As an international student, it’s sometimes hard to shake off the sense of being an outsider, of not belonging to the community as much as other people. However, I’ve found that York is a really welcoming, friendly city, and settling in to York did not turn out to be as daunting as I expected!
Put yourself out there
As an international student, coming to a foreign country to study entails getting used to the way of life here, from figuring out the quirky slang terms from regional UK dialects, attuning your ears to recognizing different English accents, to adapting to the weather. It’s been a unique, eye-opening experience for me and has significantly widened my worldview.
Coming from an urban, ultra-modern city such as Singapore, I was used to towering skyscrapers, futuristic shopping mall facades, glassy condominiums, and minimalist, modern architecture. As such, York’s rustic vibe, short brick buildings, small boutique shops, and beautiful cobblestone streets mesmerized me from the beginning (and the beautiful gothic York Minster too). I had to slowly get used to the opening and closing hours of shops here, figure out where to do my groceries, and settle into a new routine.
One piece of advice I’d give prospective international students would be to be open-minded and curious. View your university experience as an opportunity to learn more about another culture and country, and a chance to try out new food and discover new TV shows to obsess over. Please don’t hole up in your room—try to get to know your flat-mates! (It helps to think of finding common points of interest, such as a band, a YouTube vlogger, a sport, or a favourite ice cream flavor.)
Try not to be intimidated by the foreignness of it all! If it makes you feel better, everyone starting Uni will be just as lost as you are. Most of the students coming to study at York don’t come from York originally, so you won’t be the only one getting lost about town in September. Luckily, York isn’t huge and it only took me about a month or two to figure out how to navigate the many small streets in the city center. On a side note, going out to explore York with your new friends is a great way to get to know each other! From the amazing buskers, to cosy hipster cafes and high street retail shops, I feel that York’s got just the right amount of everything for a cute day out.
Find a community
I think one of the main challenges of being an international student is the homesickness one may feel. I recall periods where I could be in a kitchen full of my flat-mates, chatting and laughing over random silly things, but snap straight into homesickness the next moment when walking to class. This happened quite a bit in my first term, but has since faded as I found friends who had similar international backgrounds. It helps to find people who relate to your experience as an international student, and I’m glad to say that the University provides many opportunities for that.
There’s a society at university called the International Students’ Association (ISA), which hosts regular coffee afternoons every Wednesday for fellow international students to mingle and make friends, whilst enjoying free refreshments. I think this is a great chance to meet other students, who like you, come from a foreign country, and as such, will probably have a similar university experience. If you miss food from home, the ISA organises events such as the Global Week Food Festival where international student societies such as the Thai Society and the Scandinavian Society prepare their traditional food.
Coming from Singapore, I joined the Singapore Society in first year. I met up with the Singaporeans currently studying at York through Singapore Society’s own Fresher’s Week get-together meal to find out about things like what foods and spices to bring from home and what to leave behind because the Asian supermarkets sold it here. I also found it comforting to hear the familiar Singapore English accent, and slang terms that only Singaporeans understood. It felt like a home away from home.
A two-way knowledge exchange
Being an international student at York has resulted in some quite funny experiences for me, such as waiting in line for the toilet at a club, Mansion, in Fresher’s Week and trying to describe where I come from to a tipsy, confused girl waiting in line before me above the noise of the music.
Not only is Singapore, my home country, in a completely different continent on the other side of the world, and physically a tiny country, but Chinese takeaways here have a dish called ‘Singapore Noodles’, when there’s no such dish back home. This means I face a lot of confused looks during small talk when people tell me about how much they love Singapore noodles, only to have me reply that I’ve never tried such a dish. This often leads to a question on food in Singapore, and usually ends up with people telling me they’d like to visit someday to try out our real cuisine!
From small occurrences like this, I see how being an international student not only means learning more about a new country but also entails learning how to talk about your home country. Exchanging stories of our different cultural experiences with my British friends has resulted in a mutual gain of knowledge! As my new friends tell me anecdotes of their school lives in the UK, I share mine too, and we have quite a lot of fun comparing our experiences growing up.
It’s been about eighteen months since I started studying at York, and I can safely say that my experience as an international student has been highly fulfilling. It has taught me important lessons of independence and resilience, and has also made me fall in love with a city I will remember fondly for the rest of my life.