I first visited the UK on a vacation as a curious and impressionable 15-year-old in 2013. The rich culture of London, the beautiful highlands of Scotland and the sunny beaches of Wales fascinated me. Having lived most of my life in the South Asian subcontinent and the Middle East, I was enthralled by the liberal ways of British life. I decided then that I wanted to pursue my university education in the UK.
Fast forward to 2016 and I arrived in Bristol – a small, colourful and rich city that I knew very little about. I had gathered a lot of information about the University of Bristol – my course, the modules, the professors, the different clubs and societies – but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.
The first couple of weeks were great. I met new people every day, visited landmarks, explored the posh neighbourhood of Clifton, and went to several welcome week events. Staying in catered university accommodation also helped me to make several international friends and form my own community.
But I had not realised that the changes that came with moving to a new country were not just physical, but mental too.
After my first month, the homesickness kicked in. I started missing my parents, my little sister, the food and the warm, sunny weather. Accompanying the homesickness was the realisation of the expectations of being at university.
Having always studied an Indian curriculum, which is objective, learning-based and strict, I found it difficult to adjust to several aspects of the British education system. The freedom of choosing which lectures to go to, the highly subjective and thought-provoking discussions at tutorials and the extensive amount of reading I was expected to do caught me off-guard.
It was not until my first term exams were over in January 2017 that I could slow down and reflect on the things that I was doing wrong and the things that I got right.
The week after my exams ended, I realised how little time I had spent outside the university libraries and my accommodation.
So I tried new cafés in Clifton, and going for walks near the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. I also came to terms with the cold and damp weather of Bristol, developed a more appropriate style (basically replaced all my fancy cardigans and heels with raincoats and wellies) and started watching British TV shows.
I evolved socially too. I finally found the societies I wanted to join and took up the role of an elected representative of the Students’ Union. I overcame my initial fear of drinking and partying and stayed out until 4am one night, something I don't think I'll be doing again. I also realised the importance of staying in touch with my tutors and not being afraid of needing and asking for help.
Overall, my second term ended on a much relaxed and happier note than the first. I wrote my final exams in May and, before I knew it, I had finished my first year of university.
An international student’s first year can really affect and shape his/her university experience. I found investing in relationships in my first year very fruitful. I made some amazing friends and mentors quite early on in Bristol. I had their support while I learned to be more independent, take care of my finances, make important decisions, study better and so on. Had it not been for the people around me, my first year would not have been as good as it was.
Arya will be blogging her journey as an international student from India in the UK every month for THE Student.
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