Adjusting to Exeter as an international student

Before coming to Exeter in September 2019, I had been living in Albuquerque, New Mexico and attending a state funded public school there. My parents had both immigrated to the US from different countries (Ireland and Rwanda, respectively) and had always encouraged me to broaden my understanding of the world, and of the importance of growing through experiencing challenging and often uncomfortable situations.

Their influence, as well as experiences abroad during high school (a few months at a Scottish boarding school, conferences in Poland and Germany) prompted me to go to university in another continent to seek out vastly new experiences for myself as I had felt so much more confident, curious and empathetic as a result of being forced to adapt my mindset and meet people of different backgrounds than my own.

During university, I struggled like many with homesickness and a sense of imposter syndrome. I felt like I didn’t seem to belong here the way in which everyone else did with such ease. Now in my third year, I feel the friends I have made here will be lifelong friends, something which I didn’t anticipate when I started here.

What helped me to settle in was to find my people-- befriending people with similar experiences greatly helped me with any feelings of isolation, as well as helping me realise that everyone was experiencing difficulties settling in too (some are just better hiding it than others).

In my first year flat, I was the only person of colour as well as the only international student. While my flatmates were lovely, there was a disconnect on several levels (such as with my stress over international travel (exacerbated by COVID), distance between myself and family, difficulty adjusting to a new culture and climate, and things such as food and music which are unique to one’s ethnic group).

I decided to join societies on campus including BAME Society (now BIPOC), the African Caribbean Society, and the Asian Society. I was able to relate to people in these communities and this helped me to feel like I had a home away from home.

My advice to Black students would be to get involved in the university community, and take leadership positions to effect the change you would like to see. In the process, you will meet some people who will inspire you and share your beliefs.

I would also recommend forming good relationships with staff at the University, who have been to me a form of pastoral support. Putting yourself out there and going out on a whim has been the most important lesson I’ve learned at university- you’ll either experience something new or exciting, and at the very least you’ll get a funny story out of it.