Miles from home: A term in

Minn Yap has some valuable advice for internationals adapting to university life.

The Autumn term is approaching its end soon, but it feels like it was just yesterday when you were a mess on Arrivals day trying to get through two agonising hours of immigration at the airport, handling two luggage and making it to Essex itself. October has come and gone with a speed equivalent to your professors saying something important that you have to note down but you’re just too slow to. And November is probably when you start to comprehend that you are, truly, miles from home in an unfamiliar country. 

Being an international student is not easy even for the most outgoing, ‘easy-to-make-friends’ and responsible individual. Even so, adjusting to a new country is not just about making new friends. Below are some issues that you may find yourself struggling with still, and some suggestions on how to combat them. 

1. The Cold Weather

A hot drink is great for warming yourself up on a cold day. Photo by Alex on Unsplash

If you’re coming from a tropical country, that is, 30 degrees and above weather all year round, moving to a country during the winter season can be considerably tougher than those coming from perhaps, Greece or China. 

1.1 Wearing the right clothes 

I highly recommend the Japanese brand, Uniqlo. They offer a line of thermal wear which they name ‘HEATTECH’, offering three types for different ranges of cold weather: HEATTECH (‘everyday wear in winter’), HEATTECH Extra Warm (‘ideal for colder days’) and HEATTECH Ultra Warm (‘ideal for extreme cold’). They offer anything from innerwear to t-shirts, tops, leggings, tights to trousers and socks. I personally own 4 items from their HEATTECH line and they are absolutely essential in keeping me warm. 

For more varied clothes and outerwear, Primark is everybody’s favourite to go to. In the physical store down in Colchester Town, you can find incredibly affordable prices for anything: coats, jeans, trousers, tops etc. The cheapest coat starts from £15 and the most expensive is at £40. 

1.2 Hot Food 

There’s nothing like filling your belly with hot soupy food or drink to warm yourself up on a cold day. 

On campus, the SU store sells famous Korean instant noodles: Shin Ramyun. It’s meant to be soupy, hot and spicy and will definitely warm you up from the inside. Here’s a helpful YouTube video on how to cook them the correct way. 

Having curry is also a good way to warm up. The Canteen on campus sells curry on certain days so be sure to pop by to check out the menu every day. The nearby Tesco also sells readymade Tikka Masala, and you can either get it on its own or with Pilau Rice. 

Check out Tesco Recipes here for more on soup recipes. 

The Lakeside Theatre Café also offers delicious hot chocolate with either whipped cream or marshmallows (or just do both). It’s my personal regular Tuesday drink since I have a lecture nearby at Ivor Crewe. 

1.3 Portable Heated Items 

You can get hot water bottles and hand warmers at Boots, or Primark even, in Colchester Town. Tip: stuff the hand warmers in the pockets of your coats. 

2. The English Language 

The language barrier can be stressful if English is not your first language. Photo by Ivan Shilov on Unsplash

The United Kingdom functions mostly on the English language. For international students who come from countries where English is not their first language, the struggle and stress can be overwhelming as you try to communicate. Even simple things like ordering food can be a challenge. 

It is likely that you would have been asked to sit for an English language assessment in the first week of university. The email sent to you with your results also contains links and suggested classes to improve on your grasp of the language. 

However, if learning English or a language in a classroom setting isn’t up your alley, here are some other suggestions. 

2.1 BBC Learning English and British Council Learning English 

BBC Learning English offers ‘free audio, video and text materials’ for English-learners. 

Similarly, British Council Learn English website offers support for learning the language. They first recommend taking a test to discover your current level before moving on to their ‘extended listening and reading materials’. They also recommend their ‘grammar and vocabulary sections to help and support’ your English learning. 

2.2 Duolingo 

This mobile application is well-known for learning new languages. 

The vocabulary to be learnt is separated into categories like ‘travel’, ‘family’, ‘shopping’ and ‘greetings’. There are also checkpoints to complete, somewhat like a test, in order to move on to the next stage. 

This application is definitely useful to learn English while on the go. 

2.3 Others 

Learning a new language is best with direct real-life application. Hang out more with friends who speak fluent English; if there’s a word they said that you don’t understand, take it down and find out the meaning in your own time. Keep a notebook of these words or phrases and revise them daily. Listening to English songs also helps string together the sentence structure and vocabulary. Immerse yourself completely in the world of the English language. 

In time and with patience and perseverance, you’ll be so fluent that your mates will think English is your first language. 

3. Mental Health Concerns 

Mental health can affect anyone so it’s important to know where you can seek help if you need it. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Even the strongest of us have our limits, so never, ever, be ashamed to seek help and support when you need it. We’re all human in the end. 

