As many of you know, I am an Italian student in UK. I did my undergrad and master in Italy and moved in the UK in 2015. I have been living here for almost 3 years now and I am approaching the last year of my PhD. Hopefully, I will graduate next year and I will have got my 3rd degree and reached the highest level of education by then.
Along with my PhD research, I started an Instagram page called phd_to_success for personal branding (I will talk later about it) and this helped me in reaching out a wider audience and making friends around the world. One of my Instagram friend, Afsoon from Iran, IG at @chase_that_dream9, asked me to share my experience as international student and this is what this post is about.
There are a few tips on how to survive a few years abroad and I will share with you what I learned from my personal experience.
- MAKE REAL FRIENDS. The meaning of real friendship is forgotten nowadays. You will have maximum 5 or 6 real friends in your life, people who you can turn to and pick up the phone any time you need them to be there. As international student is really easy to make friends because you guys all face the same experience and are away from home. Some people like me are less outgoing or have social anxiety, which is fine, but it means that you need to explore more options. There are loads of sport and activities you can do. For example, at the University here there are around 100 societies. I was member of the knitting society, entrepreneur society, sustainability society. Most of the time, I don’t go to their events because I am too busy with school stuff but it is nice to have an option. If you are a bit older that the average student, usually + 25, you will be considered a mature student. No prob, if you don’t like hanging out with younger kids, you can find the mature society.
- FIND YOUR PROFESSIONAL COMMUNITY.
Don’t forget that studying abroad, and in your home country, also means transition from being a school lad/lass to being a professional.
Check out your Society, for example I am member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and Society of Chemical Industry in UK. I am also Ambassador of the latter Society. I follow them on Twitter, on Facebook, I take part to their events and conferences. I try to engage with them and their content. To know more about the professional business networking check my old post.
- USE SOCIAL MEDIA. I am not talking about Facebook to check out what your friends and family are up to. I use Twitter to check out all the big catalysis groups in the world and other associations such as the Female Scientist, 500 women scientists and Women in Sustainability. I follow all the biggest journals such as Nature, Science, Angewante Chem, ACS Catlysis and so on. to keep up with the reading. I use LinkedIn a lot to keep up with all the old and new connections. To find more on how to maximize the use of LinkedIn, check out my old post. And I use Instagram a lot to put myself out there and get connections with industries and hopefully find some partnership. I also made loads of friends, found my niche and learned a lot from the people of TheSciCommunity. We created a twitter page and a YouTube Channel. I contributed to the creation of the pages ph_d_epression and their website and of a new group on Instagram @girlswhobond and the website to promote and encourage more women into chemistry.
- LEARN THE LANGUAGE OF THE COUNTRY. This isn’t a silli advice, many people that I know, after being in the UK for several years still speak English the way they would speak their native language. No one cares about your accent, English is the most widely spoken language in the world and it’s also the first and official language in many countries. Indians have the Indian accent, Africans have the African accent, Australian have the Austrian accent and so on.
Articulate a correct sense in English isn’t about the accent is about speaking the way native speakers. do
Apart from reading books, the best way to learn it is to watch TV and movies because this is when you learn the way they speak. Additionally, try to make friends with native speakers because they help you a lot in practicing. The second year of and the third of my PhD, I was the only international in a house of British people. It seriously helped in making an afford to speak good English. Also if you are looking for an international scholarship, you need to prove your level of English and take an exams such as the IELTS.
- YOU CAN’T EXPECT TO GO TO A FOREIGN COUNTRY AND FIND THE SAME SOCIAL RULES AS YOUR HOME COUNTRY. I honestly stopped hanging out with Italians at some point, because the only topic of conversations was complaining about this country, how cold British are, how crappi the food and weather are and help me count all the complaints. First of all, the weather isn’t as bad as people think. The recent heat wave arrived in UK too and we enjoyed 6 weeks of sunshine. Food isn’t as bad as you think. The only problem is that you have to go to the grocery store, where you find literally everything, and you cook your own food. Speaking for myself, Italian food is an elite here and it is usually more expensive that other food, but there are tons of markets, African, Arabic, Asian where you can find your own things.
- BE OPEN-MINDED. When you decide to go and study abroad, above all,for a long period of time like me, you need to be ready to accept and integrate into the local and international culture. You can’t expect people to change centuries of their culture and adapt to your needs.
YOU need to adapt and change your mentality and culture to the culture of the place
This doesn’t come overnight and you won’t help the process if you stick to people from your own country or similar culture. Keep your culture is important but you need to change and adapt it into the new culture too.
I am not saying that students should do all the things that I do. But this helps in creating your community and progress professionally-wise. Make the most of your experience abroad, learn and pick everything you can and be ready to 1. be part of the next generation of leaders 2. Transfer the knowledge to your own country.
Please feel free to add a comment if you want further explanation, I tend to week my post short otherwise people get bored. I will answer in due time.