Preparing for life in the UK

15 September 2021
Student ambassador, Dana, attending a match at Newcastle United Football Club's stadium

One of our former students, Dana from UAE, walks us through the best ways to prepare for studying abroad in the UK. In this blog, she offers tips for before, during and after your arrival at Durham University International Study Centre.

You are kick starting your educational journey and moving to a different country to study abroad. This is something that so many people have dreamed of since they were young. You are officially adulting—should be pretty straight forward, right? Well, if you need some assistance with this enormous transition, below are some things that I found helpful with preparing for life in the UK.

Plan your checklist

To start off, planning a checklist is probably one of the most essential parts of preparing for life abroad. A few weeks before I was supposed to move to the UK, I started feeling anxious and stressed out about this big move. I found that checklists were the answers to my problems, so I created three: 1) Pre-departure, 2) Post-departure and 3) What to pack.

My pre-departure checklist included things that I have to get done before flying to the UK, such as visa requirements, passport pictures, booking flights, accommodation, deposits, tuition fees and anything adult-ish that had to be done.

The post-departure checklist consisted of vital things to do once I had landed, for example collecting my BRP and police registration.

Lastly—this was my favourite checklist as this is what kept me organised the most—the packing checklist. From documents to clothes, write down everything you need to pack in a priority order. This will not only help you pack in an efficient manner, but will also keep you under the luggage weight limit.

I would suggest planning these checklists in advance as you might think of/forget something later on. It does not have to be this detailed, but I can assure you that this will give you a clear outline of what you need to do and hopefully relieve some stress!

Do your research

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to research and understand the environment that you are about to enter for the next couple of years. This will not only paint a mental image of what to expect, but will also help you adapt in a timely fashion. Below are some necessary topics that I found quite useful to research before moving to the UK and helped me prepare for life abroad.

Your future

Ultimately, you want to enjoy studying your chosen degree and want to be able to use it after graduation. Therefore, researching topics like career prospects, employment rate and subject university rankings are a must, and will help you feel prepared for what is yet to come. More specifically, research the department of your degree at the respective university—how will they prepare you for your future? What will they be able to provide you? Look at how practical and interactive your classes, seminars, tutorials and lectures will be, and how well they suit your needs, what courses are mandatory and what other classes you are interested in.

The right location

You need to remember that this is where you will live over the next few years, therefore it is important for the area to be right for you. Make sure you research the local amenities of the area—nearby supermarkets, shopping centres—anything that you believe will make your life abroad feel like home. When I chose Durham, I remember researching the best places to hike around me and the natural landmarks to visit, because that is something I wanted out of my experience in the UK. You could also research the different types of transportation around the city, from cheapest to fastest, and that way you will have a rough idea and a head start on how to travel around the UK.

Home sweet home

As well as thinking about your location in terms of the type of environment, you also need to consider your university accommodation. In terms of Durham, you are considered lucky, as the city is quite small as compared to Manchester or London, therefore almost everything is within walking distance. However, I do think it is important to think about your needs and priorities before choosing where you want to live—do you want to live closer to campus or the city? Is it a student neighbourhood? How far is it from the gym? Questions like these will make it easier for you to make a choice between all the many options out there.

Set your goals

Last but not least, clearly specify what goals you want to achieve over the next couple of years at university, and divide them into two categories: personal and academic goals. This is crucial because not only does it provide direction, but it also makes progress and achievement recognisable.

For example, one of my personal goals that I set when I first moved to the UK was getting a job in order to pay for my expenses. During my International Foundation Year, I was not able to land a job because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and I was still trying to settle down. Luckily over the summer, I applied to become a Student Ambassador, which I have been doing for two years now, and I also got another job in the city of Durham for the next academic year. However, if these goals are not clearly defined, you may find yourself experiencing feelings of stagnation or low motivation.

So, my advice is, ask yourself the following questions: where do you see yourself in the next few years? And what are you willing to do to get there? These questions will be essential in setting the base of your goals, giving you a clear path to go on from there. Remember to never rule anything out as time changes rapidly when you’re a student and take advantage of every opportunity that comes by.