After having detailed how to apply to the British university system in my last column, now to the interesting stuff:
What is it like to do your degree in the UK?
First of all: congratulations and well done that you have come this far! Your place is secured, your bags are packed and you are raring to go!
What did I find particularly good and useful in my adventures in GB? Here are my main pointers for you:Have your support at the ready! Particularly if this is your first longer stay away from home, try and organize some support for the first few days in what will be your new home for a few years. My Mom came with me for the first week, which I greatly appreciated, even after having stayed away from home for several months at a time before.
But this was different. If you are anything like me, the nerves will have set in at this point. I was as calm as you can be until I packed my bags the day before, and then it “suddenly” hit me that the plans I had laid for over a year where actually coming to fruition. What a shocker!
I found it invaluable to have someone to lean on with me, helping me to settle in, reassuring me and supporting the mad rush to find all the things required.
Bristol University supplied rooms for all first years, and had reserved a lovely furnished room in a shared, self-catered flat for me. I moved in with four second-year students, three of which happened to be on my course, a stroke of luck for me! The room was significantly larger than anything I had seen at home, ie you could walk between bed and desk, without falling from one into or onto the other. I even had a wardrobe and an extra chair. What you will need: sheets, bathroom accessories, kitchen basics (if you are going for self-catering), and anything you may want to pimp your room with.
Enjoy Freshers’ week!
Freshers’ week is the university’s way of welcoming all first-year students, introducing them to new flat- or corridor mates, depending on whether you are in a catered student hall or not, the range of student clubs and organisations on offer, your course-mates and first introductory courses, before ‘real’ life starts the week after.
There are also plenty of bars and clubs with special nights specifically for the first-years. Make use of all that is offered! Most British students move away from home for their degree and are keen to meet new people and make new friends. The atmosphere in this week and the first few months of your first year is unique and worth taking advantage of before everyone breaks into their little cliques. This is also one great advantage you will have over anyone coming for a part of their degree: these students will usually arrive just before their stint starts, be left with the flats full-time students in the area have rejected, living with country mates and faced with more rigid group formations and less openness than you will encounter at the beginning of your first year.
Hang in there!
Particularly if you come from a school system that differs from the British school systems it may take a while to adjust to the requirements of your course, depending on what subject you have chosen. I found, for example, that I needed to do some additional work on mechanics in comparison to my English colleagues, as my physics and maths courses in school had focused on the pure subjects and not touched on this combination of the two. The first couple of months were definitely tough. Between having to catch up on some things, and the many new experiences I was having, there definitely were times when I wondered whether my Great-aunt would get her way when she had said “Well, we’ll see if you don’t come back in a few months.” But it was worth sticking it out. In the end I found I could breeze through most of my pure maths course, making the load a bit easier, and there was much help offered where I needed it. You see, once you have been accepted on a course, it is assumed you will pass, otherwise you would not have been chosen. Very much unlike the system in Austria, where they weed out in the first few years, universities in the UK provide support where you need once you start studying, and a structured course enabling you to finish in the given time frame, focusing on you and your right to learn as much as possible. It is well worth hanging around.
Enjoy the expat experience!
If you have chosen to do your whole degree abroad you are in for a treat. This is a real expat experience, with plenty of opportunity to get to know the people and country where you are living. Don’t get me wrong, having a few months to a year in another country can be a great experience, but, for me, it differs greatly from spending a longer period of time, where you cannot see the end looming around the corner, in a foreign country. Over a longer period of time you really get a chance to know the people around you, settle in, discover a different way of life, maybe one you like, maybe not, but in any case you have had the time to experience it. It takes most people one to two years to really settle into somewhere new, so give yourself the time, and, while you’re on the ride, enjoy!
Cary is in her mid-thirties, living in her third home country, Germany, in Hamburg, with her Irish husband and little boy. Their little family is a true MischMasch, part Austrian, American, Irish, with some British flavour thrown in, for good measure. Writing is one of Cary's passions, as well as travelling and learning, and she enjoys pursuing it in her blog MyMischMasch.