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Making the most of your time at university

This September many of our former students will be starting university in the UK. Akiko Ferris, our Marketing Manager, spoke to Rosie Ganne, our University Relations Manager, to share her experience of studying as an international student at a British university.

'Hello, I am working at The London School of English as the Marketing Manager responsible for the school's online presence, advertising, designs and so on. I would take this opportunity to share my experiences as an international student when I first arrived in the UK many years ago.  Rosie asked me some questions about my initial experience in the UK – maybe some of you will be able to relate to my answers!'

Akiko - what did you study in the UK?

I did a 3 year Graphic Design degree after a 1 year Foundation Diploma for Arts and Design at Arts University in Bournemouth. I also joined an exchange programme to Nantes, France.

What were you first impressions of the UK when you first arrived from Japan?

I had a good enough IELTS score to receive an unconditional offer from the university and very much looked forward to starting a new chapter of my life in the UK. I didn’t really worry about my English. However, I soon found I was wrong. I struggled with the difference between British and American English – nouns, phrases, and pronunciation.  But the most difficult one was British humour.  When I talked to people, they answered me with jokes and I didn’t expect those answers at all. Then I would become confused but when I asked again, it ruined their jokes. And I was embarrassed. In order to understand some jokes, not only do you need to understand language but also you need to know the British culture that is rooted deeply in history.  Jokes are tricky but they can be a very helpful tool to starting conversations smoothly. And learning about different cultures and history is fascinating.

How well did you settle in as an international student? What was the hardest thing?

The first year was the most challenging year for me. I often had to ask for help whenever I started doing something new – opening a bank account, finding a house to share, getting a contract with an Internet provider etc. University always offered enough support and friends are kind enough but it was stressful for me to always need to seek some help. I was independent in my own country but felt like I was a little child in the UK. The English language was one of my problems but I also didn't quite understand the systems in the UK. For example there is no TV license in my country! The first year was full of discovery and I learned a lot about life in the UK.

The other challenge was time management. It was not easy to a have well-balanced student life with study, friends, family and money. I studied hard to keep up with the projects from university and I couldn't really have much time to enjoy myself. But I found that if I didn’t spend much time with friends or family on the phone, I felt lonely. Also you need social skills and communication skills as well as English language skills in order to get to know new people, otherwise you may feel isolated. Getting a first in your certificate is difficult but also keeping yourself both physically and mentally fit is difficult, especially if you are away from your home country. I personally think that being happy is more important – take some breaks and keep yourself happy.

Have you got any tips for international students starting at a UK university?

If you are planning to go to university in the UK, getting an appropriate IELTS score is NOT a goal, but it is a start.

Of course, it is very important for you to have a good enough English score in order to enter a university but there is so much more to learn in both academic and daily English to truly enjoy your life in a UK university.

Be aware that you will study with native English speakers in the same classroom and you will all follow the same timetables at the university. Tutors may not explain all the details slowly and help you fully understand each time. You will have loads to read and loads to write in a short period of time. Remember that studying at university is not easy for native English students who don’t even have the language barrier, therefore it could be quite a challenge for non-English native students. I strongly recommend you prepare your English as much as you can in advance even if you have already met the IELTS requirement before the university course starts. You may have no time to concentrate on your English study at the university. LSE’s academic preparation courses are designed to help you improve your examination scores and also your study skills so you can study effectively once you are on your university courses. 

Having said that, international students tend to be very serious and hard workers - you may be able to understand your lecture better than your British classmates with your full concentration for a few hours (which may take all of your energy) and you will be able to be on time with your deadlines for essays with your sleepless nights (and you may stay in a bed for the next two days)… But this is not all that life is about at university. Studying hard is very important but so is being sociable so that you have a fruitful university life. UK universities are very international. You will meet the students from different parts of the world. Don't miss that opportunity.

Spending some time with your classmates gives you brilliant opportunities to improve your English in more relaxed environment and also to understand different cultures. Don't work too hard alone in your room and the library, be sociable with your friends. There are numerous things you can learn from other students. You may not realise this is particularly useful for your study/future career when you are a student but it will broaden your knowledge and give you a fresh insight into the world. Studying at the LSE will help you adjust to this as you will be living in an international environment.

‘Work hard and play hard’ is my tip – don’t get too stressed with your university work, allow yourself to enjoy your precious time at university. In order to do so, you should ‘Never put off till tomorrow what can be done today.’ And what better way to put this into practice than by preparing your English in advance at the London School of English. 

Many thanks to Akiko and Rosie!


relate to (v.) – understand because you have had a similar experience

a new chapter (exp.) – a new stage

ruined (v.) – spoilt, caused not to work

rooted (adj.) – based in

tricky (adj.) – difficult

tool (n.) – something that you can use to help you with a task e.g. a pen is a tool for writing

smoothly (adv.) – without difficulties

seek (v.) – search, look for

isolated (adj.) – alone, away from the rest of society

a first (n.) – the highest grade of degree in a UK university

barrier (n.) – something which stops you from doing something

fruitful (adj.) – useful, productive

numerous (adj.) – many

broaden (v.) – widen, make bigger

insight (count. n.) – knowledge, understanding

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