Sue Ann’s Declassified UK Survival Guide
Growing up, my parents have always been eager to see the effects of sending their children abroad for studies. It has virtually no cons to it. I would be able to experience different cultures, get my degree, and best of all, learn to be independent.
I remember that everything was exciting at first: the scenery, the weather, the people. But when classes rolled in, all these minor differences in the surroundings started to get overwhelming. When I say minor differences, I really mean minor differences. Back in Malaysia, I had always driven to Taylor’s; but here, my main method of commute was walking. The weather back home was either sunny or rainy and the clothes that I was used to wearing weren’t suitable for the gloomy and rainy climate in the UK.
During classes, I had to get used to my lecturers’ foreign accent. Before I came to the UK, I never thought it would be a problem. After all, it’s still English right? But boy, was I wrong. Even simple things like getting rice was a daunting task. Which grocery store do I go to for the best value? Where exactly are the shops for me to get my essentials? How do I use a dryer for my cotton or polyester clothes?! There was so much going on at first that I started to miss home a little.
Thankfully, after a couple of months, I got over those hiccups and started to blend in with my new home. It might seem intimidating to live abroad alone, but things will get better. You’ll eventually figure your way around town and learn to love the new culture around you.
There are a few rules that I choose to live by while I’m living away from home. For example, getting out of my comfort zone. I consider myself an introvert, but this was my chance to meet new people. So far I have enjoyed meeting housemates who are from other schools. With each of us having a different focus on studies, we don’t feel the pressure of having to compete with each other academically and we get to learn new things from each other. Also, another perk of having housemates from different schools is you’re less likely to fight over the shared bathroom as you’ll be having a different study schedule!
If it’s your first time living away from home, it is important to have friends you can trust – better yet if they stay close by. It would be perfect if you have one or two close friends around, but not all the time of course, since you would also need your personal space and time to study or recharge.
Besides, don’t forget to run through a brief budget plan with your family before you leave to study abroad. Spend some time discussing your needs and spending, especially if you are transferring in your final year. Evaluate if you would have the time for part-time work, because researching and writing your dissertation would take up most of your free time.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Taylor’s University and the University of Leeds is the way the lecturers teach. Yes, it is true that there are exactly zero tips provided by lecturers in the UK. So, don’t even hope for any form of tips from the lecturers. Even when a lecturer seems to pay more attention to a certain chapter and tells you that certain chapters are simple enough for you to self-study – it is NOT a tip. Another thing is the importance of tutorial sessions, or rather, seminars. Don’t get me wrong: tutorials in Taylor’s are very important too. However, depending on the modules you take, some seminars can be a lot tougher and they can weigh differently too.
Seminar sessions are very intense. Very often I would find myself learning a lot more in seminars rather than in lectures. To me, it feels like lectures only introduce most of the basics while the majority of the learning process happens during our self-study sessions in preparation for seminars. The recommended reading list for each seminar is very helpful and without them, seminar sessions would really be impossible to keep up.
I’m sure you have heard how outspoken Western students are when it comes to answering questions in class? So true! Many of them are well prepared, and it can be scary to raise your hand when you see how fluently they are in sharing their ideas. But feel free to raise your hand anyway because they rarely judge, and lecturers strongly encourage discussion in seminars. I always find that participating in discussions helps me to learn things quicker, too.
That being said, if you ever feel like you’re struggling mentally over your studies, don’t be afraid to reach out. Here, the National Health Service and plenty of other healthcare services are free of charge.
Take up as many opportunities as you can. Remember that while studying overseas, you are also going to be living overseas. Don’t fall into the same routine you have in Malaysia; take this as an opportunity to do the things you never dared to do before. Embrace the challenges that come, learn from them, and remember that your family is at home supporting you. Plan spontaneous trips with your friends around a cheap budget, enjoy the Black Friday sales and learn quickly the consequences of burning through your allowance. Go sign up for clubs and communities, soak up the city’s culture, and more – the world is your oyster! After all, not everyone is granted the opportunity to study in a foreign country, so go make good memories and hold them close to your heart.