Settling into a New Place as an International Student

Before getting on my flight from India to London, I had done several google searches, talked to various people and watched millions of videos to prepare myself to move to go to university; despite all of that, I couldn’t shake the apprehension as I reached a completely new place. 

Moving away from home to a new place, regardless of whether it’s a few hours by car or flight, can be a nerve-wracking experience for everyone. In this blog post, we will be exploring feelings of nostalgia and homesickness, dealing with cultural barriers and changes, adjusting to the workload and the medicine program and finally, finding home away from home. 

Homesickness + Nostalgia

Some of my friends talked about crying for days while saying their goodbyes, but as I waved to my parents, all I felt was excitement for my upcoming classes and adventures. 

I eventually learned that there wasn’t (and isn’t—I still get homesick, even after an entire year of university!) a standard formula to dealing with missing home. I first felt the ache for home on Diwali (the Indian celebration of lights) when I couldn’t be with my family. However, in the spirit of new beginnings, I came together with my new friends and created new traditions in my new home. 

While everyone deals with these feelings differently, finding friends from similar backgrounds who you can relate to, joining communities and societies (for example, I joined the Indian society at Nottingham) and also just staying in touch with friends and family by setting aside time to speak to them can help make the transition a lot easier and help you feel more at home. 

Cultural Barriers + Changes

University is nothing if not change. The independence, responsibility and freedom can be exciting and overwhelming all at once, and learning to embrace this new step of life involves establishing routines, making time for your friends but also yourself, and staying true to your values. It’s easy to be swept up in everything, but take some time (maybe after freshers!) to sit with yourself and evaluate what you want—but don’t be afraid to try new things! 

For everyone, but especially international students, overcoming cultural barriers can be a huge obstacle; this includes everything from food to clothing to communication. However, it is possible to find a home away from home. Most universities have hundreds of societies, several of which will have little bits of home and gatherings of like-minded people, which you can use to help ease your move! Whether it’s joining the football team to remind yourself of your school team, or joining your cultural society to celebrate your festivals, there’s something for everyone. 

Adjusting to the Workload 

Spoiler alert: medicine is hard! There’s a lot of work to be done, several seminars to attend, notes to be made and skills to be learned. For most, it is a leap from school. However, that being said, it is manageable. While it can be difficult to juggle settling in and finding your place while also staying on top of your workload, take time to plan out your schedule and prioritise your activities. Ensure you allocate enough time to making friends, joining societies and general free time alongside your academics. And remember to reach out for help (loved ones or even university support) if you feel like it’s too much to cope with! 

Finding Home Away From Home 

Easier said than done, I know. I never once thought that I would go to Nottingham and find my people, but, I did. Balancing sports, societies, new and old friends, family, studying and my own time, all while settling into a new place was definitely not easy. It meant taking breaks for my mental health. It meant speaking up if I fell behind sometimes. It meant reaching out to people when I needed help. 

But ultimately, I did it. I was able to do everything I wanted to and more, while also passing all my exams and having fun. It’s easy to feel alone in a place where everything is unfamiliar. But remember, there are thousands of people that are just like me and you. And if they can do it, why can’t we? 

Written by Ira Makhijani

Hello! I’m Ira Makhijani, a second year medical student at the University of Nottingham. As an international student from India, I understand the struggles of moving away from home and starting afresh in a completely different country. Aside from medicine, you can find me playing football, contemplating life decisions and having existential crises!

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