Experiences of an International PhD Student

Posted 1 week ago

Living in Cardiff while doing a PhD

As someone who wants to pursue a PhD, there are some more factors to take into account than the country and university you want to study at. The most important of these additional factors is undoubtedly choosing a supervisor. In addition to choosing the right country and university for you, you also have to take into consideration the project you want to work on or your areas of interest to find a suitable supervisor for you. After deciding on these factors and a nice interview with my then soon-to-be supervisor, it was clear for me that I would be choosing Cardiff University as my home for the next few years. I had fallen in love with the city already, on top of that, I had found a supervisor working in the area I was interested in in a Russell Group university!

Needless to say, I was excited out of my mind. However, it proved not to be so easy leaving all my loved ones behind to start a new chapter of my life in a foreign country. I was, quite frankly, more scared as the date of my flight approached. But I wanted this, so packed things that reminded me of home too into my luggage to hug I felt homesick - my lovely plushies. I also packed some snacks from home as I knew they would be either hard to find or too expensive in the UK. Then came my time to depart. Many tears were shed and no one knew exactly if they were happy tears or sad tears - though I know for a fact that mine were nervous tears.

Arriving in the UK and then Cardiff was honestly not so hard. The University had arranged for a coach for us new students from London Heathrow Airport. However, this was the easiest part as it took me a while to figure out my program and the life here. For starters, I was in constant risk of being hit by a car the first few days as the traffic flowed from the opposite direction for me. Then, I was not exactly sure where I could get the best kitchen and bathroom supplies from for the best price so I walked around every shop I saw to take a look. Those were the small problems and looking back, it was actually a fun time. The first week went by with me trying to settle in my room and the day where I got to meet my fellow PhD candidates had arrived.

What they were explaining us, how things worked here was very different from how it was back home. It was then that the reality finally caught up with me, I think. I was in a different country to study, everything about the education system was different here. We were being seen as researchers more than students and there were no formal modules in place for PhDs to undertake. The training we got was entirely up to us and our needs. In a way, it was a very empowering feeling, having full control over my schoolwork. However, it was also something that was unfamiliar to me. I was used to having a more strict guidance from my supervisors, or at least some modules where I was graded. It was not the case here which made the adaptation period a bit longer than I would have preferred. Nevertheless, it was not much different from the research period of my Master's experience and I only had to keep in mind that the training was something that I had to pursue here.

What I think hit me the hardest was the fact that I was very old compared to the PhD candidates here who did not take a break from education, even though I did not either. It took a lot shorter to get a degree in the UK and it somehow demoralised me, making me think that I was behind. This fact took me the longest to get to terms with because, even though I actually didn't, I thought that I had lost a lot of time in my journey. So I am including this in case anyone else ever feels the way I did. It's not that we are behind, it's just that the UK system allows people to graduate from undergrad at 20-21 years old, hold a Master's degree at 21-22 years old and start PhD at the age where we international students usually only obtain our Bachelor's degree. On top of that, having someone younger doing the same degree as you only means that you are two different individuals. So do not ever feel disheartened by these things that don't even matter as doing a PhD in itself will already be hard enough.

Little by little, while trying to get used to my PhD work and the city, I got to know more people here. I had the chance to connect with students from my country which was honestly the biggest help in making this city feel like a home for me - the friends I made. With the number of international students in Cardiff, it's really easy to connect with people from your own culture which is a big help when you are feeling homesick as you have people to talk to with the same experiences. Moreover, thanks to this diverse student population, I also got to meet people from all around the world, helping me learn about and experience other cultures.

Overall, I think choosing Cardiff University was one of the best choices I ever made in my life. This is where I made lifelong friends from all over the world, where I had my first experience in tutoring an undergrad class and where I have been laughing and crying for the last two years. If I had to make a choice again, I would choose Cardiff University all over without a doubt.