Having no clue of what to expect, with passport and visa held close and tear filled eyes from bidding endless goodbyes it is exactly five years ago I came to the UK for my higher education. I was accepted as a postgraduate student at Teesside University for Masters in Nanotechnology and Microsystems. Leaving India was hard as it was everything about separated from family and friends, but adopting the label of an international student in Britain, I just knew the adventure has begun.
Chilly, windy North east England welcomed me as any other foreign student. Everything was new, and I was like a blotting paper trying to absorb as much as I could. Induction, welcome party, meeting and befriending fellow students from literally different parts of the globe thrilled me all throughout the first few days which helped me settle in quite easily. The University accommodation was as homely as it could be bustling with international and home students but I had never stayed away from my family ever in my life. So, I should admit that I too have had those home sick days where I have felt very alone.
Coming from a background of classroom teaching where lectures play an important role and where no plagiarism exist, it was difficult to understand the concept of learning and teaching in the UK in the beginning. Getting the assignments done online, knowing to deal with Blackboard and all your lectures through the modules, and developing ideas using state of the art equipment in the lab meant to be on the right track which took its own time and was an experience in itself.
After establishing myself to some extent on the firm ground, I was very much enthusiastic to try part time jobs. I got an opportunity at the University as International Student Worker (Ambassador) and worked along with teams for Open days, tours and exhibitions. It was both fun, experience, and productive. Getting first part time job was a celebration on its own and the joy I felt at receiving first pay was truly awesome. Later on I could work for the Middlesbrough Council as a Mentor for the Student Associate Scheme and at our local Albert Park as a recreation assistant. Everywhere I could meet people, hear new stories about their own adventures which are the best parts I have always enjoyed until now.
At Teesside, social life was predominantly oriented towards student lifestyle. From student’s union to various cafes and pubs in an around the campus to restaurants and a vibrant ‘Mall’, the city centre, it was really good to venture out during off days from school. Talking about food, together with friends, Indian and Chinese restaurants were our common dinner ideas and I didn’t miss much of my South Indian food items in Teesside because of the presence of shops which sold the same things fit for our culinary practice. I could travel to some places like York and Lake district as a part of our trip from Teesside accommodation where I was serving as Warden for the halls during summer. It was a beautiful and pleasant memory making experience in and around beautiful North East of England including sandy shorelines of Whitby. Indian culture was valued in the University and I had no difficulty in accepting the different cultures I met because of the respect I received in response. I could visit the Temple during Pooja, an Indian festival and also I attended the University chapel on a regular Sunday basis where I had much older friends who welcomed me with their warm love and affection.
Being an international student has shown me an entirely different view on both studies and life in itself. It has shown me that education is not about how much information you gain from a course but how much it changes you as a person. Completing Masters with a distinction for the project was more than I had hoped for but I couldn’t have done it without my supporting Supervisor and director of studies. Inspired to try a different path, I decided to apply for PhD after my Masters and was offered a researcher position at Birmingham City University where I am currently working on fuels from algae.
Living in the UK has made me independent, capable of taking decisions, to be strong emotionally, even though I fail at times I pick myself up again, and to fight for something that I believe. To be a girl, from India, single, and spending five years in the UK as a student has made me see life’s colourful and dark sides alike. It was not easy but the journey has been truly adventurous with its ups and downs. Looking ahead, I would like to complete my research and say “Yes, it’s a dream come true indeed!” Known among my multicultural friends for ‘Curry’ and ‘Samosas’ I would always cherish the time I have spent in the UK for the rest of my life.
By Roshni Paul