Settling into life in the UK

Posted 17 October 2013
The view from Cambridge University church tower

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Studying abroad is as daunting and terrifying a task as it is exciting. You have begun a new chapter of your life, filled to the brim with brand new experiences. But it also means that you had to leave behind your comfort zone, saying goodbye to those whom you hold so dear.

Studying abroad is as daunting and terrifying a task as it is exciting. You have begun a new chapter of your life, filled to the brim with brand new experiences. But it also means that you had to leave behind your comfort zone, saying goodbye to those whom you hold so dear. Not many people find it easy to adapt to an unfamiliar environment straightaway: few are unable to cope with it at all. Many yearn for familiarity and security, all of which they have left behind. Yet all international students have to learn to deal with emotional difficulties of moving abroad, in order to fully settle into life in the UK and concentrate on their study. This article tackles the two major adjustment issues that international students have to overcome: homesickness and culture shock. 


All students, domestic or international, when they move away from home will experience homesickness. Those who have never been away from home before will suffer the hardest. They will miss their family and friends terribly, and will find themselves unable to concentrate properly. Some may feel lonely and lost in new environment, among new people. While home students can hop a train and be home in a few hours for the weekend, international students, especially those whose home is two continents away, are unable to do so. The large geographical distance also intensifies the distress, which may ultimately lead to despair and depression. Severe homesickness can render students incapable of adapting and making new friends. Homesick students spend so much time dwelling on the past and clinging tight to their old friends that they are reluctant to meet new people. The horrible feelings will worsen; the students find themselves on a downward spiral. Homesickness is common among students, but it can be crippling if ignored and suppressed.



To cope with homesickness, the first thing you ought to do is to acknowledge your feelings. Everyone experiences homesickness, and there is nothing shameful about admitting that you are lost and disorientated. You can talk to your tutors for advice, talk to your new classmates and share your feelings. It is important that you keep yourself busy and do things that you enjoy. Some students believe that if they keep in contact with their family and friends too often, their homesickness will never come to pass, so they tend to cut contact with their loved ones back home. However, this is a mistake, as your suppressed feelings will only surge back later, ten times as strong. It may not be a wise idea to call your family and friends every two hours, since that will just disrupt your work and theirs. But it is essential for you to keep in regular contact with them, as it definitely will help lessen your homesickness.

Culture shock

While the main concern of home students can be homesickness, international students will have to deal with culture shock as well. When someone is thrown into a foreign country that has an entirely different set of values and cultural quirks, they will doubtlessly experience some level of culture shock. A certain amount of culture shock is normal, but similar to homesickness, culture shock can develop to be debilitating. Culture shock can make you unwilling to try new things, thus robbing you off some of the most rewarding experience of an international student. In some cases, culture shock can push international students into assimilating with the new culture in an attempt to rapidly fit in with the new environment and social circles. Reverse culture shock will then occur; the international students lose their cultural roots and values. Either case is unpleasant and unsatisfactory.



International students therefore should learn to successfully overcome culture shock, to be able to adopt the good of the new culture, while still retaining their own culture and values. Communication is the key. One of the main causes of culture shock is miscommunication. International students whose first language is not English tend to be inhibited by their command of English. Unable to communicate, they are mystified and misunderstood.

Therefore, international students ought to put aside their inhibition and communicate with friends, with teachers and staff and with  local people.

Through communication, students learn so much about a culture and their etiquette. They will learn to accept and appreciate the differences between cultures. Understanding speeds up adaptation, and international students will be able fully settle into life as a student in the UK.

Moving abroad is difficult. There are many challenges to overcome in order to make the most of your stay in the UK. But don’t forget that there will always be help available. Every Bellerbys student has their own tutor, who will support them throughout their time at Bellerbys. Each of Bellerbys centres also has an effective and dedicated Student Services, whose friendly staff will go to great lengths to ensure that international students can settle in the UK.

Autumn Hoang