How to prepare for student life in the UK
Deciding to study in the UK is a big step. It’s only natural to be nervous when you move to a country in which the food, language, culture and weather are completely different to what you’re used to. But once you have settled into your new situation, studying in the UK will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
So how can you conquer your fears? Although it might not be possible to plan for everything, here are some ways to prepare for international student life in the UK:
1. Research student life in the UK
Even though you’re in the United Kingdom to study, you need to balance studying with a social life. Otherwise, you risk boredom, or worse, burnout. Luckily, students all over the world love to socialise, and British students are no exception.
The most well-known time to join student life in the UK is at Freshers Week. This is when new students are welcomed to the university with various social events. There will be a fair in which the various clubs and societies at the university try to recruit new members - think this scene from Pitch Perfect!
There’s a club for every interest, hobby or sport, and it’s a great way to meet people with similar interests to yours. There are some pretty unusual clubs too. At Cambridge for example, there’s a secretive group that climbs university buildings in the middle of the night!
Freshers Week is also a great opportunity to talk to everyone you can. Whether it’s in the queue to get your student card or to your neighbour in your first lecture, everybody is in the same situation as you - they know nobody and are trying to figure out who to be friends with. You may find great friends, or one conversation will be the extent of your interactions, but Freshers Week is all about random encounters.
2. Get to know the staff
On your course website, you’ll be able to have a look at the academic staff and Ph.D. candidate profiles. Get an idea for their different research interests, and if their past publications are listed try to read at least a couple of abstracts of their papers.
This will help you know what they’re going to focus on when the teaching starts, and it’ll also give you lots of inspiration when the time comes for you to start choosing independent study project topics.
You can get to know the academic staff by signing up for online events before term starts. You’ll hear them talking about the course and what you’ll learn on it. Think about the questions you might ask.
Read your course syllabus before the event and think of questions such as why they’ve chosen particular topics, or sequenced them in a particular way. You might even be able to watch past lectures, or sign up for events that they are participating in. That way, you’ll have some familiar faces around the department when you arrive at your university!
3. Find out about the student union
Student unions are a big part of university life in the UK. Every university has a union which you can join. Sometimes, there are a few different student unions, so you can choose the one which you think would suit you best.
Student unions usually occupy a building on campus, where they host social events and provide spaces to have lunch, study and socialise.
But as well as organizing clubs, societies and social events, they can also help with any problems you might have. Each union has a welfare officer, who is usually a recent graduate who has been elected to help current students with any personal issues they might face.
There will also be an international students’ officer who usually has direct experience of being an international student and any issues they might face. Even though you might never need to ask them for help, it can be reassuring to know there are people there to listen to your problems and try to offer solutions.
4. Learn about the social scene in the town or city where you’re heading
University life is more than just happenings on campus. There’s a whole world outside your institution to be investigated. As well as nightlife, restaurants and cultural events, there are also sports clubs, outdoor activities, or volunteering organised in the local community.
Reach Volunteering has a large database of opportunities to volunteer, and it’s a great way to use your skills to help others. These can be valuable ways to meet local people and build up your network of friends and acquaintances while studying in the UK. The more you can see of life in the UK, the more you’ll become used to it and feel comfortable there.
If you’re worried about your level of English - don’t be! People in the UK are very tolerant of how their language is used. It’s a truly global language, so there’s no right or wrong accent. If you do become part of the local community, be prepared to develop a slight accent from the area in which you study - this is a sign that you’ve integrated well!
5. Follow your new university on social media
Social media is a key part of all our lives, and this also goes for university life. Universities and colleges run their own social media accounts where they often share the positive achievements of their staff and students, or candid photographs from around campus. Sometimes, a current student will do a takeover of their account which is a valuable opportunity to get an insight into what it’s like to study there.
There are also student-run sites and social accounts which give an insider perspective on student life. Sites like The Tab cover news relevant to students, and have sections which cover news at specific universities. The Student Room is also a place where current and former students discuss all aspects of student life in the UK, from exams to the TV shows students like to watch.
6. Pay attention to the English-language test
You’ll need to pass an English test to get your student visa, but you should treat it as an opportunity to learn. Pay close attention to what’s on the test, because these are the things you’ll need to do every day as a student in the UK.
For example, the speaking component of the PTE Academic test, which can be used for UK visas and to access 99% of UK universities, tests your ability to summarise an academic lecture.
You won’t just need to do this in your classes - you might also need to summarise a lecture for a friend if they weren’t able to go to it. Every task on the test has a real-world application, so if you can pass the test you can be confident that you stand a good chance of making the most of life in the UK.
Remember though, although you can do as much research as you like, there’s only so much you can learn online. At the end of the day, you need to learn through experience, and the only way you’ll experience a place is by being there. Be ready to be surprised and take advantage of things you never thought would happen. You only get to be an undergraduate once, so make the most of every opportunity!