It has been over two years since I moved to the UK to study, and they have been two of the most incredible, dramatic and ridiculous years of my life. I have grown up in international communities, living in Uganda and then Switzerland. Despite my parents both being from Cheltenham, I never lived in the UK before coming to study here. So here are some thoughts, reflections and observations on life at uni.
You have an accent
That sounds blatantly obvious. Everyone has an accent – according to some studies, goats in different parts of the world have different accents. I sometimes find it frustrating when people ask how I speak such good English, or where I learned to speak it. Never mind it being my first language and my passport being British, my accent attracts questions wherever I go. But I have started to turn it into a game; where do you think my accent is from?
Australia, South Africa, Ireland, Germany, Russia, Wales (!), New Zealand, America and France have all come up more than once. The funniest moment I had was in an airport in Switzerland, where an Irish woman heard me talking and came up and asked how long I was visiting for, and how I found the flight. It turned out, she had just gotten off a flight from Dublin and assumed by my accent that I was also Irish… an Irish person mistook me for Irish! That said, I love Irish accents so I’ll happily accept anyone who thinks mine could be.
You need effective clothing
This tends not to be a message that is needed by people from countries with serious winters, such as Norway and Finland. It’s more for the warmer-climate students I have met, who do not experience harsh, cold winters. To emulate Shrek, I would say that like an ogre, we must have layers. The difference in temperature between the snowy outdoors and the heated Spring Lane Building is ridiculous. You will need to have a jacket that can deal with the rain, with the wind, and with the cold that comes with waiting for the 66 bus to turn up.
Public transport is different
I lived in Switzerland. Swiss people are, like the stereotype, quite punctual. The trains tend not to be late, and if they are, there’s a bit of a fuss over it. Buses plan commuter traffic into their routes and connect directly to trains, creating an idea that you should be able to ‘walk off the bus, directly onto a train, onto a bigger train’, etc.
This is not the case in the UK. Trains and buses do not work as efficiently here (especially as we’re not in a massive city like London). I did not respect this change in my first year and missed a train to visit my grandparents. I have since built an hour into my trips to the train station, just in case the buses aren’t in a cooperative mood that day.
The Northern obsession with gravy is a godsend
It is cold here. You can drink all the tea in the world and tell me that curling up with enough blankets will help you warm up, but I don’t think you can beat a good portion of chips and gravy.
Gravy has a magical ability to warm your stomach and radiate to your soul. Chips and gravy are not just ‘night out’ food, they are ‘cold day’ food, or ‘bad day’ food. Gravy will cover up the cracks in your mood and put off homesickness. You’ll miss it when you’re back home and your relatives don’t serve it.
Homesickness is an unpredictable beast
To call homesickness a beast is not an overstatement. It sneaks up on you when you’re having a great time with your friends, or when you’re alone, or when you stare at a tree and it triggers a memory. My best advice for it is to let your family or friends know you miss them, and then hang out with your current friends. If you wallow in homesickness in your room (as I occasionally did) you won’t make it any better. York is your second home. That doesn’t happen if you don’t go out and explore it.
York is beautiful
You couldn’t pick a more beautiful place to come to university. The Minster, the Shambles, and the markets all make it a wonderful place to live. There’s a lot of culture and history here, as well as a decent nightlife for students. The gardens by the Minster are a lovely place to sit down and relax, whilst wandering down the Christmas market is the most cheerful, wholesome experience I can recommend. If you’re feeling homesick, go remind yourself of how amazing the place you study in is!
I didn’t have to give up my passions
I was scared that in coming to uni, I’d lose out on what I loved. When I left school, I was passionate about volleyball, about academia and student journalism. Two and a half years later, I’m still playing volleyball, in the loop on student media outlets and working as a student rep to improve my department. Just because it’s a new place, doesn’t mean you will lose any of the stuff you love.
York is international
In my flat in first year, three out of eight of us were international students who had lived abroad. I still live with two of the people from my first year flat. There are international societies as well as various individual country or ethnicity societies. You could never feel out of place at York, as it is a city and campus that embraces all.
It never gets less busy
There is something about university life that means it is constantly a whirlwind. It may be because living with friends throws out any sense of a routine, or that term whizzes by in short, 10-week bursts, but it is always full-on. Your parents will complain about the ridiculous amount of holiday but really, you need it to recover from the sheer amount of stuff you do.
It’s not all fun and games, but sometimes it is
There are definitely times I’ve struggled at university, be it with homesickness, break ups or mental health. But I have an amazing support network of friends and wellbeing officers that have helped me get through it. I’ve seen people do ridiculous things and mysteries I never solved (please see the picture of the melted colander that appeared outside my flat in first year, without explanation). For every moment of difficulty I have had at York, there have been a million more of love.
Read more international student blogs