Can international students stand unfriendly Londoners or the constant British rain? Do they embrace the multicultural, fast paced life of London or quickly crave home? Whilst the press has recently been dominated by headlines about the number of international students in the UK and the higher education changes that will affect them, there has been very little written about how overseas students themselves find Britain. ForeignStudents.com went to find out just how welcoming the UK is from the only people who can answer these questions: the students themselves.
Speaking to a group of international students, all of whom have arrived in London within the last couple of months, there was, as you would expect, a huge diversity between the students' experiences so far. First and foremost, however, it is important to point out that almost every student we spoke to had settled in quickly and easily, and was already loving London as a city to live and study in. Despite this though, there were a number of cultural and language problems that we heard repeated over and over again.
In terms of the language barrier, oddly enough, of the students we spoke to, it was the Americans who had the most tales of woe. Nichole, a U.S. student, explained how her International Relations lecturer had helped them with their British English by refusing to understand any Americanisms- "If any of us use the term 'cell phone', he just claims not to know what we are talking about". Similarly, another U.S. student explained how she had the unusual problem of not understanding the meaning of the word 'pissed' (meaning drunk) for her first week in London.
Culturally, it was specifically London rather than the whole of Britain that the students understandably focused on. The pace and busyness of the city stood out as defining characteristics, though, surprisingly, this was seen as a benefit to the majority of the students we spoke to. Nichole described how in London "everyone has so little time but I enjoy that, as I've started rushing everywhere now as well".
The other overarching impression of London seemed to be its multicultural nature. Whilst many of the students praised how there is a different cultural community "around every corner", others also saw a negative to this- they hadn't met any Brits since arriving. Annalisa, an Italian language student who had only been in the country for a week, summed this duality up: "I haven't really met any British people yet so I don't feel I know the culture too well. I have met a lot of students from other countries, and it's nice to get to know their cultures, but I've come to England to experience its own culture."
However, this lack of British people may not necessarily be a bad thing judging by another of the common complaints- one that is so often aimed at Brits, and in particular Londoners. As Yudara, a Sri Lankan Masters student, described, "At home everyone will smile at you and say hello, whilst here everyone has something to do or somewhere to go, and they are less friendly." This was a sentiment echoed by a number of other students, whose complaints ranged from strangers looking at you oddly if you smile at them, to the perception that people in London always wear black and grey clothes when it's raining (!).
In general, it seems London can be a city that is both welcoming and distant, exciting and scary to newly arrived students. International students arriving here to study go through all the same emotions as UK students arriving in a new city, but far more amplified.
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