8 ways to live your best life as an international student in the UK

Prerna wearing a pink jacket and gloves standing proudly with her hands on a snow feature. It's sunny and the sky is blue and there is snow all around her

Prerna enjoying a snowy day in Edinburgh.

GREAT scholar Prerna from India completed her master’s in criminal law at the University of Edinburgh in 2020. Now working as a judicial law clerk for the Supreme Court of India, she shares some advice for making the most of your time in the UK based on her own experiences.

1. Learn to budget

The more time you spend in the UK, the better you will get at budgeting in British Pounds. Regardless of the currency, you can learn how to do it. Initially, you might struggle to keep to your daily, weekly or monthly budget. You might find yourself converting the price of anything and everything you see into your home currency. Or, if you come from a country where the cost of living is generally lower - for example - you might feel like you’re walking on eggshells to start with. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the time to adjust and adapt to budgeting in a new country and currency.

Cherry blossom trees in Edinburgh during spring time.

2. Moving abroad can be daunting, but try and be present

Leaving everything behind and going to a new country can be daunting. When you first arrive, it might feel more comfortable connecting with people from the same background and culture as yours, especially if you’re feeling homesick. But try and be present in your new country and embrace stepping outside of what you know. Make the most of what is in front of you - even if that just means turning off Netflix, leaving your room and going for a walk. I loved taking long walks to New Haven Harbour in Edinburgh, and sitting by the water would help calm my nerves and bring me peace.

Sometimes when my friends were busy, I would get anxious about attending events alone. But I am so glad I did that because that helped me make new friends from different countries and cultures. I tried mulled wine for the first time at a Christmas party. On Thanksgiving, I learned about the importance of gratitude, love and community at a dinner a classmate from the US hosted.

Prerna (right) and her friends from Tango dancing during a lesson. They are all dressed very elegantly.

Prerna and her classmates during a Tango lesson.

3. Learn about other cultures by spending time with an international crowd

In the UK, I learned about different cultures by meeting people from all over the world. When I arrived in Scotland, some things seen as ‘normal’ in my new environment would have been considered ‘weird’ or ‘scandalous’ back in India. For instance, tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Scotland. That was a foreign concept to me and even though I knew I didn't have to, I would still boil my water before I drank it.

Edinburgh is so cosmopolitan and studying there made the world seem ‘smaller’ and more connected. I gained a better understanding of and appreciation for other cultures by spending time with an international crowd. To my surprise, I learned as much about cultural differences as I did about commonalities between cultures regarding law, family structures and individual habits.

I was also pleased to learn that Indian cuisine is universally loved and easily accessible.

Prerna and her friends from Tango dancing out for dinner.

Prerna enjoying dinner with her friends from Tango dancing.

4. If things don't go to plan, change the plan

When you move to the UK, you may have grand - and possibly slightly unrealistic - plans for how you will spend your time. That’s great. But so is improvising when things don’t work out as you’d hoped. I started my master’s in Edinburgh in 2019, and from March until the end of my course, the pandemic greatly impacted my experience. Covid-19 restrictions meant I couldn’t travel around the UK and Europe during my summer break before starting my dissertation, as I had wanted to. Opportunities for field trips and internships were also stripped back. I knew my time in the UK was limited, and I was losing out. So, I had to change my goals and mindset to fit in with what was happening around me. It wasn't easy.

Thankfully for me, Edinburgh is gorgeous. Amongst all the chaos I found hidden gems across the city that I might not have discovered before as I had time to walk around the city and appreciate nature.

You can't choose what happens, but you can choose how you respond. Be ready to adjust your plans, and make the most of what is in front of you.

A mug, a backpack and some boots atop a hill in Edinburgh, looking down to the city.

'In Edinburgh, I could a day, or even a few hours, to be a 'tourist' in my own city.'

5. Travel without leaving the place you live

Despite popular belief, always remember that you can travel without leaving the place you live. I was lucky. Edinburgh is world-famous for so many things. When studying there, I could take a day, or even a few hours, to be a 'tourist' in my city. Being so old, the city has many stories to tell from the past. Many of them are dark. The capital has witnessed atrocities, including the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597 and brutal murders by notorious serial killers such as William Burke and William Hare. The historic Royal Mile leads you from an ancient castle down to the formerly plague-ridden Mary King's Close. I enjoyed learning about the city's history through heritage walks, haunted walks and even Harry Potter walks.

