Arriving in York (or in the UK in general) as an international student can be an overwhelming and stressful experience. New country, city, university, people…it can be a lot to take in. When I first moved to York in my first year, it was in fact my very first time in the UK. It felt like I was being thrown headfirst into the unknown. To be honest, I was incredibly disoriented and had jet lag, to the point where I even got lost in Alcuin College! When I arrived in York, there was a lot of information. Having it all in one place would’ve helped, so here’s some university tips to help you settle you in.
1. Packing Woes
Packing is one of the most dreaded things about travelling and moving to a new country for university means you’ll be packing more than you normally would for a holiday. There’s a lot to consider and there’s always a worry about forgetting anything important by the time you arrive. One thing I found useful was to make a detailed checklist of everything I was planning on bringing. I broke things down into categories like important documents, clothes, toiletries and miscellaneous things like photos or posters. Do also check airport rules and baggage limitations for what you can and cannot pack in your carry-on and check-in luggage’s, as each airline does things differently. Flying is stressful as it is, so making sure you’re not packing things incorrectly will save you the panic when you go through security checks.
2. Preparing to pack
Some people choose to ship things over in advance, but that can be costly. Another thing worth taking into account is how much luggage space you have and whether anyone will be travelling to the UK with you to help you move in. My parents came with me to help me move in, but I still didn’t have a huge amount of luggage space, with one backpack and two large suitcases. It’s good to not overpack, and to know what you can just buy when you arrive. Kitchenware, bedsheets, stationery, and appliances like rice cookers you can buy in the UK, both online and in store, so ideally you shouldn’t have them take up precious luggage space.
3. Take note of practical differences
Malaysia has the same electric socket style as the UK so I didn’t need to pack this, but you should bring a universal charger/adapter with you for your laptop, phone/tablet chargers. For clothes, while the UK has long winter periods, be prepared for any kind of weather. Pack both winter clothes and summery clothes like T-shirts, shorts and skirts for when it gets warmer. When I first came to the UK, my wardrobe was made up almost entirely of winter coats, jumpers, jackets and other long-sleeved tops and bottoms. I was used to the hot and humid weather from home, and was worried about getting cold at university. While the clothes I brought made me very prepared to face the winter chill and occasional snow, it meant that when summer came in first year I was sweating underneath my thick jumpers and jeans. One of my key university tips to help you settle you in the UK, is to bring a range of clothes!
An essential thing to have on you when you travel to the UK is a folder containing all your important documents (e.g. offer letter, documents used to apply for your visa like a TB certificate, vaccination history, accommodation letter etc.). If you’re on a student visa, you’ll be asked questions when you go to immigration, so it’s important to have these documents on hand. Have this folder in your carry-on luggage so it’s easy to access.
4. Opening a bank account and budgeting
One of my important university tips to help you settle you in is getting a UK bank account. The documents you need to prepare for this will depend on what bank you choose. There are several banks who have branches in the city centre. You can have a look at how to apply for each of them here. Most banks require you to begin the application process online before going to their branch in person. They normally ask for your BRP card, passport and a university bank letter (which you can request easily with e:Vision), with some banks having additional requirements. I opened my account with Barclays, which had a straightforward application process. Also, they have a Twitter account answering queries 24/7 which helped me. I suggest having a look at what each bank offers and decide what’s best for your needs.
You should bring a few weeks worth of cash with you in case there is a delay in opening your account. Buying things in a different currency is difficult, especially when the exchange rate is high. Admittedly I spent the first few months in the UK converting the prices I saw back to Malaysian ringgit. This made everything appear more expensive. I think a good way of managing your money, is to use budgeting apps like Mint. Or, keep a record of all your expenses, so you’ll know when to dial back on buying non-essentials or know when you can treat yourself to nice things.
5. Getting basic essentials and items upon arrival
As mentioned earlier, a lot of your basic essentials like kitchenware and bedding can be bought upon arrival. If you’re an international student, you’ll most likely be arriving to a bare dorm room with mainly your clothes and toiletries. Whereas local students will be able to just bring things from home in cars. In my first year, I used UniKitOut to order my bedding items: pillows, duvet, bedsheets and pillowcases. UniKitOut allows you to buy bedroom, kitchen and bathroom starter sets which can be delivered to your campus accommodation. I bought my kitchen essentials from Poundland, Nisa, Marks & Spencer and Barnitts in the city centre, as well as a rice cooker from Asda. You can also order things online, from places like Amazon and The Range.
6. Finding Home Comforts
For food, there’s a Nisa on Campus West and East. In the city centre there’s a Marks & Spencers alongside smaller corner shops such as Tesco Express and Sainsbury Local. In York there’s also an Aldi, Morrisons, Tesco, Co-Op and many more supermarkets. These supermarkets also offer home delivery, where you can book a time slot and have large amounts of groceries straight to your doorstep.
If you’re missing specific food or ingredients from home, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find them at Makkah International (Asian and Middle Eastern supermarket) and Oriental Express (Asian supermarket). These are 10 minutes away from Campus West. There’s also the Red Chilli supermarket in the city centre. This is where I managed to buy comfort food like Kaya (coconut jam/spread) and Milo (chocolate malt drink).
5. Registering with a GP
Another one of my university tips to settle you in is to access healthcare services whilst you’re in the UK. If you’re living on campus, there’s Unity Health on Campus East. Off-campus, many students have either stuck with Unity Health or registered themselves with the Jorvik Gillygate Practice. For GPs, it’s important to do research and decide which best suits your medical needs. This can be based on factors such as distance, appointment times etc.
6. Using York buses
In York, buses are the most common way of getting around. First Bus operates the 66 and 67 buses which allow you to travel between the two campuses and into town easily. The most common ticket types are singles (covering a one-way trip), return (two-way, to and from your destination) and day (allowing you to use any of the buses in the same company for the whole day). You can buy your tickets on the bus with either cash or card. If you intend on paying by cash make sure you have the exact amount.
