Day 1: what it’s like to be an international student in the UK in 2018

Blog for members
28 June 2018
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Couldn’t make it to conference this year? Read an overview of each day below by Web and Comms Manager, Jane Woodley.

Out of a UKCISA-record-breaking 460 delegates, nearly a quarter are new this year. We kicked off our 50th anniversary conference with a friendly welcome event for all newcomers, giving top tips on making the most of UKCISA 2018.

Welcome to Scotland: opening plenary

Our opening plenary explored how we all change lives for good for international students. It featured: our Chair Koen Lamberts; John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills in the Scottish Government and MSP for Perthshire North; and Dr Esther Brimmer, Executive Director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators (USA).

John Swinney gave a passionate speech that reiterated how welcome international students are in Scotland. He added:

"International students invest and create in each community they live in. International education makes us a richer and more diverse society. I am determined that they will be met with kindness, dignity and compassion."

Dr Esther Brimmer reinforced that international education is a "force for good" and said:

"Skills gained by study abroad are crucial. Graduates need to be able to understand different cultures and backgrounds. International study makes this possible and gives access to different perspectives."

She shared that NAFSA are currently highlighting positive, real stories from international students, showcasing the local contribution by international graduates and scholars and how they change lives for good.

Student panel Q&A and 10 parallel sessions

We launched into our first sessions with a mix of immigration, student experience, staff-student partnerships and an update from the home office. We also held a Scottish students panel to give our delegates an opportunity to ask candid questions about the international student experience. Chaired by Yinbo Yu, International Students’ Officer at NUS, four students shared their experiences about being an international student in the UK.

All students shared challenges they'd faced as well as their favourite part of studying in the UK. There was a lot of discussion about integration. A student from China told us that she had not been expecting so many Chinese students to be studying at her university. She added:

"I feel like I can only have one social circle: either only Chinese friends or only non-Chinese friends. My peers from China want me to just be their friend. And if I want to make friends with national and multinational students, I can't keep my Chinese friends. It's difficult to choose and I didn't expect it."

Other discussions about challenges of being an international student included feeling burdened by being "expected to be the authority" on their home country, accommodation difficulties (finding something near to university) homesickness and cost of studying in the UK (the UK had been picked due to affordability over other countries).

Time to reflect in stunning surroundings

To celebrate the beginning of our 50th anniversary conference, Koen Lamberts, Vice-Chancellor of University of York and Prof Peter Mathieson, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh welcomed everyone to the beautiful Playfair Library for a chance to reflect on the day. A great opportunity to meet new colleagues and catch up with old friends.

Keep up-to-date with commentary and updates from our annual conference by following us on Twitter or watching the conversation live #ukcisa2018

Read an overview of day two and day three