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Dear Lonely International Student; you are seen, and it will get better

From breaking down language and cultural barriers to integrating into new societies, Clara Zimban shares invaluable advice on persevering through the initial challenges of being an international student in Bristol.

By Clara Zimban, UG Politics and International Relations

THE CROFT / From breaking down language and cultural barriers to integrating into new societies, Clara Zimban shares invaluable advice on persevering through the initial challenges of being an international student in Bristol.

Around 28% of Bristol University’s student body is international - me included. As an international student, dealing with cultural and language barriers during your time in Bristol can be very lonely. If that’s the way you feel, I want you to know that you are seen and that it will get better with time. In this article, I share with you three things which have helped me deal with loneliness in my first year.

© Andrea Riondino (via Unsplash)

I know the feeling very intimately. Going home at night, realising that every social interaction you’ve had that day has drained you. Feeling left out of conversations because you only understand 80% of what is being said. Having to take twice as much time as everyone to read the same bit of writing. Honestly, being an international student is hard. It’s a lot of feeling awkward and like you don’t belong. All of this adds to the already difficult and lonely experience of being a young adult and having no idea how to navigate life on your own. I don’t want to pretend that my experience encompasses the whole spectrum of how homesickness and loneliness feels for you. Two things I can assure you, though, is that: your feelings are justified, and it will all get easier with time.

My first year in Bristol was the loneliest, most terrifying year of my life. I had social anxiety, and I can still remember the anxious thoughts swirling inside my brain, telling me that everyone was secretly laughing at my accent, my mispronunciation of certain words or my awkward silence. I’m now going into my third year, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the experiences and growth that my time in the UK has given me so far.

© Andrea Riondino (via Unsplash)

Here are three pieces of advice that I wish someone would have given me in my first year

1. Be proud of yourself.

If you start feeling insecure or if you compare yourself at all, remember how badass you are. It’s easy to forget this, but you are incredibly brave. You’ve moved to another country to study a subject in a language that is not your first language. Studying at university is not easy, but you have had the guts to put yourself in an even more challenging situation. Every ounce of discomfort that you feel right now is entirely justified, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong, it means you’re growing. Imagine how much you will have grown in a couple of weeks, months, or years. Be proud of yourself. You deserve your place here, you belong.

2. Don’t hesitate to connect with other international students if it helps you.

Yes, you are in the UK because you like British culture, and you want to improve your English among native speakers. But some aspects of our experiences as international students are easier to share with people who can actually relate. There is nothing wrong with making your life easier by surrounding yourself with people who make you feel heard and understood. Don’t forget that if you’re studying in the UK, you most likely will get many more years to connect with Brits on a deeper level. Don’t feel like you have to do it all now if it doesn’t feel right.

3. Start a hobby or join a club that genuinely excites you.

You might know that societies are a big university tradition in this country. As a fresher, I was overwhelmed by the amount of student associations available. At first, I wanted to enrol in at least five of them. I ended up joining one or two but never attending the meetings because they didn’t genuinely excite me. The thing is, to be a valuable member of any society, being passionate is key. Don’t force it. As students, we get pressured to be heavily involved in student life for our CV. And even though these types of experiences are very valuable, don’t put too much pressure on yourself thinking that you must do it all in your first year. Choose a hobby that makes you genuinely happy, takes your mind off exams and deadlines and allows you to find community among like-minded people.

If you are struggling right now, know that it will get better. I promise you. Give it time. And for now, there are people who you can talk to and who will appreciate you showing up exactly as you feel, giving them the space to do the same.

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Featured Image: Andrea Riondino (via Unsplash)