Things I wish I had known as an international student before starting University

International Airport Arrivals  Board 

If you are anything like me, then the idea of studying in a different country comes with mixed feelings. Anything from the excitement of living somewhere different and the anxiety of leaving your family and everything you know to delve into the unknown.

Here are some of the things I wish I knew then that would have made a difference to me.

1. Prepare

So your flight is booked and you know what time you’re due to land.  But have you planned your travel between the airport and your university? Many universities offer help and subsidised or discounted transfer arrangements for their international students.  Contact the International Office to see if there is a provision for this. There will be a wide range of information available from the University website for international students prior to their arrival. Explore in depth the university and your departmental websites. If you do so, you may not have a question to be worrying about or looking for someone to assist or explain. You would also save yourself from getting vague information.

2. Check if you need to register

Some foreign nationals are required to register with the police and or their embassies within days of arriving in the UK (it should be clear sometimes from your passport stamp if you do).  Again enquire with the International Office and your embassy for required.Most universities provide an on-campus GP (general practitioner) who can act as your doctor for minor ailments and complaints whilst you are away from home.  Enquire with your International Office for advice and information about the services available at your university.

3. Paperwork:

Keep several versions of your documents ready and accessible at all times. Always have at least 2 copies of every important document, the originals and also scan all of them so you have a digital copy, in case it is necessary to send them with email. This really saves you lots of time.

4. Say Hello and make friends

 Everyone out there, regardless of whether they are from other countries or from the UK, has moved away from family and friends and it very likely, feels like you. Distances don’t matter. This is when, everyone is ready to make friends, so regardless of how out of place you feel, just smile, and say hi. Get to know your lecturers and tutors! Walk around and meet your tutors and lecturers in person.

5. Mix with students from other backgrounds and countries

One of the biggest advantages of being an international student is being exposed to a variety of global cultures. Not having an experience of this is pointless. With the nature of today’s global economy, it wouldn’t hurt to have global contacts. Go out there and make friends and build your knowledge of other cultures while sharing yours.

6. Get involved with your Students Union / Society:

Most international students will find a society representing their home country or interests at the University.  Join a society and get involved. It allows you to meet similar people who are good links. Also you can celebrate cultural events or traditions.

7. Immerse yourself in the culture

 Be prepared for culture shock and seek support. It is challenging enough moving away to a place where you know no one, let alone to move to a place where the culture is also very different. Regardless of how developed or advanced a society you are coming from, the mere change of scenery can be enough to impact how you feel. If you are struggling to cope, there is always support available from the University. Talk to someone.

8. Familiarise yourself with your new city

The city you choose to study in will have a range of events, activities and venues to keep you entertained while studying in the UK. From live music gigs to museums, the likelihood is that whatever you like to do for entertainment, the city will cater for it. However, remember that the UK is relatively small compared with other countries and it is possible to visit the majority of cities for short breaks, as well as parts of Europe, should you wish to do so. Each city in the UK has its own unique history.

9. Go to your freshers’ week

At universities in the UK, a freshers’ week is usually held before teaching officially starts. The week consists of many events specifically for new starters to get to know the university, city and each other. The main part of freshers’ week is the freshers’ fair, which is held on campus and showcases the university clubs you can join and other student related services. The more information you can get, the quicker you will be familiar with what’s available to you.

10. Seek advice and opinion on resources available to you

Universities make an effort to make sure your university experience is a positive and productive one. There are numerous services available to you to support this. There is a range of services offering guidance and advice on a range of issues including your finances, studies, career and your general health & wellbeing. There are also a range of discounted products and services available from external businesses. As an international student, you have to be frugal on what and how you spend your limited finance. A little research will save you on resources.

11. Get a job

Working part-time is a great way to earn cash, meet people and get a quick induction of the culture of the place.  It is common for students to make the most of their long summer break by working or even volunteering. Students from outside the EEA but on a full-time course of study can work limited hours during term time and extended hours during holidays. Visit for more information.

12. Buy a coat

It’s often said that the only predictable thing about British weather is its unpredictability. It may be wise to bring a coat and warm clothing  (although these will be reasonably cheap to buy when you arrive.)

13. Food for Thought: Learn to cook a few things.

It will be invaluable, and comes in handy at beginning of term when so much money and time is being spent doing other things. It is important to keep yourself well fed at the beginning of term, with food you are accustomed to, since you will get weary of takeaways quickly and start missing food from home. Most big cities in the UK now cater for food produce from around the world and Cardiff is no different.

14. Learn how to make a cup of tea

This is kind of a big deal.  Almost everyone in the UK drinks tea. A lot!

15. Finally…. embrace the change. It is what you wanted in the first place.




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About Iheanyi Ibe

Iheanyi is an accredited and experienced Business Adviser working with clients in the commercial development of ideas, business start-ups and securing competitive advantage for existing businesses and projects. As part of his role as Enterprise Officer Iheanyi leads on the HEFCW funded Enterprise Support Programme, supporting students and graduates in the development of small businesses and skills.