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Studying in the UK has been a thrilling experience


GB Mag caught up with Yu Zhang, who has been in the UK for two years and is originally from China, over some Fish and Chips to ask her what it’s like to be an international student.

The interview is arranged for 12noon sharp, which is what Yu considers to be lunchtime. Unlike most Brits who eat lunch much later, at one of the most famous fish and chip shops in London, the Golden Hide.

Yu arrives and we sit down to order our meal. To my surprise Yu orders the full works. Fish, chips, mushy peas, pickled gerkin and a cup of tea. I’m impressed that she likes mushy peas as most non-Brits hate them.

A student at King’s College, London she is studying for an MA in Digital Culture and Society and before that she was at the University of Nottingham’s Ningbo campus in China. She comments doing her undergraduate course with a British university, albeit in China, helped a lot when she arrived as she understood some nuances of British culture and what to expect in her academic life. But she confesses she did go through ‘culture shock’ and it took her a couple of months to adjust to living in the UK.

She recalls her first bus journey shattering some of her stereotypes of the UK and British peoples. With a smile on her face she explains “The bus was late and when it arrived people didn’t form an orderly queue to get on the bus.  I remember thinking isn’t this the country where people love to queue?

“And once on the bus I got the full force of the British friendliness as a passenger took great interest in where I was from and what I was studying. He even went as far as to welcome me to the UK and referred to be as his “darling”. Now I was totally confused as I was told to expect British people to be very formal and not very talkative.”

My first bus journey taught me a lot about British culture and that being called “darling” by strangers is completely normal

Getting used to living in the UK is something that you have to work at as Yu puts it. She tells me about being home sick for the first few weeks and that she was constantly on Wechat talking to her friends and family back home. “I couldn’t cook anything and I found that made my homesickness worse, so I video called my mum and she literally talked me through each stage of cooking some of my favourite dishes. 

“She’d say now put in this much oil, this much garlic… was as if she was right beside me and that really helped.”

But Yu’s advice is to start making new friends, get involved in university life, explore your city and visit other parts of the UK. “I forced myself initially to socialise with my classmates and housemates. But you realise everyone is missing home and trying to settle in so you can all go on that journey together.”

I ask Yu how she has improved her English speaking skills and she confesses that she makes a point of striking up a conversation whether she is popping out for a pint of milk or whether she is with her classmates so that she speaks English every day but in a relaxed, informal way.  “I found that my pronunciation improved and I learnt more words and even picked up some colloquialisms.”

“I’ve watched a lot of British TV programmes to improve my English…..and now I understand colloquialisms and even some slang.”

Her other tip is to watch British TV, including the news programmes, sitcoms and dramas. She adds this also helps you learn about British culture and what’s happening in the UK.

Another area she has had to work on is how to do well in her studies. In Chinese universities you don’t do much group work with your classmates and you don’t necessarily challenge your professors or ask them a lot of questions.  All of which you do in the UK.

My top tip to any international student is that professors and teachers in the UK like students that ask lots of questions. So don’t be afraid to raise your hand in class if there is anything you do not understand or want to know more about.

 What I particularly like is that the teachers on my course have an ‘open door policy’ which means you can pop by or email them whenever you need to discuss something with them, especially if you are struggling with any aspect of your studies.

It’s great that you can call them by their first name and that they’ll offer you a cup of tea when you meet with them! I particularly relish the fact that they want you to be very independent in your studies, which is something that I initially found difficult so what has helped me is to find a ‘study buddy’ so you can discuss the project and help each other out.

Here you get to call your professors by their first name and they seem to like it when you ask them lots of difficult questions

After studying so hard I wonder how Yu relaxes and what she thinks about the social scene at university.  “Well I rarely go to the student bar as it’s something I haven’t got my head around because in China universities don’t allow alcohol to be consumed on campus and there isn’t much of a drinking culture.

“However, I do think it’s important to go out with your classmates and I have to confess we end up in a pub frequently. But you can just order something non-alcoholic”.

The other big difference Yu has noticed is that on a ‘night out’ people do not really factor in a meal.  “They go to a pub and then a club and might buy some chips on their way home. But in China you can even get food in clubs.”

 Yu confesses that’s probably why she hasn’t been clubbing much. “The clubs generally open at 11.30pm and you can only buy drinks.  When I first arrived I tried it out with my friends but by midnight all I want to do is have some food and chill out.  I couldn’t dance until 3am on an empty stomach.”

Clubbing would so much better if you could order food

Sensing Yu loves her food I go in with the killer questions about whether she likes British food. And her answer is “Yes” and unsurprisingly her favourite savoury dish is fish and chips (which she has finished, including her mushy peas).

She also tells me how much she loves scones. And explains she didn’t know what scones were before she went out for afternoon tea with a friend and was served the pastry delights with fresh cream and jam.  She googled them immediately and learnt they were a real British tea time treat.

She tells me she is in love with scones so much that she recently ate four in one sitting. “I spent a weekend with a lovely British family, through the charity HOST, which pairs international students up with British families.

The mum had made scones and I just couldn’t help myself they were so delicious!




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