Most students show up to university with their entire life packed in the back of their parents’ car, ready to get moved into their accommodation. With just two suitcases of clothing, I arrived from Switzerland to Heathrow on my own last year, and waited for the University quarantine bus to take me to my temporary accommodation where I would be staying for the next two weeks.
International students experience freshers' in a very different way than students from the UK, we are beginning a new chapter in a foreign country several hundred miles away from our family, which can be difficult. This is why I wanted to share a few things I wish I had known before I started.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to budget your money responsibly, especially as an international student where there can be so many additional costs, especially due to travel expenses. You can manage these expenses by setting up an excel sheet, writing it down by hand, and/or download an app that helps you keep track of costs.
You can categorise it to your own needs and this way at the end of each month you can visually see where you spent most of your monthly budget in order to plan the next month well. I also highly recommend becoming a club member in wherever you shop because in the long run you will save a lot of money.
It is ok to not make friends with everyone you meet!
I remember being so stressed about making friends at first. Luckily, Exeter has people from all types of cultures, backgrounds and interests with societies that will help you meet the people that you will mesh with the best! As a Spanish student that has lived in four different countries, most of my friends are international.
I personally didn’t mesh very well with my flat mates in first year but that was ok because I met other people through societies that are my best friends to this day. (If you’re Spanish I also strongly recommend going to Time Piece on Tuesdays, it’s basically an unofficial Spanish social with the best Latino music and lots of people to socialise with!)
Feeling home sick
There will be times in the academic year where you will see people get tired of university life and will quickly run to the train station to go home to their families. As an international student, I was very jealous of UK students that were able to get home in a few hours as it’s not so easy for us. No one prepared me for the fact that sometimes I would be the only person in my flat because everyone had gone home to be with their families. I recommend staying in touch with your family through facetime on a weekly basis! It will help you feel less homesick. I also strongly recommend spending time with your other international friends when this starts to happen because no one will relate to you better than those that are going through the same thing.
Finding housing for the following year
Exeter is known for how early you need to start looking at housing, so I strongly recommend that you start researching what UK landlords require before that mayhem starts. For example, I had no idea that some landlords will require you to have a guarantor that is based in the UK.
What a guarantor does is pay for you in the case you miss your payment deadline. If you don’t have a relative or family friend that will be able to do so, you may need to go through companies that can be your UK guarantor (there are several such as rent guarantor). Otherwise, your only option is to pay the full year fee of rent all at once.
Get a UK phone number as soon as possible!
You may think it is unnecessary, but it is. For example, most grocery delivery companies will only deliver to you if you have a UK number. This also goes for taxis, certain independent businesses in Exeter as well as the NHS! I didn’t get mine until second year and it was a nightmare sometimes, especially not being able to get groceries delivered as I didn’t live close to any grocery store.
Please try not to stress too much because first year can seem overwhelming. My time at university has been the best time of my life so far, and I wouldn't trade it for anything! I've met friends for life from many nationalities; I've discovered a variety of non-academic life skills; and I've had a fantastic time connecting with people from many societies. You may believe that people will judge you, like I did, yet everyone is in the same situation! I assure you that everyone wants to get to know you and meet new people. Even though you might think it's already too late into term, why not try what my Palestinian friend and I did in the first week if you're feeling up to it. We went down our corridor and knocked on every single door. We soon discovered that those people were quite appreciative of us knocking on their doors because they were too afraid to leave their rooms. I promise you that by the end of the first term you will have met so many people that you won’t even remember their names, which is ok! You have the rest of the year to learn them!