The pros and cons of being an international student in the UK
There’s a lot more to it than hopping on a plane overseas
Immersing in a different culture, gaining unique experiences and making new friends from across the world is what they say being an international student is all about.
There are so many good things that come with moving abroad and studying in a new city. However, there are also various cons that you just can't seem to ignore.
But let's start with the positives, here are the many pros of being an international student in the UK.
Coming to a foreign country improves your language skills A LOT
Trust me, the more you speak the better your language skills become. Once you realise this, you'll find a boost in your confidence while speaking in seminars, classes or just socially.
It’s safe to say that after three years of using a foreign language constantly as your first language, you kind of become bilingual; which is sooooo good.
The British education system is shaped around student life
Compared to the system in Poland for instance, the British educational system is so different and is more well suited to the typical student life. It's interesting in comparison to what I'm used to, and the way they teach you seems to make you a lot more open-minded and creative.
The UK has so many potential academic and career prospects which attract international students. From huge organisations located in British cities and job fairs regularly taking place at the universities, there is so much potential when it comes to furthering our careers.
The new cultural experience
Experiencing a new culture has so many different benefits, it makes you more conscious and open minded about the world. No matter where exactly in the UK you study, after three years of living there you can safely say that you know the secrets of the culture which give you a unique experience for your entire life.
Making international friends
It sounds cliche when all you hear during your application is "you’re going to make so many new friends from so many different countries!", but it is true. Studying abroad is one of the most unique opportunities to meet people of the same age from across the world. Obviously this doesn't narrow only to your course mates, you can join as many societies at your university as you want and, from my experience, societies are the best ways to make friends.
But sometimes, you just can't ignore those hefty cons that creep up from time to time.
Noticing the cultural differences
Let's have a look at a daily routine. You wake up, you get ready, you go to uni, you start a seminar, you realise you’re the only international one in the group and all of a sudden you become afraid of saying anything because you get so many doubts about your language skills. After the classes, you’re on your way back home and you can’t help thinking that most people you walk past wouldn’t be able to pronounce your full name, or maybe even some of them wouldn't be able to point out your home country on the map.
Strolling around in foreign surroundings and being in this totally new place is rather daunting. It sparks feelings of being too different to fit in and somehow you just don’t belong here. Naturally, you start missing home where everything and everyone is familiar and you don't feel like 'the other'.
The homesickness creeps in again when you're cooking your country's traditional dish in your uni hall's kitchen and you notice your flatmates looking at you as if you were from a distant planet.
It all becomes overwhelming when your best friend from your hometown calls you on FaceTime to tell you how much they miss you and how they cannot wait for you to come home. You feel bad that you can't be there with them and you are 1500 miles away from home.
Alienation. A powerful feeling that nobody warns you about during your whole application process. You start feeling isolated and all you can think about is how much you miss home. Even when you tell your flatmates or society mates about how you feel, their general response 'oh yeah, I understand' never works because you know that they don't and the only people who can truly understand are other international students like you. To clarify: alienation doesn't necessarily mean depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. Alienation can manifest itself in a host of different ways, namely feeling like you do not mix well in your environment or you do not fit in with a particular group of people. This is such a common feeling amongst international students and yet it is also such a natural one too.
So here's a friendly reminder to anyone that has felt these cons: there is nothing wrong with you and you are welcome here.
We all know the feeling, even if some of us do not admit to understanding it. To any international student out there who thinks that you’re alone in this feeling, you’re really not. Alienation is part of the process but it does not mean you don't belong here.
Spending 18 or 19 years of your life in the same country with your family and friends around you and then moving to another country on your own is a huge change and will undoubtedly take a while to get used to.
Despite all of the cons, the pros are some of the most positive and life-changing pros you'll ever experience, so keep on embracing the wonderful journey you're on.