Roberta shares the truths and struggles of being an international student living in the UK, giving some useful tips on how to manage this new experience.
According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs, the United Kingdom is the second most popular country for international students to study, as it hosts about 500,000 students annually, which accounts for an estimated 20% of all university attendees.
Moving to this country to study is clearly a popular choice for many students from abroad. When looking at what the UK could offer me, the high-quality courses and the multiculturalism were the main factors that lead me to leave my country, Italy, to study in London. Embarking on a new journey is always exciting, as you get to experience a new culture, improve the language and make new friends. England is indeed known for being one of the greatest melting pots in the world, with its diverse cultures and the possibility of meeting people from around the world.
However, for the students themselves, moving away from home, and becoming an ‘international student’ is not always all fun and games. It can bring many challenges along the way that can affect your mental health. Having to juggle between assignments, work and social life, on top of taking care of my own house, was definitely a challenge for me, as I was experiencing for the first time what being an adult meant. Although starting a new chapter of your life in a different place might be invigorating, doing it all by yourself can be tough and being in an unfamiliar environment miles and miles from the safe space of home can be intimidating when you don’t know anyone and everything is new.
You’re trying to understand the country, its different culture and how to fit in. Most prominently, for some, is the homesickness that comes with being away from your family and loved ones. You might see yourself experiencing a sense of alienation and loneliness and feel like you don’t belong here. You might find yourself juggling between assignments and part-time jobs, saving up every single penny and cutting down on social activities, trying to deal with the financial pressure that comes from the cost of living crisis affecting Britain and having to support yourself, making it hard to focus on education and friends. We live in a world that is rapidly changing and we are faced with greater responsibilities than our previous generations, having to deal with more stress and anxiety, lower pay and job insecurity, higher expectations and a competitive work environment where failure is not an option.
In this stage of our life, the support of our family and close friends becomes critical and not having them around can be challenging. Being an international student can be hard and you might feel overwhelmed, but you don’t have to go through this change alone. Having the support of my family and close friends and being able to open up to them really helped me overcome my struggles and it taught me there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable and asking for help. It’s important to recognise the tricky situations you might be facing and acknowledge how best to overcome those challenges.
Here are some steps that might help you to settle in:
Get involved in activities. Joining the gym is what helped me the most mentally, but even going for a walk with a friend for some fresh air can help immensely! The easiest and most fun way to make new friends and beat homesickness is to go out and explore the city and what it has to offer. The UK is known for its music, sport and food so the options are endless. Depending on where in the UK you move to, there will be lots of versatile, vibrant, and varied things on offer! Make the most of your university networks to explore what’s on offer.
Do things that bring you happiness and fulfilment. Take up that hobby you had left behind (or take up a totally new one!) and use it as a way to express yourself and reconnect with your passions. It will boost your mood and help you when you’re feeling stressed or burned out. I personally love to paint or play cards with my roommates as it’s something I used to do back home with my friends.
Talk to people you trust. When you’re feeling down, to avoid isolating yourself, try to surround yourself with people that make you feel seen and heard. Don’t be scared to open up or ask for help. If you realise you’re struggling, there are resources and experts you can consult that will help along the journey. Get in touch with your University student support teams as a useful flag to finding the best next steps.
But most importantly, be kind to yourself. It takes time to settle in, be patient and believe in yourself.
I’m Roberta, an international student who moved to London over a year ago to study for a master’s degree. When I first arrived, everything felt exciting but I soon realised I was about to face many challenges along the way. I want my story to show other students that, although it can be tough, it does get better.