9 top tips for newly arrived international students in the UK

Gayathri standing in front of an old cottage in Bilbury.

'I have a one-trip per-month policy for myself. This is when I went to Bilbury.'

Gayathri, a GREAT scholar from India, is doing her master’s in Molecular Biosciences at the University of Bath. She shares some observations and tips based on her own experience of arriving in the UK as an international student in 2021.

1. It's ok to have high expectations

Since I was seven or eight years old, I had wanted to come to the UK. I used to read a lot of Enid Blyton and I imagined that it would be picturesque and quaint. From the minute I landed, I could not believe that I had finally made it. I had expected to see a few castles on the way from the airport - but once I got over the disappointment of the grey highway - it was everything I had imagined.

The route to Bath was the perfect picture of British life. All of the buildings were sandstone or limestone and there was gorgeous traditional and modern architecture - and lots of little bridges. It was just beautiful. I was also lucky because when I arrived, it was sunny with blue skies. I took a few photos and just thought, this is the life I’ve always wanted.

2. If you have flatmates, try to get to know them

For me, my flatmates have become a kind of ‘mini-family’. I’ve found that getting along with them gives me a home away from home and an immediate support network here in the UK. It helps a lot. Getting to know your flatmates is really simple advice, but it has worked for me.

Gayathri (right) on a day out with her flatmates. They are sitting on a log in a green field.

'A day out with my flatmates in Bradford-on-Avon in the Cotswolds'

3. Go out and meet people as soon as you arrive

As soon as I arrived in the UK, I made an effort to put myself out there and went to lots of university-organised meetups. The beginning of the semester is the easiest time to make new friends and that is when people are usually forming groups. Most universities also have very lively freshers weeks and put on lots of events with the aim of helping students meet each other and make friends, so try to make the most of that opportunity.

As an international student, you will likely miss your family and friends or even the foods that you grew up with. That’s natural. But try not to dwell on it too much. You’ll be much happier if you focus on making friends in the place where you have chosen to study. That way you’ll have people to go with you on your shopping trips, travelling, studying or sightseeing adventures. You’ll have a lot of fun.

4. Everyone else is probably as unsure as you are

As an international student arriving in the UK, you join a huge community of others doing the same thing as you at the same time. Everyone is adapting and most people will be as unsure as you are. When you get here, you are all adapting to your new environment - no matter how similar or different it is to where you came from.

As a student from a tropical country, I found so many others who had seemingly irrelevant questions about what kind of coats or scarves to buy in the UK. Whatever question comes up, it’s good to have a chat and remember that you can all help each other figure it out together.

Gayathri smiling with her friends lit by a streetlight. They are wearing winter clothing.

' I found so many others who had seemingly irrelevant questions about what kind of coats or scarves to buy in the UK'

5. You are not alone

Even if you don’t know anyone before you move to the UK, as an international student here, you are not alone. It may feel like it occasionally - that is a normal part of moving anywhere new. But try to keep positive and remember that you will find friends. To do that, you need to take action and go out and meet new people. They will eventually become your community and it will make life so much easier and more enjoyable. Even in the beginning, if you end up spending time with people who don’t become your best friends, that’s fine - as long as it helps you settle in.

6. Be present and remember to take a break from studying

Sometimes, to take a break from studying in my room, I step outside. I like to sit in the park and catch up on some reading or take some notes. It can be difficult to concentrate on the work sometimes because it’s so pretty. Often I just have to sit still for a bit and let the moment sink in. To really enjoy it. Student life isn’t just about studying. And it’s good to have some variation in your routine.

'Student life isn't just about studying'

At university, I am part of the photo society. We have lots of things going on and we quite often go on trips together to take photographs. It’s such a great way to meet people - doing something that you love with other people who love it too. I’ve also enrolled in a Spanish language programme which is going well. There are so many things going on at the university. I receive emails every week and I feel like applying for all of the opportunities that present themselves to me. It’s not possible but I love that there’s such a variety of things going on and so much to choose from.

7. Travel around the UK - it's stunning

I’ve been on lots of lovely weekend trips around the UK so far. I have a one-trip per-month policy for myself. One of my favourites was when I went to Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s gorgeous. Seeing Shakespeare’s house was surreal. So many of the phrases that we use in our day-to-day life come from his work and I was actually able to go inside the building where he lived. It has been maintained so beautifully, and the gardens were lovely. I visited around October, before winter proper, and all of the flowers were blooming.

A view of a river bridge in Stratford-upon-Avon. There are some ducks in the foreground and some trees in the background.

'One of my favourite trips was when I went to Stratford-upon-Avon. Here is a view of the river.'

At some point, I’d love to visit the Scottish Highlands, Glasgow and St Andrew’s. St Andrew’s is apparently a very small town with lots of quirky traditions. I’ve heard that there’s a tradition around not stepping on one specific stone and that if you do you will fail the year at university. It’s a bit scary to think about, but also so interesting.

'Standing in the oldest residential street in England, Vicar's Close, in Wells'

8. You can find a taste of home in the UK

Food can connect us to a feeling of home. You might miss the food from your home country when you first arrive in the UK. I was surprised that lots of UK supermarkets or corner shops actually have a lot of Asian, Indian and other ‘ethnic’ foods available. Until you figure out what recipes work best for you - or even learn to cook for yourself - it’s worth bringing some ready-to-cook packets of your favourite foods from your home country which are simple to heat up or prepare. In most towns and cities, you can also find restaurants serving food from all over the world.

9. Just go for it: you won't regret it

Studying in the UK is an incredible opportunity and offers a very enriching academic experience. You will learn a lot in a collaborative environment. You are encouraged and required to think through whatever problems are in front of you. It can be a bit intense sometimes. As it’s a one-year programme, you cover a lot in the span of a relatively short space of time with not many breaks in between but it’s so worth it. You’ll learn about time management and will develop many other skills during your studies. Try to grab all of the opportunities available to you, including the fun ones. You won’t regret it.

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