When I was asked to write for the UEA NBS blog, one of the topics pitched my way was “Making the most of uni”.
“I could definitely do that!” I said, with what turned out to be misguided optimism.
After a desultory opening paragraph, I had to admit that the sum total of my university survival knowledge was zero. Well, at least with regard to freshers – at whom most university guides are aimed.
Although I did go to UEA, I came as an international postgraduate student, having gone through an American undergraduate system that was remarkably different from any British university’s: a range of different subjects to study and course requirements to fulfil (it’s the American way), no flatmates until my final year and, tragically, no on-campus bar (also the American way).
So I decided to write a brief guide for those in a similar situation: some advice for making the most of the international postgraduate experience. I hope it helps!
Everyone is just as nervous as you are. However, this often manifests through deliberate displays of knowledge and what looks like confidence. The biggest talkers might be absolutely terrified on the inside, so don’t be intimidated – particularly if you’re from a culture where speaking out is highly regulated. I grew up in a majority East Asian-ethnic community, so for me this was definitely an adjustment.
Your friends on your course are also your competitors, so it’s a good idea to learn to separate academic competition from personal relationships as early as possible. You want to be able to maintain friendships even if your friend’s paper or project gets a higher mark than yours (and besides, next time it might be the other way around).
Make friends outside your course. Most PG courses are closed environments where everyone is talking about, working on and worrying about the same things. Getting to know people outside your course will broaden your horizons and help you stay sane. The International Student Society is a good place to start, and some students there will point you towards other societies and activities as well.
Get to know people from different countries. This is a big one. It might be more comfortable to only hang around students from your home country, but being at UEA gives you a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet people from around the world and learn about their customs and cultures. When I was at UEA, the other students in my residence hall came from Morocco, Taiwan, Canada and Angola; the Angolan student had friends from Uganda and Mozambique who frequently ate dinner with us too. I also made friends with students from Australia, Mexico and France. The world is a big place and your course is short – make the most of it!
Any other tips to share? Let us know in the comments!