While you will have researched the academic benefits, how much do you know about the support your university gives you outside of the classroom? A new scheme – ProtectED – launched earlier this year to assess how well UK universities look after their students’ safety and wellbeing.
Trained ProtectED assessors judge how well universities address:
- student mental health
- student harassment and sexual assault
- student safety on a night out
- international student safety and wellbeing.
If you see a university displaying the ProtectED accredited logo, this means it meets the high standard set in the ProtectED Code of Practice. But why is this important, what sort of support should you expect, and what can you do to make sure your time spent in the UK is fulfilling and positive?
Starting university is exciting, especially if you are living abroad for the first time. You’ll be meeting different people, visiting new places and studying a subject you love. However, it’s perfectly normal to struggle sometimes – you’ll be living away from family and friends, and it may take time to get used to a different culture and, in some cases, a different language.
Take the worry out of travelling to the UK by finding out about any ‘meet and greet’ services offered by your university (something ProtectED universities must provide). For example, Aston University sends students to meet you at the airport, along with transport to the main campus.
You’ll feel more confident about moving if you familiarise yourself with British culture, and your university town or city, before leaving for the UK. You might want to read blogs and watch YouTube videos by international students on their experiences studying here. Your university should provide pre-arrival information (eg on local customs, the weather, what to pack, opening a bank account, etc) – also a requirement of ProtectED accreditation, which recommends the British Council’s Creating Confidence guide for international students. This contains useful information, including using public transport, taking out insurance, personal safety and arranging accommodation.
You may well be staying in university-owned accommodation or a purpose-built student residence, but if you are renting a room in a shared house or flat in the private sector, then it is vital that your landlord is reputable. Having a safe, comfortable home, where your rights as a tenant are respected, makes a big difference to your wellbeing – it helps you to focus on studying, and enjoying your time here.
ProtectED requires all member universities to produce a ‘white list’ of good local landlords, and to give international students advice on being successful first-time renters; the scheme recommends the NUS ‘Ready to Rent’ programme, which gives you the skills and knowledge you need. Be sure to speak to your university about any help they have available before signing on the dotted line!
It’s important to put time into making friends at university – it can make such a difference to have someone to talk to, share problems with, and importantly have fun with, while living away from home. Even before you leave for the UK, you can make a start by joining the Facebook group for your course and introducing yourself. If there isn’t a group yet, start your own!
Some UK universities have dedicated schemes to help international students to relax, make friends and feel at home. Particularly popular are weekly coffee shop meet-ups, such as the International Students’ Café run by De Montfort University, where you can have a hot drink, play board games and meet people. The University of Birmingham has a Global Buddies scheme that puts you in contact with current students so you have someone to talk to if you have any problems. The University arranges this while you are still in your home country so you can arrive feeling that someone is on your side! The scheme also runs social events and trips so you always have something to look forward to. Your university’s website will have more information on social events for international students.
Another great way to make friends is to join a university society. During Freshers’ Week there will be plenty of opportunities to speak to current members of university societies and see what interests you – for example, football, cooking, art, reading, hockey, jazz, debating… the options vary between universities but there will be lots to choose from.
Find out about any international student societies too; for example Manchester’s International Society brings together international students from all Manchester universities for football matches, days out and languages classes. ProtectED universities offer dedicated socialising opportunities and events for international students during Welcome Week, to help you meet people and find out about the schemes that benefit you.
Homesickness and culture shock
Once the excitement of moving and Freshers’ Week has passed, you may find that you start to experience homesickness. If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to share your Skype ID, email, mobile number and university address with friends and family back home; they will have no excuse not to stay in touch! Make time to maintain these connections, even if it is just a quick ‘hello’.
Another great way to overcome homesickness is to explore the local area – museums and galleries are often free to enter or offer student discounts. The charity HOST also helps international students to settle into life in the UK. They arrange for you to visit local people for the day, or a weekend stay – popular activities include days out, cooking together, trying a hobby or just chatting and sharing stories. Speak to your university about going on a HOST visit, or see the organisation’s website, where international students also share their experiences.
Some universities offer support specifically for culture shock – a natural response many international students experience to some degree, which can affect your confidence and mood. In Leeds, international students attend a comedy performance called Culture Shock that prepares you for the obstacles you may face and highlights the support available…
ProtectED accreditation also requires universities to organise extra trips and events for international students during the holidays – this can be a lonely time if you need to remain on campus.
The adventure begins
In the excitement of moving to the UK, it’s easy to forget about some of the practical problems you might face, both early and later on, which can affect your wellbeing. So do some research on your new home and find out what schemes or support options your university provides. With a bit of preparation, you will be ready for the challenge!