In this blog undergraduate ambassador, Sirra shares tips on how to overcome the difficulties of moving to the UK to start university.
Living in Gambia for almost all my life, I did not know what to expect when I decided to move to the UK right after my GCSEs. Regardless of the uncertainty that I felt, I was still very excited to explore a new country and step a little outside my comfort zone. However, as you can imagine, moving to a whole different country at the mere age of 15 can be difficult. It was harder than I had imagined adjusting, as activities that residents would see as “a part of everyday life”, such as utilising trains, seemed scary and complex to me. Similarly, my living arrangement had shifted from being in a house full of people to having my own room and being in a boarding school. This led to me often feeling lonely and at some point, wanting to move back home. This was around the time that the COVID-19 pandemic began and before I knew it, I was back in Gambia for almost six months.
During that period, I decided to apply to the University of Warwick’s International Foundation Programme (IFP) as it seemed like a good opportunity and sparked my interest. Thankfully, I was offered a place at the university and although I was happy, the idea of living alone again was daunting to me. Right after moving on campus, I experienced heightened anxiety and decided to reach out for help to the Warwick Wellbeing team. The team were extremely supportive and helped me join a platform with other students going through similar changes as me. This helped me feel like I belonged to a community and to my surprise, I started to make friends with so many other international students just like myself. Our shared experiences made it easy to connect and bond over the difficulties as well as the opportunities moving to the UK provides.
Moving onto my first year, I made several friends (both international and home students) as I decided to push myself out there a bit more and attend some of the many events hosted during Freshers’ week. I found that even though I might not have the same experiences as the home students, there was still a lot to talk about such as our interests, different cultures, etc. Thankfully, I also turned 18 right around Freshers so I was finally able to experience the nightlife in Warwick and Coventry. This resulted in me viewing the university in a different light as there are so many opportunities and activities made available beyond education. Not only did the university allow me to make friends, but it also helped me work on my mental health and develop new interests and hobbies such as spoken word.
Overall, I view my experience in the UK as an international student as a process. I am constantly learning new things and adapting to the differences between Gambia and the UK. However, I am now more accepting of this process and understand that it may not always be easy. Although it can be challenging, I do believe that there is support and people willing to listen to the problems I face as an international student which I find to be reassuring.
Being exposed to both the culture in Gambia and the UK has helped me understand the cultures of so many people and appreciate how diverse they are. Through all this diversity, inclusion is still somehow incorporated as I have found that there is a space for everyone in this university. It’s all about being willing to find that space that you feel comfortable in, and I am excited to see what the future holds!