Settling into university: the trials and tribulations of an international student

Starting university can be an incredibly overwhelming experience, from the new environment to the new people. For an international student this overwhelming experience is intensified as you immerse yourself in a completely new culture. You have to deal with culture shock in addition to the things that come with going to university for the first time and settling in. 

Overcoming homesickness

When I first got to York, my initial excitement quickly washed away and gave way to really bad homesickness. This was especially once my parents said their goodbyes after helping me move into my new room. Although I spent a lot of Freshers Week feeling really down and spent nights just crying in my room, I managed to overcome my homesickness by doing a few little things like decorating my room with photos of family and things that brought me joy and comfort like posters, my favourite books etc. Calling family occasionally throughout the term also helped me not miss home as much. 

Decorating your room helps you to feel at home

Keeping busy

I also received really good advice from an older student when I first came here: keep yourself busy. I realized that once my classes started and after I joined a few student groups, I became incredibly busy. As a result, didn’t really think about how far away from home and family I was. As someone who enjoys having a routine and having structure to a day, I found that keeping myself busy helped me deal with my homesickness. It made me settle into university life quicker. 

Settling into the new academic environment

The academic environment at university is very different from the environment in sixth form or secondary school. Dealing with the transition from one to the other can be challenging and also stress-inducing. York offers an incredible support system and taking advantage of that can really help streamline the process of settling into university.

Finding support

Your first port of call whilst you’re doing your degree at York is your pastoral supervisor. They will meet up with you regularly throughout the academic year and check up on how you’re doing. They are someone in your department who you can go to for help. This can be for academic support or if you’re struggling with something outside of your studies and would like to talk about it.

Tutors are there to help

The tutors in your department are also a great help when it comes to your academic work. You can talk to them during their office hours. This can be about things like upcoming assignments or general worries about how you’re doing.

For the first few weeks of second year, I found myself feeling really stressed about my studies and felt that I was unequipped to deal with the assigned reading. I felt that I lacked the knowledge base to tackle huge texts because of my different academic background. I spoke to one of my tutors about it. She reassured me and made me feel at ease, making me feel much less overwhelmed. The English department has been endlessly supportive and accommodating.

If you feel like you’re having a tough time with the new academic environment, my main advice would be to talk to someone in your department or your pastoral supervisor. 

Talking to someone

It’s very easy to come into university feeling inferior and feeling that everyone is much better than you. But you should know that almost everyone will feel this way and that you’re not alone. Talking to someone is a great first step to take and you will definitely feel better afterwards. Your department, supervisor or even your friends and fellow coursemates will be able to reassure you, advise you or point you in the right direction to the support available. 

Settling into university by taking part in student life on campus

I was worried about making friends, not knowing anyone before coming to York. I have joined student groups like the Malaysian Society and Theatre in Schools and found like-minded people who have made my university life better and brighter.

As obvious as this sounds, joining clubs, societies and sports clubs and getting involved in things like volunteering can allow you to meet new people, people who share the same interests. It’s good to get out of your room and take a break from your studies by immersing yourself in the vibrant student life on and off campus. 

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Mi Chelle

Hi my name is Mi Chelle (same pronunciation as Michelle) and I'm a 2nd year English student from Malaysia.

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