Every student first coming to university has some apprehensions. Coming to a new place, settling in, meeting lots of new people from all over the world, the fear of being unable to make friends, feeling homesick – it all happens to everyone. My first week in the UK was the same, filled with joyful excitement and anxiety. As an international student who had never been to the UK before, except for a short visit, and never been away from my family, this was a huge step outside my comfort zone and just the beginning of a whirlwind experience. I studied my undergraduate degree at the University of Birmingham before I joined my current Masters degree at the University of Exeter.
My father had dropped me off at my halls at Birmingham, stayed with me for a couple of days and helped me settle in. It was when he left, that I realized how alone I was. I was all alone in a strange country and it was the first time I had ever been without my family. I had no experience taking care of myself before and everything was new. Having lived in Abu Dhabi, I felt knew what to expect from a city but I wasn’t prepared for the massive cultural gap. I was very excited, of course, for having the chance to be independent and to start my course. But I was also apprehensive about finding my way to campus (I lived over 2o minutes away) and making friends.
I gradually got to know my flatmates and realised we all felt the same way. Starting to make friends really boosted my confidence. My way of coping, initially, was to leave myself plenty of time to manage things. I’d map my way carefully and leave house at least an hour or more before my lectures. I ended up following other students to campus, which was a huge benefit of living in halls. I’d cook simple things and be extremely careful. I remember I was very confused the first time I had to do my laundry and it took ages for me to figure out how to use the specific machines in the laundrette there.
The first week was quite challenging, learning the ropes of housekeeping while also getting to grips with my new course and coursemates. We had welcome events where I first met my coursemates. I was hesitant, not knowing how to approach them, but everyone was really nice. They approached me and introduced themselves. I found that I wasn’t as out of place as I feared and that there were many international students, just like me. After a couple of days, I started recognising faces and by the end of the first week, I had made several friends! I really enjoyed the Freshers’ Week events, finding out everything the university had to offer and how I could participate them. I slowly started understanding how things worked and that it wasn’t anything to be overly worried about.
Then, it was time for my course to start. I remember that I was sad after my first lecture, not being able to understand my lecturer while everyone around me took notes. But very soon, after talking to a few people, I understood that many people had the same problem. After a couple of lectures, I could follow what was being said as well as anyone. After a month, I had settled in completely and felt fully at home. I had found friends, I really enjoyed my course and the thrill of being in a new place hid any homesickness I might have felt.
Before I knew it, I had finished my three years of undergraduate study. Those years had been filled with learning, work experience, societies, socials and of course, friends. It was then time for me to move to Exeter for my next big learning experience.
In some ways, I knew what it was like to live in the UK. But in other ways, I still felt the same apprehensions I had first felt. It was mild, compared to when I first arrived but still there. My first week experience here was different from before as well. I loved the campus, so I spent quite a lot of my first week exploring it and trying not to get lost. I got involved in many more Freshers’ Week activities and tried to make friends by approaching them. I didn’t meet most of my coursemates ’till we started lectures so getting to know them without an ice-breaker was a different, but not difficult.
It has been four years since I moved to the UK and I have enjoyed every moment. It has been a wonderful learning experience, filled with ups and downs, lots of new things which then became familiar things close to my heart. Moving to a new place is never easy, no matter how many times you’ve done it but it always is worth it, to follow your dreams. And remember, you’re never alone.