Change is a scary thing. I’ve spent all my life trying to avoid any major— nested in my own comfort zone, surrounded by the same people, same places, and if I could help it, same situations.
I changed schools when I moved on to high-school, but spent the next four years stuck in that bubble.
Some teachers and classmates have gone and passed, but everything else stayed the same. I got a new dog and a couple of new friends. I visited some new places and tried out new food rarely— but enough to say I did.
18 years of my life passed me by while I lived in the same country. I was almost 19 when I first stepped foot out of Romania. And suddenly I realised the world was so much bigger than I thought. And I didn’t want to be small anymore.
People ask me all the time how I made the decision to pack all I own and leave behind everything I know to come to the UK to study. The answer is quite simple: I didn’t want to spend the next 20 years stuck in my comfort zone, not growing and not experiencing life. I didn’t want to get lazy and complacent. And, as beautiful as Romania is, I was curious about what the rest of the world has to offer.
So I made a decision and I followed through— all it took was one big, massive change. While it’s been a scary ride at times, I am so happy to be where I am today.
How does one socially awkward, shy and introverted Romanian survive the change of going to university in the UK, you might ask. Keep reading to find out.
How do you survive the change?
Well, since I never went to university in Romania, it was going to be a new experience either way, and it was clearly going to be more challenging than high school, because now I was supposed to magically turn into an adult as well.
That wasn’t the case for me. Even in the midst of big changes, it was always best to cling to something familiar. So when I got to the UK I lived with my sister for a while, before moving on to exploring my independence and living in shared accommodation with total strangers.
My best advice for coping with big changes is not to psych or freak yourself out about it. Don’t spend so much time in your head planning it, because it’s never going to be the same way you picture it. Just go out there and enjoy it because some things are simply out of your control.
How do you study in a different language?
Taking classes in a different language wasn’t as hard as I imagined. People seem to think that you need time to hear the sentences, translate them in your head, form an answer and then translate the answer. But it’s simpler than that.
When it comes to the actual studying, there are times where you will need a dictionary nearby, or you simply won’t understand some of the cultural references (I still don’t) but that’s ok. Because no one is expecting you to know everything. As long as you master the language enough to hold up a conversation, you will in time get the hang of writing academic papers and maybe even understand some of the cultural context of peoples' discussions.
If you are still struggling to learn the new language there are a couple of things you could do:
- Take some extra language classes. Ask around in university to see if they provide any free ones.
- Stick around and have a discussion with the lecturers and ask them to explain again what you didn’t fully understand. They would be happy to help out, and because it’s just them talking to you, there is a bigger chance you will understand what they are talking about.
- Turn your papers in for correcting before handing them in officially. Universities with a large number of international students usually have a department or a few people that can look over your projects and essay and correct the grammar for free. So ask around!
- Take a lot of notes! Not sure what the lecture is on about and need time to process it? Write it down and figure it out later!
Are there any resources for international students?
Universities are well prepared to help out and encourage any students that are new to their environments. So before anything else make sure to check their website and ask around. Their resources will be accessible to anyone who needs some extra help. And you can always join groups or student communities from your country.
My favourite resources as a foreign student are:
- Google Translate: Always kept at hand in case of need. There are tons of translation apps out there, so be sure to find one that works for you.
- Google Maps: Foreign university probably means foreign town. So be sure to spend some time learning your way around and find the quickest routes to and from university.
- Evernote: A great way to keep notes on your phone and laptop because they sync automatically and with a quick search you can find any note.
- Babbel: My favourite language learning tool. They only have a small selection of languages you can learn, but their teaching technique is excellent!
- Student Discounts: Why not take advantage of your status and get some awesome discounts in some of your favourite shops. If you are a UK student, make sure you check out this list of 10 places that offer student discounts.
- Student Union: As I previously mentioned, your university is well prepared for you. Check to see what resources they have available for you.
- Canva: Need to put together a presentation, CV or template? Canva is free and super easy to use.
How do you deal with home sickness?
University can be quite exciting, but at the end of the day, no matter where you are studying, chances are you will be missing your home country, your old friends and your old habits.
So how do you keep the home sickness at bay?
- Call home. As often as you can. Be thankful for the internet because now you don’t have to worry about the phone bill. You can skype and facetime, send messages of facebook or whatsapp. Use these resources to keep in touch with the loved ones.
- Occupy your free time. Do not let yourself get bored, because the homesickness will only get worse from here. Find new hobbies or relive some of the old ones.
- Cook some country specific dishes. What always makes me feel better when I miss home is cooking something my mom used to cook. I usually have to skype her to get the recipe so having a notebook of home recipes is a great idea!
- Visit. Go back home at least once a year. There is no better way to heal home sickness. Make sure to plan your trip in advance and book your plane ticked at least three months ahead of time to get the best deals.
To conclude, going to study in a different country is a big deal. But we are designed to adapt and thrive in such situations. All you need are the right resources and the right people to surround yourself with, and you can do anything!
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Ana and I want to know: what was the hardest part about your transition? What are your biggest tips for surviving at a foreign university? Let us know in the comments!