You made it! Finally the months long process of finding a university, applying, praying while hitting refresh on the results portal, then finding a place to move and packing your whole life to start a new chapter has come to an end – you are now a student! A whole new and exciting adventure is about to begin as you move to a different country and become an international student. Yet, if you cannot help but feeling just a little intimidated at the thought of suddenly finding yourself for the first time in a new place while all your friends and family are perhaps hundreds or thousands of miles away, you are not alone. Pursuing a university degree is on its own a challenging task; understandably, having a social life in a country with a different culture and/or language than your own brings an additional level of difficulty to it. My first year as an international student was all about trying to find that balance between studying, other responsibilities (paying the bills, anyone?), and the time (and courage!) to socialise and meet new people. However, as hard as it might have seemed at the beginning, it is by no means an impossible task. After speaking to other international students about their experiences, here is a list of a few tips that might prove useful to any international student coming to study in the UK.
1. Join an organisation or society
You might find countless ‘reasons’ for which not to join a society, from not having enough time to study to not finding one that interests you enough. However, societies are a proven and effective way to meet like-minded people while also learning a new skill or just taking your mind off the essays. Attend the Societies’ Fair at the beginning of the semester, or just browse the options online. From Harry Potter, to curry appreciation (?), drawing, volleyball, and many other themes, there is nothing too niche or obscure that someone did not think to make a society of already. If there is and you indeed cannot find something to match your interests, then there is always the option to start your own! Did someone say Game of Thrones?
If you are not a fan of partying and societies are not your cup of tea either, then why not try volunteering? I found that volunteering is a great way to meet new people and get involved with the local community while also supporting a cause that you believe in. A simple search on the Internet will provide you with the names of countless charities that you can contact and ask to volunteer with, or you can even approach some of them if they come to visit your campus during Freshers’ Week. Either way, it is an incredibly rewarding experience and you are sure to make some friends while at it! (If you have a Tier 4 student visa there are rules about working and volunteering so do check you have the right permission to volunteer. See information on our website).
3. Be organised and know your priorities
Going back to that ‘I don’t have enough time’ leitmotif, one of the first things you have to do in your first year at university (if you have not done so already, in which case well done) is to learn how to prioritise things. I myself am guilty of having stayed in the library day and night at various times during the year just because I was too worried I would not manage to finish all the assignments in time, or because I was scared that I would not get that good mark I needed. Inevitably, after a short while I always ended up being totally burnt out, and would spend most of my time stressing that I could not focus on what I had to do (all this while scrolling through meaningless web pages!). I neglected other extracurricular activities and did not get enough exercise (which is crucial for your levels of energy and focus) because I was wrongly prioritising one thing above anything else, not knowing that doing this would make me unable to attend to this very important priority in the first place!
However, one solution to this problem is learning how to study effectively and in a set period of time (a specific amount of hours a day, depending on the workload of that period). Learning this life saving skill (!) will save you the time that you spend
trying to study procrastinating, which will in return give you the physical and, most importantly, the mental space to engage in extracurricular and social activities without feeling guilty that you are neglecting your studies. If you are not sure where to start, just contact the Student Services at your university and ask them for some help with this. There are also many other resources available that you can find online or perhaps on your university’s website, or have a look at UKCISA’s Study Skills for Success pages for inspiration.
4. Start a conversation!
Nevertheless, probably the most important thing you have to remember and try to practice is… to be bold! Start a conversation with a fellow student in class or while you are waiting in line for your coffee. Joining a society or volunteering are great for meeting new people and socialising because they give you a common topic for discussion, however, you can meet new people and make friends in a variety of contexts. Make yourself available (and now that you know how to study effectively and prioritise your things, you have no excuse!) and try new things, in the best case scenario you will make new friends, in the worst you managed to de-stress before going back to study and also practiced your spoken English. Win-win!
However, if talking to a person face-to-face might seem hard at the beginning, then there is always the option to join local communities online on websites such as Facebook or Twitter, and slowly take it from there instead.
So how hard is it to have a social life as an international student? Many of the international students I have spoken to have said that, in the end, socialising as an international student is not that different from socialising as a home student. Indeed, irrespective of their country of origin, people like to socialise in different ways, be it by partying in the club or knitting together, so you just have to try and see what you like! While you are obviously there to study, your time at university is about much more than just your marks, so making time to try new things and to meet new people, be it with a society, through volunteering, or by trying anything else you can think of, will just improve your experience as an international student and make your time in the UK a memorable adventure!
To make sure you are prepared for your study time abroad, visit UKCISA's pages to read more tips and advice on immigration, fees or culture shock.
Melisa Costinea, comms intern for UKCISA, studying Social Science Research Methods at UCL.
How have you found socialising as an international student? What was the hardest part and how did you overcome it? Share your thoughts with us below.