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The basics
Study abroad : Once you arrive

The ultimate guide to surviving your first year at university as an international student

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Written by Annie Thomas, from student shipping company Uni Baggage.

Course offer - *check*.


Accommodation confirmation - *check*.


Flight tickets - *check*.


Everything seems to be in order and you’ve pretty much got your whole life packed away in several suitcases, ready to be shipped off to another country to begin a brand new exhilarating chapter in your life… So why does it still feel so unnerving? We totally understand the jitters you’re feeling right now! Attending a foreign university when you don’t know a soul there for sure isn’t something you could just brush past with a wave of a hand.


To help, student shipping company Uni Baggage share their expert advice on making it through your first year of university as an international student totally unscathed.


Pack Smart



One of the most important things to mull over is what exactly to bring with you. What’s too much? What’s considered not enough? There are certain things such as toiletries and kitchen utensils that you can always purchase once you get to your destination. This should free up some well needed space in your luggage.


You will have to keep in mind that the weather in the country you’re going to probably isn’t comparable (especially not the UK *sigh*) to the climate that you’re used to, so try to throw in some warm parkas as well as dressy outfits for party occasions.


We understand that homesickness can creep up on you when you least expect it. So why not pack some things that will remind you of home? Such as photos of friends and family, room decor or even soft toys. I mean, hey, no one’s judging.


Be Tech Savvy


It’s super important that you find yourself the nearest tech store and bag yourself a local SIM card or a phone contract. Don’t try to rely on using messaging applications such as WhatsApp as you’ll benefit greatly from being able to make and receive calls within the country.


If the plug sockets are significantly different then you should aim to purchase a converter as soon as possible. That way, you can make sure that your laptop won’t run out of charge, and you can inform your parents that you made it there in one piece!


Meeting and Mingling with New People



Even if you’re sure that you’re totally socially competent, are you still a little worried that you’re going to have trouble making friends once you get there? Well take a breather, and just remember that everybody else who seems to have it altogether probably are going through the same inner turmoil as you. They’re just as eager to get to know you, so definitely get out there and don’t be afraid of introducing yourself first.


It may be a good idea to keep open and not just close yourself off to people that are from a similar cultural background to you, otherwise you’ll be stuck in a social bubble. Uni consists of all types of people from all cultural backgrounds, and they’re all out there for you to befriend! Try to be as active as you can, not only in social events but with multicultural societies too. This way, you’re able to connect with students from your home country as well as learn about other fascinating cultures. Meeting some students from your own country can certainly help with the homesickness too!


Don’t know anyone? No problem! Take full advantage of social media, for example, searching up accommodation and course group chats in your university. This way, you’ll get to know a few people whom you may potentially live or go to lectures with before you even get there!


For more guidance on making friends, check out our article.


Get ready for a culture shock


Moving to a different country may seem really daunting at first and you might stress about not being able to immerse yourself into your new environment. If the culture of your destination country is drastically different from your home country, it might help to read up on the social customs and become accustomed to how things like public transport or currency operate etc. over there.


Who needs maps or How-To Guides when you’ve got new friends that can give you a tour of the city and show you the ropes around there. Most universities will assign fresher helpers or upperclassman mentors that are in charge of making sure you blend in once you are there and are having a great time! Because that’s what universities are for, right?


Read more about dealing with culture shock with this guide.


Utilise The Learning Resources



Not feeling confident about your language skills? Trying to express your ideas in English may be difficult at first, especially if it isn’t your first language. But hey, practice makes perfect! So, don’t be afraid to look for opportunities where you can chat with the students there.


Along with mingling with your new friends, you can also take full advantage of the learning resources and additional study help allocated to international students by either your department or your university library. There will most likely be extra classes tackling common issues such as essay writing or grammar, so definitely check those out if you have got the time.


On the Grind for Good Grades


Definitely don’t wait until you’ve received feedback of your first assignment to discover that the marking schemes are different than what was expected of you back home. Maybe you can take this crushing blow, but your grades definitely can’t.


Depending on your university, the marking criteria may be different for international students. You might be required to submit your assignment to an allocated pile separately; way to feel special, right…? So make sure you double check this with your tutor or your department.


Never hesitate to ask for help - the teaching staff are not as intimidating as you might think. You can always email them personally to set up an appointment to discuss your inquiry during their office hours if you don’t feel like walking up to them at the end of a lecture.


To understand the undergarduate grading system in the UK, read this.


Sharing a New Home



Since you’re more than likely to live in student accommodation in your first year, it’s imperative that you conduct some online research before you apply for any halls of residence. Perhaps you would prefer it if you were surrounded by international students? Or maybe you don’t mind living in a mixed accommodation? The decision is yours, but make sure you do lots of research first!


There will be information (more like cheeky reviews from the students themselves) on the reputation and living conditions of all the different campuses. The locations are also crucial, if you prefer walking to university instead of taking buses then you might want pick accommodation situated in the city.


If you do need to settle disagreements with your roommates, have a read of this article to find out how.


And Finally… Say ‘YES’ To New Opportunities


Think of all the missed yet potentially life changing opportunities that you might pass up on if you decide to stay in instead of really stepping out of your comfort zone. Go and join societies that you’ve never even considered before, go to seminars that are outside of your department, go on nights out and discover exciting places to go to near your university! This is a year that you should be relishing and making the most out of! Good luck!

For more guidance on what to do after your arrival at university, have a look at this page.

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