I’ll never forget my first day as a study abroad student at the University of Winchester.
As I waited in the long line shuffling up to Heathrow’s customs gate, my stomach twisting with exhaustion, anxiety, excitement and hunger, I wondered what waited for me beyond those imposing metal turnstiles and fluorescent lights.
That was six years ago. Since then, I’ve studied for a second semester at Winchester, graduated from Lander University, got married, earned my Master’s degree (with distinction!), again, from Winch, started my own business as a freelance writer and editor, and moved to Ireland.
I live a life I never thought possible – all thanks to that first study abroad experience. This global lifestyle is beautiful, but busy, and it comes with a lot of red tape.
International students in the UK have to fill out their weight in paperwork before they even step foot on the plane. Stacks of applications and essays, financial aid forms, language proficiency tests – and that’s just for the academics.
Go where you feel most alive 🚀 pic.twitter.com/kEh7lnhD0R
— University of Winchester (@_UoW) July 20, 2018
That doesn’t include the travel stuff: passport and visa applications, health insurance forms – well, you get the idea.
Prospective international students in the UK have enough on their plate with the paperwork alone, much less preparing for the culture shock of living in a new country, managing finances, making friends, finding a job and accommodation, and adjusting to a new academic system.
Trust me when I say I know how overwhelming it all is, even with support and guidance from your home university.
Many times while I was preparing to go abroad, I found myself wishing I had an older study abroad sibling to hold my hand and walk me through the process.
That’s precisely why I want to share some of the best sources of no-nonsense advice for international students, by international students. (Seriously, where was this stuff when I was studying abroad?)
For scrupulous students living on a shoestring budget, Save the Student (STS) is an invaluable companion. Featuring advice on money, careers, accommodation and even food vouchers (Pizza Hut, anyone?), STS keeps it real.
Finance is the main focus at STS, which produces the annual Big Fat Guide to Student Finance. This all-inclusive guide factors in living costs, visa fees, health insurance surcharges and miscellaneous expenses international students will need to cover.
The Big Fat Guide also offers information on the small print of student loan repayments, as well as tips for cutting down on student debt.
Which one is more terrifying? 😱
— Save the Student (@SaveTheStudent) March 14, 2019
Save the Student also features student loan and rent budget calculators, as well as information on scholarships and grants for international students.
On top of this, STS is a one-stop shop for student news. You’ll find relevant updates on Brexit, tuition fee changes and other government policies in relation to higher education.
The STS newsletter is a gem for subscribers, chock full of new vouchers each week in addition to a free ebook on money management.
STS makes it super simple to figure out the finances, thanks to a treasure trove of resources written for students, by students.
Of all the places you might expect to find study abroad advice, a student house probably isn’t one of them.
Nevertheless, Beaumont House, a multicultural student accommodation facility in West London, has plenty of resources for international students in the UK, from food and activity recommendations in the London area to tips on sharing a student house and creating an effective student budget.
This historic and stunning house, designed in the mid-19th century and complete with prayer and ablution rooms, offers “specialised international student services” to make international students from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds feel welcome:
“We understand that being away from home is never easy, especially when you are from different continents and cultures. So you will undoubtedly be pleased to find that we take special pride in embracing Eastern cultures and their way of life more openly here.”
No matter where you come from or where you plan to study in the UK, Beaumont House’s Student Advice page offers a wealth of information and advice for international students.
Not getting enough sleep? You’re not alone…
60% of #students have trouble falling or staying asleep. 😴
— Beaumont Student Living (@BeaumontLiving) March 15, 2019
Written by Cardiff graduate Marvin Nyenyezi, International Student Pathfinder (ISP) offers practical solutions to the unique challenges international students face.
Nyenyezi hails from Uganda, and his book is chock full of resources and success stories sourced from his own experience, as well as those of other international students from all over the world, including India, China, Kenya and Ghana.
Real-life student advice and insights on everything from choosing a university and adjusting to UK culture, to developing professional skills and finding a job after graduation make ISP a comprehensive companion for international students at every stage of their academic journeys.
Mental health matters, too. Part three of the book features helpful and uplifting motivational content, like mindfulness resources and even TED talk recommendations to help graduates survive the “post-graduate slump” many often experience before finding a job.
Speaking of jobs, graduate careers – particularly entrepreneurship – are a key focus of the book. ISP offers a step-by-step timeline of tasks for improving employability prospects from the first year of uni to the last, as well as CV and interview tips uniquely tailored to international students.
Nyenyezi acknowledges, “There is insufficient guidance to help students navigate the career-impacting choices they must make on their journeys from high school to university graduation.”
His book and accompanying website help fill that gap, featuring helpful blog posts and international student resources which are particularly useful for students of minority ethnic backgrounds.
International Student Pathfinder is indeed the essential guide on UK universities and careers, covering all aspects of the international student experience.
Final thoughts: don’t let your anxiety run wild
Taking care of administrative stuff is never fun. It’s perhaps one of the most anxiety-inducing parts of the study abroad experience. But once you cut through the maze of red tape, you just might find the life you’ve always dreamed of waiting for you on the other side.
And besides, you don’t have to do this alone. Draw on the experience of other international students and make use of the resources at your disposal – particularly the ones included here.
As someone who’s been there, done that, got the t-shirt and the fridge magnet, I’m not interested in gimmicks or jargon. I don’t promote anything I don’t believe in, nor am I interested in selling something. I just want to help save fellow international students from at least some of the anxiety and overwhelm I am all too familiar with, helping make the most of this life-changing experience.
Got any other tips or resources for international students? I love a good study abroad success story, so feel free to share your experience in the comments, or talk to me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or reach out to Study International on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.