When I Became an International Student…

Hello again, my dear friend! I hope you have had a productive and unforgettable summer. If you are new, welcome! My name is Alessandra, and I am an international student from Peru/Spain and this is written especially for you…

I don’t know about you, but, starting a new academic year is almost more significant for me than New Year’s. It is the start of a time that’s full of opportunities, changes and the chance to re-invent yourself, especially if you come from abroad as an international student.

This reminds me of when I became an international student for the very first time. Grab a drink and relax, it is story time!

I had just taken my Spanish University access exams. It was the hardest month of my life studying for those exams. My results came back and I got very close to doing a medicine degree, but it wasn’t enough. I had two options: Either wait another year and repeat the exams or take a leap of faith and move to Scotland to apply for university there. I guess you know what happened.

I took a gap year in Scotland, and in the meantime, I applied for university and found a job as a call-handler. UCAS was tough! Writing a personal statement in a language other than my mother tongue was one of the most challenging things I had to face as a new international student. I knew I was competing with hundreds of students applying to do the same course (only that most of them were masters of the English Language!). The pressure was on.

The scariest thing was sitting the IELTS exam. Yes, you know perfectly well what I am talking about. I needed a minimum of 6.5 as an average in all the areas of the English language: speaking, writing, reading and listening. I applied for an academy for 6 weeks and my life as an international student began, although we were all internationals! I met people from Pakistan, Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and many more places. This was my first-time meeting so many different nationalities in the same room. I loved it.

My first week at university was both exciting and scary. I felt so shy and scared of people talking to me, and not being able to reply due to my language limits. The lecturer asked the class “raise your hand and tell me where you come from”, and guess what… I just sat there petrified without saying a word! Yes, a true story but that is how I met my very first friend at university. Her name is Natalia and she raised her hand and said very proudly that she came from Spain. I approached her and told her I come from Spain also, and the rest is history (now we study together until after midnight and then watch “Friends” when our brains seemingly want to explode).

One of the best experiences during my first two weeks of being an international student was discovering the International Café. It was a group organised by Strathclyde and Caledonian Christian Unions, along with Friends International, who together welcome international students and offer them friendship and support. From weekly events where we discover more about Scotland and different cultures to trips around Scotland. My first impression was hilarious, I saw my now good friend Fabian from Malaysia, dancing Scottish dances with a kilt and trainers. I had no clue what was going on! But then I was invited on a trip to Arran that first week and I made friends that completely changed my experience as a new student in Scotland. Friends that I hope to keep for life.  

You can find International Cafés in most UK cities; download the Friends International app to find your nearest one.

Being an international student has been full of ups and downs, but I can certainly say it has been worth it. There were times when I wanted to cry when I felt English kept me from being myself and from making friends, but there were other times when friends welcomed me and loved me despite the language and cultural barriers.

My dear international friend, welcome to the UK!

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