student life

Being a foreign student in the UK

international, student, academic, university, Alex Bielikova, Kettle Mag
Written by Alex Bielikova

Most foreign students make a hard decision of leaving home and moving to different country to give themselves chance at better future. It can be the best decision of their life or turn out to be its biggest mistake. But things are not always black and white and usually it is somewhere in the middle.

Being a foreign student myself, I am sharing what it is like to study in the UK. 

You won’t understand anyone for the first two weeks

Learning English in a foreign country means that teachers are probably natives who learned the language in the university so that they could teach it. Therefore unless they are very lucky, students spend years listening to English being pronounced in an accent native to their own country. Any other accent then sounds like gibberish, it doesn’t matter if you come from the north or south.

All that lovely free food (or not)!

‘What do you mean you never had a minced pie or Cadbury chocolate bar?’

Your British friends will always make sure you try any typically English food, often free of charge. All you have to do it mention that you have never tried it before and they will schedule an outing to rectify the situation. However, since everybody has different taste buds, the best food you ever tasted can turn into horror on the plate. I am looking at you, salt and vinegar chips!

All that geography knowledge

Foreign students have to politely deal with people who remember their geography lessons wrong. There will always be that one person that will start talking about how they visited your country and loved the sea even though it doesn’t have access to one. When it comes to deciding whether to correct them or let them think they are right, it is always better to correct them, but as politely and non-embarrassingly as possible.  

‘You alright?’

It took me a while to figure this one out. I kept thinking that I constantly looked sad or sick since people were asking me if I was okay. It took a friend realising that I got flustered every time somebody said that sentence to me, to explain that it was a form of greeting rather than me looking like I was on a death bed.

The crippling debt

The government recently erased the living grant from the student loan options for native students and it rose an uproar across the whole country. Students coming from the European Union, although eligible for student loans, weren’t getting living grants anyway.

That means that they had to finance their living expenses somewhere else. A part-time job will not cover all the bills and living expenses and unless your parents are very well off, a loan is the next logical step. Most foreign students have higher debts than native ones and have them in two countries. Therefore, there is higher pressure on them to be successful after leaving university. That was the whole point of going to study abroad anyway. But there is always a possibility that it will not work out.

Accent copying and guessing

Your friends will try to copy your accent and ask you to copy theirs. We always fail and end up laughing at each other. Alcohol is usually involved.

People who have never seen you before will ask you where your accent is from. At first I answered straight away but that got dull rather easily and I started telling them to try and guess. Now I have a list of potential countries where I could be from, including Northern Ireland, Belgium, Russia, Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain. None of them are the right answer and nobody ever got it right without me giving out some hints.

The in-depth sightseeing

The first thing most people want to see upon arrival to the UK is Big Ben, then they want to take a ride on the London Eye and see the guard change at the Buckingham Palace. Actually moving to the country for few years allows you to see way more than that and venture past the London landmarks to the whole country. Explore whenever you can. Just don’t fail your classes!

The lecturer’s feedback

A big number of feedback from my lecturers started with variations of: ‘Considering English is your second language…’

For the sake of your future employment talk to them about marking you as if you were native. If you decide to study abroad it is up to you to assess if you can handle studying in a second language.

Your second language will be hardly perfect. The syntax will be mixed up, you will forget a word, write it the wrong way or mispronounce it. However if you let others be lenient with you, these mistakes will never go away and it can result in you not getting your dream job. If there is a choice between someone with perfect English and ‘just okay’ English the employer will go for the first option.  Always aspire to get better.

Where do I belong?

It doesn’t happen during the first months but as first year passes and you get used to living in a new country, the feeling of not fitting in will from time to time creep up on you, not just in the UK but in your home country as well.

It is no surprise that this feeling comes while living abroad for extended period of time. After all, the culture is different and our roots are somewhere else. It can happen suddenly, while your friends are talking about their favourite childhood TV shows and you have never seen them and they have never seen your favourite cartoon and you realize you cannot connect with them and it feels slightly off.

However, coming home will most likely not erase this feeling. You share the same culture and roots with people from your homeland and you can chat about your favourite cartoons for hours but when you start discussing the present the feeling will return.

Venturing abroad will change you and the way you look at the world. You will adopt new opinions and see things in different lights. It gives you an open mind but at the same time it cuts the ties with your homeland because although it changes too, the change is influenced by different factors than yours. You will be stuck in the middle, unable to completely fit into your new home but always feeling slightly off in your old one.

Leaving everything behind and go to study in a different country is never an easy decision and it certainly is not like taking a stroll in the park. There will be good days as well as the bad ones. However, I don’t regret my decision to go. I have met wonderful people who I would have never have an opportunity to meet otherwise. I have been to magical places I never even knew existed and experienced so much that I feel all bad sides of coming here were worth it.

If you are thinking of studying abroad, think about it and all its pros and cons. Write them down and then think about it again. And if you still feel the desire to go, don’t hold back. 

What advice would you add? Have your say in the comments section below.