Prerna sitting on a rock in a steam in the Lake District. It's a sunny day and there are striking green and brown hills in the background and a fairly clear sky.

Prerna enjoying exploring the Lake District.

6. Explore the rest of the UK as much as you can

Although you moved to the UK to study, there are many opportunities to explore the country - even if you have limited time and budget. Please make the most of them. You can turn anyone into a travel buddy - coursemates, flatmates or friends. And don’t forget yourself. When you’re new in the UK and still making connections, why not see it as an opportunity for solo travel? Learn, enjoy yourself and let yourself wander.

The UK is home to some of the world's top museums and art galleries, music venues and theatres. Beyond the magical cities, there is beautiful countryside, many castles, historic houses, parks and gardens. As a student, I took multiple day trips from Edinburgh, including to Loch Lomond and on various distillery tours where I tried excellent Scotch. I also visited nearby cities and towns from Glasgow, to Aberdeen, to Dundee.

While studying, I secured an internship in London for a few months, allowing me to spend some time travelling in England. Many amazing places were just a train ride away. One of my personal favourites was the Lake District. I also saw parts of Liverpool, Oxford and Durham, among other cities.

Prerna playing around in the snow. It's sunny and there is a blue sky in the background and there are lots of particles of snow between her and the camera.

'Feel the snow as it melts away in the palms of your hands'

7. Make memories with your heart and not just your camera

When you arrive in a new country or city, it can be tempting to take photos every 30 seconds. Go for it. Make that scrapbook you dreamed of or set up that social media account to document your journey. But also recognise that trying to capture every moment can take you away from where you are.

Take time to look for and bask in beautiful moments in your new country. Inhale the smells of freshly cut Christmas trees and roasted chestnuts and feel the snow as it melts away in the palms of your hands.

I enjoyed slow walks and yoga at Portobello Beach, not far from the city. I experienced my first snowfall in Edinburgh. I still remember how happy I was seeing the snow fall from the window while attending lectures. While I could not capture the full experience on camera, the memories are as fresh in my mind as if it was yesterday.

Make memories with your heart and not just your camera.

A view from a high-up window looking down into the Grassmarket, Edinburgh. It's snowing heavily.

A snowy scene in Edinburgh by the Grassmarket.

Diwali diyas flickering in the darknesss.

'I celebrated Diwali with my friends in Edinburgh'

8. Gain a new perspective on your home country

When I left India and went to study in the UK, I gained a whole new perspective on it. I could observe it with much more objectivity than I ever had before. It gave me a fuller appreciation for the things I had previously taken for granted. I missed the food. I missed how easy it was to hop on an e-rickshaw or an auto-rickshaw back in Delhi. I missed speaking in my mother tongue, Hindi.

But one of the things I missed most was celebrating Indian traditions, festivals and celebrations like Dussehra, Diwali and Holi with my friends and family back home. I was surprised that many of these traditions are also celebrated in the UK. Thankfully I had great friends in Edinburgh who I celebrated with, which helped keep my homesickness blues at bay. We even had multiple Diwali parties.

Beyond the things I missed, I gained something too. I became more independent. Instead of relying on my family and close friends back home for help, I would do my best to learn how to do things by watching tutorials and getting guidance from the people around me.

Prerna wearing a black suit standing in front of the stairs at the Supreme Court of India.

Prerna now works as a judicial assistant at the Supreme Court of India in Delhi.

GREAT Scholarships event The Kia Oval, London 2022

GREAT Scholarships

GREAT Scholarships offer students from 14 countries across the world the opportunity to have £10,000 of their tuition fees paid at a UK university for a one-year taught postgraduate course.

Find out more and apply

More in this section

6 top tips for applying for the GREAT Scholarship

2021-22 GREAT scholar Diona from India shares some advice based on her experience of applying for the GREAT Scholarship to help increase your chances of success.

7 top tips on how to make the most of being an international student in the UK

Hear tips from GREAT scholar Lourdes, from Mexico, from embracing your accent and celebrating your own culture to finding community and applying for awards.

9 top tips for newly arrived international students in the UK

Gayathri shares some observations and tips based on her own experience of arriving in the UK as an international student in 2021.

Hear stories from international students

The Study UK blog is the home of real-life, personal stories from current international students and alumni.

Read our blog

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest updates and advice on applications, scholarships, visas and events.