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What to expect at university and tips on how to make the most of it

03 Aug, 2016
What to expect at university and tips on how to make the most of it

Former Kings students Tamta Janiasvhili, Ya Gan, Trang Thuy Do and Natalya Shabalina are all at university in the UK. Tamta and Natalya are studying Economics-related degrees at the University of York, Ya is at London School of Economics taking a degree in Government with Economics and Trang is an Economics student at the University of Kent.

We asked them to share their advice on what to expect at university, and how to make the most of your experience as a UK university student.

Freshers’ Week and student societies

Tamta: University life is significantly different from school or college life and as soon as you step on university stairs, the first new thing you see is Freshers’ Week advertised. Unfortunately, I didn’t take part in Freshers’ Week because of visa problems — I only arrived in York in week 3 but I have heard that it’s a very good and useful thing for new communication and making friends.

People from the same flats or courses go out together to relax before the hard work is started and join other students from other campuses and departments. They usually have a drink or enjoy nights out in a big company. It’s very helpful to know some people before studying is in process so you can attend lectures together, and share knowledge during lectures and seminars — just so you’re not alone and have someone to chat to.

During Freshers’ Week students can also decide which clubs to join according to their hobbies, or even create a new society, which will unite people with same interests, e.g. a club for Russian students, or a club for Spanish, where students are able to study this particular language and so on. In general, Freshers’ Week is a good chance for making life at university easier and more interesting with new friends and societies, which can be taken, once in a week, as an exchange for tiring studies.

Ya: Go for sub-committee positions in all the societies you're interested in! Simply participating in the activities is fine but if you'd like to improve your skills at the same time, do join at least one society and run for a position! Just be brave for at least the first few weeks and your first year will be fantastic.

Don't let the 'mainstream' direct you to somewhere you don't actually belong. Doing something you don't like just for the sake of fitting in is the worst thing you can do to yourself.

Trang: Freshers' Week is a memorable week as we do not have to study, and all the clubs and societies set up a table with brochures and free gifts to attract new students. Some sports societies might show their facilities and let you try them for free. The Sports Hall was used to guide new students how to finish their registration and collect student ID at my university. I received lots of things in that week including vouchers for free coffee/tea and sandwiches, and maps. Students could also buy cheaper annual bus tickets that were only available during Freshers' Week. Evening is party time across all campuses during Freshers' Week. One funny fact was after this week lots of students got sick - apparently this is common and known as 'freshers flu'!

Natalya: Honestly, I think that Freshers' Week is the most important week of the whole year, it's a good start-up for your social and educational life at the university. When I first came to York I didn't know how the things work at the UK universities and haven't ever heard about Freshers’ Week before. I was glad that all the events were well organised and volunteers were happy to help the new students. Freshers’ Week is a great time to meet new people, make some friends, sign up for the great variety of societies for an unforgettable experience and fun. Personally, I met most of my uni friends throughout Freshers’ Week, as all the new students are in the same boat, they all tend to be really friendly and communicative. It is also a great opportunity to meet English people and spend a lovely time with them by learning how to play different games, chatting and learning more about the English culture and lifestyle.

Lectures and seminars

Tamta: It is true that at university students have less classroom time than at Kings. University means more independent study for students. They have to do more research by themselves than information given in lectures, write essays and do seminar work. It is also true that if students have any questions about any of the study material, they can go to the lecturer’s office hours once a week and listen to deeper explanations. This should make material more understandable. But if they don’t make use of office hours, than it may be difficult to clearly understand all new material from lectures and only thing they can do is to research more about the subject independently or to ask their friends for help.

At Kings every teacher was there for help for any questions and could explain things many times, but at university, where thousands of students may have same unclear points, lecturers physically won’t have time to explain material for everyone, so students at university should get used to more adult work and study to arrange their timetable correctly to be able to attend all lectures, have time to visit lecturers and share knowledge with their friends.

Ya: When you meet a good teacher, ask them every question you have. Don't waste useful resources.

A very personal thought that may be uncomfortable for some people: as international students, our parents are paying a huge amount of money for us every year. If we cannot do well academically, it's okay, it's just a matter of ability; but if we don't even try to work hard, it's not okay — it's a matter of morality.

Trang: All seminars are compulsory but not lectures at my university. Participating fully in all lectures and seminars is definitely encouraged though. One different thing to A-level is that at Kings classroom time always finished at 5pm but at my university, some extra classes finish at 8pm (these are not mandatory though).

Natalya: I was surprised by the amount of classes at university - I used to have more classes every day at school in Kazakhstan and then at Kings. The quantity of classes at university doesn't mean that you need to study less than before, it allows you to spend more time on a self-studying, research and development. It teaches you how to manage your free time and dedicate it fairly to work and leisure. I think that the key point in British educational system is self-studying while the university helps you a lot to gain more knowledge and develop your skills.

Making friends and socialising

Tamta: Even though university studies require a lot of independent work - sitting in libraries and doing research in books or online - it doesn’t mean that all time is dedicated to studying. NO! As I mentioned before, if students arrange their time correctly, there is plenty of time to go out, which is a very important element of university life.

Communicating with people and introducing yourself to students from other departments is good for relaxing and broadening knowledge. It helps to forget about studies even if this break lasts just for few hours. And believe me, next day you are feeling full of new energy and positive. Therefore, make sure you go out sometimes!

Ya: Please, please, please, be open. I guess us lovely people from Kings already know that we need to respect each other and be tolerant, but I just can't stress this enough. You will meet all kind of people and being receptive may not be as easy as you think. When you can't understand, ask; when people don't understand you, explain patiently.

The 'drinking culture' is very big in UK universities, so be prepared for that. However, still join the parties even if you don't drink! Personally I don't think a party is the best way to get to know people — who can remember your name and face in a crowded place with super loud music? My suggestion would be to go to society events like day trip socials/coffee chats. You can always find time & date on Facebook pages.

Natalya: I had never gone out as much as I did my first year at university... you need to be ready to go out almost every night of the week regardless of morning lectures or the fatigue! I didn't know before that English people party that much, it was a surprise for me! I think it's also really important to go out with your friends and classmates and have fun outside the studying environment. and you can also meet many new people at the nights out!

Living and studying alongside British students

Tamta: International students like us may have more experience of independent life than British students. They usually choose universities located in other cities rather than their hometown, but still they can visit their family more often and easily than internationals. However, while being in their own home country, they can make friends from all over the world, which sounds very interesting and important. British students are also very interested to hear how international students manage to live in a different country and how they managed to get a place at university.

Information shared between international and British students can be useful for future plans as where to go, what to see and so on. So even if British students stay close to their families during their studies, they usually travel a lot during their holidays to see the world to broaden their horizons.

Trang: Lots of UK students have not studied away from home before so we are all new at the start. But I've seen lots of my friends go home frequently. International students on the other hand tend to travel or go shopping during weekends or maybe just relax at home.

Natalya: At my university the vast majority of the UK students come from the other cities, so they are in the same circumstances as the international students. Some of them can experience homesickness as well by being far away from their family for several months, which makes all the students to support and cheer up each other.