That being said, I’d recommend using the official First Bus app to get your tickets! After you’ve bought your ticket, you need to activate it on the bus and scan the QR code. The app is also useful for checking bus arrival times, as well as which bus to use and stops to get off. Alongside the First Bus app, Google Maps is also invaluable for navigating York and the UK in general. It’s helped me so much and has saved me from getting lost in the middle of busy London!
7. Using the Trains
If you want to visit other areas of the UK, trains are the way to go! In first year it took quite a lot of YouTube videos to figure out what to do when it came to travel by train, but it was surprisingly easy. Train tickets can be costly, so make sure you get a railcard to get discount prices when you buy train tickets. For a 16-25 railcard, it’s £30 for a year and £70 for three years, which at first glance is expensive but in the long term you save a lot.
Trainline is a centralised website you can use to buy train tickets. In my opinion it’s easier to buy tickets from whichever railway service you intend on using. Before the pandemic I traveled to London occasionally, which is a 2 hour trip to Kings Cross. For these journeys, my provider of choice was LNER. Other railway providers include CrossCountry, Northern, Transpennine Express, Transport for Wales etc. These are great practical, university tips to settle you in.
8. Accessing student discounts and benefits
As a student, you’ll be given a student card which will grant you access to student discounts. Popular attractions like museums will normally have student prices that you can take advantage of. Other than that, there are sites or apps like Student Beans and UNiDAYS. These host a plethora of special discounts from food and drink to clothes. I’ve used UNiDAYS numerous times to get Dominos discounts, and have used Student Beans to get a discount for Hive. This is a book-buying website that allows you to support independent bookshops across the UK.
Your student status also gives you access to Amazon Prime at half the usual price. You can sign up for a six-month free trial before deciding to commit to a subscription. You’ll be able to take advantage of quick delivery times, Prime Video and Music etc. The free delivery and discounted prices have helped me buy things I urgently need. Especially over lockdown when I couldn’t go to places easily. I watch livestreams on Twitch and Prime grants you a free one-month subscription to any streamer. So if you frequent Twitch and enjoy watching gaming livestreams you’re in luck!
9. Taking note of the support systems
One very important thing to know upon arriving at York, is the support systems available to you. Arriving in a new country is an exhausting experience, both physically and mentally. Knowing who to go to for help is useful in times of crisis. When you first start at York, you’ll be allocated a pastoral supervisor, who will be a member of staff in your department. You’ll meet with them at least once per term and they’ll be your first port of call for support. My supervisor has been a great help and was incredibly understanding of my initial worries, adjusting to life in the UK. When you’re living on campus, you can also turn to college tutors, who are postgraduate students living in your college.
I went through the Malaysian education system for primary, secondary school and also took A-Levels at a college here. To me, the UK academic environment was completely new and different. In comparison to Malaysia, the environment here is more laid back and there is more room to independently explore your interests. I remember being really concerned with adjusting to the academic system here. As a literature student, I remember feeling anxious about not being as well-read as everyone else. Though I spoke English comfortably back home and it was the language I was most fluent at, I was still self-conscious. I turned to the Writing Centre, which is based in the library, for help with essay writing. There’s also a Maths Skills Centre on the same floor if you’re looking to find support for that.
10. Join Societies
Another one of my university tips to settle you in is seeing familiar faces. If you’re feeling isolated, reach out to the relevant cultural societies at York. I’ve had meals and social events with the Malaysian Society. Speaking to students who have gone through that difficult adjustment process before put my mind at ease. If you’re missing home and would feel more comfortable speaking to someone from your country, join any social events by these societies. The International Students Association also hosts regular events to allow international students to connect with one another. There’s also YorWorld Community, a Facebook group set up by the International Support Team to share important info and for international students to meet.
11. Mental Health Support
If you’re having a tough time and you find it difficult to cope with your mental health, there’s Nightline and Open Door. Nightline is a confidential listening service run by students, which does not offer advice but does lend an ear. Open Door is run by mental health practitioners and student wellbeing officers. It provides support for mental health or psychological difficulties. Personally, I used Open Door in my second and third year. It was nice to at least be able to speak to someone about the things I was struggling with. At first, I was nervous but I realised that every student can use the service, no matter the circumstance . So if you’re struggling mental health-wise in your first few weeks or later on in your degree, I suggest reaching out to Open Door or a Student Wellbeing Officer.
No one adjusts to university life seamlessly and without difficulty. It’s completely normal to be stuck and struggling upon arrival or during the rest of your time here. There’s nothing wrong with needing help so do take advantage of all the support networks available to you!
12. Making York your home away from home
Homesickness is something you may feel away from home. Surrounded by unfamiliar faces in a new environment, away from family, friends and home comforts. This may seem obvious but one of my university tips to help you settle in is decorating your room to alleviate some of the homesickness.
As mentioned earlier, you should brighten up your room with homely items. Photographs, art prints and posters won’t take up too much space in your luggage. Then if you have extra space, you can bring some of your favourite things like plushies, figurines or even books you cherish. These things can make a once empty, bare and unfamiliar dorm room seem cosier. Having a personal space to return to after classes makes you feel like York is your second home. However, abide by accommodation services rules if you live on campus, or the ones laid out by your landlord. You may find you can’t have some things in your room such as candles.
Arriving in the UK to study at university is no easy feat, you should feel proud of what you’ve achieved! Deciding to leave home is difficult, but university life will be a host of brand new experiences. Once you get through the initial hurdle of settling in, you’ll be able to make the most of everything! Hope these university tips to settle you in help, and thanks for sticking with me for this long post 🙂
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