You get your public exam results back and wonder where to go next. For many, studying abroad has become one of the options. You‘re excited to see how your life will change when immersed in a new culture yet concerned about being in unfamiliar surroundings. Here, I’ll share my experience as an international student at a UK university. I hope the blog can provide you with a clearer picture of what adapting to a new environment is like!
Cultural differences and language barriers
Let’s be realistic. While you may have heard of the benefits of studying abroad, it goes without saying that it has its challenges. Cultural shocks are inevitable and sometimes you can feel a bit awkward. My culture is very different to that in the UK which made me feel quite awkward at first.
I’m not a native English speaker and language barriers were also a problem from time to time. This was especially prominent in my first few months after arriving. Socialising with my flatmates was harder than I thought it would be because we spoke so differently. Colloquial English isn‘t taught in textbooks!
A new learning environment
This was another great challenge of mine. Interactive discussions and debates in seminars require students to think on their feet. We never had this style of learning back at home. The amount of student-led and independent learning made me realise I needed to put double the effort into my assignments to get the best results. I remember struggling to contribute in class discussions. I had a hard time coping with frustration that came from unexpected setbacks.
I thought homesickness wouldn’t affect me as much, but it turned out it did. After months of not being at home, I started to miss home. I missed the food, my friends and family, and the places I’m familiar with. I particularly struggled when I saw my flatmates’ parents helping them to move in or when there were festivals at home.
A life breakthrough
It seems scary, doesn’t it? NEVERTHELESS, for me, the decision to study at a UK university was definitely worth it. Why? Because it’s life changing.
It’s life changing because my global vision has widened by actively confronting the cultural differences and language barriers. Yes, you’ll always feel awkward when cultural shock hits, but this is where I’ve learned to embrace various cultures. Yes, I felt uncomfortable when things got lost in translation, but it motivated me to improve my English. Being surrounded by English speakers provided me with adequate chance to practice my English!
The new learning environment helped me become more confident in sharing my opinions and to think of topical issues to discuss. I was very used to a spoon-fed education and was a passive learner. Since starting my degree course my attitude to learning has changed and I’ve become a more independent learner.
I felt lonely for the most part in my first year, yet I’ve learned to become more self-reliant. Back at home, I only did a few chores. There are very rare times that I need to cook. Being alone has pushed me to do all these tiny little things all by myself. I‘ve event started to develop an interest in exploring new recipes and finding methods to replace Asian ingredients that aren’t available in the UK!
Coping at a UK university
I think studying abroad isn’t for everyone. However, the point to emphasise here is that the challenges you face will help you grow. What’s more, there are often ways to deal with those insecure times. Making friends from your own culture will boost your confidence and provides someone to explore your new reality with. Joining societies will also help ease your insecurities as you will be around like-minded people.
Studying at the University of York was a turning point in my life. I know it’s a cliche, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for my decision to study abroad! If you are given the opportunity, and want to befriend people of different cultures, widen your horizons and try to live differently from the way you are used to, then studying abroad or in a UK university might be for you. When all is said and done, growth is always about stepping out of your comfort zone!