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First year survival guide for International Students

By bzellie 20 Aug 2020

Congratulations on getting your offer to study at the one and only, Cardiff University! So now what? Booked the accommodation, bought the flight tickets, already joined groups to meet your course and flat mates? Check, check, check. It feels surreal, and you notice that you are starting to act more mature. Yes, you are going to be a fabulous, independent undergraduate very soon, and you've got to start planning!

Pack smart

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From my experience, pack only the essential clothes: your favorite pjs, warm clothes and dressy outfits. You need to be aware that the weather in the UK is highly unexpected, and raincoats, heavy jackets, gloves and wellies are must-haves! In my opinion, umbrellas are useless as they are mostly not strong enough to bare the wind. The amount of times you are going to see people fighting against an inside out umbrella is numerous. Pack things that remind you of home: small decorations, pictures, stuffed toys (no one is judging), etc. Otherwise, when you arrive here at Cardiff you can access Ikea, Wilko, Primark, Tesco Extra and Poundland to buy all your heart's desires for the cheapest prices. Here is a list to keep in the back of your mind!


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Life without technology nowadays is unbearable and not ideal. You need to ensure that as soon as you reach Cardiff you secure your SIM card from a local store or can perform an online purchase. Most SIM cards are free, and it is up to you with what plan suits you. All university buildings and accommodations have free wireless ‘eduroam’ networks that require your student number and password to login. I personally recommend having a monthly plan with GiffGaff as their prices are student friendly. Here is a link to an online review of the UK mobile networks to help you choose. I advise you to buy a Total Protection Antivirus subscription and install it on all your devices to prevent hackers from doing their jobs. This is not to worry you, but it does occur unfortunately. However, now you know better and need to be careful about any odd emails you get and dodgy websites. Also, make sure you buy the right plug sockets for health and safety. You can ask your accommodation reception for clarification. 

Social bee-ing

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University life is about making life-long friends. It may seem a bit far away now, but it is not too late to start joining Facebook groups and introducing yourselves to others in your course or same accommodation! Do not be nervous to say hi as everyone is in the same boat as you are, even if they do not show it. The university gathers students from all parts of the world. Therefore, try to meet people from different backgrounds to get the full experience. It will make you appreciate other cultures and traditions and, maybe, it will be your next dream place to visit. Your Residence Life Team plays a major role in hosting online events to help you meet new people and make lasting friendships in safe environment. Check out the Events page to see what's coming up!

Culture shock ready

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Yes, to us international students, even EU peeps, will find that the UK have different rules, cultures and, even environmental habitats. You will notice that most shops close at 5pm in the weekdays, the driver sits on the right-hand side of the car and sunsets can range between 4 pm and 10 pm during the year! I would advise having a quick read of the most common factors that surprise new students. This will make you more aware and less stressed when meeting new people. After all, all cultures are beautiful in their own way.

Learning resources savvy

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On a lookout for learning tools? Well, you are lucky as Cardiff University has got plenty to support its students. If you are feeling that your English language skills should be improved for a university level, then the English language programs should give you a push and help you excel in your coursework. There is no shame, I did it myself even though my skills were not lacking. The Mentoring Team facilitates Academic Study Skills classes on a wide range of topics. They are free, friendly, easily accessible via booking online, occur often and you can meet new students too! Additionally, there are many libraries across the campuses, and you will have access to online books and journals as well. If you cannot find what you are looking for, whether it is online or a physical book, then you can ask the librarians via an online chat or in-person. If something is not available, they can try and provide it to enhance your learning experience. As a CU student, you have access to journals and newsletters of your relevant major and can benefit as a student member of professional institutions by attending lectures and events, eg. Institution of Civil Engineers. 

Chasing good grades

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Take a deep breath… the grading system in the UK is different to other countries. If you are used to getting full or near full marks, then you may face some disappointment here. It will feel odd and will be difficult to get used to, especially if your friends at American universities are comparing your marks with theirs directly. Use the country grade converter and get your confidence back in line. Depending on your major, your marking criteria changes and it may be difficult to get above 80%. Nothing is impossible though, just always aim for high results, compete with yourself and keep it real. I secretly and carefully compete with high achievers in my course; I do not tell them, but I show it to myself that if they can (including my professor) then I certainly can as well. Do it with grace, patience and plan smartly. Know yourself before you compete with it. Ask for help from your lecturers, tutors and even advice from your mentor, and, trust me, you will not regret it. It is given without judgement, and no matter what your question is ask it or you may be missing out. 

New home, new flatmates

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Let's be real , living in a student accommodation has its ups and downs. Depending on who you are allocated with there is a high chance you will be living with someone with a completely opposite routine compared to yours or even different thoughts and beliefs. This should never hinder you from making friendships with them, but you should learn to be open-minded and accepting of others. The university atmosphere encourages inclusiveness and friendships without any judgment, despite any differences in cultural backgrounds. Any form of hostility and bullying are not tolerated, and any report will be taken seriously regardless of the seniority of those involved. 

Part-time jobs and managing workload

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Keeping busy while experiencing university life, in my opinion, is very essential. The benefits of it is that it keeps your mind from negative thinking in your free times and can help you gain pocket money and add some professional skills to your CV. However, time-managing your studies along with your job responsibilities can feel overwhelming at the beginning. It is important that you do not overwork yourself and exceed 15 hours per week but rather keep your academics as a priority. There are job experiences suitable for everyone, and further advice can be found here

Joining societies

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To ensure you get the most out of your university experience joining societies and committees will guarantee your time here is unforgettable! There is a wide variety of clubs that will enable you to make new friends, explore new hobbies, drive creativity and teach you valuable information. You also have the opportunity to start your own if your heart desires! Here is a link to learn more, and a beginning to a beautiful, unique journey will soon be initiated.


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