5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming to the UK

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An international student gives advice to all individuals coming to the United Kingdom for the first time. 

If you are reading this, you are most probably slightly terrified with the decision to move away from home and start a whole new university life in the UK. Don’t worry! Most international students, including myself, have loved the university experience from A to Z. 

Admittedly, in the beginning, a lot of us wished we had had some inside tips and a tiny bit more advice from experienced internationals. Therefore, here are five things I wish I was aware of before moving to study in the UK!

1. Beware your diet

Coming back home for the first time, my mum gave me an ‘Oh My Days’ look. I had spots all over my face, had gained an extra 7 kilos and – as it later turned out – gastritis.

The UK has a very multicultural society, and that is why the food here is so diverse. You are constantly tempted to try a wide variety of new-to-your-stomach meals. It turns out that radical changes in your diet can not only deteriorate your physical health, but also affect you mentally. 

A taste of home is sometimes all you need to calm down after a bad day. Therefore, don’t be ashamed to cook the food you used to have back at home, no matter what your flatmates might think of your mysterious meal. In this way you will keep your stomach happy by slowly introducing it to unknown food over a period of time, stay positive, and feel less homesick!

2. Learn how to manage your time

University always gives you more freedom than you had at school, but the UK system is on the next level of freedom; this might seem shocking at the beginning. The small amount of contact hours allows you to find a part-time job or be professionally involved in sports, be an artist or entrepreneur and maybe even travel more than usual. 

However, when getting involved in so many extra-curricular activities, you may forget you are enrolled in a course at university. You have to remember that the ‘free time’ you are given is also meant to be spent on independent studying!

Why not try balancing your life by taking your new friends not only to bars, but occasionally inviting them to have a library session? Going to study together in the library is a common practice and will help you to concentrate, and maybe even get some help to solve that problem for your next seminar!

3. Get used to how British people speak

Coming from anywhere else in the world, you will definitely realise just how polite the UK is. If you are coming from a part of the world where the culture implies being straight forward, not only will you realise the politeness, you will also have to make quite a big effort to fit in. 

Appointments, negotiations, phone calls, coffee orders, even simple greetings should all be done with special care and attention! If not, people might consider you rude. It took me a while to understand why small talk is essential and how a simple discussion about the weather can disclose a person’s mood. 

You will hear people talk around you; all you need is to learn from them and then practice. Don’t forget to smile!

4. Open your social circle as much as possible

Making friends can be difficult, but making good friends and seeing them leave a year later is worse. Make sure you do not exclusively befriend Erasmus students coming to study for only a semester or two. If you do, this could mean that when you come back for your second year of university, all of your friends will be gone!

You will, of course, meet other people later, but you may also feel a little lonely for a while; that is exactly when you have to focus on studying hard. Try having a mixed group or several groups of friends. Some from your course, some from your accommodation or societies. It will allow you to expand your circle of friends and make sure you are not feeling ‘alone’ in your second year.

5. If you don’t understand something, just ask! 

Finally, when I first came to the UK, I thought I knew how to speak English. Leeds taught me the opposite. I struggled with the local accent, the local slang, the random ‘Cheers’ instead of ‘Thank You’ and ‘You are welcome’. 

I was lost at first, and spent evenings translating untranslatable words. I was worried until circumstances forced me to ask someone in my class to explain a word to me, and to my surprise he did! I’ve found that, for the most part, lecturers and students are always ready to help and explain if there is a word you don’t know. All you need to do is ask!