Students moving to countries far away from home sometimes have mixed feelings – excitement, of course, but also perhaps anxiety. Before coming to the UK, I had never imagined the differences I would encounter from my home country, Nigeria. I was apprehensive, due to the stories I had heard about moving abroad but, to my surprise and relief, the United Kingdom is a great country for foreign visitors, including international students.
Settling down and getting to grips with the language
At first, settling down was difficult because I started my course late, but just within a month, I got settled and comfortable.
During my early weeks in the country, my first shock was hearing a British person speak, especially during seminars/classes. I would literally have to pay full attention in order to understand properly, and sometimes I even had to ask people to repeat things so I could understand better. Before coming here, I used to think my English was so good!
Another shock was having to use google maps to move around in the city. I lost my way multiple times and had to find my way back.
Two big differences: food and weather
If you ask international students about differences between the UK and home, food and weather are bound to be mentioned!
Differences in food can be a challenge but fortunately there’s a lot to enjoy in Leeds. Hsuan-Yi Chiu, a University of Leeds student from Taiwan, said she loves Yorkshire pudding and was surprised by the number of international restaurants in the city centre, as I was myself. Ayu Takayama, a student from Japan, was also positive about the food, with her favourites being fish and chips, and English potatoes.
Another thing we all find ‘interesting’ here is the weather. Ayu said, “I find the weather during winter very different compared to Japan”.
The weather here is also very new to me as I come from a country that’s usually very hot, and we make use of air conditioners, not heaters. During the winter here, it becomes dark soon after 4pm and during summer even after 11pm it’s still as bright as day. In Nigeria, on the other hand, we don’t experience winter or snow, although in rare cases, in the northern part of the country, falling rain can turn to ice. In general, the temperature I have experienced at home is between 22 and 28 degrees Celsius, so like what is termed ‘summer’ here almost all through the year.
Other challenges: different study patterns and celebrations
A particular challenge for students is finding that the way of studying here is different from home. Shreyas Srinivasa, a student of Leeds Beckett University from India, said, “Studying is very different here compared to India, as we don’t do a lot of research work and paper presentations like it is done here.”
Differences in festivals and celebrations can also be confusing. For example, to Shreyas, Halloween felt really odd, with the strange costumes and decorations.
Having a birthday party in Nigeria is totally different compared to having a party – or at least a student party – in the UK where we have discovered that invitees have to pay their own bills. In Nigeria and most parts of Africa, the celebrant pays all the bills except in rare cases if voluntarily paid by a loved one. Azeez Saka, a student from Leeds Beckett University said, “I was invited to a birthday party in Leeds city centre and I was so lucky I had my bank card on me because after drinking I was asked to pay my bills”.
Folake Olademeji, a public relation student at Leeds Beckett University, added that she had a similar experience and since then she always goes out with her bank card.
Friendly people – a nice surprise
However, the friendliness of the people is something that helps us all with the various challenges we face.
Hsuan-Yi told me that one of the big surprises when she came here was how friendly people are here, although at first she found it awkward to be addressed as “love” or “darling”!
Ayu also commented on how welcome she felt, particularly at the University of Leeds, although, like Hsuan-Yi, she still finds it surprising when she goes to the supermarket and the attendant says, “Thank you, love”.
Adapting to differences
Most international students realise that life in the UK will be different from home, but we’re not always prepared for how particular differences will hit us. Culture shock can knock down a person’s confidence but it’s important to realise it’s a natural – and usually short-lived – experience. Along the line, most people get used to all the differences and soon adapt to them.
All in all, the UK is an amazing place for international students. I and the students I spoke to all feel we have gained a lot from studying and living in this country.