Study Abroad in the UK: 3 Ways to Survive Your First Semester

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If you're studying abroad this year, chances are you're feeling a mixture of excitement and nerves, which is totally normal. But don't let your fears outweigh all the good things ahead - if you're settling into your new UK dorm room and are feeling a little bit lost, CF is here to help!

As an American who has studied (and is now living) abroad, I'm going to share three of my best tips for surviving your first semester in the UK:

1. Make an Effort to Make Friends

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You know what's really cool about studying abroad? Aside from all the amazing things you'll see in your new city, the travel opportunities, and the culture, it's a great chance to make connections with people from all over the world. Don't seclude yourself or miss opportunities to make friends - not only will your time be quite lonely, but you'll miss out on awesome adventures and memories.

Join a Society or Club

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Most UK universities have a massive selection of student-run groups that international students are welcome to join. If you're into something niche, you'll meet a great group of people who share your same interests - both from the UK and abroad! Apart from making it easy to click with friends, most societies hold activities, formals, or days out - which means you'll always have something to do.

There's really something for everyone, as proved by these groups below:

  • Harry Potter Society at Cardiff University: Take part in a Triwizard Tournament, or dish with the group on your favorite scenes during the film screenings and discussions
  • The Pirate Society at University of Sussex: If you're into eye patches, scavenger hunts, and pub crawls with your matey, this will be right up your alley!
  • KiguSoc at University of York: Do you wear your bunny Kigu (or Japanese animal-themed onesie, for those who don't know) for all occasions? Then get involved with KiguSoc, where "there is no occasion or activity that is not improved by a Kigu".

Take Part in Freshers' Week and International Welcome Week

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Just about every UK university will hold both of these events (or similar ones). They serve different purposes, but are both worthwhile if you'll be spending a semester or more at the university.

Freshers' Week is the welcome week for all incoming students, and usually involves a lot of fun activities - icebreakers, themed parties, bar crawls, and many ways to meet all kinds of people. Be warned, though: Freshers' Week is the cause for many alcohol related injuries and offenses, so take everything in, but take it easy.

International Welcome Week, on the other hand, will help you get acquainted with your surroundings - from using the bus to opening a bank account to where to get your groceries. IWW generally hosts a lot of events similar to those of Freshers' Week, but also includes daytime activities and tours of local attractions. Don't hesitate to take part in these - they're generally discounted, so you'll be able to see tourist spots without breaking the bank!

2. Get Involved in the Culture

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This is a rare opportunity to really immerse yourself in another culture. Though the UK may not seem that much different from home, there are so many things you'll have never experienced before - from good fish and chips to seeing Buckingham Palace! To make the most of it, make a plan of places you'd like to see, and don't be afraid to travel to see them.

Participate in Holidays

London during the holidays

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You might be missing out on Thanksgiving (which is something you could introduce to your new friends, hint hint), but the UK has plenty of seriously fun festivals, holidays, and events to educate you, entertain you, and let you experience your new home:

  • November 5, Guy Fawkes Night: otherwise known as Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night marks the anniversary of an attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5, 1605. The plot was foiled and the conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, were eventually executed. Have a bonfire with friends to celebrate (don't forget the mulled wine and a barbecue) or take in your city's fireworks display.
  • December 26, Boxing Day: traditionally, Boxing Day is a chance for families to relax together after Christmas, with many watching the football (soccer!) that is played on the day. However, it's also the start of post-Christmas sales - think of it as the UK's Black Friday!

For more seasonal festivals and events, bookmark Time Out's London page, where you'll find a huge amount of resources on what's going on in the capital.

Be a Tourist

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It's easy to want to shun the idea of being a tourist in a new city, but you might never have the chance to see all the sights again! No matter which UK city you're in, there's sure to be a wealth of history and famous sites to see.

  • Don't be afraid to travel: Bus and train travel are cheap within the UK (and so are flights if you book in advance), which makes visiting a few cities possible on your weekends off. Visit London for Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, or a black cab ride; go north to Newcastle for fish and chips by the sea, Hadrian's Wall, or the nightlife; check out Edinburgh for castles, whiskey tasting, or proper haggis, or visit all three - and don't forget stops in Wales and Northern Ireland too!
  • Use a CityPass: Check if your destination has a CityPass or a similar program that offers a discount for multiple attractions. It's so much cheaper than paying for each individually, and usually lets you skip the lines. London's 'London Pass' allows you to buy for 60 attractions plus travel, if you choose - and it's currently on sale! If you can't get one, note that many major museums are free, and historical sites usually offer student discounts.

3. Remember That It's Okay to Be Sad

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You might feel ungrateful if you get homesick or just feel down, but you shouldn't! It's totally normal to miss your friends and family back home, and transitioning to a different place can be emotionally exhausting.

If you are having trouble dealing, try a few of these tips:

  • Talk to your friends: Chances are those new friends you've made have similar feelings - even if they're from the UK themselves! Plan a day out together, try a new restaurant, see a new place, or have a study group followed by a movie night - everyone will appreciate the distraction, and it might make you feel a bit more at home.
  • Skype, FaceTime, or send videos: If you just need to vent to your mom, hook her up with Skype before you leave (or have your tech-savvy younger bro do it for you while you're away). In an instant, you'll be chatting to friends and family from afar, and they'll help to reassure you that everything will be okay.
  • Collect postcards and send them across the pond: Writing really, really helps when you need to get out all your feelings. You can get some great postcards at souvenir shops for a pound or less, and your family will love the surprise in the mail!
  • Get help: If your homesickness feels more serious, almost all universities have mental health professionals on hand who will help you work through it for free. Don't ignore signs of depression - it's better to talk it out than keep it to yourself.
  • Try something new: Use that CityPass to its full potential and immerse yourself in the city! Take photos, keep a travel diary, or just soak it all in - whether you're there for a semester or a year, you'll come away with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a great new set of friends, and hilarious stories to tell when you're back home.

Your thoughts?

Are you studying abroad this year? What are you most excited or most nervous about? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!

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