Starting university itself can be a pretty scary experience and it can be even more daunting if you are coming from abroad. When I first moved to Stirling, I didn’t know a single person in Scotland and had only seen the campus for a few hours on an open day. I was absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t understand the Scottish accent and wouldn’t make any friends. Turns out, I was completely wrong about all of my (justified) worries. Very few people, even from Scotland, know someone when they start university so we were all equally stressing about finding friends which made the first few days a lot easier.
I studied international politics here at Stirling and now I’m doing my postgraduate in International Conflict and Cooperation here too. Over the past four years I have made friends from all over the world. Even though the majority of my friends are Scottish, I have friends from all corners of the world and have made some friends for life. A great way to meet new people and to explore Scotland a bit more when you arrive is by joining the International Society. It’s is a group of students from all over the world who regularly meet up to go on trips or just meet in someone’s home for a themed night where everyone brings some food from their home country.
But joining every other society or sports club is a great way to meet local and international students and we really have some very niche and random clubs and societies on our campus. I made some of my best friends by joining altogether four societies over the past four years and can honestly say I would have loved to have done more than one society per semester if I had had the time.
What I would definitely recommend when starting university if you’re coming from abroad is to agree in advance with your family and friends at home how often you want to be in touch with them. I personally found that being too much in touch with them didn’t help with homesickness, but I also really wanted to tell them all about the great things I was experiencing every single day. Everyone is different though and sometimes you just need to call your mum and go on a rant about how much adult life sucks (it does get better, I promise). When I felt homesick, it often helped me to just go to the shared kitchen in my flat where usually someone was sitting and make myself a cup of tea and have a chat. You don’t even have to mention how you feel, but sometimes just leaving your room helps. If you need to clear your head I can also recommend taking a walk around our beautiful campus, there is always something new to discover.
From personal experience, small things like hanging up photos, bringing some letters and postcards, your favourite snack or a film with you to uni can also help a lot with homesickness. I remember trying to explain my favourite type of bread to my Scottish and English flatmates who decided I was crazy for liking something which clearly had no resemblance to bread at all, but we all had a great laugh making them all try a bit (I got mixed reactions).
Lastly, something that I often forgot as an international student is that when I write assignments and do my research that English is not my first language. You can’t compare yourself to someone who grew up speaking and writing English or who has written plenty of essays before they came to university. The great thing about Stirling is that we offer English language support for everyone who struggles particularly with academic writing and dedicated staff who can help you go through your assignments and feedback. In my first year I went to all of my feedback sessions after handing in essays and reports and asked the professors how I could improve my research and writing. One of the most important things to remember is that everyone is always happy to help you. I had my personal tutor help me, teaching assistants, older students who I met through my societies and flatmates in first year who read my essays and checked my spelling and grammar before I handed them in.
Overall I can only say that it’s okay to be a bit scared because everyone, no matter where they are from, feels exactly the same. Stirling and its population has been nothing but kind and welcoming and I am so happy I have been able to call this little place in Scotland my second home.