L: And how do you feel now? Did you overcome your insecurities?

R: Yes, totally. I am perfectly fine now. I am meeting some more people; my new flatmates are really friendly and am enjoying my course.

L:  you happy of studying in Leeds now?

R: Of course. Probably, last year I wasn’t ready to face a new life in a different country, but I can say that today I am really content and satisfied. This great and challenging experience is teaching me a lot, and if I hadn’t gone through that, I would have never learned all these shades about myself. I grew up; I feel more confident now, and really excited about the adventures that my second year will offer me.

Interview 2: Gio – Corfu

Gio is a second year student. 21-year old and incredibly smiley and vivacious, he transmits me joy from the first instant. He is really talkative, has a great story to tell, and he feels immediately at ease chatting with me.

L: Tell me something about your hometown. Is it an exciting place to live?

G: Yes, it is. I was raised in a small Island in Greece, called Corfu. Corfu is a very touristic place, very warm. I interact and work with tourists from all over the world every Summer, which is a great experience. I am glad I grew up in a place full of beautiful landscape and natural parks; I had a simple and peaceful childhood. There are always many things to do. For example, now the Wine Festival is taking place in Corfu and in all the other Greek islands. We celebrate the god Dionysus: fresh wine and grapes are served, music is played and everybody wears garlands. It is such a great celebration.

L: How does it feel to move from a small place to a bigger International platform like Leeds?

G: I’m quite used to an International environment: my mother is from Canada, and my father is Italian. Furthermore, I left Greece when I was eighteen, and I spent two years studying in Canada. It was a big change, mainly for the huge weather shift.

L: How come did you chose to leave Canada and come to England?

G: After Canada, I decide to continue with the BA in English and Film Studies in England. My choice was mainly carried by a need to be closer to Greece. I had good friends in Canada, and I still talk to them, but I needed to feel myself closer to my home and to engage with Europeans. My years in Canada provided me with great experiences, and I learnt how to adapt myself to a different ambience. However, moving then to Leeds wasn’t easy, even if it wasn’t the first time that I changed country of residence.

L: Why wasn’t it easy? Didn’t you felt at home?

G: I felt the weight of it, the responsibility of studying here in England. I was getting scared of being alone in a foreign country, and I had a cultural and psychological shock. The apex was in Freshers’ week, when – instead of going out, drinking and partying – I spent the whole week in a hotel. I refused to move into the accommodation and I stayed in Leeds as a mere tourist. It was my way of dealing with this fear, by postponing the beginning of my studies in Leeds and needing some time to relax. Everything was different, for me. But at the same time, I had to recognise there is a beauty. There is a beauty in the fact that you don’t know anything about the place where you are or the people who live there. I felt this ambiguous feeling of being scared and amazed at the same time.

L: What was your main fear?

G: I was afraid of failing, of not being smart and good enough. Furthermore, I met so many people with different background; it was confusing to understand and create a relationship with them. In Corfu I was used to meet the same type of people every day. In Leeds, I realised that I could have chosen my friends and I would have had a diverse kind of relationship with people from the most disparate country and social, cultural history.

L: How have things changed? Did you overcome your fears?

G: Yes, I did. Now that I consider Leeds my home, I feel more motivated. I am a member of many societies; I am looking for a part-time job; I take every opportunities; I’m applying for internship, and I’m studying more. I am really determinate to succeed and enjoy my permanence in Leeds. During the first year, I didn’t go out a lot, and I didn’t attend many events – I guess it was also because of the weather, I hated to go out with the rain, – but this year I’m mentally prepared to face it. I just need to organise the schedule and keep being enthusiastic!

Interview 3: Hamza – Algeria

Hamza is a sweet and immensely king guy. He is 25 years old and he is doing a Master in Design. He thanks me for inviting him, and then I thank him for coming. So we basically spend the first five minutes saying ‘thank you’ repeatedly…

L: From Algeria to United Kingdom. What are the main dissimilarities you encountered?

H: Well, there is a colossal difference between the English and Algerian culture. In Algeria, all people are friendly, enthusiastic. Then the family is strongly important. For example, I always have lunch with my mother, my brothers, my sister and my father; and if sometimes my father is late from work, we wait for him. The religion is a fundamental element of our culture as well.

L: How does religion permeate your culture and customs?

H: It strongly impacts our daily life: all our habits are linked with religion. For example, alcohol is forbidden, especially drinking in the streets. The British ‘drinking culture’ was a massive change and surprise. I’d say that Algerian society is a mixture of family, religion, and friendship. Money is not important, is is only secondary.

L: So getting used to Leeds must have been difficult for you?

H: Not too much. Before coming to Leeds, I had already spent five years in Dubai, as an undergraduate. There are lots of Europeans in Dubai, so I had the chance to start getting closer to the other cultures and habits. Moreover, I spent four months in Liverpool with and English family. They were lovely; I felt so welcomed. They also helped me by supplying me with many useful information. When I came to Leeds, I was already prepared.

L: Have you ever experienced racism here in England?

H: Just once. I was at the station in Liverpool. It was 9pm and my friends and I met a drunk man. He was shouting ‘F*ck Muslims! Get out of our country, we do not want you here’` But two British guys intervened immediately and called the police.

L: What about your hometown?

H: My city is called Ouargla, situated right in the heart of the desert. Ouargla owns a huge amount of oil and gas in the subsoil; for this reason there are many Italian, French, American companies. They are welcomed in Algeria, and I guess it is hard for them to adapt themselves to our culture. However, there are many mixed marriages, particularly in the North of Algeria. It mainly happens between French people and Algerians.

L: Do you miss Algeria and your family? Do you feel homesick sometimes?

H: Not really. I can always talk to my family and friend back home thanks to all modern technology. And to be honest, I sometimes feel the need of being independent.

L: Why Leeds? Are you still happy with your choice and what do you think are the negative aspects of England?

H: I considered many other universities before choosing Leeds. Finally, my decision was led by the ranking. Moreover, I first came to Leeds in 2014 and I felt in love with the city. I love the UK. Maybe the only negative aspect is that during Spring and Summer the days are longer and doing the Ramadan is harder. And speaking of it, my flatmate who is always cooking pork. I guess she does it because she does not want to share her food with me! [he laughs] I am joking, she is lovely.

By Laura Manzi

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