In fact, mental health was part of the SU’s Big 6 concerns. So you’re definitely not alone in your struggles. Here’s a couple of ways you can seek support. 

3.1 Resident Assistants (RAs) 

Every flat in campus accommodation would be assigned a friendly RA. They are extremely approachable so if you find that you need support with anything, just give their door a knock. Their contact details are also available on a poster pinned up in the kitchen. 

3.2 Nightline 

Nightline is a service run to give entirely confidential support to students. 

3.3 Personal Tutor 

You may also contact your personal tutor for support. 

You would have likely received an email from your department after induction as to who you may contact. But if you’re still unable to find out, you can log in to the MyEssex current students portal and click the ‘Education’ tab. Under ‘Courses’, you should see the name of your personal tutor. If all else fails, just head down to your department office. 

Mental health is extremely vital to your wellbeing, not just at university but in all stages at life. Never be afraid to seek support. 

4. Budgeting Tips 

Whether you rely on student loans, savings, allowance or a part-time job, budgeting can be a major concern for any student. Let’s face it, studying is expensive. Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

It’s well-known that university student life is extremely costly. Apart from spending on textbooks, accommodation, commuting and stationery, we also spend on leisure activities like night outs, drinking and shopping. It’s simply unavoidable. 

4.1 SU Saver Card 

Saving on food on campus is easy with the SU Saver Card. There are deals that you can get every day each week all over campus. Check the link each week to find out what deals there are. 

Sign-ups for the card are currently closed but check back in 2020. 

4.2 Essex Food App 

This mobile application is available on the App Store and Google Play. The Essex Food application is the university’s loyalty programme; every £1 that you spend will earn you five points, giving you a total of 5p that you can redeem for future payments. 

4.3 Nights Out 

If you’re looking to save on nights out at Sub Zero or the SU Bar, check out the What’s On page on the SU website. Some nights out, especially Thursdays for Sub Zero, have free entry. Other events in Sub Zero sell tickets very early at a discounted price ranging from £1 to £5, so check out the website and snatch them quick. 

Drink Xchange events at the SU Bar also help you get the cheapest prices possible for drinks. Think stock exchange but drinks. 

With these budgeting tips, may your university student experience be more fulfilling without the dread of an empty wallet. 

5. Food 

MOA is a tasty on-campus food option, especially if you’re a fan of chicken.

Ah, food. It’s all that we live for sometimes. 

5.1 On Campus 

You can find a list of food stores on the SU website but here’s a list of what I personally recommend, in no particular order: 

  1. Lakeside Theatre Café 
  2. Buffalo Joe’s, specifically the wings 
  3. SU Bar, specifically curly fries 
  4. MOA 
  5. The Kitchen, specifically the toasties 
5.2 Off Campus 

If you’re looking for Asian markets, a quick Google search will direct you to a majority of them in town. Honey Bear is a pretty good Chinese place offering home delivery, takeaways and eating in. I personally recommend the ‘Taiwan large fried chicken’ for £5.60. If you’re looking for your bubble tea fix, you can try their ‘Bubble milk red tea with pearl’ for £3.70. 

Aburi Japanese is a great place for Japanese food. My favourite time and again has been the Oyako Don. 

Five Guys may be a bit pricy, but many recommend the famous burger chain found along High Street. 

Turtle Bay, also along High Street, does incredible Caribbean food. My favourite is the Jerk Chicken and the flatbread. 

Kaspas is a great western dessert place for that sweet tooth of yours. They do everything from milkshakes, waffles to crepes and sundaes for an affordable price. 

Most of these options are also available on Deliveroo, so you don’t even need to step out to get a taste of the food. 

6. Lectures, Coursework and Deadlines 

It’s important not to let your work pile up as this could cause you even more stress. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

The best way to keep up with your work is to revise constantly. There’s something that you don’t understand? Approach your tutor about it as soon as possible. Don’t leave it until the last moment before exams to get it sorted. Miss a lecture? Get on Listen Again as soon as it’s uploaded or you’ll never get to it. 

The university also offers support classes like the Math and Stats clinic and Writing Well: Academic Style. You can look out for them here

If you aren’t able to meet a deadline for personal reasons, you can also contact your department or tutor to apply for extenuating circumstances. 

All in all, constant revision is key to ensuring you aren’t behind on your work. If you nail this, you’ll be able to have fun guilt-and-stress-free. 

Hopefully this small guide will help reassure you despite being miles away from home. May this also ease you into the coming Spring term and then the rest of your exciting and memorable university life at Essex. 

Featured image by Tommaso Pecchioli on Unsplash

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