The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
An international student’s guide to finding comfort and familiarity in a foreign environment.
Starting university brings out a whole host of emotions for freshers everywhere- there’s bound to be excitement, nervousness, determination. As an international student, these feelings are often exacerbated- not only are you entering a brand new social environment, but also a cultural one. This comes with inevitable culture shock, currency change fiascos (trust me I definitely spent more during my first month here than strictly necessary), and just general homesickness that comes with feeling nostalgic about familiar sights, sounds or smells. I didn’t realise how much I’d miss the simplest things about home until I’d spent a few weeks away! However, there’s always things you can do to make your experience during the initial settling in period more comfortable, and these are a few things that I, or other international students I know, did, that made their experience better:
- Connections, connections connections!
Be it getting a good phone plan ( I recommend Vodafone’s VOXI pay as you go plans, they’re student-budget friendly and have great social media options that have served me well) so that you can have those late night/early morning calls with family or friends; or being open minded when attending events to get to know people, genuine human connection is so necessary to general wellbeing. It doesn’t sound like something that needs to be explicitly stated but its not out of the ordinary for people to isolate themselves when nervous about being in foreign environments. So, take a leap of faith- knock on your flatmates’ door, when you make your tea in the morning- drink it in the kitchen or say yes! to the invitation to check out the neighbourhood. Take all the chances you have to connect- maybe some of them will last, and be develop into immensely gratifying friendships over time!
- find your community
Kind of carrying over from the general idea of making connections, its quite comforting to find people from the same country as you here, or often even those that speak the same language. When I got here, it took me ages to find someone who spoke my mother tongue, and the joy I experienced at the novelty of conversing in it after ages of speaking nothing but English was amazing! Bristol offers a multitude of cultural societies, check out the Bristol SU website to find one you identify with, or attend the freshers fair at the Downs on the 24th and 25th (stop by the Her Campus stall while you’re there!). These societies host festivals, dances, and other socials where you find people that can potentially become part of your home away from home (the food and drinks are great too!).
Alternatively, your found community doesn’t necessarily have to be cultural, so many of my friends have founds their place of solace on a sports team, or a choir, a religious group or even with colleagues at a part time job if that’s something you want to take up.
Get to know your neighbourhood. Find the best place to get a really good sandwich (and no, I’m not talking about getting a Tesco Meal Deal and calling it a day!), the best vantage point to watch the sunset, a cool set of stairs that everyone likes to take phots at or go to a ‘spoons’ after hearing your flatmate rant about how its part of the ‘quintessential British experience’ for a solid twenty minutes. Take walks- Bristol has a really good free virtual Banksy street art tour that takes you around the city and helps you explore it, and generally some excellent street art. The Royal Fort Gardens near the main campus area has some very interesting exhibits and seems quite removed from the bustle of the city, the same can be said for Brandon hill which has amazing sunset views All this will help you decide on places you know you’ll revisit on bad days. My current favourites include the harbour at Castle park after sunset or the really nice wraps you can get from Edna’s falafel kitchen near there.
- don’t forget about your taste buds
Freshers week is chaotic, and the first few weeks or so after aren’t so far off. In the midst of trying to adjust, its easy to slip into the habit of eating bland pasta or boring sandwiches. But satisfying your taste buds with flavours you’re probably missing is such an instant mood brightener. I love experimenting with recipes, so making different types of curries and grabbing naan from local asian supermarkets was a surefire way to make me feel better. Bristol also has Russian and Middle-Eastern focused supermarkets near Gloucester Road, several Asian stores (some have attached bakeries and they sell delicious buns and cakes), so there’s definitely a lot of choices for those wanting to cook! In case the kitchen isn’t your friend, there’s no shortage of exceptional restaurants in and around the city. If you’re on a strict budget, Tesco or Co-op do pretty decent readymade world foods that are worth a try!
- BUILD A SANCTUARY
Make your room at halls, or whatever accommodation you’ve chosen, a place where you can decompress. It is in a way your only truly personal space and it should look and/or smell like ‘home’. My first year I’d brought a homemade quilt from that I’d used my entire life, and used a reed diffuser that smelt eerily like my house back in India- it was a sandalwood essence and it was very comforting. I know people who chose to display their favourite bands’ or movie posters and some that had entire picture collages on their walls. Some choose to use their rooms as places of prayer and one of my friends has a little shrine with crystals and incense that they use to to start their day in a positive mindset. Obviously, while certain people might prefer to have their room act as an extension of social space and hang out with their friends there, others would use it as a clear distinguisher between personal and public.
Everyone will have their own definition or ideas or what makes their sanctuary unique and their own, but I think having that space is essential to feeling sane in the midst of extreme lifestyle changes and challenges.
- Give yourself a break
Despite trying to do all of the things i’ve mentioned in this article and probably much more, its not a reach to say that you’ll probably still struggle. You’ll second guess your decisions and choices, and probably make and listen to some very angsty playlists.
But, just like your house didn’t become a home in a day or a week, but became familiar over time, Bristol too will go from foreign to intimate. Maybe it’ll happen the first time you let yourself feel vulnerable with a new friend, or maybe you’ll have an epiphany when watching the sun set from your rooftop. Or, maybe one day you’ll be walking back from a seminar and instead of thinking “Oh, I need to do my laundry when I get back to halls“, you’ll instead refer to it as home, and while the unconscious acceptance will be startling, that tiny change in term will make all the difference.
This article is part of a themed content week surrounding getting back into university at Bristol