Hi everyone! After having discussed many aspects of academic and general everyday life in York in my previous blog posts I have decided to focus on something slightly more specific today: what it is like to be an International Student at the University of York.
York has a very big international community and you will find here people coming from all over the world. For us internationals, moving to uni is even a bigger deal than for British students because we are not simply moving out from our parents’ house, we are also moving to a new country, with a different culture and different lifestyle.
In order to cover as many aspects of the international life as possible, I will try to address some of the most common worries of international students (me included) at the eve of the big move to England.
DISCLAIMER: I will try to tackle most of the problems with a great deal of irony and self-deprecation so, please treat this article (that, as most of the times when talking about international people, involves stereotypes) as a funny and, hopefully, useful way to analyse we may face in the UK. I hope neither Brits nor international students will get offended!
We have been studying English for years, passed language tests and exams, got IELTS or TOEFL certification that gave us access to British universities. But still, every one of us is worried about moving to a country where you will have to speak a language that is not your mother tongue. We start filling our minds with plenty of “what ifs“… what if I do not understand what my lecturer is saying? What if my writing style is not suitable for English universities? What if my flatmates are all Scottish and I cannot understand a word of what they are talking about?
Of course, moving to another country is a big deal. At first, you probably won’t understand half of what people are saying (also because the Yorkshire accent is quite thick and hard to understand if you are not used to it). However, give yourself time to adjust. Soon enough, with practice and being surrounded every day by native English speakers, you will improve. Before you can even realize it, you will understand everything that your lecturer is saying – and you’ll even find yourself having a proper conversation with your Scottish flatmate. There is no such a thing as a language barrier…practice will make you smash it!
If the language barrier doesn’t truly exist, culture shock does! It is not a proper shock, is more like a gentle shake, but it still happens.
It is perfectly normal to be confused by some aspects of British culture at first. Having grown up in another country, with different traditions, uses and habits. I will briefly write about two aspects that got me disoriented in my first weeks in York.
The famous (or infamous) British drinking culture
This is not a criticism, because it is part of the identity of the country…it is just a bit overwhelming for those of us who are not used to it. York has more pubs and bars than cafés and people will ask you to go out for a drink more than for a coffee. In the end, it is quite funny when you overtake the initial confusion. House parties can be a great way to make new friends, even if, like me, you don’t want to drink as much as true British people do!
British people are extremely kind. They put “please” at the end of every question, are sometimes over-apologetic, and always ask “how you doing?” (sometimes meaning simply “Hello”, sometimes meaning “How are you?”) every time they see you. The struggle, at first, is not to seem impolite when you don’t apologize for everything, or if you forget to put “please” at the end of your question. But don’t worry… you will get used to it and will start using the same expressions automatically.
Okay… let’s be serious… If you, like me, come from a country blessed enough to have more sun than rain and where the temperatures rarely drop under 0°, then the weather is going to be an issue. York is not particularly cold, compared to other areas of the North, and I have never seen the temperatures going under -6° in my year and a half here, but still…
Rain and clouds are regular companions. The few days of sun, that make everyone smile and be in a good mood are, for those of us coming from warm countries, like the best thing that can happen in the whole month. One thing I will never get used to in York: the wind. It blows incredibly strong and sometimes it makes it even difficult to walk in a straight line. The weather can also sometimes go crazy so that you get an incredibly hot weather for one week and then snow on the 8th day or hail in May. The best advice I can give you: pack your winter clothes before anything else 😉
You can’t avoid them and, to be fair, they are pretty funny. As soon as people know that you come from a foreign country, they will start to overwhelm you with stereotypes they know about your culture and ask you if they are true.
Stereotypes simply show that people are interested in you and in your culture. They want to know more about it from you. Countless times I have heard stereotypes of Italian people. A few examples: people saying that my accent is “sexy” and try to imitate it, hand gestures meaning clarifications, “How you can eat all those carbs?”, “Do you eat anything else than pasta?”, “Mafia”, “Pizza, pasta and mandolino” and so on.
Many friends, though, ask me to tell them what stereotypes international people have on Brit. So it is a mutual mocking and exchange.
Finally the biggest and most serious problem of them all… homesickness. Living thousands of miles away from home can be a real struggle. You can’t just go home for the weekend as many British friends will do. You will have to wait until the next long holiday to fly back home. So, for months on end, you won’t see your family and your childhood friends. Sometimes you can’t even call them (international roaming problems). Even if social networks and Skype make everything easier, it is not the same as hugging them and telling them how much you miss them.
However, York has many International Societies. You can join the society of your country to meet all the people who share your same nationality and share the burden with them (don’t forget you are all in the same boat). There you’ll find someone with which you can speak your native language and cook traditional food (that always helps you feel at home).
Moreover, when you get into the swing of the first term at uni, with the academic commitments, the new friends, and the extracurricular activities. You will soon discover that you haven’t time to get homesick and that the holidays are fast approaching and you definitely need to book your ticket back home before the flight sells out.
The most important thing to remember is…
No matter where you come from, England is an amazing country to live in. York will welcome you and make you feel part the wonderful University of York community.