Tuesday, 14 August 2012
(20): Studying in UK universities: Tips for new students
September is normally a busy period, especially for students coming to study in UK universities, because that is when the new session starts. It is an important period especially for international students coming from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, China, India, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, etc. But a point of interest is that a lot of these students would be coming for the first time. As with almost every society, there are a lot of differences in the way things operate.
As such, due to differences in culture and even political system, some students easily become affected by culture-shock. Some even return home immediately, and others get affected by loneliness, depression and other social pressures in the society.
In the few years that I have been living in the UK, I understand that there is one key ingredient to success. It is not money as some people might think. That ingredient is information. Those who face difficulties, particularly among new students, lack the basic information that will help them succeed in their academic endeavour. In this short essay I shall explain the few things that are important for prospective international students.
The first thing that you need to do is plan your arrival. It is extremely important to look at the location of your university. The common mistake that people make is to make their travel arrangement through London only. If you are coming to universities in cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Newcastle, Bradford, Edinburgh, Bristol, etc, understand that there are international airports in these cities, and it is much easier for you to arrange your flight directly to these airports than come through London, and then travel another three to four hours before arriving in some of the cities mentioned. If there is no airport in the city, look for the nearest airport to your destination and come through it. Most major airlines have a connection to these airports. So, save your time, energy and even resources by taking few minutes to look at the map and decide the nearest airport to your destination.
The second thing you need to plan is accommodation. A number of people make the mistake of not making proper arrangement for accommodation, and decide to come few days before the commencement of studies, lodge in a bed and breakfast hotel and then start looking for accommodation. The reality is universities allocate accommodation sometimes as early as May, and the few spaces left for international students are allocated on first come first serve basis, therefore those who get admission early normally take them, so do not wait until September. Private accommodation is also not easy to get at this period of the year. So, understand the challenge you are going to face. For those coming with family, ensure that your family have their visa at hand, then come and prepare the ground so that they can have a smooth arrival.
The third advice, which is the most important, is about your studies. It is particularly important for new students to understand that the method of assessment in most UK universities is a combination of examination and essay writing, with essay writing more predominant at the postgraduate level. This could be a challenge, especially if you come from an educational system where examination is the only method of assessing students. So, learn to practice the art of writing, as in many instances you will be asked to write essays of between 3,000-4,000 words. If you are not conversant with using computers, please learn to do it, as you will hardly find a business centre where somebody will type your assignments for you, and if you do find one, the price of that service will shake the few savings you have made for your studies.
The fourth tip is about food. Look at your budget carefully; you have the option between cooking and eating in restaurants or from takeaways, the latter being more expensive. Understand that there are local markets where you find local food items and recipes as you do back in your country. If you have dietary requirements, particularly for religious reasons, like halal for Muslims, always ask, as there are shops or even conventional restaurants that offer those services.
Fifth, take note of the weather. It is important to wear warm clothes, but do not bring in too many wears that you may end up not using but on few occasions. The type of dress people use is normally associated with the weather, so make simple plans and buy the clothes you need according to circumstance.
The final tip is about life style. Understand that coming to the UK does not mean you should change your life style. This is a common mistake that new students make. So, remain natural and respect your tradition and customs. Becoming a caricature of your normal person will neither earn you respect nor enhance your status anywhere. If you are a religious person, there are people of faith everywhere like you. In most public places like airports, hospitals and universities there are prayer rooms; there are even multi-faith chaplaincies where you can find representatives from different faiths who can offer you support.
It is also important to make it clear to your friends, relatives and associates that you are coming to study, and not to make money. So let them not over-burden you with the flood of requests asking you to purchase iphones, laptops, shoes or even help them with shopping for their wedding. The price of these items can actually pay your accommodation for at least a month, as accommodation is one of the most expensive things over here. The time you will spend going to shops in search of these items is needed for your studies. Be patient as you go through this important stage in your life, and I wish you good luck.