Sep 23, 2019
Our Expectations vs. Reality
The first thing to consider is that the UK is a very unique country. Everything from the weather, the food, the culture, and everyday life can be hard to adapt to if you are a foreigner. There are general expectations that I can confirm are true: the weather is horrifying, and the English food selection is generally very limited in most restaurants. Pubs, for example, are a type of bar that often serve food, have music or other forms of entertainment. And the English culture often revolves around spending time in pubs and drinking beer.
Universities in the UK often have over 20-30% of international students in both undergraduate and graduate courses, so most people find it easy to socialize with students from all over the world. During your first week of university (deemed “Fresher’s week”), there will be multiple daily and nightly social events that are aimed at helping students socialise as much as possible. This can be a very intense week, so my advice is to get to know your flat/housemates first and plan together where you would like to go. If not, university halls or student hubs are a great place to make new friends in the first few days of university. The key here is: do not be shy to leave your comfort zone. Try new things and join as many societies as you like; there will always be something new to try!
There is an old saying that goes: “there is no such thing as good or bad weather, only good or bad preparation.” This has never been truer when it comes to university in the UK. The first and most important thing to prepare for is the foul weather. Please invest heavily in good waterproof clothing (jackets, pants, and shoes); it can rain non-stop for weeks on end. Depending on the location (England, Scotland, Wales etc) the temperature will vary, but be prepared for very cold days and nights. The best weather in the UK comes right before the summer; the days are long and the temperature during the day can be handled with a sweater and windproof jacket.
Wherever you may come from, you will, at some point, miss home. Whether that be your family and friends, or your hometown, it’s most likely that you’ll miss the food. I cannot stress this enough: bring food from home. Although you might find similar offerings at Tesco or Sainsbury, it will probably cost significantly more than what you can find in your local shop at home. I always brought an extra small suitcase with me filled with spices and other ingredients when traveling from home. This will also help you adapt quicker, as the culinary change will not be so drastic.
It is likely that after having settled in your accommodation, you will have to open a UK bank account. This is particularly important because a UK bank account is required to pay for phone contracts, student insurance, and other services. Multiple banks offer “student accounts” which can seem very enticing. They offer not only an account but also a generous overdraft and perhaps a free railcard for discounted train tickets. I would advise doing ample research on what most suits your needs. It will undoubtedly make a difference during the first few weeks of university when every single international student will line up at the bank to open an account. Finally, opening a savings account can be incredibly beneficial. If you decide to get a job during university, having some money saved for rainy days can be lifesaving.
Starting university can be daunting, especially if you are used to being taught in classrooms. Generally, UK universities rely on students to attend lectures, choose their classes, take their own notes, and deliver on deadlines. In short, you are significantly freer, but also equally more responsible for managing and organising your studies. Universities use online portals, where they post lectures, extra-reading, homework, projects, etc. It's helpful if you can familiarise yourself as much as possible with the interface, and use a planner to write down all your deadlines and other projects. More often than not, most deadlines will cross over in the same week, so be prepared to manage your time accordingly. Tutorials are also an important part of university life, as tutors will guide you throughout your studies and be a point of contact between the university and yourself. Try to attend as many sessions as possible, and make sure you ask them as many questions as you can think of.
Preparation can be a daunting process when it comes to any university, but the most important thing is to choose the university and the degree which inspire and motivate you the most. However prepared you may be, take on this grand new adventure in your life with bold courage. Trust that your preparation, and at times, improvisation, can be the difference between getting caught in the rain or staying dry.
David Rosales is an alumnus of St. Stephen's School, Rome, Italy. He graduated in 2019 with a BSc Hons in Biotechnology from the University of Manchester.