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The basics
THE UK: Once you arrive

'One day at a time': My first days at university

A University of Bristol student from New York shares her experience of her first few days in the UK...

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We have another new student blogger, also from the University of Bristol. Her name is Emilia Morano-Williams, and she comes to us from the US. She is currently a fourth year Italian student, originally from New York. In her first entry she takes us back to her first few weeks in Bristol, including the attention her accent attracted, and more....


'I had seen Bristol a couple of times before I arrived there for university, but, from the moment I landed in Heathrow, I could tell that this time would be different. There was no return ticket, there was no easy lifting the suitcase and there was no way to enter the country without having my fingerprints scanned. I was here as more than a tourist, I was here to live.


Things have changed a lot since then, but my first few days in Bristol as a student have become the benchmark by which I measure how much I’ve grown since arriving at university. The awkward exchanges with possible friends, the blank room with a single university-issued poster hanging on the wall and even the frequent inability to eat this completely foreign food felt all encompassing back then. Little did I know that all those funny moments wouldn’t last.


I moved into halls much like the other students. My parents and I arrived with a couple suitcases at Churchill Hall in Bristol and walked into the painfully bare room. Within a few minutes everything was out and had a place. I had barely any belongings and my room resembled a bare Travelodge rather than a place in which I would be spending my first year of university. I glanced out onto the quad, a unique feature of my hall, and saw the other students moving in box after box. Could I ever forget the kid who brought his own television or a box of beer? Nope, not yet anyway.


Of course, the first day all passes in the longest whirlwind of your life. Soon my parents left and I went to say hi to the other students who I could see and hear chatting happily from my window. Once I said hi and began meeting people, it was easy to keep going. People heard my accent from the moment I began speaking and, just like that, we had a conversation going. There seemed to be a shockingly large amount of people who knew each other already, but I just shrugged it off with a smile that’s largeness probably betrayed the nerves that I felt.


Things got easier and harder after the first day. My first week of university life fell into the predictable pattern of attending induction talks, getting lost wandering around the university, trying to make friends and figuring out where to find the most basic of items. All of a sudden extension cords, mouthwash and folders became exotic items. When I wake up the first morning, I made the mistake of counting how many days until Christmas break would begin.  In that moment, as the fear of spending ninety days away from home hit me, I learnt the most important lesson of my university career: take it one day at a time. I’ve been living peacefully with that mindset ever since.


During the first few weeks, I was hyper aware of not wanting to seem too foreign. All my images of international students came from movies and television shows where they were put into the corner and observed as if their culture was so completely different. Yet, I soon realized that because I was fortunate enough to speak English as a first language and to have spent many months travelling through England before arriving at university, the cultural differences weren’t as stark as I expected them to be. People would ask me questions about where I came from, but when we discovered common interests, those queries quickly gave way to other topics. If people thought of me as foreign, they certainly didn’t show that. I soon began to stop thinking of myself as foreign and just thought of myself as a Bristol student.  Sure, it was hard when I talked to friends back home who were pleasantly ticking off all the required college experiences and got to go home at the weekend, but living abroad became less about being an American in a new country and turned into me having new experiences.


For me, the social and cultural struggles of arriving at university occupied more of my mental space than academic issues. I found it relatively easy to integrate into new classes and soon began to enjoy my schedule. The beginning of university is difficult for everyone, but as an international student it can be easy to think that you are the only one experiencing these issues because you are international. I didn’t realize it until later in the year, but everyone was struggling with the shift to university in their own way. It’s a culture shock to everyone; we just experience it in different ways.'


Interested in studying at the University of Bristol? Read more about the University, watch their video, and browse the many courses they offer.


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If you enjoyed this blog entry, read more posts by Emilia as she navigates life in the UK as an international student.

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