Starting at university is hardly the simplest or easiest thing you’ll ever do in your life. Now imagine being one of the over ten thousand international students who have left their home country behind to study at The University of Manchester. Forget your difficulty in understanding accents, and think about the difficulty of understanding accents in Britain, in a language which likely isn’t your first, as well as having qualms about your home and family being thousands of miles away. I spoke to two international students, Fride, a second year business student from Norway, and Asha, a second year geography student from Bermuda, to see how they managed.
For Fride, the information she received before arrival was excellent: “I got so much… saying all sorts of things like what types of banks we can choose… anything about the city.” However, Asha said that the university fell short on information about practical aspects of everyday life: “There was nothing… [about] how much groceries would actually be… and how some shops are way more expensive than other places you can go to.” She adds, nonetheless, that she joined a focus group last year in which she voiced her concerns about the lack of finance related information provided to international students, and that this has been taken into account in 2014’s International Orientation.
One problem that seems to plague nearly all international students is understanding English in an academic setting. Although all international students have to prove they have a high level of English before coming to a British university, Fride admits that she still spends “more time doing essays than those with English as a first language.” Asha also tells me she knows students who have had to translate their lecture notes into their native language, because they struggled with them. I ask her if there is support available: “There is an International Office but all they do is say things like ‘keep trying’, ‘don’t give up yet.'” Fride tells me there are many places you can seek help but doesn’t specify where. If there is support available to help students with their English then it seems these sources need publicising better to international students.
Aside from the university, support is available from the International Society which has an office opposite the Students’ Union (next to Kro Bar on Oxford Road). They run English Language classes at a range of levels, day trips to places in the UK, and myriad other projects and opportunities. As for home students, being in good halls also seemed to be the most important factor in helping the international students who I spoke to settle in. Fride says she felt at home because she could “always ask for help” in halls whilst Asha says that university life would have “been very different… if I had not had my foundation of halls friends I’d probably be alone.”
Asha and Fride’s experiences studying in a foreign country seem to have been successful because of a combination of their attitude, flat mates and good knowledge of English upon arrival. Obviously, not everyone’s experience is quite so positive. One aspect which is concerning was the lack of information that Fride and Asha felt they received once they arrived. Although Fride acknowledges that she “didn’t really need that much” after arriving, this might not be the same for foreign students who struggle in adapting to study in the UK.