Paul Cawley, International Study Centre Network Director at the Study Group, shares with MasterAbroad his study abroad tips for how best to approach your first semester in the UK.
Travelling abroad to study is both an exciting and somewhat challenging prospect. Not only do international masters students enter a whole new world of academia, but they also have to find their feet in a new country. Adjusting to an unfamiliar environment can be overwhelming at first; it takes time to understand different languages, cultures, social dos and don’ts, as well as local rules and regulations. And all that on top of getting to grips with your studies!
The truth is, studying abroad shouldn’t scare you. Many international students have passed through the British education system successfully and thoroughly enjoyed their time here. There are many factors involved in ensuring that international students have positive experiences, not least of which are support networks provided by education institutions to ensure students receive the proper care and guidance. And remember, you can always say hello to a neighbour – if you’re in halls of residence, there’ll be UK and international students who are in exactly the same boat as you.
As you prepare to embark on your first term of studying in the UK, consider the following bits of advice. Our team at the University of Sheffield’s International College compiled these tips from years of working with international students – and hopefully, they will help you get the most from your experience.
Embracing support during your first semester in the UK
In Sheffield, we believe that a really great start is the foundation for academic success later. Joining your institution’s Facebook group, reading pre-arrival guides and ensuring you attend all of the events in your induction week will go a long way to making you confident in your new surroundings. There are a number of important things you must do, such as signing up for the health service and applying for a visa, and your institution can offer advice and support on this. And remember to sign up for as many social activities as possible! Forming friendships will enrich your time in the UK.
Practice your language skills
Good English-language speaking skills will help you settle into the UK quickly – after all, the ability to communicate is how we forge connections and develop our understanding of people and places. If your English isn’t great, you may be tempted to hide away and not say a word to anyone. Be brave and sign up for extra lessons to practice as much as you can. One excellent way to gain confidence is to go out and speak to locals – whether that be restaurant staff, shop workers or bus drivers. Before you know it, you’ll be reading, writing and speaking English with confidence.
Explore your surroundings
When people refer to their studies abroad as being one of the best times of their lives, listen to them, because it’s true. It’s really important that you embrace as much as possible while studying abroad. Investigate what your college or university offers above and beyond your chosen course of study – are there field trips, cooking classes, sports groups or culture clubs that spark your interest? If yes, sign up and get involved.
What’s more, get to know the city or town you’re studying in, as well as its surroundings. You may even choose to visit one of the many cities the UK has to offer – Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool and London are all excellent places with plenty for you to do and see during your first semester in the UK.
Achieving success in your studies
One of the advantages of studying in the UK is the quality of its higher education. It’s important to have fun and explore, but it’s also important to work hard and get the most out of your studies.
UK universities often host prominent speakers across a wide range of topics – attending these guest lectures during your first semester in the UK is a great way to add a new level of understanding to your chosen field of study and will help when writing essays and preparing for exams.
Most importantly, make use of your thesis tutor. Getting to grips with the subject matter of your dissertation can be difficult, especially when English isn’t your first language. Your tutors are subject matter experts and will be happy to take the time to discuss topics with you in more depth.
Buy a flexible return ticket
Don’t limit your experience to your study abroad programme dates – especially if you’re doing further semesters abroad. It can be tempting to book your flights ahead of time, but you may meet new friends and wish to spend the Christmas holidays in the UK. You could also stay a bit longer and enjoy the UK’s summer months. With a flexible return ticket, you can turn your full attention to travel and see so much more of the country – without the pressure of coursework or exams.
Ask for help
It’s absolutely normal for the first few weeks or even months to be hard. In the beginning, you may find yourself phoning home every day, twice a day – and that’s okay. It’s important that you stay in touch with your family and friends back home during your first semester in the UK. That said, it’s vital that you make friends and form connections with your fellow students, and start building new relationships to accompany you on this new adventure.
Most colleges and universities offer student support services as well as dedicated staff members to help students with any difficulties they may face. You need not ever feel alone so please, if times get tough, ask for help.